The Pakistani government is defending its stand on combating terrorism at a time of growing concern in Washington about the depth of Islamabad's commitment to the cause. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports Pakistan's prime minister and a leading member of the U.S. Congress debated the issue Sunday in back-to-back interviews on American television.
In recent days, President Bush has focused on the growing threat posed by al-Qaida terrorists as he seeks to boost public support for the war in Iraq.
Al-Qaida has long been held responsible for the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States. And just this past week, the president said there is evidence al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladin has ordered his followers in Iraq to plan new assaults on American targets.
U.S. intelligence officials continue to believe that the al-Qaida leadership is operating out of the tribal areas along Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan. And the lack of progress in tracking bin Laden and his top lieutenants has created some friction between Washington and Islamabad.
During an appearance on CNN's Late Edition program, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he does not believe al-Qaida's senior leaders are in Pakistan.
"We believe that we do not have these people in our territory," said Shaukat Aziz. "And frankly, they have a choice. They would much rather be a territory which is totally free for everybody. In Pakistan's case, with the fencing, with the troops, with all the other paramilitary forces we have there, there is no incentive for them to come there."
He said Pakistan's commitment to combat terrorists in the tribal areas is clear. And he pointed to the fact that the much-anticipated spring offensive by terrorists and Taleban extremists in Afghanistan has not occurred.
"We are engaged everyday," he said. "And if you look at the reports from that area, we are engaged and we confront and there are casualties on both sides."
But the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware - says Pakistan is not doing nearly enough. Biden - who is seeking his party's presidential nomination - says the Pakistanis sense the Bush administration is far more interested in Iraq than Afghanistan.
"They look at Afghanistan, they wonder whether or not we have the plan and we are going to be able to generate the kind of stability there we need," said Joseph Biden.
Biden also appeared on CNN's Late Edition.