Posted by: Rehan Today | March 25, 2010

Clinton says ‘new day’ in ties with Pakistan

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the United States had started a “new day” with Pakistan in hearing its concerns, but some of Islamabad’s requests were set for a cool reception.

Clinton opened a first-of-a-kind “strategic dialogue” with Pakistan, hoping to show the country’s widely anti-American public that the United States wants a relationship that goes beyond short-term battles against militants.

In an early-morning ceremony timed for broadcast in Pakistan, Clinton said she wanted to speak directly to its people, acknowledging that the two nations “have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past.”

”There are sure to be more disagreements in the future, as there are between any friends or, frankly, any family members,” she said.

“But this is a new day. For the past year, the Obama administration has shown in our words and deeds a different approach and attitude toward Pakistan.”

”The dialogue we seek is not only with the government of Pakistan, but you the people of Pakistan,” she said, vowing that both she and President Barack Obama had a “personal commitment” to building ties with Islamabad.

Pointing to Pakistan’s growing action against extremism, Clinton pledged full support, saying “Its struggles are our struggles.”

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

But in a nod to the continued powerful role of Pakistan’s military, the United States invited General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, to take part in the dialogue, along with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Qureshi expressed gratitude for US assistance and pledged that Pakistan would keep up the fight against extremism. But he made clear that Pakistan wanted benefits in return.

Qureshi said that Pakistan was seeking “non-discriminatory” access to energy resources as well as a “constructive” role by the United States on its dispute with India over Kashmir.

“Pakistan is committed to doing its part to facilitate the world community’s effort for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said.

“We hope the world community will be equally responsive to our legitimate concerns and help advance common interests,” he said.

Pakistan has said it wants a civilian nuclear deal with the United States similar to a landmark agreement reached by India in 2008. US officials have publicly sidestepped the issue.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said only that “we’re ready to listen to anything.” Asked by Pakistan’s private news TV if nuclear cooperation could assuage the country’s chronic energy shortages, Clinton said there were “more immediate steps that can be taken” including upgrading power plants.

Pakistan is also seeking greater cooperation on water and education and wants unmanned attack drones. The United States has so far only given Pakistan surveillance drones.

The United States has launched more than 90 drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, killing more than 830 people, according to local sources.—Agencies


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