ISLAMABAD – President Obama's national security adviser reiterated the United States' strong support for Pakistan in its battle with Taliban militants during talks with senior Pakistani leaders on Thursday.
Islamabad, meanwhile, called for an end to U.S. missile attacks on its soil, two days after a suspected drone strike killed 80 people in the country's northwest.
Gen. James Jones discussed Washington's revamped strategy for the volatile region during talks with Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari during his two-day visit to Islamabad.
He stressed that the two nations face a common battle against extremists.
"Terrorism is not simply the enemy of America — it is a direct and urgent threat to the Pakistani people," Jones said in a statement after meetings.
The Obama administration has made the region a focus of its foreign policy, and is deploying an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to tame a growing Taliban insurgency there. Pakistan shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan and has its own problems with militants, and Washington views Islamabad's role as crucial to returning stability to the region.
Gilani, meanwhile, voiced concern that the beefed up U.S. presence in Afghanistan could send a new wave of Afghan refugees across the border, his office said in a statement.
Islamabad is already grappling with its own internal refugee problem and would likely be ill-equipped to handle a new influx of people. Some 2 million Pakistanis have been forced from their homes by the army's offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, northwest of the capital.
With the operation in Swat winding down, Pakistan's military is gearing up for a new campaign in South Waziristan, where heavily armed tribesmen hold sway and Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding.
Washington strongly supports both campaigns, viewing them as a test of nuclear-armed Pakistan's resolve to confront a growing insurgency after years of halfhearted offensives and peace deals with militants. The battle in the tribal region could also help the war in Afghanistan because the area has been used by militants to launch cross-border attacks on U.S. and other troops.
Jones called the Pakistani government's push against militants "tremendous confidence-builders for the future."
"That translates into popular support in the United States for what the government is trying to do, what the army is trying to do, and it obviously helps us in our overall fight," Jones said in an interview broadcast on Express 24/7 television.
"It's a very, very important moment right now, it's a strategic moment, and the relationship is definitely [moving] in the right direction."
Jones' visit comes two days after one of the deadliest attacks by suspected U.S. missiles on Pakistani soil that killed 80 people in the northwest. Gilani called for an end to such strikes "in order to ensure [the] success of Pakistan's strategy for isolating the militants from the tribes," the statement said.
Militant leaders have been targeted in dozens of strikes in the past two years from U.S. drones, high-tech, remote control planes used for both surveillance and to fire Hellfire missiles. The U.S. military concedes it uses drones in Pakistan, but never comments on the strikes.
Pakistan has loudly disapproved of the attacks because they involve the use of force by a foreign government on its soil and sometimes kill innocents and are highly unpopular among the Pakistani public.