Tokyo: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed hope on Sunday that Pakistan`s recent reopening of NATO supply lines into Afghanistan might lead to a broader rapprochement in US-Pakistani relations after a difficult period for the reluctant allies.
After attending a 70-nation Afghan aid conference in Tokyo, Clinton met privately with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to discuss reviving the US-Pakistani relationship, which has suffered a series of debilitating crises over the last year-and-a-half but is still seen as critical for the stability of South Asia.
It was their first meeting since Clinton`s apology last week for the November killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by NATO, a move that led to the end of Pakistan`s seven-month blockade of the supply routes.
"We are both encouraged that we`ve been able to put the recent difficulties behind us so we can focus on the many challenges ahead of us," Clinton told reporters. "We want to use the positive momentum generated by our recent agreement to take tangible steps on our many shared, core interests."
The most important of these, Clinton said, was fighting militant groups. They have used Pakistan as a rear base to attack US troops and jeopardise the future of Afghanistan.
She and Khar "focused on the necessity of defeating the terror networks that threaten the stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the interests of the United States," Clinton said.
Last week`s accord helped repair ties that have been torn over everything from a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis to the unilateral US raid on Osama bin Laden`s Pakistan compound. The November incident was the deadliest among the allies in the decade-long fight against al Qaeda and other extremist groups along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.
Pakistan`s reaction in closing the border cost the US at least USD 700 million.
Clinton, who joined the Pakistani minister and Afghan
Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul for a three-way meeting later, said her discussions with Khar covered stalled Afghan reconciliation efforts. The US is counting on Pakistan to help convince the Taliban and other groups fighting the Afghan government to halt violence and enter into a political dialogue.
They spoke as well about enhancing US-Pakistani economic ties to make it a relationship defined more by trade than aid. Still, Clinton acknowledged the lingering difficulties hindering US-Pak cooperation, without getting into details.
A joint statement by the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan "reaffirmed the importance of pursuing multiple channels and contacts" with militants seeking to overthrow the Afghan government.
It said reconciliation would be discussed during Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf`s upcoming visit to Kabul and Afghan mediator Salahuddin Rabbani`s visit to Islamabad.
"These visits should determine and implement additional concrete steps to advance Afghan reconciliation," the statement said.
Washington has been perpetually bothered by its perception of Islamabad`s half-hearted commitment to snuffing out the support given by its intelligence services to the Taliban and the Haqqani network -- assistance that Washington sees as a threat to the Afghan war effort.
Meanwhile, Pakistan`s government has to contend with rampant anti-American sentiment and the unpopularity of US drone strikes against militant targets within its borders.
Clinton called it a "challenging but essential relationship."
"I have no reason to believe that it will not continue to raise hard questions for us both," she said. "But it is something that is in the interests of the United States as well as the interests of Pakistan."