ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Vice President Joe Biden 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 the United States and its motives.
Hours after Biden spoke, a suicide car bomber devastated a police station and an adjoining mosque in the northwestern Bannu region, killing 18 people and providing a fresh reminder of the United States' challenges in the unstable, nuclear-armed Islamic country.
The Associated Press said its reporter was called by a man who identified himself as Ehsanullah Ehsan and claimed to be a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban. The man claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP said.
Reflecting the delicacy of U.S.-Pakistan ties, 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.
Biden's one-day trip came a week after a security guard with extremist sympathies gunned down Salman 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.
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 United States is a long-term friend.
Security lapse: Police reports indicate that Mumtaz Qadri, 26, the police guard who confessed to gunning down Taseer, had been assigned to the president and to the prime minister 18 times over the past three years and to two foreign delegations, the AP said.
Assault planned: Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said Pakistan will mount military assaults against terrorists in North Waziristan, a haven for the Taliban and al-Qaida along the Afghan border. Haqqani told Bloomberg News in an interview Tuesday in Washington that Pakistan has amassed 38,000 military and paramilitary forces in the tribal area in the past few months. Pakistan does not want U.S. troops on the ground there, Haqqani said.