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Rice vows long-term Pakistan quake aid

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday met with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad, promising long-term U.S. help for earthquake victims.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday promised long-term U.S. help for Pakistan after an earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.

Returning from a trip through Central Asia and Afghanistan, Rice met with Pakistani leaders in the capital, Islamabad, but did not tour the devastated Kashmir region.

“The United States has, as many parts of the world have, been through natural disasters,” she said. “This is one of epic proportions. I want the people of Pakistan to know that our thoughts are with you ... We will be with you not just today but tomorrow.”

Rice spoke after discussing U.S. relief contributions with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri.

Rice predicted more U.S. earthquake aid for Pakistan beyond an initial $50 million but gave no specific figures or timeline. Tens of thousands were believed killed in Saturday’s quake, with millions left homeless after entire communities were flattened in the region touching Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

With additional helicopters arriving Wednesday, the United States will have 12 helicopters as well as heavy military transport planes in Pakistan for the recovery effort. The United States is also contributing medical equipment and other supplies.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said an additional 21 helicopters and other equipment is at the ready.

Afghanistan visit
Earlier in Kabul, Afghanistan, Rice praised political progress in the country four years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban regime. She brushed off rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in downtown Kabul that occurred overnight just hours before her arrival.

“It happens from time to time, so it doesn’t change our plans,” Rice said of the attacks, which wounded two people.

After she spoke, Afghan officials said militants killed six police and five medical workers in separate attacks in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has seen more war then peace in recent decades, and much of the country is still in ruins. It also has installed a new and relatively stable democratic government and saw more than 6 million vote in largely smooth elections last month.

At the same time, rampant drug trafficking and rising insurgent violence imperils some of the democratic gains of U.S. ally, President Hamid Karzai.

“Violence is going to continue, but this is a place that has come a very long way,” Rice told reporters traveling with her from Kyrgyzstan.

At a news conference with Karzai, Rice said U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan “as long as they are needed and in whatever numbers they are needed” and added that the United States learned a lesson from allowing Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists before Sept. 11, 2001.

“We cannot simply defend ourselves,” she said. “We have to be on the offense.”

Drug trafficking seen as key
Karzai acknowledged the continued problem of insurgent violence in his country, but said it will not block progress toward democracy.

What could determine success or failure in the long term is Afghanistan’s response to drug trafficking on its soil, Karzai said.

“That will determine Afghanistan’s future as a state that stands on its own feet, a state that has the respect of the international community. ... or as a state that will collapse and fail and fall back into the hands of terrorism,” he said.

Neither Rice nor Karzai directly addressed whether they had privately discussed allegations that Karzai’s own government includes drug traffickers.

Rice met Karzai and others in Kabul before flying to Islamabad.

Her route into Kabul from the airport took her past newly repaired buildings but also through a slalom course or heavy barricades, razor wire and gun towers that revealed the daily threat of bombings and rocket attacks.

About 1,400 people have been killed in Afghanistan since March in a campaign of violence that authorities blame on a resurgent Taliban.