New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Many eyes in South Asia will be watching President Bill Clinton's brief stopover Saturday in Islamabad, where he is expected to deliver a stern message to the Pakistan military regime.
"Though Clinton might have spent five days in India, every second of his five-hour stopover in Pakistan will be closely monitored," Indian political commentator Praveen Sharma told CNSNews.com.
"Whether the Indian government has been able to influence the US administration will be known in the address Clinton is expected to make in Islamabad," Sharma added.
"The president will signal that Pakistan is at a crossroads and say, 'You can either choose to address the serious problems facing Pakistan internally ... to ensure that Pakistan does not become a failed state or continue on this current path of single-minded focus on Kashmir'," said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.
Downplaying expectations, he said: "We don't expect any instant results on any of these issues. Our relations are strained and cannot return to normal until there is a return to democracy. That should be a strong incentive."
During his brief visit to Islamabad, Clinton will not only speak to the military leaders but will take his case directly to the Pakistani people in a speech to be broadcast live from the presidential residence.
Hammer said the administration had no reason to believe the broadcast would be "restricted in any way."
The White House on Thursday welcomed military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's announcement that Pakistan would hold local elections later this year with national elections at a later, unspecified date, but said what was needed was a blueprint for a complete restoration of democracy.
"It is a positive step. However, what we are looking for is a road map to the national elections and a return to democratic rule," said spokesman Joe Lockhart.
India on Friday called for an immediate return to democracy in Pakistan.
"The only public benchmark which India is associated with is the declaration of the Commonwealth heads of government which calls for an immediate restoration of democracy," foreign ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal told reporters.
"Let us see how the developments unfold," he added.
Jassal dismissed as "absurd" remarks by Pakistani President Muhammad Rafiq Tarar that the territorial dispute over Kashmir was an issue of survival for Pakistan.
"How can a part of another country be central to their survival?," Jassal questioned.
Defending his decision earlier to include a stopover in Pakistan at the end of his regional tour, Clinton said, "engagement with Pakistan does not represent endorsement. Staying away only would strengthen hard-liners in Pakistan who want the country to turn away from the world."
The president said he would focus on "an early restoration of democracy, a crackdown on terrorist groups, restraint on the nuclear missile program and a real effort to create conditions for a dialogue with India."
Such steps, he said, could put Cold War allies Pakistan and the US "back on the path of partnership."