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Prince Charles thanks Pak for fighting terror

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, met President Musharraf and PM Shaukat Aziz at the start of a five-day tour.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 16:24 IST

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla thanked Pakistan for efforts to counter terrorism on Monday at the start of a visit aimed at fostering goodwill in a country where most of Britain's Muslims have family.

After arriving late on Sunday night, Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, met President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at the start of a five-day tour that British officials have termed an exercise in "soft diplomacy".

"The British government and its people are appreciative of the steps taken by Pakistan to counter extremism and terrorism," a British diplomat quoted Prince Charles as telling Musharraf.

Intelligence sharing thwarted a plot to blow up US-bound airliners flying to the United States from London's Heathrow airport in August.

Security arrangements are likely to limit the royal couple's contact with ordinary Pakistanis, despite their aim to see different aspects of Pakistani life during their first visit to a country where close to 750,000 British Muslims have family.

They were scheduled to visit a madrassa, an Islamic school, in Peshawar on Tuesday, but the trip to the capital of North West Frontier Province comes at an awkward time.

A Pakistan Army helicopter attack on Monday killed up to 80 people at a madrassa run by a militant cleric linked to Al-Qaeda in the Bajaur tribal area bordering Afghanistan, enraging the anti-Western Islamist parties ruling NWFP.

While madrassas in Pakistan have a reputation as militant recruiting grounds, the majority provide a basic education and board and lodging for children of poor families.

Pakistani madrassas became a hot topic after revelations that several British-born Muslims had been recruited to Al-Qaeda's cause and had visited religious schools in the country, notably two of the suicide bombers who carried out attacks on London's underground and a bus on July 7, 2005.

More recently, Britain was engulfed in public debate over whether Muslim women teachers should be allowed to wear a niqab, a head scarf and veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes, in the classroom.

Senior Pakistani officials said a British team sent in advance of the royal couple's visit had raised the issue of a British man of Pakistani descent who is being held on death row in Rawalpindi, the town next door to the capital, but the prince did not broach the subject himself when he met Musharraf and Aziz.

Mirza Tahir Hussain, 36, has spent half his life in jail, after the killing of a taxi driver in Islamabad in 1988.

Hussain was initially acquitted, but an Islamic court sentenced him to hang in 1998 after two out of three judges on the panel found him guilty of murder.

Hussain said the taxi driver pulled out a gun after trying to sexually assault him and was killed when it went off while they struggled.

He has exhausted the appeal process, and Musharraf turned down an earlier plea for a pardon. British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the case with Musharraf in London a month ago.

The Pakistan government is seeking a way to grant clemency, officials said, but it does not want to be perceived as acting under pressure.

First Published: Oct 30, 2006 16:24 IST