| Out of step' Bush and Musharraf on their way to the news conference in Islamabad on Saturday. (Reuters)
Islamabad, March 4: Hours after flying into Pakistan under cover of darkness, window shades drawn, President George W. Bush today ruled out a nuclear pact with Islamabad similar to the one with Delhi.
“Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and history,” he told a joint news conference, with President Pervez Musharraf at his side.
Later, a joint statement ' unusually for Islamabad ' made no reference to Kashmir, though Musharraf had told reporters he had sought Bush’s involvement in “facilitating” a resolution of the issue. The statement, however, backed the India-Pakistan dialogue process to resolve bilateral “disputes”.
“I referred to Kashmir and requested him (Bush) to remain involved for facilitating for resolution of all issues, including Kashmir,” Musharraf had told the joint news conference.
But Bush said the role of the US was to continue to encourage the parties to come together to resolve the dispute. The best way for Kashmir to be resolved is for leaders of India and Pakistan to step up and lead.
On a trip that may have brought him to within several hundred miles of Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Bush’s formal talks with Musharraf focused on the war against terror.
Bush, who had insisted on visiting Pakistan despite a blast killing four persons ' including an American diplomat ' before the US consulate in Karachi, was flown almost surreptitiously to the Pakistan military’s Chaklala airbase outside Islamabad last night.
Scores of US security personnel waited on the runway, with barbed wire and parked buses strategically placed to stop any would-be attacker breaking through.
As a further precaution, the media was kept confused on whether Bush would travel from the airbase to the heavily fortified US embassy, where he stayed last night, by motorcade or by helicopter.
The President left Pakistan late tonight, from an airbase in Rawalpindi.
“Thursday’s bombing in Karachi showed that the war on terror goes on,” Bush said. “My mission in Pakistan was also to determine whether or not President Musharraf is as committed to the anti-terror war as he has been earlier.”
The joint statement later said the two leaders “reaffirm their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. President Bush is grateful for President Musharraf’s strong and vital support in the war on terror.”
Bush stressed his country’s full support to Pakistan in its efforts to lay strong foundations for democracy, and added that Musharraf understood that the October 2007 parliamentary election needs to be “open and fair”.
He said the issue of democracy has been part of the US agenda of engagement with Pakistan.
Bush also visited Afghanistan. He said he had wanted to go there ever since the Taliban were toppled in late 2001, and finally got his chance.
The White House kept the trip secret until just a few hours before Bush was due to land.
After flying over the barren mountains of Afghanistan, Air Force One dropped quickly, banked hard and landed at high speed at Bagram airbase.
Helicopters flying unusually low to avoid chances of any militant getting lucky with a rocket-propelled grenade then took Bush and his entourage to Kabul.
On board one of the choppers, reporters were jarred when door gunners sprayed machine-gun fire out at the barren countryside. Who they were firing at was unclear.
It might have been a test fire. But it was a clear sign Bush had entered hostile territory.