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General does an Agra on America

Washington, Dec. 4: Capping an unprecedented Pakistani diplomatic foray into Latin America, General Pervez Musharraf arrived here today as a tail of the Bush administration and will leave after a whistlestop at the White House having wagged the proverbial dog.

A joint appearance by Musharraf and President George W. Bush at the White House was remarkable for what it did not say.

During their hour-long talks, unusually held on a Saturday, Musharraf, it was clear, did an Agra on the Americans.

But unlike the Indian leaders assembled in Agra during Musharraf's controversial visit to that city in 2001, the Americans were left by the wily General virtually unaware of what he had done to them.

According to Pakistani sources here, Musharraf gave Bush a lecture on how to fight terrorism, feigning the role of a martyr in the fight against Osama bin Laden.

Neatly pre-empting the Americans from even any remote criticism of Pakistan, Musharraf, it is understood, told Bush that the US military should put greater pressure on al Qaida in Afghanistan, near its border with Pakistan, in the search for bin Laden.

It was a diplomatic masterstroke, according to analysts here and one Musharraf is not unused to perpetrating on his unsuspecting interlocutors.

Ironically, almost on the eve of Musharraf's talks here, Islamabad had sent out unambiguous signals that it was scaling down the hunt for bin Laden in the tribal area of Waziristan, where the Saudi fugitive is said to be hiding.

Musharraf's strategy was simple, but clever. His objective was to step up pressure on Bush as he enters his second term at the White House to deliver F-16 fighter planes, which the US has refused so far to sell to the Pakistani Air Force.

In this effort, Musharraf is making it clear to Bush that his contribution to the war against terrorism has a price.

If the Americans do not cough up that price, he has ways of twisting their arm.

Musharraf told the media today that the F-16 issue figured in his talks with Bush. But he did not elaborate.

To cover up the true nature of their White House talks, Bush, to all-round surprise, dwelt at length on how he had discussed with Musharraf the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. 'We discussed international politics...' Bush said in his opening remarks to the media after the summit.

It was clear he had offered some sops to Pakistan in view of the inability of the White House to supply the F-16s, at least as of now. 'We talked about commerce between our countries,' Bush said.

'The President is very concerned about whether or not Pakistan goods are being treated equally, fairly, as other goods coming into the US. I listened very carefully to what he had to say. He had some constructive ideas as to how to deal with that situation.

'Having brought up his economy, however, I reminded him that he is doing quite a good job of making sure that the economy grows in Pakistan so that people have got a chance to realise their dreams.'

Musharraf's effort to portray himself as a martyr for America's fight to capture bin Laden also had its echo in Bush's answers to reporters' questions. 'The President has been a determined leader to bring to justice not only people like Osama bin Laden, but to bring to justice those who would inflict harm and pain on his own people.'

The US President even condoned the democracy deficit in Pakistan. 'You see, there are some in the world who do not believe that a Muslim society can self-govern. Some believe that the only solution for government in parts of the world is for there to be tyranny or despotism. I don't believe that. The Pakistan people have proven that those cynics are wrong.'

And where President Musharraf can help in world peace is to help remind people what is possible.'

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