Hilal-i-Pakistan conferred on US VP-elect

ISLAMABAD - President Asif Ali Zardari conferred the award of Hilal-i-Pakistan on the US Vice President-elect Joseph Biden in recognition of his services for Pakistan. The citation noted that Biden has been awarded for his "consistent support for democracy and socio-economic development in Pakistan and for his outstanding contribution to the strengthening of US-Pakistan relations. As a senator, Biden co-sponsored the landmark Biden-Kerry-Lugar legislation for expanding socio-economic assistance of $15 billion annually including non-military aid over the next five fiscal years besides advocating an additional $7.5 billion over subsequent five years. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson and Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani at the President House. Biden's great support for democracy and rule of law was acknowleged by Pakistan government, as he worked for strengthening Pakistan's democratic institutions and enthusiastically supported its socio-economic development. President-elect Barack Obama also supported the congressional move as a senator to reinforce efforts towards fostering security and development in the region. The money will go towards addressing terrorism challenges in the country including at the Afghan border. The bill calls for tripling non-military aid to Pakistan worth $1.5 billion annually in the 2009-13 fiscal years, while making military aid conditional on certification that Pakistani security forces were working to prevent Al Qaeda and its allies from operating in Pakistan or launching attacks into Afghanistan from its territory. It also urges a re-orientation of engagement towards the Pakistani people rather than merely towards the Pakistani government. Joseph Biden is visiting Southwest Asia with a bipartisan congressional delegation and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A statement from Biden's Senate office said the purpose of this trip was fact-finding. In the coming months both the executive and legislative branches will carefully review US policy toward this region, and the trip will allow the participants to bring current and first-hand information to these reviews, Biden's senate spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander earlier said. The vice president-elect is also accompanied by Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina of the US Armed Services Committee. Biden will resign his post as chairman of Foreign Relations Committee before taking oath as vice president along with President-elect Barack Obama at the inaugural ceremony on January 20. Joe Biden has represented the state of Delaware in the United States Senate since 1972, when he was elected at the age of twenty-nine. Senator Biden is known as one of the nation's most influential voices on terrorism, drug policy and crime.

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