Indo-US ties not targeted against Pak: Biden

Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Jan 12 (PTI) US Vice President Joe Biden todaydismissed criticism that his country favours India and wantsto "weaken or dismantle" Pakistan, saying the strategicpartnership between Washington and Islamabad, including in thefight against al-Qaeda and Taliban, is vital for both sides.

Biden, who arrived here today on a day-long visit fortalks with Pakistan''s civilian and military leadership,did some plain talking about anti-American feelings in thiscountry.

He said the US was not against Islam but would continuetaking action against extremists holed up in the tribal areasof Pakistan.

"There are also those who believe that our policiesfavour India and seek to weaken (or) even dismantle this greatcountry. You know and your colleagues know that is deadwrong," Biden said during a joint press interaction with PrimeMinister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

"We want what you want � a strong, stable, prosperous anddemocratic Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours,including India. We want that not just for your sake but wewish your success because it''s in our own interest, it''s inthe interest of the entire region and I would argue the entireworld."

Noting that al-Qaeda continues "to plot attacksagainst the US and our interests to this very day," Biden madea reference to militants holed up in Pakistan''s tribal belt,saying al-Qaeda''s operatives had "found refuge in some of themost remote portions" of the country.

In an apparent reference to US drone attacks in thetribal belt, which the Pakistan government has described as aviolation of the country''s sovereignty, Biden said Washingtonwas working with Islamabad to restore sovereignty wherever ithad been violated by extremists.

"I would respectfully suggest that it is the extremistswho violate Pakistan''s sovereignty and corrupt its good name.

The US is working to restore and strengthen sovereignty inareas where extremists violated it," he said.

Al-Qaeda works with extremist allies that have targetedPakistan and its people, killing thousands of securitypersonnel and civilians in areas like Swat, Biden said.

The US Vice President also referred to the recentassassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by a policeguard for criticising the blasphemy law, saying he was killed"simply because he was a voice for tolerance andunderstanding."

"There is no justification for such senseless acts.

Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed bythose actions," he warned. (More) PTI RHL KIM AKJ

Biden also dismissed the contention of America''s critics in Pakistan that the country "disrespects Islam andits followers."

He pointed out that the US has a sizeable Muslimpopulation and that Islam is the fastest growing religion inAmerica.

Challenging those who make such allegations, Biden askedthem to name any other country where all faiths enjoy greaterfreedom of worship.

"We are not the enemies of Islam and we embrace thosewho practice that great religion in our country," he said.

Rejecting speculation that the US would abandonPakistan when its troops pull out of Afghanistan, he saidWashington is working with Islamabad to move from a"transactional relationship" to a true partnership.

Two of the efforts in this direction are the strategicdialogue, which covers diverse areas like energy, healthcareand education, and the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package worth7.5 billion dollars for Pakistan that was finalised in "verydifficult economic times."

In his remarks, Gilani said he and Biden had discussedcombating terror, issues of regional stability and promotingreconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.

Both leaders did not take any questions at theinteraction.

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