ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan Monday just as tensions with India flared up again over Kashmir.
Powell will meet with Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday and travel to India Wednesday for similar meetings with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Powell said that he is not going to Pakistan and India to deliver any special message from Washington, but that the trip was the message itself.
President Bush, worried that fighting between the rivals "could create issues" for the U.S.-led war next door in Afghanistan, said he sent his secretary of state there "to talk to both sides about making sure that if there are tensions — and obviously there are — that they be reduced."
"It is very important that India and Pakistan stand down during activities in Afghanistan or, for that matter, forever," Bush said Monday after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Powell's mission began in a shroud of security that started with passengers lowering the window shades of the plane that landed in Islamabad. U.S. officials said Pakistani authorities were going to great lengths to ensure Powell's safety.
That heightened security is in response to clear opposition in Pakistan toward U.S. military strikes against targets in Afghanistan. Earlier Monday, thousands of shops around the country were shuttered in response to a general strike called by Muslim leaders there.
Despite the public opposition, U.S.-Pakistani relations have undergone a metamorphosis since Sept. 13 — two days after the attacks on America — when Musharraf agreed to throw his weight behind the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
Powell praised Musharraf for having the political courage to allow the U.S. landing rights at air bases to facilitate military activities across the border. He praised India's cooperation as well.
"I'm very pleased that the two nations are aligned with us in the campaign against terrorism, aligned with the entire civilized world," Powell told reporters.
Pakistan has already been rewarded for its participation. U.S. economic sanctions — instituted against Musharraf for his bloodless coup two years ago that put him in power — have been lifted.
Powell said more rewards may be to come.
The government may put in place military-to-military exchanges such as officer training, but said such activity won't be possible for the time being because of lingering sanctions against Pakistan.
Powell admitted that equipment sales were very likely high on Musharraf's agenda but said arms sales may not be legal although the issue is on the table for discussion.
Powell must gingerly address the issue of military transfers to the two countries lest one or the other accuse him of favoritism.
That may be difficult as India grows more hesitant over Pakistan's warming relations with the United States. Pakistan and India have been at odds for more than 50 years over the disputed region of Kashmir, a majority Muslim territory controlled by Pakistan but claimed by India.
A recent spate of tension was a car bombing there that killed almost 40 people. India blamed Pakistan for the attack.
Monday, India's army announced it had fired on and destroyed 11 Pakistani military posts across a disputed cease-fire line in Kashmir. The reported shelling broke a 10-month calm along the border.
India says Pakistan arms, trains and funds Islamic militants based in Pakistan who move across the border into Indian-controlled Kashmir to carry out terrorist attacks.
Pakistan says that it provides only moral, not material, aid to the guerrillas.
India has been sharing intelligence on terrorism groups and also has been conferring with the Pentagon about upgrading military ties.
Sanctions barring transfers of military equipment to India were waived recently. A U.S. program to provide training to Indian military personnel may be expanded, U.S. officials said.
Monday's arrival, however, focused on Pakistan. Powell said he was encouraged that Pakistan realized that "the Taliban is no longer part of the future of Afghanistan." The Taliban regime, which protects Usama bin Laden, has had its command and controls centers flattened in nine days of assaults by the United States.
Powell said he doubts the radical Islamic Taliban movement will play a role in a future government because of what he described as its dismal performance over the past five years. He said he believes their demise may be just a matter of time, and he sees a key role for the United Nations in the transition to a new government.
"Clearly the United Nations will be playing a leading role. No one government will be able to handle it," he said, adding that the best hope for a future stability is a broad-based government.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.