ISLAMABAD: Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate kicked off a five-day tour of Pakistan on Tuesday amid much fanfare and tight security.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan. They were scheduled to attend a cultural event later in the day.
Authorities deployed more than 1,000 police and paramilitary forces to ensure the royal entourage’s protection, setting up checkpoints and roadblocks in parts of the capital, Islamabad.
Alvi and his wife welcomed the couple, releasing a statement saying the president “commended” them for raising “awareness about mental health, climate change, and poverty alleviation.”
Prince William thanked the president for his warm welcome and the hospitality extended to him and his entourage, the statement said.
The royals were accompanied by British Ambassador Thomas Drew, the Duke’s private secretary, Simon Case, and Christian Jones, communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, according to a government statement.
The royal couple’s first engagements were visiting a school for girls in the capital followed by a tour of the nearby national park at Margalla Hills.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are strong advocates of girls’ education, were greeted by teachers and children on their arrival at the Model College for Girls.
Wearing a royal blue traditional kurta _ a loose collarless shirt _ and trousers, Kate sat with children in a classroom as Prince William shook hands with a teacher.
According to the United Nations’ annual Human Development report, most Pakistani girls will drop out after primary school and on average go to school for seven years. Barely 27% of girls in Pakistan attend secondary school, the report said, compared to nearly 50% among boys.
Taliban militants in Pakistan violently oppose girls’ education and infamously shot Malala Yousafzai _ now a leading girls’ education activist who attends Oxford University in Britain. Militants in recent years have damaged girls’ schools in the northwest, including the Swat Valley, which is home to Yousafzai.
The royal couple arrived in Islamabad Monday night.
William’s mother, Princess Diana, visited Pakistan in the 1990s to participate in a fundraising event for a cancer hospital built by Khan, who took office last year. Diana died in a car accident in 1997 and many Pakistanis still remember her for her charity work.
Khan’s office later said the prime minister’s meeting with the royal couple was held in a “warm and cordial atmosphere.”
It said Khan “recalled the love and affection among the people of Pakistan for Princess Diana, because of her compassion as well as commitment to support charitable causes.”
Britain’s Press Association reported that Pakistan’s cricket star-turned-politician Khan during his meeting with the royal couple recalled a conversation with William some 22 years ago about his ambitions of becoming prime minister.
On Tuesday, Pakistan Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan took to Twitter to note the visit is taking place months after British Airways resumed flights to Pakistan, over a decade after they were suspended in the wake of a truck bombing of a hotel in the capital, which killed dozens.
Pakistan has witnessed scores of attacks in recent years, though the security situation has improved recently.
While the royal couple was in Islamabad, a roadside bomb went off near a police vehicle in the southwestern city of Quetta, killing a police officer and wounding 10 people. The couple had no plan to visit that region.
For security reasons, authorities shared limited details about William and Kate’s itinerary, which is expected to include a visit to the country’s scenic northern provinces and the historic eastern city of Lahore.