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The Rediff Special/ Amir Mir
Meanwhile, an uneasy buzz in Islamabad
March 02, 2006
The buzz in Islamabad is that the Americans are coming in droves.
With United States President George W Bush expected to reach Pakistan on the night of March 3, an advance team of the Federal Bureau of Investigations has already arrived in Islamabad to ensure that all goes smoothly.
None of the security and the foreign office personnel directly handling the American President's Pakistan visit are willing to reveal the exact date and timing of his arrival in Islamabad.
All that is known is that the FBI has been assigned to oversee security arrangements for the Bush visit.
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According to well placed intelligence officials, an advance FBI party landed in Islamabad on March 1 to check the security plan. They would be assisted by personnel of the Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army, the Inter Services Intelligence, the Rangers, the Punjab Police, Punjab Constabulary and Frontier Corps.
The sources said that after the deadly blast in Karachi on Thursday, it has been decided to seal the entire capital besides declaring Constitution Avenue in Islamabad a 'no go area' during the visit.
Islamabad Airport would be sealed for a day and no flight would be allowed to land or take off. A local holiday is likely to be announced and all offices and schools will remain closed during Bush's visit.
The Pakistan government has so far not announced the exact arrival time of the American president. But he is expected to arrive in the federal capital in the night between Friday and Saturday (March 3 and 4).
Another 150-member American media team, representing key US electronic and print news networks, will be part of the Bush entourage.
Bush's trip to Pakistan follows a string of back to back high-level visits from the United States.
Two former US presidents, Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr, visited Pakistan recently. Before that, US Vice-President Dick Cheney came as did other key members of the Bush administration. A look at previous US presidential visits to Pakistan shows that there has been a certain pattern, with alternate visits by Republican and Democrat presidents.
Ironically, while successive US administrations have generally made noises about lack of democracy in Pakistan, all serving American presidents who visited Pakistan did so during the reign of military leaders.
Here is a recap. The first US president to visit Pakistan was Dwight D Eisenhower, a Republican. He landed in Karachi, the then capital of Pakistan, in December 1959 during President Gen Ayub Khan's era. Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, was the next American president to visit Pakistan in December 1967. Later in 1969 it was Richard Nixon who made a two-day trip to Lahore during Gen. Yahya Khan's tenure. Then there was a long gap and no US president came this way. It was only in the 80s, during Gen Zia-ul Haq's regime, that then US Vice President George Bush, the current president's father, came to Pakistan.
It was almost 31 years later that Bill Clinton made a very short trip to Pakistan in March 2000.
His reluctant five-hour trip left much to be desired, and his live televised address to the Pakistani nation, bypassing all diplomatic norms, raised many eyebrows and left a bad taste in the mouth.
President Bush will thus be the first Republican president after Nixon to visit Pakistan in over three and a half decades. While it has been confirmed that Bush will be accompanied by wife Laura Bush, it is not clear if any other family members will join him on his first South Asia trip.
The visit assumes special significance as it will be the first after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Also, it will be the first after the US air strike in Bajaur Agency on January 13 that killed more than a dozen innocent civilians, including women and children.
The incident outraged Pakistanis and anti-US sentiment peaked after having been partially neutralised by the unprecedented US assistance in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of October 8.
Although an attempt was made to sabotage the Bush visit by exploding two bombs close to the US Consulate in Karachi [a day before the visit] that killed four people including a US diplomat, Bush decided to go ahead with his scheduled Pakistani tour.
Insiders in the government circles concede that while Pakistan has been bending over backwards in extending cooperation to the US as its ally in the war on terror, Washington has done little to address Pakistan's national security needs.
This perception has been further strengthened with the signing of a civilian nuclear agreement between the United States and India on Thursday. These circles say that Pakistan's role has been acknowledged and appreciated by Bush, but there has also been stinging criticism of Pakistan and its army by unnamed members of his administration for not doing enough.
In recent days, they point out, even the mainstream American media has been extremely critical of Pakistan's role. The war on terror and nuclear proliferation remain the two major concerns for the US government in Pakistan and both have close cooperation on these two fronts. Apparently the Bush administration has been pushing Pakistan for more effective implementation of nuclear safeguards and export controls.
The truth is that there is a manifest divergence in terms of national objectives of Islamabad and Washington, and these could come into play soon.
The US feels frustrated that its proliferation concerns have not been fully addressed by Islamabad. The US wants direct access to Dr A Q Khan, the detained father of the Pakistani nuclear programme, particularly in the context of current nuclear standoff with Iran to determine the extent of its nuclear capability. Analysts here believe the concern will heighten pressure on Pakistan, which it has resisted so far.
While the US State Department maintains that President Bush's visit to Pakistan underscores the America's desire to broaden its relations with the country, it remains to be seen how far Washington is actually willing to go to accommodate Pakistan's quest for nuclear civilian technology and advanced military weapons systems.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project in a recent poll found that more than 50 per cent of Pakistan is sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.
The violent demonstrations all over the Muslim World against the sacrilegious cartoons and its negative fallout will surely weaken the interfaith trust and also inflame feelings towards the US. Add to this America's tilt towards India as its new global ally in terms of strategic partnership, and US commitment to help India become a world power, and you have potential for a crisis in Pak-US friendship.
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