"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," Bush said in New Delhi shortly afterward. "My trip to Pakistan is an important trip. It is important to talk with President [Pervez] Musharraf about continuing our fight against terrorists. After all, he has had a direct stake in this fight. Four times, the terrorists have tried to kill him."
Bush said he wants to show solidarity with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a leading U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. He noted that militants have tried four times to kill the Pakistani leader.
But what Bush has to say about terrorism probably won't come as news to Musharraf, according to Ted Galen Carpenter, the vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, a policy-research center in Washington, D.C.
Carpenter tells RFE/RL that the main reason for Bush's visit to the region was to complete the nuclear deal with India and to give a vote of confidence to President Hamid Karzai during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on March 1.
Visit De Rigueur
But Bush couldn't very well make a high-profile visit to India without making a visit to rival Pakistan, Carpenter notes. That would have been viewed as a snub, especially in a country where Musharraf already faces broad opposition.
As long as Bush is in Islamabad, Carpenter says, he may as well personally urge Musharraf to increase his campaign against Al-Qaeda and similar militant groups based in border areas of Pakistan that are believed to be responsible for cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
But Carpenter says it is one thing to press for a crackdown in the area, and entirely another to expect results.
"Islamabad's writ has really never been effective [in this region]. That's not just true of the Musharraf government, it's true throughout the history of Pakistan. This is largely a self-governing region, and many of the tribes there have friendly attitudes toward Al-Qaeda. So it's fairly easy for Al-Qaeda operatives to operate in Afghanistan. If the heat gets sufficient there from U.S. forces, they just retreat across the border in Pakistan."
Some observers have suggested that Musharraf may lack the will to crack down on militants in the border region, but Carpenter says it would take what he calls a "major, major undertaking" to establish Islamabad's authority there.
Kashmir Link To Al-Qaeda?
Before his trip to South Asia, Bush also said he would urge both Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep up their negotiations over disputed Kashmir. In an interview broadcast on February 26 on Pakistani television, Bush expressed optimism about the talks.
"In just my discussions with both the president [of Pakistan] and the prime minister, there appears to be a different attitude," Bush said. "I will use my trip to urge the leadership to continue solving this issue, with the idea that it can be solved."
Some have dismissed Bush's optimism as unrealistic, given the two countries' deep divisions over Kashmir. But Carpenter points out that Musharraf lately has been less supportive of Islamic militants fighting in Kashmir who have also carried out bombings in New Delhi, and Bush has an opportunity to prod the Pakistani leader to crack down on them more.
"He [Bush] could in this instance argue that the Kashmiri groups are allies of Al-Qaeda, that they are cut from the same cloth, and that if Musharraf wants to neutralize the radical Islamic opposition to his government -- and help the U.S. with regard to Al-Qaeda -- then he needs to tighten the leash on the Kashmiri groups," he says.
But Carpenter says Bush is likely not to put great pressure on Musharraf over Kashmir, limiting himself to what he calls "gentle prodding." After all, he says, Bush is pleased with the easing of tensions between India and Pakistan over the past few years, and will do everything he can to see that the tensions are eased further.
Who's Got The Bomb?
DECLARED NUCLEAR-WEAPONS COUNTRIES:
country warheads (est.) date of first test
United States 10,500 1945
Russia 18,000 1949
United Kingdom 200 1952
France 350 1960
China 400 1964
India 60-90 1974
Pakistan 28-48 1998
North Korea 0-18 2006
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, but it has not declared itself a nuclear-armed country.
South Africa constructed six uranium bombs but voluntarily dismantled them.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine all gave up the nuclear weapons that were on their territory when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.