Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — Targeting extremists is the best way to strengthen Pakistan, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday as he defended an aggressive pursuit of terrorists while also offering assurances to the Pakistani people that the U.S. has no wish to take over their government or wipe out Islam.
Biden, in a quick stop in the Pakistani capital, met with government and military leaders and gave a speech that acknowledged deep-seated Pakistani resentment over tactics used to combat Al Qaeda terrorists.
He flew here Wednesday morning after a surprise visit to neighboring Afghanistan, the focus of a nine-year U.S. campaign to rout Al Qaeda. In an internal review of the conflict released last month, the Obama administration warned that Pakistan and Afghanistan served as the "operational base for the group that attacked us on 9/11."
The report went on to describe Pakistan as crucial to the destruction of religious extremists and to call for "more progress with Pakistan" in eliminating the havens used to mount terrorist attacks.
Biden gave no indication that unpopular U.S. tactics would stop, or even change much, as troops and aerial drones converge on a hotspot in the battle: the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the last few years, the U.S. has made numerous incursions into Pakistan to search for terrorists.
Biden said American officials were concerned about "misconceptions" surrounding U.S. intentions, as reflected in Pakistan's popular culture, especially media and TV shows. He sought to counter those perceptions in his speech at the prime minister's residence after an hourlong meeting with government leaders.
Terrorists, Biden said, "have found refuge in some of the most remote parts of your country."
"There are those … who accuse the U.S. of violating your sovereignty as we support your army and pursue terrorists where they hide," he said.
But the religious extremists who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, are also a mortal threat to Pakistan, Biden said. The two nations have a common interest in chasing down terrorists and preventing future attacks, he said.
Anyone who suggests that the U.S. does not want a flourishing, self-governing Pakistan is mistaken, he said.
"I respectfully suggest it is the extremists who violated Pakistan's sovereignty and corrupt its good name," the vice president said. "Our goal is to work with your leaders and restore and strengthen Pakistan's sovereignty in those areas of your country where extremists have violated it."
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to reassure Americans that his country was a stout ally. Some American officials doubt Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism.
Biden's visit came amid growing anger in Pakistan over military incursions on its side of the border with Afghanistan. In the fall, Pakistan closed a border crossing for 11 days after an incursion by a NATO helicopter resulted in the slaying of a pair of Pakistani troops. The crossing was used to deliver food and supplies to NATO troops operating in Afghanistan.
After leaving Pakistan, Biden flew to Iraq for meetings with leaders there.