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By Zahid Hameed

United States says it stands by Pakistan in its efforts to build a future free of violent extremism and terrorism.

The commitment was made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry during Pakistan-US strategic level dialogue held in Islamabad today.

Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz led the Pakistani delegation in the talks while the US side by its Secretary of State John Kerry.

At the talks, the two countries agreed to further expand security cooperation to combat the menace of terrorism.

Later addressing a joint news conference, the US Secretary of State said Washington is cooperating with Pakistan on different fronts ranging from military to military discussion and intelligence sharing to combat terrorism.

John Kerry said the United States will provide about two hundred and fifty million dollars to Pakistan for the shelter and resettlement of the population affected by the military operations.

Expressing condolence on December 16 Peshawar tragedy, the US Secretary of State said this cowardly act has strengthen our resolve against the menace.

He welcomed the strong consensus forged by the Pakistani government and political leadership in the wake of the brutal act against all the terror groups. These groups, he said, pose threat to Pakistan, the region and the world at large.

He said Pakistani forces deserve appreciation for launching a comprehensive operation against terrorists. They have started a comprehensive effort to break nexus of Haqqani network. The operation has produced positive results. He however, said this is a difficult step and we will have to ensure that the extremists are no longer able to build strong foothold in this country and beyond.

The US Secretary of State categorically stated that his country will deeply remain engaged in Afghanistan and the region. He said the US will continue to provide training and assistance to the Afghan security forces. He said Washington will continue to consult Pakistan on recent developments in Afghanistan. He said both Pakistan and United States in today's dialogue reaffirmed their commitment for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan has initiated an indiscriminate action against all the terrorists. He said the infrastructure of Haqqani network and their ability to operate from the area has been damaged. We will not allow our land to be used against any other country. Eighty to ninety percent area of North Waziristan has been cleared of militants. He said the return of internally displaced persons is a major challenge and require about 2 billion dollars for their rehabilitation. He urged the international community to come forward for Pakistan's assistance in this regard.

The US Secretary of State voiced concern over the incidents on Pakistan-India border and said we encourage the two parties to re-engage for settlement of their disputes. It is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to move forward their relationship. The United States in its capacity will help the two countries in that effort.

John Kerry appreciated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for reaching out to its neighbours for a peaceful neighbourhood and greater understanding.

Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan wants peaceful relations with all its neighbours both on the eastern and western borders. We want a constructive, sustained and result oriented dialogue on all the issues of mutual concern. The cancellation of foreign secretary level talks by India followed by the recent incidents of unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on the LOC and the Working Boundary are a source of serious concern for Pakistan.

He expressed the confidence that the United States as an influential member of the international community, can prevail upon India to work with Pakistan towards regional peace and economic prosperity.

To a question, the Advisor on Foreign Affairs said the Indian side had cancelled the secretary-level talks and onus is on them to take the initiative for the dialogue. He made it clear that talks with India sans Kashmir dispute is totally out of question.

Recounting the US assistance in the energy and education sector, he said both the countries have longer goals to stay focussed on. Our relationship is not restricted alone to countering terrorism but also building on opportunities to make both the countries more prosperous and democratic.  We have plan of action to expand our trade and economic relations. The addition of six working groups on education and science and technology is another step towards promoting relations.

Sartaj Aziz said both the countries have agreed to expand trade. He urged US Secretary of State to consider various proposals to provide greater market access to Pakistan and said Pakistan is eagerly awaiting the joint US Pakistan business opportunities conference in Islamabad in March this year.


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