In Pakistan, John Kerry takes tough line on Taliban talks, drone attacks
Last Updated: Thursday, August 01, 2013, 16:49
  
Islamabad: The US will continue its fight against the Taliban while seeking a political solution to the Afghan imbroglio, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday even as he rejected Pakistan's concerns on American drone strikes.

"Dialogue and military strategy (to combat terror) will continue...I do not agree that there is a lack of synchronisation between the two," Kerry told a joint news conference with National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz after intensive meetings with Pakistan's top leadership.

Kerry refused to promise that US drone attacks inside Pakistan would stop and rejected the impression that the strikes were a violation of the country's sovereignty.

"I know there are issues of sovereignty that are raised. I would simply remind all of our friends that somebody like al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri is violating the sovereignty of this country," he said.

"And they attack people in mosques, (they) blow up people in villages, in market places, they are violating the sovereignty of the country."

Drone strikes have emerged as a key irritant in Pakistan-US ties, with Islamabad describing them as counter-productive.

Kerry said the US is gearing up for the drawdown of its forces in Afghanistan and to prepare the grounds for talks to organise the Afghan presidential election next year.

He made it clear that the US will not completely pull out of Afghanistan, saying it was a "drawdown and not a withdrawal".

Troops of over 50 western countries will remain to counter terrorism and help train Afghan forces, he said.

Kerry hoped the Afghan Taliban will return to negotiations as part of efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan problem.

"The reason we hope talks can take place is because everybody understands a political resolution is better than the continued fighting," he said.

As an apparent sop to Pakistan, Kerry announced that the US will resume the stalled strategic dialogue process in six months and also improve bilateral trade ties.

Aziz, the advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs and national security, said Pakistan is committed to an Afghan-led peace process.

"I think what Secretary Kerry said, it is the process between Afghan stakeholders and we can do our best to facilitate the process. We cannot do more than facilitate," Aziz said.

He reiterated Pakistan's demand for the US to stop drone attacks, saying they were creating more problems for the country.

However, Kerry said President Barack Obama had already outlined detailed policy guidelines to target militants in remote areas as part of the US counter-terrorism strategy.

Referring to the issue of terrorist safe havens, Kerry said a lot of issues need detailed attention and talks. The two sides had agreed to start their strategic dialogue and five sub-groups will begin meeting immediately.

"We agreed...That we are going to begin the strategic dialogue immediately and over six months, we would have the ministerial (meeting)," he said.

Kerry said the talks will cover "all of the key issues between us, from border management to counter-terrorism to promoting US private investment".

The two sides further resolved to fight the common threat of terrorism and move relations forward, with Kerry saying that Washington wants to make its ties with Islamabad more broad-based and lasting.

Earlier, Kerry met Prime Minister Sharif and invited him to visit the US later this year to meet President Barack Obama.

Kerry arrived in Islamabad last night for a one-day visit aimed at improving strained bilateral relations and to seek cooperation in asking the Taliban to enter constructive peace talks with the US and Afghanistan to facilitate regional stability after the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.

This was Kerry's first visit to Pakistan as Secretary of State though he has a long history of helping overcome irritants in bilateral ties.

He was sent to Islamabad for talks after CIA contractor Raymond Davis gunned down two Pakistani men in Lahore in January 2011 and then again after the unilateral US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad a few months later.

PTI


First Published: Thursday, August 01, 2013, 15:53


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