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Cheney Asks Pakistan To Counter al-Qaida

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Underscoring growing alarm in the West at how militants have regained ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday sought Pakistani aid to help counter al-Qaida's efforts to regroup, officials said.

However, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insisted his forces have already ``done the maximum'' possible against extremists in their territory _ and insisted that other allies also shoulder responsibility in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Cheney, accompanied by CIA deputy director Steve Kappes, made an unannounced stop in Pakistan en route to Afghanistan, where snow prevented him from reaching Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The vice president made no public comment in Pakistan, but a senior aide to Musharraf said they held detailed talks, including a one-on-one lunch of more than an hour.

``Cheney expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaida in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat,'' Musharraf's office said.

He also ``expressed serious U.S. concerns on the intelligence being picked up of an impending Taliban and al-Qaida 'spring offensive' against allied forces in Afghanistan,'' the statement said.

The Musharraf aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not an official spokesman, said the two men ``exchanged ideas and suggestions'' on improving cooperation against terrorism. However, he said Cheney made no specific demands.

U.S. and British officials praise Pakistan publicly for its role in arresting al-Qaida suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and for a string of bloody operations against militants along the border.

Five years after the Taliban's ouster from power, however, militants have regained ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are signs of U.S. and NATO frustration at Musharraf's limited success in disrupting Pakistan-based Taliban fighters, who are expected to step up raids into Afghanistan in coming months, and in trapping Taliban and al-Qaida leaders suspected of holing up in tribal areas of Pakistan near the border.

The Bush administration wants Musharraf to be more aggressive in hunting al-Qaida operatives, and has raised the possibility that the U.S. Congress could cut aid to Pakistan unless it takes tougher steps.

``The Pakistanis remain committed to doing everything possible to fight al-Qaida, but having said that, we also know that there's a lot more that needs to be done,'' presidential spokesman Tony Snow said.

Cheney's visit was kept secret until the last moment for security reasons. He landed at a military base outside Islamabad and then took a helicopter to the presidential palace.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. was working with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries to combat al-Qaida ``worldwide and on the Afghan border. ``I don't doubt that al-Qaida has tried to regenerate some of its leadership,'' she said on ABC's ``This Week'' program.

Musharraf complains that Pakistan is being unfairly singled out for blame for problems rooted in the U.S.-sponsored battle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He also says there is no evidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden or the Taliban's Mullah Omar are on Pakistani soil.

On Monday, Musharraf told Cheney that Pakistan ``has done the maximum in the fight against terrorism and ``joint efforts'' were needed if the fight was to succeed.

``The president emphasized that most of the Taliban activities originated from Afghanistan and the solution of the issue also lies within that country,'' his office said. The more than 50,000 NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well as Afghan security forces also share responsibility for policing the border, Musharraf added.

The president also expressed concern about proposed U.S. legislation that would link Washington's generous military aid to a certification by President Bush that Pakistan is doing its best to counter Taliban operations in Pakistan and secure its frontier. U.S. officials have said they expect to persuade Democrats to drop the link before the bill, which passed the House in January, becomes law.

In September, Musharraf struck a deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan area in which they are supposed to curb militant activities.

Critics say the deal has effectively ceded control of the area to pro-Taliban militants and allowed them to step up recruitment and cross-border attacks.

Musharraf defended the accord as ``the way forward,'' his office said.

Pakistani officials acknowledge the deal has not been properly implemented, but argue that large-scale military action was alienating moderate tribesmen. The U.S. is helping fund a development program designed to persuade tribal leaders to turn against the militants.

In Afghanistan, Cheney landed at Bagram Air Base, about 30 miles north of Kabul. He had planned to travel to Kabul, likely by military helicopter, but a steady snowfall made the trip unsafe, and it was canceled, said Khaleeq Ahmad, a spokesman for Karzai.

Cheney and Karzai had been expected to talk about security along the Afghan-Pakistan border and the expected increase in violence by militants as spring thaws mountain snows.

The United States has 27,000 troops in Afghanistan. About 14,000 are part of the 35,000-member NATO force commanded by U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill. At Bagram, Cheney met with McNeill and Maj. Gen. David M. Rodriguez _ the commander of U.S. troops _ to discuss military operations, the security situation and reconstruction, said Maj. William G. Mitchell, a U.S. military spokesman.
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