Bush hails Pakistan as strong ally in terror fight

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush praised Pakistan Monday as a strong ally in the fight against terrorists and as committed to securing its border with Afghanistan.

The president appeared on the South Lawn with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The visit came at a tense moment in ties between the countries, with calls from U.S. officials for Pakistan to stop militants from staging cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In words meant to bolster the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Bush said Gilani has made a "very strong commitment" to securing the dangerous border region.

Gilani said he wants the people of the United States to know that vast majority of Pakistanis want peace, and want to cooperate with the U.S.

Gilani's White House visit comes amid increased calls by senior U.S. officials for Pakistan to stop militants from staging cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

More violence on border
Officials and state media said that missiles hit a religious school in a village just inside Pakistan's border with Afghanistan on Monday, killing six people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the incident followed a series of strikes apparently by U.S. aircraft in recent months against militant leaders holed up in Pakistan's tribal belt.

White House press secretary Dana Perino had no comment on the origin or outcome of the strike. A U.S. airstrike last month killed 11 Pakistani border troops.

Many in Washington have expressed frustration with the new Pakistani government's pursuit of peace deals with tribes along the lawless Pakistani-Afghan border. Critics say the deals have removed military pressure from the region and allowed terrorists to regroup and stage attacks on U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.

Perino said the anti-terror fight would be the chief topic at the Bush-Gilani meeting later Monday, and she defended Pakistan's efforts. She suggested the White House supports the government's moves to "establish some form of communications" with those in the border areas, while saying they are acting aggressively on the military front.

'All need to be doing more'
"The president believes that Pakistan, including Prime Minister Gilani, recognize that the terrorists are a threat to the Pakistanis themselves — not just to the United States or others," she said. "Does the president think they are doing enough? I think the president thinks we all need to be doing more."

Pakistan has resisted suggestions that U.S. or other foreign troops should be allowed into the remote region to combat militants.

The new Pakistani government won elections in February against the party of President Pervez Musharraf, a staunch U.S. ally and former army chief. Pakistan officials say they are working to strike agreements that would require the tribes to give up their weapons, withdraw support for foreign fighters and end attacks across the border.

U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban fighters are sheltering in Pakistan. Militants based in Pakistani tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and his top aide are believed to be hiding, have said they are sending fighters to Afghanistan.