Vice President Biden, in Pakistan trip, emphasizes U.S. commitment to country
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 5:56 PM
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Vice President Biden insisted Wednesday that the United States will not abandon Pakistan in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war, sternly rejecting the notion as one of several widely held "misconceptions" here about U.S. intentions in the region.
Democracy and stability in Pakistan - where al-Qaeda and a complex stew of other Islamist militant groups have found haven - are in the "vital self-interest" of both countries, Biden said during a one-day, unannounced visit to the Pakistani capital.
"It is the extremists who violate Pakistan's sovereignty and corrupt its good name," Biden said at a news conference with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. The U.S. objective, Biden said, "is to restore and strengthen sovereignty in those areas of your country where extremists have violated it."
Biden arrived Wednesday morning on a trip meant to reemphasize the U.S. commitment to Pakistan and to pressure the country to shore up its floundering economy and more aggressively pursue militants based in its territory. In addition to Gillani, Biden also met with President Asif Ali Zardari and the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.
The Obama administration's intensified war effort in neighboring Afghanistan has given new priority to bolstering Pakistan's government, which previously received far less U.S. aid than did the country's powerful military. Congress passed a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian aid package in 2009, and the two nations have since held "strategic dialogue" sessions to focus on issues such as agriculture and energy.
"The only productive way forward is a long-term, enduring partnership," Biden said Wednesday.
But the relationship is rocky, and both sides voice suspicion of the other's intentions. U.S. officials have been frustrated by Pakistan's reluctance to move against militants based in the northwestern tribal area of North Waziristan, some of whom strike American troops in Afghanistan. U.S. officials contend that Pakistan supports some militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, as a bulwark against Indian influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistani military officials say they will launch an offensive when they are ready. They say that the U.S. military has failed to stop insurgents from crossing into North Waziristan from Afghanistan and that U.S. policy favors India, Pakistan's arch-foe - a belief that some Pakistani nationalists argue reflects U.S. efforts to weaken Pakistan.
Biden rejected that Wednesday as "dead wrong."
"We want what you want: a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan," he said. "We wish your success because it's in our own interest."
Biden's visit, his first to Pakistan since taking office, came amid a string of reminders about the volatility of this nuclear-armed country.
Last week, the liberal governor of Punjab province was assassinated by his police guard, who was then widely hailed as a hero. Days later, Gillani's pro-U.S. government saved its ruling coalition from collapse only by backpedaling on economic reforms, drawing rebukes from U.S. and International Monetary Fund officials.