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Biden says US committed to help Pakistan fight terror

US vice president-elect Joe Biden on Friday assured Pakistan’s leaders of the incoming Obama administration’s commitment to helping Islamabad fight extremists, the government here said.

Biden, who takes office on January 20 with president-elect Barack Obama, made the remarks in talks with Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief at the start of a regional tour with Republican senator Lindsey Graham.

Although Biden’s office has stressed he is in the region in his capacity as a senator, the trip is likely to be seen as carrying more weight, given Obama’s plans to shift the focus in the US-led “war on terror” to South Asia.

An aide to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said talks had focused on Islamabad’s ongoing contribution to the US-led “war on terror” as well as strained relations between India and Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks.

Zardari told Biden that “Pakistan was committed to fighting terrorism and extremism in its own interest,” the president’s office said in a statement. Biden in turn assured Zardari that the new US administration would support Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, adding that Washington recognised Islamabad’s “important contribution and sacrifices in the fight”.

The Delaware senator, who will soon surrender his seat and his post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reiterated the message in talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Biden said the new administration “fully realised that Pakistan alone could not fight this war and hence would support it in every way possible to succeed,” the prime minister’s office said.

Biden also met with army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, officials from both sides said. The US embassy, in a brief statement, confirmed Biden and Graham’s meetings without elaborating on the substance of the talks.Obama has outlined a new strategy for the region that emphasises ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

The United States will deploy up to 30,000 extra troops in Afghanistan this year to help quell the Taliban-led insurgency that has gripped that country for seven years and spilled across the border into Pakistan.

Pakistan’s lawless rugged tribal areas along the border are home to hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists who fled Afghanistan after the hardline Taliban regime was ousted from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

The commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, General David Petraeus, suggested Thursday that ending the conflict in Afghanistan required “a regional approach” including Pakistan, India and perhaps Iran.

“The way forward in Afghanistan is incomplete without a strategy that includes and assists Pakistan,” Petraeus said in Washington.

CIA drone aircraft are believed to have launched more than two dozen missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas since August, including one on January 1 that local officials said killed the head of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and his deputy.

Officials believe Usama al-Kini, described as Al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan, was behind the truck bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel last September, and was connected to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa.

Pakistan has repeatedly protested to the United States that the drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty, but some officials say there is a tacit understanding between the US and Pakistani militaries to allow them.

Gilani told Biden he hoped Washington would provide military support and equipment to Pakistan so that the “major issue of drone attacks... will be eliminated.”

Biden also came here to discuss simmering tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, which killed 165 civilians and security personnel. (AFP)

 

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