Powell opens visit to Pakistan
Associated Press WriterISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- With the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan just over the horizon, Secretary of State Colin Powell is meeting with Pakistani officials on reopening military ties and to encourage a reduction in tensions with India over Kashmir.
Powell, who undertook his trip under unusually tight security, will meet with President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday and then travel to India for talks on Wednesday with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Enhanced bilateral military ties and the Kashmir issue will be discussed there as well.
It was just after dark when Powell and his party landed at a military airport adjacent to Islamabad's main commercial airport. To limit visibility of the aircraft, all shades were drawn several minutes before touchdown.
Earlier Monday, thousands of shops around the country were shuttered in response to a general strike call by Muslim leaders opposed to Pakistan's support for U.S. airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan.
As a front-line state, Pakistan's support for U.S. anti-terrorism goals in Afghanistan is considered crucial. En route here, Powell praised Musharraf for political courage in giving the United States landing rights at air bases to facilitate U.S. military activities across the border. He praised India's cooperation as well.
"I'm very pleased that the two nations are aligned with us in the campaign against terrorism, aligned with the entire civilized world," Powell told reporters.
But U.S. officials recognize that neither country will be much help if their energies are sapped by a confrontation over Kashmir, a dispute that has gone unresolved for more than 50 years.
The danger of that fight was emphasized anew Monday. India's army announced it had fired on and destroyed 11 Pakistani military posts across a disputed cease-fire line in Kashmir. The shelling broke a 10-month calm along the border.
The trip is Powell's first abroad since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The State Department withheld details of Powell's arrival time and his activities here, recognizing the fierce opposition of many Pakistanis to their government's cooperation with the United States in efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization in Afghanistan. U.S. officials said Pakistani authorities were going to great lengths to ensure Powell's safety.
Powell told reporters he will confer with Musharraf and Vajpayee on the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan's western neighbor, where U.S. jets have been targeting both the bin Laden and Taliban infrastructures since Oct. 7.
Indicating he believes the demise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan may be just a matter of time, Powell said he sees a key role for the United Nations in the transition.
"Clearly the United Nations will be playing a leading role. No one government will be able to handle it," he said, adding that the best hope for a future stability is a broad-based government.
Powell said Richard Haass, director of the State Department's office of policy planning, will be the U.S. point man for the transition process.
Powell said he doubts the radical Islamic Taliban movement will play a role in a future government because of what he described as its dismal performance over the past five years.
As for military ties with Pakistan, Powell said he envisions resumption of U.S. training of Pakistani military personnel but said such activity won't be possible for the time being because of lingering sanctions against Pakistan.
He said arms sales may not be legal but added there is no reason the issue can't be discussed.
India has been sharing intelligence on terrorism groups and also has been conferring with the Pentagon about upgrading military ties.
Sanctions barring transfers of military equipment to India were waived recently. A U.S. program to provide training to Indian military personnel may be expanded, U.S. officials said.
Powell must gingerly address the issue of military transfers to the two countries lest one or the other accuse him of favoritism.
India and Pakistan fought two wars over Kashmir and now have nuclear weapons.
The latest spate of tension over the Indian-held and predominantly Muslim region resulted from a car bombing there that killed almost 40 people. India, outraged, blamed Pakistan. Pakistan says aggrieved Kashmiris are fighting for self-determination.
Powell said he will attempt to encourage dialogue to ease tensions.
After his stop in India, Powell will travel to Shanghai, China for talks with colleagues from Asia-Pacific countries in advance of the Asia-Pacific summit meeting that begins later in the week. President Bush is scheduled to arrive in Shanghai Thursday evening.