Prince Charles Makes First Trip to Pakistan

Britain's Prince Charles met Pakistan's leaders on Monday to praise this country's counterterrorism efforts, discuss Muslim-Christian relations and raise the case of a Briton on death row, officials said.

Charles' five-day trip — his first to this South Asian nation — has been billed by British and Pakistan officials as a bid to boost bilateral cultural, economic and education relations as well as promote Charles' efforts to strengthen interfaith dialogue.

But the royal visit, which started with Charles arriving with his wife, Camilla, in the capital Islamabad late Sunday, is also expected to focus on efforts backed by the Prince of Wales to seek clemency for a British man of Pakistani origin who is on death row in a Pakistani prison.

Charles raised the issue of Mirza Tahir Hussain, who has been convicted in the 1988 killing of a taxi driver, with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the pair walked to the prince's car following their official meeting, a senior Pakistani diplomat said.

"Charles stopped and asked the president about the issue [of Hussain] and Musharraf told him that we are already looking into this case and our effort will be to handle it in a way that satisfies both sides," said the diplomat, who overheard the exchange and spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The official did not elaborate.

British officials have been tightlipped on whether the Prince of Wales planned to discuss with Pakistani leaders efforts to free Hussain, 36, who has been in Pakistani custody since his 1988 arrest.

Hussain was scheduled to be executed on Nov. 1 in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad, but Musharraf has delayed the execution until the end of the year.

During their formal meeting, Charles also praised Musharraf for Pakistan's efforts to counter terrorism, said British High Commissioner Mark Lyall Grant, who attended the meeting.

According to a separate foreign ministry statement, Musharraf informed the Prince "on the strategy and measures taken to control terrorism, militancy and extremism in the areas bordering Afghanistan."

Musharraf also "referred to the strong action taken by Pakistan security agencies against Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements," it said, without elaborating.

In return, Charles "praised Pakistan's role in combating terrorism and thanked Pakistan's crucial help in foiling the London plot," it said.

Musharraf and Charles also discussed the Afghanistan situation.

Charles appreciated Pakistani efforts in helping the process of stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan, it said.

Pakistan, which once supported the toppled Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, switched sides after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and became a key U.S. ally in its war on terror, handing over hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects to American authorities.

British High Commission spokesman Aidan Liddle said Prince Charles' visit to Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation of more than 150 million people, was also aimed at improving relations between religious faiths.

Pakistan witnessed violent protests following this year's publication of cartoons by European newspapers lampooning Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Muslims denounced the drawings as offensive to their religion.

On Monday, Charles also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at his office with his wife, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Aziz's wife greeted Camilla, and took her to her private residence.

Later Aziz, his wife Rukhsana Aziz, the prince and Camilla visited an exhibition of Pakistani products at the prime minister's residence, where a woman at a stall gave a head cap to Charles, while another woman gave a traditional Pakistani dress to Camilla.

Earlier, at a meeting with Charles at his office, Aziz told him that Pakistan had all the essential features of democracy, including a functioning Parliament, an active opposition and free media.

He told the prince that for the first time in the country's history the current Parliament would be completing its five-year term. Subsequently, the next parliamentary elections would be held in 2007, he said. Previous Parliaments have been dissolved amid political turmoil.

Pakistan has been ruled by its military for about half its about six-decade history. In 2002, Musharraf held a parliamentary elections after seizing powers in a 1999 coup.

Later, Charles launched a Youth Business International forum at the green laws of the prime minister's sprawling residence. The forum aimed to provide loans and mentoring to young Pakistani entrepreneurs with funds from the prince's trust.

"You have to build the mentoring capacity because it is easy to give money, but actually the crux of the matter is the advice," he said.

Charles said his trust so far had helped about 70,000 people across the world to start 15,000 new businesses.

In his remarks at the forum, Charles said, "We are very lucky, I think in Britain, to have so many Pakistanis," he said.

During his trip, Charles is also expected to inspect relief efforts in areas struck by last year's massive earthquake that killed more than 80,000 and left more than 3 million homeless.