| Condoleezza Rice in Islamabad on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Islamabad, June 27 (Agencies): US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice arrived in Islamabad today on a mission to make Pakistan and Afghanistan stop their bickering and work better together to fight Taliban forces.
However, Rice said she expects President Pervez Musharraf to fulfil his promise to hold democratic elections next year. “There has to be, the world expects there to be, democratic, free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007, Rice said.
Rice’s return to the region, just three months after accompanying President George W. Bush there, comes at a time when both the Afghan and Pakistani leaders are suffering from slumps in popularity and their credibility is being questioned abroad.
Though her first stop was Pakistan and a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, the top US diplomat gave stout backing to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.
“This is an extraordinary leader and we’re going to back him, and back him fully,” said Rice, who had wanted her visit to Kabul to be kept secret for security reasons until she arrived in Asia.
Rice praised both allies for their efforts in the war on terrorism, but knows she has her work cut out in a region where Osama bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders have evaded capture for nearly five years.
“The piece we need to work harder on is the cooperation that is US-Afghan-Pakistani in that region,” Rice said. “We want (in Pakistan) to talk about what more we can do.”
The level of violence in Afghanistan, especially in the south, is now the worst it has been since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, with over 1,100 people killed since January.
Rice said part of her mission was to assess how much money to ask US Congress to allocate to Afghanistan next year. Anti-U.S., anti-Karzai riots rocked Kabul earlier this month, and prompted observers to review progress made in Afghanistan.