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DIPLOMACY Bush talking today with India's leaders


Published: Wed, March 1, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


Terrorist bin Laden and ex-Taliban ruler Omar have been on the run for years.
COMBINED DISPATCHES
NEW DELHI -- Paying an unannounced visit Wednesday to Afghanistan, President Bush vowed that Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and former Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammad Omar eventually would be apprehended.
"It's not a matter of 'if' they're captured or brought to justice, it's 'when' they're brought to justice," Bush said during a four-hour visit en route to nearby India and Pakistan.
Wednesday's stop was the first by Bush to Afghanistan since the U.S. overthrew the country's Taliban government after the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide air attacks by Al-Qaida on the United States. Bin Laden and Omar have been in hiding since the U.S.-led war.
Unlike Bush's trip to Iraq for Thanksgiving in 2003, for which a news blackout was imposed until Bush had left the country, Wednesday's visit to Afghanistan was high-profile, featuring a televised outdoor news conference with Afghan President Hamid Kharzai, an address to U.S. Embassy staff and remarks to cheering troops while standing with wife Laura and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The symbolism was clear: Bush seeking to showcase a functioning democracy. But armed helicopters buzzing overhead occasionally drowned out the leaders' words, and the latest vow to capture bin Laden illustrated the challenges that remain in a country struggling with insurgent attacks and a growing drug trade.
Here's the situation
Bush's visit came in the same week that a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official told the Senate Armed Services Committee that insurgent violence in Afghanistan has risen 20 percent over the past year, putting the elected Kharzai government in greater danger than at any point since the Taliban's ouster five years ago.
The president's words on bin Laden and Omar were unusually strong, reminiscent of the early days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon when he vowed that the U.S. would catch bin Laden "dead or alive."
Meanwhile, Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hope to usher in a new era in U.S.-India relations when they meet again today in New Delhi. But Indians remain cautious about their country's budding relationship with the United States, and some are downright hostile.
A coalition of activists, union workers and students will lead a huge "Bush Go Home" march through the Indian capital as the two leaders meet.
Most Indians aren't as virulently opposed to closer ties with the United States as the protesters are, but many worry about being sucked into a relationship in which India is the junior partner.
Relations with India
"The suggestion that India is growing close to the United States is a bit premature," said retired navy Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, a member of the prime minister's task force on global strategic developments. "I think the Indian leadership and people are still ambivalent about how close we should get to the United States."
Singh has been steering India steadily toward closer ties with the United States, breaking with the approach of the last half-century, when India's outlook was often anti-American and frequently was aligned with the Soviet Union.
The new course, supporters said, is laying the groundwork for the emergence of India as an economic and global power in the 21st century.
"This is a moment when we need to rewrite the song, to change the way we're going to deal with the world," Indian analyst C. Raja Mohan said this week at the release of his book on U.S.-India relations since Bush took office. "The future of India and Indian diplomacy in the next 40 years is going to be very different than the last 40."


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