Bush in Asia: Unexpected Night in Pakistan

It has been a trip marked by secrecy and surprise. Following an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, President George W. Bush left India a day early, choosing to spend Friday night under heavy security in Islamabad, where he is set to meet Saturday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The White House had initially announced that Bush would spend only a few hours on the ground in the Pakistani capital out of security concerns. On Thursday morning, a bomb attack near the U.S. consulate in Karachi, several hundred miles south of Islamabad, killed four people, including an American employee, and injured more than 50. At a press conference that afternoon, Bush condemned the attack and said the bombing would not change his plans. "Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," Bush told reporters.

Later that night, White House officials announced Bush would make an early departure from New Delhi—where he and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached what the U.S. president called a "historic" nuclear pact with India—and spent the night inside the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound in Islamabad. Bush departed from the Indian city Friday evening, taking with him a dozen reporters and photographers on Air Force One. It had been rumored that Bush might fly into Pakistan on an unmarked plane, as Bill Clinton did in 2000. But the president and his entourage opted to stick with the usual Boeing 747, flying into Islamabad well after dark.

About midway through the 90-minute flight to Islamabad, a White House official came back to the press cabin and ordered reporters to lower the window shades. The plane's lights were turned off—both on the exterior and inside the cabin. "Stay tight and near me," the administration official told reporters in advance of the expected heavy security.

Even after Air Force One landed at the Islamabad International Airport, the plane's lights remained off. Inside the aircraft, reporters and administration officials used the glow of cell phones to pack up their bags and guide their way to the plane's exit.

Yet once reporters exited on the tarmac, the president's visit didn't seem so secret after all. The runway was illuminated by several large TV lights, as more than a dozen local TV cameras filming Bush's arrival. The airport's terminal was brightly lit and its exterior had been draped with a large welcoming banner featuring individual photos of Bush, Musharraf and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, A FRIEND OF PAKISTAN, the banner read. WELCOME OUR DISTINGUISHED GUESTS.

Reporters were quickly hustled to the presidential motorcade and sped off down the deserted Islamabad highway toward the city. The streets, lit only by the sliver of the moon, were completely empty. Pakistani police officers and military officers stood guard along the side of the road, as the motorcade sped by at upward of 100mph.

It was unclear if Bush was actually in the presidential motorcade. No reporters had witnessed the president climb into his limo, and after the entourage arrived at the U.S. Embassy, senior administration officials, including deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, remained near the motorcade as an unlit, unmarked helicopter landed behind a building at the compound. Afterward, White House staff proceeded into the building, prompting speculation among reporters that Bush had arrived by air instead of car.

What is clear is that Bush will have a busy day tomorrow. While the White House still has not announced the official schedule—again citing security—Bush is expected to attend a state dinner at Musharraf's residence and spend several hours in meetings with Pakistani officials, during which the fight against Al Qaeda is expected to be a prime issue.

Bush has cited Musharraf as a key ally in rounding up terrorists—including Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. officials believe is hiding in the rugged mountains along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. "He has had a direct stake in this fight," Bush said of Musharraf earlier this week. "Four times the terrorists have tried to kill him."

While Bush arrived to empty streets in Islamabad, his reception in other parts of the country has been less than welcoming. Several hours before touching down in Pakistan, protests erupted in the region. In Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad, police broke up a protest of nearly 1,000 people, who chanted "Death to America" and "Killer Bush." Protestors in Karachi, near the site of Thursday's bombing, burned American flags and yelled "Go Back, Bush!"

Pakistani officials have promised unprecedented security in Islamabad, with more than 7,000 police and military officers patrolling the streets. But the White House seems to be taking no chances. It is expected that most of Bush's meetings tomorrow will take place within close proximity to the secure compound of the U.S. Embassy. Even so, White House officials have been visibly nervous. On the eve of Bush's visit, national-security adviser Stephen Hadley assured reporters that the "necessary precautions are in place." But, he added, "This is not a risk-free undertaking."

KHUE BUI FOR NEWSWEEK; COPYRIGHT 2006 BY KHUE BUI; Pakistani journalists wait at an Islamabad airport for the arrival of the U.S. president; Farooq Naeem / AFP-Getty Images; AFP; Pakistanis demonstrate against the Bush visit in Rawalpindi on Friday

Bush in Asia: Unexpected Night in Pakistan | News