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US, Pakistani Officials Highlight Need for Trust in Counterterrorism Cooperation

By Barry Newhouse
07 April 2009

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi say they are focusing on building up trust and putting together a plan for taking on the al Qaida and Taliban militants that threaten both nations. Officials in Islamabad also discussed American drone strikes that remain unpopular in Pakistan.

The Obama administration's new regional policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is aimed at coordinating military strategies and civilian development, to counter militants threatening both nations.

U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen are visiting both countries, this week, for the first time since the new plan was announced.

During a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan's foreign minister praised President Barack Obama's vocal support for the Pakistani people and the country's democratic government and pledge for new funds for economic assistance. But Mahmood Qureshi also says that crucial policy disagreements remain with the United States - especially when it comes to American drone strikes in Pakistan's Taliban-dominated tribal region.

"We did talk about drones and let me be very frank: There's a gap," Qureshi said. "There's a gap between us and them. And, I want to bridge that gap and we'll continue to talk about it when we meet in Washington."

The covert drone strikes against militant targets are rarely acknowledged by American officials. Pakistani officials call them counterproductive, particularly when they kill civilians. But some analysts believe the strikes to be secretly condoned by Pakistani military and civilian leaders, in part because they target militants opposed to the Pakistani government.

The Pakistani foreign minister also discussed one of what he calls the so-called "red lines" of the Pakistani government, which he said the U.S. administration has recognized.

"No foreign boots on Pakistani soil," Qureshi said. "We cannot accept that. They have announced it very categorically, very clearly, that they respect Pakistan's point of view."

Qureshi says, despite having differences on some policies, both sides are working on building trust and finding areas where they have mutual interests.

Late Monday, Ambassador Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen held talks with resident Asif Zardari, after arriving from Kabul.

In an official statement, President Zardari says Pakistan is committed to eliminating extremism and it needs unconditional international support for education, health and the training and equipment to help fight terrorism.

Ambassador Holbrooke says holding regular meetings among top Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. officials is aimed at finding areas of cooperation for achieving these common goals.

"The United States and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge, and therefore a common task," Holbrooke said. "We have had a long and complicated history our two countries. And, we cannot put the past behind us but we must learn from it and move forward."

Pakistani and Afghan officials meet next week in Tokyo for international meetings aimed at raising funds for both nations. The next round of trilateral talks is scheduled to be held in Washington during the first week of May.

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