ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Welcomed with military pomp and ceremony, President Bush began a mission today to show solidarity with this Islamic nation and support Pakistani President Gen. Perez Musharraf’s war-on-terror alliance with the United States.
On a hazy morning, Bush and Musharraf sat under a green canopy in a courtyard of the presidential palace as a military band played the national anthems of both countries. Soldiers on horseback bearing lances stood to the side and three rows of blue-coated troops were at attention.
Continuing the heavy security that greeted him on arrival Friday night, Bush’s motorcade was protected by four helicopters that circled overhead as he rode from the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound, where he spent the night, to see Musharraf.
After the welcoming ceremony, the two leaders began their talks.
Anti-American sentiment runs deep here, and protests flared across the country in anticipation of Bush’s visit. The threat of terrorist attacks also is ever present. A day before Bush’s visit, an American diplomat was killed in a suicide car-bombing at a U.S. consulate in the southern city of Karachi, a hotbed of Islamic militancy.
After conferring with Musharraf, Bush was meeting with business leaders, attending a state dinner and even watching a cricket match – a passion of Pakistanis.
With the attention to cricket and an event designed to showcase American contributions to Pakistan after a devastating earthquake in October, Bush hoped to boost the U.S. image among Muslims.
Bush said he would talk with Musharraf about 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.”
Bush’s trip brought renewed attention on the frustrating manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. Bin Laden and his followers are believed to be in hiding in the porous border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Earlier this week, Bush said it was simply a matter of when – not if – bin Laden was brought to justice.
There were anti-U.S. protests in cities and towns across Pakistan, with crowds burning American flags and chanting “Death to Bush.” About 1,000 stone-throwing people tried to march on the U.S. consulate in Karachi; police used tear gas and batons to stop them.
While many people here view the United States with mistrust, Pakistan has been an important U.S. ally in the Muslim world.
The Pakistani government says it has arrested about 700 al-Qaida suspects in the past four years, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Even so, key terror leaders are still thought to be at large within its borders.
Bush has promised to talk with Musharraf about the need for more democratic reforms. In his speech in New Delhi, Bush extolled India’s embrace of democracy and said it was the path all nations should follow.
“If justice is the goal, then democracy is the way,” Bush said.