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Kerry meets Nawaz

A US delegation headed by Secretary of State John Kerry held separate meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the latter’s residence and with a team led by Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz at the Foreign Office on Thursday.

Kerry flew into Pakistan on Wednesday night to hold meetings with the top political and military leadership aimed at easing tension over US drone strikes, the war in Afghanistan, and the fight against religious extremism.

The US delegation and the team led by Aziz held consultations today on a number of issues including the fight against militants as US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, US-Pakistan strategic relations and drone attacks inside Pakistani territory.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the two delegations discussed matters pertaining to the resumption of strategic ties between the two countries, drone attacks as well as Afghanistan.

Pakistan officially condemns US drone attacks on its territory as a violation of its sovereignty although leaked documents show the country’s leaders have privately supported these on Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, at least in the past.

The delegations also discussed matters relating to energy and education.

After meeting with Aziz and his team, Kerry along with the rest of the US delegation swept into talks with Sharif, exchanging pleasantries for the cameras before the press were escorted out.

Sharif described Kerry as a “wonderful friend”.

“I am very happy that he is the secretary of state of the United States of America today and I hope to have very good discussions and talks with him,” the prime minister said.

Prior to the start of today’s meetings, Kerry on Thursday paid tribute to the polls, which marked the first time that an elected civilian Pakistani government completed a full term in office and handed over to another at the ballot box.

“This is a historic transition that just took place. Nobody should diminish it,” he told US embassy staff.

“I think President Zardari deserves credit… It is an enormous step forward. It is historic. In the 66 year history of Pakistan that has never happened. So change comes over time,” he added.

Kerry will also hold talks with outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

It is Kerry’s first visit to Pakistan as Secretary of State although he has visited the country in other capacities before and he is the most senior US official to visit the country since Sharif was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister.

Although ties between the two countries have remained deeply troubled in recent years, a more stable government under Sharif, with a clear majority, may offer a new opportunity to rework relations along realistic objectives.

Since winning the election, Sharif has said he wants to strengthen Pakistan’s relations with Washington, but that the US must take seriously concerns about drone strikes.

He has made economic growth and resolving the energy crisis the top priority of his new administration, but Kerry will be looking to stress that more must be done on militant havens.

Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high, complains that the US fails to appreciate the sacrifices it has made in fighting terror, claiming to have lost 40,000 people since 2001.

Pakistan faces mammoth challenges posed by a domestic Taliban insurgency, the external threat posed by Afghan and foreign militants on its soil, a crumbling economy and an energy crisis.

It is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Pakistan since October 2011, when Hillary Clinton urged Islamabad to dismantle havens for Afghan militants and encourage the Taliban into talks to end the war in Afghanistan.

Nearly two years later, efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict in Afghanistan are in disarray, and the opening of a Taliban liaison office in Qatar in June outraged Kabul.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are mired in distrust. While the West has praised Pakistani support for peace efforts, many Afghans consider Pakistan an abettor of the Taliban.

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