Indo-US ties not targeted against Pak: Biden

US Vice President Joe Biden dismissed criticism that his country favours India and wants to "weaken or dismantle" Pakistan.

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2011, 00:57 AM IST

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.

PTI