Wednesday, March 01, 2006

'Liberator' Bush.....

'Liberator' Bush makes first trip to Kabul
By Jo Johnson and Caroline Daniel in New Delhi
Published: March 2 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 2 2006 02:00
Original article at : http://news.ft.com/cms/s/e26f72f6-a991-11da-9f4e-0000779e2340.html


George W. Bush made his first visit to Afghanistan yesterday, where US forces toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The US president's un-scheduled stop in Kabul came as he made his way to New Delhi, where he was to be greeted by some of the most pro-American metropolitan elitesin the world. Mr Bush's approval ratings may have dropped to a low of 34 per cent at home, but in India they are double that.

The Kabul visit was part of a four-day south Asian tour that has offered him the prospect of a rare foreign policy success. Accompanied by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, and Stephen Hadley, national security adviser, Mr Bush behaved warmly towards Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, who hailed him as a friend and liberator of the Afghan people.

Yet at a press conference interrupted by the roar of military aircraft, Mr Bush struggled to explain why the Taliban were still a force in Afghanistan and why Osama bin Laden, famously "want-ed dead or alive", was still on the loose.

Mr Bush said he was confident the mastermind of the September 11 attacks and Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar would be captured. "It's not a matter of if they're captured, it's a matter of when they're brought to justice,'' Mr Bush said.

That the White House felt it necessary to keep the visit secret speaks volumes about the unfinished job facing coalition forces in Afghanistan, where the US lost more lives last year than in any year since the invasion and removal of the Taliban.

When reporters on Air Force One asked about a rumoured stopover in Af-ghanistan, during a refuelling stop at Shannon airport in Ireland, Mr Hadley responded curtly: "We're briefing India and Pakistan. That's the trip that we're talking to you about."

A similar information blackout surrounds his trip to Pakistan, however, for which no formal schedule has been published, reflecting unease at the swelling wave of anti-western riots triggered by the publication in Denmark of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

It is India, a country whose metropolitan elites are overwhelmingly pro-American, that offers Mr Bush the best chance of a significant foreign policy success, with a deal - still under tense negotiation - to legitimise India's nuclear programme.

"This is a difficult issue," Mr Bush said, speaking outside the presidential palace in Kabul, prior to a visit to US forces at Bagram airbase. "It's a difficult issue for the Indian government. It's a difficult issue for the American government."

US officials, who have long been warning that all mo-mentum will be lost if no agreement can be reached during the visit, are now in-sisting there is scope to continue negotiating the end to India's nuclear pariah status in the months ahead.

Mr Bush said: "Hopefully we can reach an agreement. If not, we can continue to work on it."

Ms Rice added: "This trip is not a civil nuclear power trip. This trip is a trip about the relationship between the United States and India."

More than 100,000 protesters gathered in central Delhi yesterday, chanting anti-US slogans and bearing banners that echoed one prominent Communist politician's public description of Mr Bush as the bloodthirsty leader of an "organised pack of killers".

Plans for him to address a joint session of the Indian parliament have been drop-ped for fear of a walk-out by leftwing politicians, leaving officials to secure use of a medieval fort-cum-zoo as the backdrop for his sole set-piece speech to the nation.

"His audience will be a few hundred caged animals," wrote Arundhati Roy, author and activist, in The Hindu newspaper. "Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the crocs recognise a kindred soul?"

Mr Bush has overruled his wife and shunned a visit to the Taj Mahal. But he has agreed to watch a "cricket event" in Pakistan.

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