ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Clinton brought a stern message to an old Cold War ally Saturday amid the tightest of security. ''The answer to flawed democracy is not to end democracy, but to improve it,'' he told the people of Pakistan after inconclusive talks with its military ruler.
Clinton portrayed the United States and Pakistan as friends over five decades, and said he believes Pakistan could still be ''a force for tolerance and understanding throughout the world.'' But, he said, the military coup that suspended Pakistan's democracy last October threatened to undermine that friendship.
''Clearly the absence of democracy makes it harder, not easier, for people to move ahead,'' Clinton said. ''We share your disappointment that previous democratic governments in Pakistan did not do better for its citizens. But democracy cannot develop if it is constantly uprooted before it has a chance to take hold.''
Clinton spoke on state-run television after a series of meetings with Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Administration officials said no breakthroughs emerged on the points the United States found most troubling -- a timetable for national elections, a scaling back of Pakistan's nuclear program and an easing of tensions in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Despite the lack of concrete progress, both sides ended up with a clearer view of each other's positions, said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.
Seated at a desk in the presidential palace, with the flags of Pakistan and the United States behind him, Clinton said Musharraf's announcement this week that he would hold local elections next year was a ''good step,'' but not enough.
''The return of civilian democratic rule requires a complete plan, a real road map,'' Clinton said.
Unless democracy is restored, and if the conflict over divided Kashmir continues, there is ''a danger that Pakistan may grow even more isolated, draining more resources away from the people,'' Clinton said.
He called the Kashmir confrontation ''a conflict no one can win,'' one that could not be resolved militarily.
But he also made clear the United States would not get involved. ''We cannot force peace. We cannot impose it. We cannot resolve or mediate the dispute in Kashmir. Only you can do that,'' Clinton said.
Clinton expressed outrage at recent examples of ethnic slayings, such as the murder of three dozen Sikhs in a part of Kashmir under Indian control, and declared: ''No system of belief can ever justify the deliberate killing of innocents.''
The presence of scores of rifle-toting military and police during Clinton's visit drove home the reality of Pakistan's military regime. There was no formal arrival ceremony for Clinton here, but Pakistan's foreign minister and protocol chief joined the U.S. ambassador to meet Clinton's plane.
Clinton sought to persuade Musharraf, who seized power last October, to make a quick return to democracy. He also brought admonitions to Pakistan's military rulership to retreat from its nuclear weapons course and to lower dangerous tensions with India.
As he did in India, the president appealed for Pakistan to be ''a leader in nonproliferation'' and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. ''The whole world will rally around you if you do,'' Clinton said.
Musharraf and Clinton met with their top aides in the presidential palace and had a one-on-one session afterward.
In an unsubtle indication of the military government's position on Kashmir, large boldly-lettered signs were posted or draped from bridges along the route of Clinton's motorcade urging ''freedom'' for those living in Kashmir.
''You were fair in Kosovo, be fair in Kashmir,'' one sign read.
''Freedom for all, freedom for Kashmir'' read another.
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