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Updated: January 12, 2011 14:27 IST

U.S. vice-president in Pakistan for talks

AP
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U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, left, is welcomed by Marilyn Wyatt, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, centre, upon his arrival at airforce base in Rawalpindi, on Wednesday. Photo: AP.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, left, is welcomed by Marilyn Wyatt, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, centre, upon his arrival at airforce base in Rawalpindi, on Wednesday. Photo: AP.

Vice-President Joe Biden was meeting Pakistani leaders on Wednesday to strengthen a vital but often troubled alliance in the fight against Islamist extremism.

Biden’s one-day trip comes amid fresh reminders of America’s challenges in the unstable, nuclear-armed Islamic country.

A liberal governor from the ruling party was gunned down last week by a member of his security detail, while the government narrowly avoided collapse when its coalition partners threatened to pull out.

Washington is committed to giving Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. It is also asking Islamabad to step up military efforts against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants who use their havens in northwest Pakistan to launch attacks on American and NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Biden is expected to discuss both elements of U.S. strategy with Pakistani political and military leaders during his brief trip on Wednesday. The visit was not disclosed ahead of time for security reasons, as is common in Pakistan.

U.S. policy makers regard Pakistan as of equal, if not more importance, to America’s long-term strategic interests than Afghanistan.

Much of the war supplies for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan, and al-Qaida’s leadership is presumed to be based in the northwest close to the Afghan border. Islamabad’s nuclear weapons mean that Washington cannot afford to destabilize the country, or risk a takeover by Islamists.

While encouraging the Pakistani military to take action against militants in regions close to Afghanistan, the CIA has stepped up its use of drone strikes to target militants in the borderlands over the last year. Earlier on Wednesday , one such strike in the North Waziristan region killed four people, intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

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