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Friday, March 17, 2000

Clinton should focus
on Kashmir dispute

Bullet The issue: President Clinton says he will urge India and Pakistan to scrap their nuclear weapons when he visits those countries next week.

Bullet Our view: The president should concentrate instead on a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

DESPITE warnings from some foreign policy specialists, President Clinton says he will urge India and Pakistan to end their rival development of nuclear weapons during his trip to South Asia next week. In an open letter to the president, 22 specialists, including former ambassadors to India and Pakistan, said any attempt to persuade India to eliminate its nuclear arsenal would fail and poison the atmosphere for other discussions.

And there are indeed other issues of concern to the United States that may be neglected if Clinton pushes too hard in what is likely to be a futile attempt to get India to give up its nuclear weapons. U.S. sanctions, imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests, have failed to slow South Asia's arms race. In 1999 both countries test-fired new missiles.

Washington would like India and Pakistan to settle their longstanding feud over Kashmir, which has repeatedly led to violence. And it wants Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew the elected government last October, to restore democracy quickly.

Clinton's visit to South Asia is the first by an American leader in more than two decades and would be welcome as an expression of American interest in an area that has received too little attention in Washington.

However, Clinton should have canceled the Pakistan leg of the trip in protest when a lawyer for the deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who is now imprisoned and facing prosecution, was assassinated. Clinton, unfortunately, is going ahead with the visit anyway.

Although it's important that this trip is being made, little is to be gained by being pushy on the nuclear weapons issue, especially when the prospects of success are bleak. It didn't help Clinton's cause when -- as a result of administration bungling -- the Senate rejected the nuclear test ban treaty last year. How can the United States demand that other nations respect the treaty when the Senate refuses to ratify it?

The hostility between India and Pakistan has long been focused on the Kashmir dispute, which goes back to the division of the subcontinent when Britain relinquished control in 1947.

Last year fighting flared along the "line of control" in the Kargil region, and could erupt again this spring. CIA Director George Tenet said a full-scale war was narrowly averted in last year's battles.

Musharraf, the general who directed that operation, is now running the Pakistani government and shows no sign of willingness to surrender power.

On the Indian side, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee won't revive peace talks with Pakistan as long as it has a military regime. His coalition government is under intense pressure from the army to avenge its defeats in the border skirmishes.

Rather than expend whatever influence Clinton has in a futile effort on nuclear weapons, the president ought to emphasize encouraging the leaders of both countries to defuse the Kashmir dispute, which has the potential for igniting a disastrous war.

IRS effectiveness

Bullet The issue: Congressional reforms of the Internal Revenue Service may lead some people to think they can get away with cheating on their taxes.

Bullet Our view: Congress should take measures to restore the agency's ability to detect and prosecute wrongdoing.

COMPLAINTS about strong-arm tactics by the Internal Revenue Service prompted Congress to enact an expansion of taxpayer rights two years ago, but the new law may have undermined the effectiveness of the IRS. The agency now wants to hire 2,000 more employees to halt a steep slide in audits and other enforcement actions. Congress must take measures to offset its own emotion-charged legislation of the past.

The horror stories about a ravenous agency gone out of control were real. Congress found that IRS officials had threatened audits to satisfy personal grudges or out of sheer hunger for power. Whistle blowers who complained had their careers destroyed while corrupt agents were promoted.

"All of us in our districts were hearing complaints about the type of enforcement that was going on," recalled Rep. Anne Northrup, R-Ky.

As a result of the reform legislation, 4,500 IRS employees, many in the compliance section, were shifted to jobs relating to implementation of the reforms or improving taxpayer service. Audits were reduced by roughly half from the mid-1990s, while property seizures and liens imposed on delinquent taxpayers decreased sharply.

The reforms seem to have effectively declawed the IRS. A congressional report released this month found improper refunds, sluggish correction of taxpayer accounts, poor tracking of agency property and inefficient follow-up on unpaid tax assessments. Unless things improve, said IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, a growing number of people will believe they can get away with cheating on their taxes.

"We have to at least level this thing off," Rossotti says. "It's fair to say these problems really are severe. Over time, they would undermine the fairness and integrity of the entire tax system."

Law-abiding Americans should not be faced with the fear of an audit-threatening tax collector, but those who cheat should know that there is a risk of getting caught. Congress must ensure that the risk is real in order for the tax system to work properly.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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