ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan is fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban for its own interests, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Saturday as he embarked on his first official visit to the United States.
Gilani, in office since March, is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in which militant sanctuaries along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Australia on Friday, set the tone for the visit by stressing Pakistan had to do more to curb the flow of militants fuelling the Afghan insurgency.
“Extremism and terrorism are our own problems. This is our own fight. This is our own cause,” he told reporters at a military airbase in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, before his departure.
“My priority number one is to maintain law and order in the country ... and that’s why it is in our own interest that extremism and terrorism is contained.”
The United States has long been frustrated at what it views as inadequate efforts by its major ally in the war on terror to do enough to combat militants along the border with Afghanistan.
Washington has broadly supported Gilani’s policy of using tribal elders to influence militants to give up violence but has expressed worries that militants would use the breathing space provided by talks to step up attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials have shown impatience over the rising number of attacks in Afghanistan, raising fears in Pakistan that U.S. forces might take action against militant bases on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan, which itself is facing growing militant violence at home, says it would continue fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban but would not allow foreign forces to take action in its territory.
Hundreds of people have been killed in a wave of suicide attacks across Pakistan since mid-2007, including the one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.
During his four-day visit, Gilani would also meet U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by David Fogarty