ISLAMABAD | Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned Pakistanis on Wednesday about the dangers of failing to counter growing Islamist extremism in a speech that also hit back at what he said were popular Pakistani misconceptions about America and its motives.
Hours after Mr. Biden spoke, a suicide car bomber devastated a police station and adjoining mosque in a northwestern region, killing 18 people and providing a fresh reminder of America's challenges in the unstable, nuclear-armed Islamic country.
Reflecting the delicacy of U.S.-Pakistan ties, Mr. Biden did not mention any frustrations in Washington over the Pakistani army's reluctance to move into a key militant sanctuary along the northwest border with Afghanistan, instead concentrating on Washington's efforts to boost the alliance between the two countries.
Mr. Biden's one-day trip came a week after a security guard with extremist sympathies gunned down Salmaan Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab province. The pro-Washington government also narrowly avoided collapse when it convinced a key coalition partner not to join the opposition.
The spread of Islamist extremism in the country has been on display after some Pakistanis celebrated or at least failed to condemn the killing of Mr. Taseer. Mr. Biden's office said the vice president called the widow, Amna, to express his condolences.
"Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions," Mr. Biden said alongside Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who along with other politicians, has been criticized for failing to respond forcefully to the right-wing Islamist parties who appeared to condone the killing.
Mr. Biden sought to counter anti-U.S. conspiracy theories and ideas commonly heard in Pakistan, saying Washington has not imposed its anti-terror war on Pakistan, does not favor archrival India, does not want to break up the country and is not at war with Islam.
"We are not the enemies of Islam, and we embrace those who practice that great religion in our country," he said.
Washington has committed to giving Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid in the coming years to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, stabilize the country and show its military and civilian leaders that the U.S. is a long-term friend.
The U.S. also is asking Islamabad to step up military efforts against Taliban and al Qaeda militants who use bases in northwest Pakistan to launch attacks on American and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
"As we embark on this new year, we must in my view, and the president's, rededicate ourselves to building on the progress we have made in the last couple of years and what still must be achieved, together," Mr. Biden said.