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Pakistan Braces as Bush Starts Visit

Pakistanis in Lahore observing a nationwide strike called to protest Danish cartoons of Muhammad chant anti-U.S. slogans ahead of President Bush's arrival. While in the country, Bush is expected to praise Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, for his help in fighting terrorism and to play down differences over democratic reforms.
Pakistanis in Lahore observing a nationwide strike called to protest Danish cartoons of Muhammad chant anti-U.S. slogans ahead of President Bush's arrival. While in the country, Bush is expected to praise Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, for his help in fighting terrorism and to play down differences over democratic reforms. (By Mohsin Raza -- Reuters)

The Pakistani leader is still seen, in the words of one senior Pentagon official, as "a force for moderation" in a part of the world where "politics is played by rough rules."

As next year's general elections in Pakistan approach, the administration will have to start weighing its support for Musharraf against the commitment to ensure the restoration of democracy, according to U.S. officials. Bush said in a speech last week that the election would "be an important test of Pakistan's commitment to democratic reform."

For now, the U.S. focus is on obtaining even more help from Musharraf in attacking al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds, following a year in which terrorist violence in Afghanistan has increased dramatically. A top White House official said that during the two leaders' joint appearances Saturday, Bush planned to stress Musharraf's assistance and play down disputes over democratic reforms.

Despite Bush's tendency to portray policies in black and white , aides said the president was satisfied with the shades of gray in the Musharraf alliance. As in his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, another U.S. ally who has sometimes stifled democracy, they said Bush appreciated Musharraf based in part on a gut instinct about his allegiance.

Although Musharraf at one time accepted the repressive rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, he was one of the first foreign leaders to side with Bush when confronted with the U.S. president's ultimatum after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: that governments must stand with or against the United States in the hunt for terrorists. Since then, Bush has expressed admiration for Musharraf's toughness.

"He has had a direct stake in this fight -- four times the terrorists have tried to kill him," Bush said in India, the previous stop on his South Asian trip. Musharraf survived two direct assassination attempts in 2003, as well as a failed car bombing and an alleged assassination plot in 2002. He has also been a target of protests by Islamic groups who distrust the United States and condemn him as an American pawn.

In some ways, Bush's entire trip to the subcontinent this week -- including a brief, heavily guarded, unannounced stop in Afghanistan and the elaborate two-day visit to India -- has highlighted his evolution from an us-against-them unilateralist to a leader more willing to compromise and cut deals. Although India has long refused to sign the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Bush announced an agreement there Thursday that will allow India to substantially increase its nuclear arsenal and obtain U.S. assistance to expand its nuclear energy program. In part, the deal was made because U.S. officials see India as a counterweight to China and a potentially lucrative trading partner.

In a speech Friday night in New Delhi, Bush extolled the growing economic ties between the world's two largest democracies.

"Our two great democracies are now united by opportunities that can lift our people, and by threats than can bring down all our progress," he said. "The United States and India, separated by half the globe, are closer than ever before, and the partnership between our free nations has the power to transform the world."

Despite the upbeat visit, anti-American protests were held around India Friday. The demonstrations were mostly small, but one erupted into a deadly fight between Muslims and Hindus in the city of Lucknow, leaving at least three people dead, the Associated Press reported.

In New Delhi, Bush urged India to accept the increasingly close U.S.-Pakistani relationship. India, predominantly Hindu, and Pakistan, a Muslim country, are neighbors and nuclear rivals that have fought several wars, mostly over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

"I believe that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbor for India and a force for freedom and moderation in the Arab world," he said. Afterward, Fred Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Bush had meant to say "Muslim world." Pakistan is not an Arab country.


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