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U.S., Other States Pledge Support For Pakistan

Local residents carry an injured pro-government elder to a hospital after an ambush in Bannu, Pakistan on September 24.
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of more than a dozen nations have vowed to support Pakistan as it grapples with a Taliban insurgency and deep economic problems, including chronic power shortages.

While much of Washington's attention is focused on whether Obama will send more U.S. troops to combat Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan, the high-level meeting was designed to demonstrate international backing for Pakistan.

Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are feeding the Afghan insurgency and U.S. officials have sought to shore up Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's government even as they have pressured him to do more to take on the Taliban.

The Islamist Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001 by U.S.-led forces for harboring Al-Qaeda leaders who masterminded the September 11 attacks.

The United States and other countries with troops in Afghanistan want to see Pakistan tackle Taliban enclaves in lawless ethnic Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.

"The violent extremists within Pakistan pose a threat to the region, to the United States, and to the world, " Obama told the representatives of more than 20 countries and five international organizations who came together for the talks.

"Just as we will help Pakistan strengthen the capacity that it needs to root out violent extremists, we are also committed to working with all of you to help Pakistan improve the basic services that its people depend upon: schools, roads, and hospitals," he said in a prepared text of his remarks.

'Friends' Want To Help

The "Friends of Democratic Pakistan" group stressed its desire to help the country grapple with electricity shortages that cause daily blackouts in many parts of the country and promised to help Pakistan develop a sustainable energy plan.

In a statement after the meeting, the countries also urged donor nations come come through on the $5 billion in aid pledged to Pakistan over two years at a donors conference in April after Zardari vowed to step up the fight against militants and deliver on economic reforms.

Zardari, who was seated between Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, thanked the leaders, who included the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, and Turkey as well as the presidents of France and South Korea.

"Your doctrine recognizes that our struggle against terrorism must be fought not just on the battlefield but in education, in health, in jobs, in trade and above all for the hearts and minds of our people," Zardari said.

Early this year, fears were spreading for nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability as militants pushed closer to Islamabad.

Alarmed by Islamist aggression, the public and army have for the first time shown a strong commitment to fighting the Islamists and Pakistani security forces this year cleared most Taliban from their former bastion in Swat.

At the "Friends" meeting, the World Bank and Pakistan's government announced a new donor trust fund to help restore infrastructure and services to areas where the government has recently fought militants.