US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Pakistan of America’s continued financial assistance to effectively combat challenges, including terrorism, as he kicked off his two-day crucial visit to the country on Monday.
Kerry, who flew from India where he attended an investment conference, went straight to the Prime Minister House for a meeting with Nawaz Sharif soon after his arrival in the capital. His visit is seen as significant in view of the current regional security situation, including the recent withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan as well as border tensions between Pakistan and India.
Thursday also saw US Centcom Chief visiting the GHQ in Rawalpindi where he met army chief General Raheel Sharif to discuss Pakistan’s ongoing fight against militants in the tribal areas.
During his meeting with premier Nawaz, Secretary Kerry discussed a wide range of issues, including bilateral cooperation and regional security situation. Officials told The Express Tribune that Secretary Kerry assured the prime minister that the US would not abandon the region and continue to extend all possible support to Pakistan for fighting terrorism and other challenges.
The assurance came against the backdrop of concerns that the US financial and other assistance may dry up for Pakistan after it formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan. Officials said Secretary Kerry made it clear that the US considers Pakistan an important ally and it would stand by Islamabad in this difficult time following the Peshawar tragedy.
He offered condolences on behalf of the American government and people on the December 16 barbaric attack at the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar. “Terrorists are the common enemy of the two countries,” he was quoted as saying in an official statement issued after the meeting. Secretary Kerry is expected to visit the APS Peshawar today (Tuesday) to show solidarity with Pakistan.
In his remarks, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the United States is a vital component of Pakistan’s foreign policy and appreciated President Obama’s message of friendship and cooperation in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack.
The prime minister said that in order to counter terrorism and extremism in the country, his government has evolved a comprehensive National Action Plan, which is being implemented to eradicate all terrorists and extremists from Pakistani soil.
Secretary Kerry, who has come primarily for the strategic dialogue, led the US side during the first round of high-level talks at the Foreign Office. The Pakistani side was led by Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
During the first round, the two sides reviewed progress achieved so far in the different working groups under the strategic dialogue. “Further in-depth discussions, covering the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and other issues of mutual interest, will continue on Tuesday,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
Ahead of the plenary session of strategic dialogue, the Pakistan-US Working Group on Law Enforcement and Counter-Terrorism also met to discuss anti-terror cooperation. The group was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry and Secretary Interior Shahid Khan from Pakistan side while the US was represented led by its National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Ambassador Tina Kaidanow.
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman and National Security Council Senior Director Jeff Eggers, National Counter-Terrorism Authority’s National Coordinator Hamid Ali Khan and other senior officials from the US and Pakistan also participated in the working group.
According to the Foreign Office, the two sides held a useful and wide-ranging discussion on various US-Pakistan areas of cooperation relating to law-enforcement and counter-terrorism, cross-border militancy, countering terrorist financing, counter-narcotics, border management and counter-IEDs. The discussions were held in a cordial atmosphere.
The working group meeting provided an opportunity to the Pakistan side to apprise the US side of the comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy being pursued by the law-enforcement authorities in the wake of the Peshawar massacre.
“The government of Pakistan has evolved a robust National Action Plan backed by a national political consensus to eliminate the menace of terrorism,” the statement said. The US side appreciated the efforts of Pakistan and offered cooperation to fight terrorism.
CENTCOM chief meets army chief
US CENTCOM Commander General Lloyd Austin also met army chief General Raheel Sharif in the GHQ on Thursday. During the talks, the two commanders discussed the ongoing military operations in North Waziristan and Khyber agencies.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2015.
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