Jan 12, 2011

Biden calls on Pakistan to step up

Biden calls on Pakistani's to step up

By Patricia Zengerle and Chris Allbritton
Reuters, 1/12/2010

ISLAMABAD — Vice President Joe Biden attempted on Wednesday to dispel what he called common anti-American misperceptions in Pakistan while urging the government to fight growing religious extremism.

Biden's comments at a news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani come as the United States seeks to put further pressure on Pakistan to take on Islamist militants who have taken refuge in Pakistani border sanctuaries from where they attack Western forces in Afghanistan.

Commenting on the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last week at the hands of his own bodyguard for supporting changes in a controversial blasphemy law, Biden said the United States was "saddened by cold-blooded murder of a decent, brave man."

"The governor was killed simply because he was a voice of tolerance and understanding," he said.

"As you know all too well ... societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions."

Earlier, Biden called Amna Taseer, the widow of the slain governor, to express his condolences on behalf of the president and the American people.

In addition to economic, political and security crises, Pakistan is beset by a growing religious extremism among the poor and middle class, which often translates into suspicion toward the United States and the West in general.

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Militant groups have exploited grievances, exacerbated by U.S. drone attacks in the west of the country, to build support.

"We know that there are those -- I am not talking about leadership, I am talking about the public discourse -- that in America's fight against al Qaeda, we've imposed a war upon Pakistan," Biden said.

"They (al Qaeda) continue to plot attacks against the United States and our interests to this very day," he said. "They have found refuge in the most remote portions of your country."

Pakistan often denies the presence of al Qaeda leadership on its soil.


But Biden also expressed American support for Pakistan in the form of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Law, which provides $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years. Biden was an early sponsor of the bill when he was a senator.

"A close partnership with Pakistan and its people is in the vital self-interest of the United States of America," he said. "And ... in the vital self-interest of Pakistan as well."

The vice president arrived in Islamabad after two days in Kabul, where he said Pakistan needed to do more to help the United States in its battle against Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan as it prepares to withdraw its troops from there.

Pakistan is one of the largest non-NATO recipients of U.S. military aid -- it is expected to receive about $3 billion this year -- but ties are constantly on edge because of conflicting interests in the region.

Pakistan most pressing worry is the tentative 2011 timeline for the beginning of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan. It wants assurances that its interests in Kabul will be protected -- and Indian influence checked -- while at the same time the United States won't leave chaos for Pakistan to clean up, as happened in the early 1990s after the Soviet pull-out.

Washington's concern is that it won't be able to begin its drawdown if Pakistan continues to refuse to crack down on militant safe havens in its ethnic Pashtun border areas.

Washington has been pressing Islamabad to move against militants in the North Waziristan region as it has in other parts of the country. Pakistan's military has launched several offensives in the northwest but has said it does not have the capacity to do more.

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