US, Pakistan see new spirit of trust

Posted on 25 Mac 2010

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States and Pakistan on Wednesday hailed a new spirit of trust after years of uneasy cooperation, with Islamabad’s top diplomat saying that US suspicions have now evaporated.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the nations were starting a “new day” with a new strategic dialogue, which the United States hopes will show Pakistan it wants a relationship beyond short-term battles against militants.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was visibly happy coming out of the talks, saying US officials and lawmakers were no longer questioning whether his country was two-faced in its fight against extremism.

“It’s a 180-degree difference,” he told a joint news conference with Clinton.

“There were no more question marks, there was no suspicion, there was no ‘do more,'” he said. “There was appreciation for what we had already done.”

President Asif Ali Zardari last year ordered a major offensive against homegrown Taliban extremists. Pakistan has also arrested a number of senior militants including the Afghan Taliban’s number two.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who joined the dialogue, told a congressional hearing it was “extraordinary” to watch Pakistan’s growing realization that Islamic extremism poses an “existential threat.”

But many foreign officials and analysts have questioned Pakistan’s motivations. Kai Eide, a former UN envoy, said that Pakistan’s lauded arrest of the Afghan Taliban leader served to stop secret talks in the war-torn country.

In Washington, there has nonetheless been growing unanimity on the need to engage Pakistan and assuage rampant anti-Americanism in the Islamic world’s only declared nuclear power.

The US Congress last year approved a five-year, 7.5 billion-dollar aid package for Pakistan, hoping to chip away support for Islamic extremism by building schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.

Clinton said the United States wanted to be a partner of Pakistan on a “full range of matters,” while acknowledging the two nations would not always see eye-to-eye.

“We have listened and we will continue to listen and we want to demonstrate by both word and deed our respect for Pakistan’s concerns and ideas and share our own. This is a dialogue that flows in both directions,” she said.

Clinton announced that the United States would finance “significant road infrastructure” in Pakistan’s troubled northwest along with three thermal plants to ease chronic energy shortages.

She said the United States has also agreed to let Pakistan International Airlines fly to Chicago. It will be the flag carrier’s second destination in the United States after New York.

But the United States appeared cool to some key items on Pakistan’s wish-list.

Pakistan wants a civilian nuclear deal with the United States similar to a landmark agreement reached by India. The rival nations stunned the world with nuclear tests in 1998.

Clinton said only that the United States was dedicated to helping Pakistan “meet its real energy needs,” pointing to 125 million dollars in past support for civilian energy projects.

The US-India nuclear deal took years of detailed negotiations to ease opposition in the two nations’ legislatures.

Unlike in India’s case, US officials are concerned about proliferation from Pakistan. The father of Pakistan’s bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he later retracted his remarks.

Qureshi also sought a “constructive” US role on Kashmir, the Muslim-majority Himalayan territory divided between Pakistan and India since the subcontinent’s partition.

Clinton said the United States “can’t dictate Pakistani foreign policy or Indian foreign policy.

“But we can encourage, as we do, the in-depth discussion between both countries that we think would benefit each of them with respect to security and development,” she said.

The United States has walked a fine-line as it also builds relations with India, which considers Kashmir a domestic issue. India has said it is willing to discuss all issues on Kashmir except redrawing boundaries

President Barack Obama

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