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Bush polishes line for Pervez: deliver Osama & take F-16s

Washington, June 22: The ball, according to Pakistanis here, is squarely in Pervez Musharraf’s court. On Tuesday, when he meets George W. Bush at Camp David, he can kick the ball and score a goal if he so chooses.

The goal, sources here say, is Osama bin Laden’s head, “dead or alive”, as the US President said after September 11.

The prize for Musharraf for scoring the goal, they say, is delivery of 28 gleaming new F-16 planes, which Pakistan’s President has made a touchstone of sorts for Washington’s friendship with Islamabad.

Stories have been swirling here in the last one week about a deal on F-16s. But South Asia Tribune, a well-informed Pakistani web newspaper, here today went on record to say that the quid pro quo for the planes would be bin Laden’s head.

The hard bargaining began long before Musharraf left Islamabad last week on his four-nation tour, including the US and Britain.

First, the Pakistanis, who were miffed by a special gesture from Bush in meeting Indian national security adviser Brajesh Mishra in the Oval Office, dropped broad hints that Musharraf should stay overnight at the presidential retreat at Camp David.

The general’s factotums who negotiated the visit would have preferred a meeting between Pakistan’s dictator and the US President at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, the highest reward in protocol terms for guests — the kind of special treatment reserved for leaders like Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair and China’s Jiang Zemin. But Bush wasn’t going to be at Crawford and it is common knowledge here that Musharraf isn’t quite there — not on that rung of the leadership ladder as Putin or Blair.

So the overnight stay at Camp David was proposed, but several Bush aides were opposed to the idea. At White House meetings, sources said, the aides articulated their worry that a Camp David event would send the wrong signals to India.

The intelligence agencies ultimately prevailed, arguing that Washington still needed Musharraf and that there was little hope of finding bin Laden without placating the Pakistani dictator.

The Washington Post reported a few days ago that ultimately it was Bush who settled the debate and decided that Musharraf will, indeed, fly to Camp David on Tuesday. But there will be no overnight stay at the retreat, which would have been next in protocol terms to a trip to the ranch.

Instead, Musharraf will take a helicopter ride from here to Camp David, lunch with the President and return to Washington in a few hours.

Even in Washington, Musharraf is not being accommodated at Blair House, the presidential guest house, where Atal Bihari Vajpayee stayed. So did Musharraf earlier but, this time, he is staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, an upper end of this town.

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