Need to revive US-Pak trust but drone strikes must end: Zardari
Islamabad: Highlighting the need for Pakistan and the US to revive "mutual confidence" while working together for regional stability and counter-terrorism efforts, President Asif Ali Zardari called for an end to US drone strikes in his country's tribal belt.
It is important for the two countries to "work for greater engagements in all fields and to revive mutual confidence to move forward in pursuit of mutual interests", Zardari said during a meeting with visiting US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman.
Zardari reiterated his call for an end to US drone attacks, describing them as counter-productive in the fight against militancy and in the "battle of winning hearts", presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
"We need to discuss alternatives on the question of drone attacks," the President said.
"The goal of establishing a long-term, sustained and durable Pakistan-US equation would remain elusive till the issue of trust deficit is addressed in an effective manner," Zardari said.
Grossman, who also met Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the US and Pakistan "should work together to identify shared interests and act on them jointly, for the benefit of both nations and the region".
Ashraf said the two countries have a shared objective in fighting terrorism.
A statement issued by the US Embassy said Grossman also raised the issue of Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who was arrested for his role in helping the CIA track Osama bin Laden before the al Qaeda chief was killed in a unilateral US raid in May last year.
Afridi was recently given a 33-year prison term for
alleged links with militants and US officials have called for his release.
Grossman told the Pakistani leaders that the US "believes that its relationship with Pakistan should be enduring, strategic and clearly defined".
The US is committed to building on recent achievements like the reopening of NATO supply lines and the meeting of a trilateral working group that considered the issue of safe passage for Afghan Taliban leaders willing to join the peace process in Afghanistan.
Referring to Foreign Minister Khar's upcoming visit to Washington and Zardari's trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, Grossman said these engagements were "an opportunity to continue to identify shared interests and to discuss concrete actions the US and Pakistan can take together on our broad agenda".
"The US is committed to continuing work on shared counterterrorism objectives; to increasing market access and economic opportunity for Pakistan; and to supporting civilian democracy and civil society," Grossman said.
While acknowledging that that it is important for the US and Pakistan to cooperate closely to ensure that the region is more secure, stable and prosperous, Grossman emphasised that "none of those are simple tasks" and will "require vision, cooperation and hard work".
An anti-Islam film that has triggered protests across the Muslim world figured in the talks between Zardari and Grossman, who said the US government had "absolutely nothing to do" with the movie.
"We absolutely reject its content and message. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation... This video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage," he said.
At the same time, Grossman said there could be no justification for responding to this film with violence.
"In difficult times like these, the US relies on its partnership with the government and people of Pakistan to ensure that divisive actions by individuals do not harm the safety of Pakistanis and Americans alike," Grossman said.
Zardari said Pakistan will continue to help the world community in the search for "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process" in Afghanistan.
He said Pakistan and the US shared the common objective of defeating al Qaeda and terrorism and this could "best be achieved through coordinated actions across the border".
During a separate meeting with Grossman, Prime Minister Ashraf said the two countries have a shared objective in fighting terrorism.
"We have no other option but to fight it out" so that we have peace and tranquillity in the region, he said.
Ashraf sought help from the US to help tackle Pakistan's energy crisis.
In this regard, he asked the US to participate in the Diamer-Basha dam project that is expected to generate 4500 MW.
Grossman said the US had promised to provide 200 million dollars for the dam.