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Terror high on mind, Bush arrives in Pak
K J M Varma in Islamabad | March 04, 2006 00:05 IST
Last Updated: March 04, 2006 01:07 IST
United States President George W Bush arrived in Isalamabad on Friday night amidst unprecedented security on his maiden visit to Pakistan. President Bush will hold talks with President Pervez Musharraf and is expected to ask Islamabad to do more to fight terrorism.
Air Force One, the US Presidential aircraft, carrying Bush and his entourage landed at Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi from where they were flown by a US helicopter to the high-security US Embassy in Islamabad.
Bush, accompanied by wife Laura, was received by Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri after the plane from New Delhi touched down with its lights switched off and window shades pulled down,.
This was a stark reminder of the security situation in Pakistan, a day after a US diplomat was killed in a terrorist attack in Karachi on Thursday.
The war against terrorism - both in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan - is set to top the agenda of Bush's talks with Musharraf on Saturday. The backdrop to his two-day Pakistan visit was set by Bush himself shortly before leaving New Delhi, when he said, "I will meet with President Musharraf to discuss Pakistan's vital cooperation in the war on terror."
"I believe that a prosperous and democratic Pakistan will be will be a steadfast partner of America, a peaceful neighbour of India and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world," he added.
Bush has, on more than one occasion in recent years, voiced his admiration for Musharraf as a key US partner in stamping out terrorism in the region. He, however, also made it clear that he is going to nudge Pakistan to do more to dismantle terror infrastructure in its territory and hunt down al-Qaeda members operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
In raising the issue of terror, the killing of an American diplomat and three others in an explosion near the US consulate in Karachi will probably be weighing on Bush's mind. Another key issue on Bush's agenda in Pakistan will be economic development so that 'we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam'.
The agenda of Bush-Musharraf talks is likely to cover the concerns of India and Afghanistan over terrorism emanating from Pakistan. It will also include complaints of American security officials about tardy progress the war on terrorism including zero progress on locating Osama bin Laden and his top aides like Mullah Omar.
The Kashmir issue is also likely to come up during talks between the two leaders. Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said, "Kashmir will figure prominently in the talks between President Bush and President Musharraf".
Hours before Bush's arrival, hundreds of anti-US protestors took to the streets in the neighbouring garrison town of Rawalpindi, chanting 'Killer go back' and 'Death to America'. Police used batons to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom trampled on the US flag while others carried Bush portraits with his face crossed out in red,
Security forces geared up for Bush's two-day visit by taking up positions at strategic positions and forested hills overlooking the Pakistani capital.
Pakistan wore a deserted look on Friday as most of the markets and transport services were closed in response to a nation-wide strike called by the Islamist alliance Muthahida Majlis Amal to protest against cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper.
Thousands of police and army have been deployed in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Helicopters were seen flying over Islamabad, particularly to comb the sprawling Margala hills.
Pakistan Ambassador to Washington, General Jahangir Karamat said, besides holding talks with President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday, Bush will attend a ceremony in the highly guarded US Embassy, where he is expected to thank them.
All this besides Pakistan and US security operations against Al Qaeda, Taliban and hundreds of foreign militants holed up in tribal areas of Pakistan have hightened the threat scenario for Bush.
Ahead of Bush's visit, Islamabad was converted into a fortress with hundreds of police and para-military forces patrolling the streets and helicopters hovering around to keep a watch on the Margala hills to make sure that militants did not make use of the heights to launch rocket attacks.
Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sheprao said besides deploying hundreds of police and para military forces, Pakistan has done whatever possible at its disposal in coordination with the dozens of US security personnel who arrived here well ahead of President's visit.
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