Pakistan Braces as Bush Starts Visit
Saturday, March 4, 2006
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 3 -- President Bush arrived here from New Delhi on Friday night to pay tribute to President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who is a key ally in the administration's global war on terrorism but who has resisted both democratic reforms and aggressive moves against hard-line Islamic groups at home.
In a visit that exemplifies the contradictory impulses of U.S. foreign policy in the region, Bush brushed aside serious security concerns to make an overnight stop in Pakistan.
Authorities were bracing for possible unrest in connection with the visit, which follows several weeks of sometimes violent protests sparked by the publication in European newspapers of Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
[Early Saturday morning, police detained Imran Khan, a former international cricket star and member of parliament, and placed him under house arrest just hours before he was to lead a protest march against Bush and Musharraf near Islamabad. In a telephone interview from his home in the capital, Khan accused the Pakistani leader of having him detained because he is "scared of the public."
Khan said the protest would still go forward and was aimed at highlighting "Bush's double standard, claiming that his foreign policy goal is to promote freedom and democracy in the Muslim world and here's he come to support a military dictator. A serving general running the country and calling it democracy, it's just making fools out of us."]
Streets throughout the country were only lightly traveled Friday, and most businesses remained shuttered, as Pakistanis generally heeded a call by hard-line religious parties for a nationwide strike to protest the cartoons. In addition, there were scattered protests against Bush and Musharraf, including a rally in the city of Multan in central Punjab province that drew a crowd estimated at 10,000, according to the Reuters news agency.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a pro-Taliban cleric and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, told the crowd that Bush's visit was aimed at "enslaving the Pakistani nation and rewarding General Musharraf for his patriotism to America."
In the port city of Karachi, police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to march on the U.S. Consulate, where a suicide bomber killed four people, including a U.S. diplomat, on Thursday.
Aides said Bush planned to use his first visit here to praise Musharraf as an important partner in fighting terrorism. Under his military-led government, Pakistan has killed or captured hundreds of al-Qaeda members -- more than any other country -- and has deployed more than 70,000 troops to the traditionally autonomous tribal region that borders Afghanistan.
Yet some U.S. officials have expressed frustration that Musharraf has not done more to root out Taliban fighters and track down Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda figures, all widely believed to enjoy havens in the rugged areas along the Afghan border.
There are also concerns about Musharraf's stated commitment to democracy, a goal Bush has called essential to defeating terrorism throughout the Muslim world. The Pakistani president, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, espouses a moderate version of Islam. He has installed a civilian prime minister and allowed parliamentary elections. But he retains ultimate power and has reneged on a pledge to step down as army chief.
"Over time, the level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has increased," Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, said this week. But, he added, "there are still more steps that can be taken to further our cooperation."