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Clinton Travelled To Pak Secretly, Fearing Assassination

PTI 30 Sep 2009, 7:07:36 IST

With credible hard intelligence that al-Qaeda had lined up its marksmen in Islamabad to assassinate him, the then US President Bill Clinton landed there secretly, off schedule in an unmarked plane and not in Air Force One, a book has claimed.

"He felt bad for the pilots who flew an empty decoy plane with the markings of Air Force One, but this nerve-racking mission was their job," said the Pulitzer prize-winning author and historian Taylor Branch in his book 'The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President'.

"Clinton landed secretly off-schedule in an unmarked plane, taking with him the smallest functional entourage 'consistent with the dignity of the United States'," Branch writes, referring to Clinton's visit to the Indian sub-continent in March 2000.

"On live television, he addressed the people of Pakistan ('Democracy cannot develop if it is constantly uprooted...'), and negotiated privately with General (Pervez) Musharraf about delicate topics from Kashmir and nuclear sanctions to terrorism.

"Early in April, days after Clinton's departure, Pakistani courts sentenced the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to life imprisonment rather than the gallows," the book said, indicating it was also an offshoot of the Clinton visit during his presidency between 1993 and 2001.

"The president had arrived in South Asia in March. On tape he stressed the political wounds and grievances lingering in India from our Cold War policy favouring her mortal enemy, Pakistan. He described labours to initiate a more evenhanded approach with all the tools of a state visit," said the book based on the secret taped conversations between Clinton and Branch. 

Based on hard intelligence reports, Branch said, Clinton agreed to cancel a part of his trip to South Asia.  "He had agreed late to cancel one stop in Bangladesh a helicopter trip to the village of Joypura because of hard intelligence that Osama bin Laden had lined up the route with (al-Qaeda) assassins," the book said.

"The intelligence reports shifted in mid-trip. Bin Laden was said to have diverted some or all of his assassins from Bangladesh ahead to Pakistan. A covert "snatch team" raided one specific house near the airport runway in Islamabad, but bin Laden's men escaped with a shoulder-fired Stinger missile," the book said.  "Then, said the President, his security team activated its most elaborate precautions," Branch said. PTI