ISLAMABAD (AP) — Offering sympathy for victims of the latest terrorist bombings, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday praised Pakistan's assault on extremists and pledged U.S. support at what she called a critical point in the country's history.
"Pakistan is in the midst of a struggle against tenacious and brutal extremist groups who kill innocent people and terrorize communities," she told a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, just hours after a car bomb in Peshawar killed at least 91 people and wounded more than 200.
"I want you to know this fight is not Pakistan's alone," Clinton said. "These extremists are committed to destroying what is dear to us as much as they are committed to destroying that which is dear to you and to all people. So this is our struggle as well."
Appearing with her, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the violence would not break his government's will to fight back.
"The resolve and determination will not be shaken," Qureshi said. "People are carrying out such heinous crimes — they want to shake our resolve. I want to address them: We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan."
Clinton said her visit — the first since she became secretary of state — was designed to chip away at anti-Americanism in this predominantly Muslim nation and to offer U.S. support for the government's struggle against extremism.
Qureshi praised her for coming, saying, "This visit of yours will build bridges" between Pakistanis and Americans. "This visit is well timed."
Three hours' drive from the capital, a car bomb tore through a crowded market in Peshawar in the northwest — the latest attack apparently aimed at denting public backing for a new army offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban close to the Afghan border.
Clinton said the Obama administration intends to do more to support Pakistan on a wide range of issues, including economic development, energy generation, education and the environment. She suggested that the administration of former President George W. Bush had focused too narrowly on Pakistan's value as an ally in the war on terrorism, neglecting other aspects of the relationship.
"We are turning the page on what has been for the past several years primarily a security, anti-terrorist agenda," she told reporters on the flight from Washington. Anti-terrorism "remains a very high priority, but we also recognize that it's imperative that we broaden our engagement with Pakistan."
Upon arriving on an overnight flight, Clinton went directly into talks with Qureshi. She was meeting later with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. She also planned to see Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Although this is Clinton's first visit as secretary of state, she said she was here once as first lady during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton, and three times as a U.S. senator from New York. The Obama administration's coordinator of policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has spent a lot of time here and in Afghanistan searching for effective ways of implementing President Barack Obama's policy on containing extremism in both countries. Holbrooke was accompanying Clinton Wednesday.
One of the most sensitive issues facing Clinton is Pakistan's unexpectedly negative response to congressional passage of a bill providing $7.5 billion over five years for economic and social programs in Pakistan. The Pakistani military was especially critical, saying the bill amounted to U.S. meddling in Pakistan's internal affairs.
As America's top diplomat, Clinton arranged her three-day visit to get maximum public exposure. She planned to meet with students, business leaders, opposition figures and other elements of Pakistani society.
"It is fair to say there have been a lot of misconceptions about what the United States intends for our relationship with Pakistan," Clinton told reporters on her overnight flight, adding, "It is unfortunate there are those who question our motives. I want to clear the air."
In addition to the U.S. partnership with nuclear-armed Islamabad in fending off insurgent efforts to destabilize the government, Washington sees Pakistan as central to its strategy in neighboring Afghanistan. Taliban militants seeking to overthrow the government in Kabul find haven on the Pakistani side of the border.
Clinton praised the Pakistani government for pressing a high-risk military offensive against extremist forces in a volatile region near the Afghan border.
"I give the Pakistani government and military high marks for taking them on," she said. "That wasn't what they were doing before."
The campaign in South Waziristan, which began Oct. 17, has ramifications beyond Pakistan, Clinton said.
The U.S. Secretary of State also called the killing of innocent people "cowardly, not courageous."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.