Indo-US ties not targeted against Pak: Biden

Islamabad: US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday dismissed criticism that his country favours India and wants to "weaken or dismantle" Pakistan, saying the strategic partnership between Washington and Islamabad, including in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban, is vital for both sides.

Biden, who arrived here today on a day-long visit for talks with Pakistan`s civilian and military leadership, did some plain talking about anti-American feelings in this country.

He said the US was not against Islam but would continue taking action against extremists holed up in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

"There are also those who believe that our policies favour India and seek to weaken (or) even dismantle this great country. You know and your colleagues know that is dead wrong," Biden said during a joint press interaction with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

"We want what you want ? a strong, stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours, including India. We want that not just for your sake but we wish your success because it`s in our own interest, it`s in the interest of the entire region and I would argue the entire world."

Noting that al-Qaeda continues "to plot attacks against the US and our interests to this very day," Biden made a reference to militants holed up in Pakistan`s tribal belt, saying al-Qaeda`s operatives had "found refuge in some of the most remote portions" of the country.

In an apparent reference to US drone attacks in the tribal belt, which the Pakistan government has described as a violation of the country`s sovereignty, Biden said Washington was working with Islamabad to restore sovereignty wherever it had been violated by extremists.

"I would respectfully suggest that it is the extremists who violate Pakistan`s sovereignty and corrupt its good name.

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

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

The US Vice President also referred to the recent assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by a police guard for criticising the blasphemy law, saying he was killed "simply because he was a voice for tolerance and understanding."

"There is no justification for such senseless acts.

Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions," he warned.

Biden also dismissed the contention of America`s critics in Pakistan that the country "disrespects Islam and its followers."

He pointed out that the US has a sizeable Muslim population and that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America.

Challenging those who make such allegations, Biden asked them to name any other country where all faiths enjoy greater freedom of worship.

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

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

Two of the efforts in this direction are the strategic dialogue, which covers diverse areas like energy, healthcare and education, and the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package worth 7.5 billion dollars for Pakistan that was finalised in "very difficult economic times."

In his remarks, Gilani said he and Biden had discussed combating terror, issues of regional stability and promoting reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.

Both leaders did not take any questions at the interaction.

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