ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Wednesday welcomed the Olympic torch for what its pro-China government hopes will be a festive and trouble-free leg of its world tour.
Protests against China's human rights record have marred the torch's passage through Western cities, and Pakistan has gone to great lengths to avoid any repeat during its short stay en route to Beijing.
A plane bringing the torch from Oman arrived at the military section of Islamabad airport shortly after midnight. A Chinese Olympic official carried a lantern containing the Olympic flame down the steps of the jetliner to where Pakistani sports chiefs and the Chinese ambassador were waiting.
After briefly posing for photographers with the lantern, the officials entered the terminal. Pakistani state television said the flame would be kept at a luxury hotel overnight.
Later Wednesday, about 60 Pakistani athletes will take turns to carry it to a ceremony featuring folk music and dancing at the city's biggest sports complex before guests including President Pervez Musharraf.
But instead of carrying the torch in relay along a 3-kilometer (nearly 2-mile) route from the white marble parliament building in Pakistan's grid-plan capital, as originally planned, the athletes will run only around the grounds of the Jinnah Stadium.
Col. Baseer Haider, an army official helping organize the event, said the change was made because of the "overall security environment" and the risk of bad weather. A violent hailstorm hit Islamabad on Tuesday.
The Pakistan Olympic Association has urged broadcasters using state TV coverage of the torch to avoid "negative comments" and make "no mention" of the conflict in Tibet.
Pakistan has strong and long-standing defense and economic links with China. Both are rivals of neighboring India. Musharraf is expected to return from a six-day official trip to China in time for the torch ceremony.
There have been no indications that rights groups are planning to repeat in Pakistan their protests against China, which disrupted torch relays in Paris, London and San Francisco.
The torch's stops in Argentinian, Tanzania and Oman have been trouble-free.
However, rioting in two Pakistani cities in the past week has raised tension in a country permanently on guard against attacks by Islamic militants based its border with Afghanistan. Chinese workers were targeted in two deadly attacks last year.
"We have to take care that there is no infiltration by some elements who are bent on disrupting our understanding and great relationship," Musharraf said in China on Monday.
The turmoil over the torch relay and the growing international criticism of China's policies on Tibet and Darfur have turned the Beijing Olympic Games — which begin Aug. 8 — into one of the most contentious in recent history.
The flame, which began its worldwide six-continent trek from ancient Olympia in Greece on March 24, is due in India on Thursday.
Pakistani sports stars chosen to carry the torch include Hassan Sardar, a field hockey gold-medallist in the 1984 Los Angeles games and squash legend Jahangir Khan.