Rice Promises Long-Term Support for Devastated Pakistan

The devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita fresh in mind, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) promised Wednesday that the United States would provide help over the long haul for Pakistan's recovery from a killer earthquake.

Rice detoured from a trip to Afghanistan and Central Asian nations to briefly visit Pakistani leaders and American troops ferrying supplies in and wounded out of the rugged earthquake zone.

"The United States has, as other parts of the world have, been through natural disasters," Rice said following a meeting with Pakistan's foreign minister. "This one is of epic proportions, and I want the people of Pakistan to know that we will be with you."

That promise is good "not just today, but tomorrow," Rice said.

Rice came with no specific new pledge of U.S. money beyond an initial $50 million contribution. She predicted more American financial aid will come, and said she will encourage other nations to be generous.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake demolished whole communities Saturday, mostly in the Himalayan region of Kashmir (search). The U.N. estimated that 2 million people have been left homeless.

The Pakistani government's official death toll was about 23,000 people and 47,000 injured, but those numbers are expected to rise. More than 1,400 people also died in Indian Kashmir (search).

The United States is providing military helicopters, planes, pilots and supplies, with more at the ready. Rice toured a landing zone at the Islamabad airport where a battered U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter had dropped off 65 wounded earlier Wednesday.

Some of the world's poorest nations offered help to the United States after Hurricane Katrina (search) swamped New Orleans and blew apart homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast on August 29. Perceptions of a slow and bungled federal response to Katrina dented the can-do U.S. image abroad.

Pakistan offered doctors and paramedics, and Afghanistan pledged $100,000.

Pakistan is a key ally in the Bush administration's war on terrorism, but President Bush and U.S. foreign policy are unpopular among many Pakistanis. Rice tried to make a personal appeal.

"This is not just friendship between governments, it's friendship between people," she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Rice pledged long-term commitment to Afghanistan, another regional ally with trouble at home.

Like Pakistan, Afghanistan's close ties were forged out of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after which the United States led an invasion to topple the hardline Taliban regime and launched an unsuccessful search for terror mastermind Usama bin Laden along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Afghanistan has seen more war than peace in recent decades, but now has a more stable democratic government and celebrated successful elections last month with 6 million participants.

Now President Hamid Karzai (search) must contend with rampant drug trafficking, a dysfunctional economy and persistent violence.

Five suicide attacks in two weeks, and the most deadly attack yet on Afghanistan's young police force raise the possibility that a resurgent Taliban is learning terrorism lessons from Iraq.

More than 1,300 people have been killed since March in a campaign of violence that authorities blame on the Taliban. On Saturday, the U.S. military suffered its 200th death in and around Afghanistan since the invasion. This year has been the deadliest yet for the 19,000 American soldiers based there, with 84 killed.

Rice said U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan for a long time to come, and renewed a promise that the United States will not make the mistake of walking away from Afghanistan before the country is stable and secure.