- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Bush arrived in this capital city last night under cover of darkness, descending in Air Force One with running lights off and shades drawn, just a day after a suicide car bomber killed an American diplomat in Karachi.

Under extraordinary security, the president either boarded his normal presidential limousine for the short ride to the U.S. Embassy, or climbed aboard a Black Hawk helicopter — it was not clear which.

Both departed the airport outside Islamabad at the same time, with the motorcade reaching speeds of 70 mph on a deserted highway and leaving the accompanying U.S. press corps behind.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush spent their single night in Islamabad at the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy before embarking on a day full of official events, meetings and a state dinner with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The president flew in from neighboring India, rewarding this strategic partner in the war on terror with a visit that likely put him as close as he’s ever been to Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda leader is thought to be holed up in the mountains of Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan.

Before arriving here, Mr. Bush delivered a speech from New Delhi urging Pakistan, which has been at odds with India for decades and has veered near a nuclear conflict several times, to become “a source of moderation” in the Muslim world. He also pressed Pakistan to put its differences with India in the past.

“There was a time when America’s good relations with Pakistan would have been a source of concern here in India. That day is passed. India is better off because America has a close relationship with Pakistan, and Pakistan is better off because America has a close relation with India,” he said.

The president said that during his trip he will meet with Gen. Musharraf to discuss Pakistan’s “vital cooperation in the war on terror and our efforts to foster economic and political development so we can reduce the appeal of radical Islam.”

The tight security at the Chakala Air Base illustrated the terrorist threat that remains in this heavily Muslim country, where a U.S. diplomat was killed in a bomb attack a day earlier in Karachi, about 1,000 miles from the capital.

FBI agents, according to Pakistani officials, have joined the probe into the suicide bomb attack, where the diplomat, David Foy, and his driver were killed along with a paramilitary trooper.

Mr. Bush has promised to talk with Gen. Musharraf about the need for more democratic reforms. The president has been accused of turning a blind eye to the military leader’s slow movement toward democracy, in part, it is said, because of Gen. Musharraf’s aid to the United States after the September 11 attacks, when Pakistan helped U.S.-led forces hunt down to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders.

In New Delhi, Mr. Bush extolled India’s embrace of democracy and said it was the path all nations should follow — including his next stop, Pakistan.

“If justice is the goal, then democracy is the way,” he said.

The Pakistani government, for its part, says it has arrested about 700 al Qaeda suspects in the past four years, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Even so, key terror leaders are still thought to be at large within its borders.

Gen. Musharraf seized power seven years ago in a bloodless coup and has reneged on a promise to relinquish his military post. But a public show of solidarity for the Pakistani leader, a target of repeated assassination attempts partly because of his support for the U.S. war on terror, was likely to take center stage in meetings with Mr. Bush.

In Rawalpindi, near the air base where Mr. Bush landed last night, about 1,000 demonstrators earlier had trampled the American flag and chanted “killer go back” and “death to America.” Police dispersed them with swinging batons.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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