ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 26, 2007 By STEPHEN GRAHAM
The Associated Press
(AP) Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday that al-Qaida was regrouping in Pakistan's remote border area and sought President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's help in a stiffened push against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, officials said.
Following his unannounced stopover in Pakistan, Cheney flew to Afghanistan for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai, but the session was canceled because of bad weather.
The Bush administration is pressing Musharraf _ a key Washington ally in the war on terrorism _ to do more to disrupt Pakistan-based Taliban fighters and hunt down al-Qaida operatives suspected of hiding in tribal areas near the border. It has raised the possibility that Congress could cut aid to Pakistan unless tougher steps are taken.
"The Pakistanis remain committed to doing everything possible to fight al-Qaida, but having said that, we also know that there's a lot more that needs to be done," Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said in Washington.
Musharraf complains that Pakistan is being blamed for failures inside Afghanistan and contends that there is no evidence that al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden or the Taliban's Mullah Omar are in Pakistan.
Cheney made no public comment, but he "expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaida in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," Musharraf's office said.
Musharraf told Cheney that Pakistan "has done the maximum in the fight against terrorism."
He also expressed concern about proposed U.S. legislation that would link Washington's generous military aid to Pakistan to the country's commitment to combatting militants. U.S. officials have said they expect to persuade the Democrats to drop the link before the bill, which passed the House in January, becomes law.
Musharraf struck a deal with militants in the North Waziristan area in September, under which tribal leaders are supposed to curb militant activities. "The president said it was the way forward," his office said, arguing that moderate tribesmen are best turned against the militants with economic aid and political measures that through military force.
Cheney's visit to Pakistan had been kept secret until the last moment for security reasons. Cheney's plane had landed at a military base outside Islamabad and taken a helicopter to the presidential palace, a grand white building overlooking Pakistan's planned capital. CIA deputy director Steve Kappes accompanied Cheney.
U.S. and British officials have previously lavished praise on Pakistan for its role in arresting al-Qaida suspects and trying to bust the hideouts of militants who fled to Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also held talks with Musharraf and expressed concern about the suspected militant safe havens near the Afghan frontier.
Beckett, who called on Musharraf and her Pakistani counterpart, Khursheed Kasuri, at the start of a two-day visit, said both Britain and Pakistan should help curb militants.
"We very much welcome the cooperation and support that we have had from the government of Pakistan," Beckett said. "We all agree that that is something we wish to see continue and wish to see strengthened. And of course we all would like to see people who are terrorists not able to rest in safe havens."
Kasuri complained that more needed to be done on the Afghan side, where tens of thousands of foreign troops operate, to counter militants. He said there were only about 100 border posts on the Afghan side, compared with about 1,000 on the Pakistani side.
"Why should terrorists be allowed from Afghanistan to come into Pakistani tribal areas to recruit? Why are they not killed there?" Kasuri said. "This is a joint responsibility."
He said he did not know whether the U.S. had shared with Pakistan any intelligence showing that al-Qaida is reorganizing in the border region. Pakistan says it relies heavily on U.S. spy satellites and drones to track militants.
Cheney later flew to Bagram Air Base, north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. He had planned to travel from Bagram to Kabul, but canceled the trip due to steady snowfall in the capital, said Khaleeq Ahmad, a spokesman for Karzai.
Cheney and Karzai had been expected to talk about security along the Afghan-Pakistan border and an anticipated increase in violence by Taliban militants as warmer spring weather thaws mountain snows.
The United States now has about 27,000 troops in the country _ the highest number ever. About 14,000 of those troops are part of the 35,000-member NATO force, which a U.S. general _ Gen. Dan McNeill _ took command of earlier this month.
Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Terence Hunt in Washington contributed to this report.