Take Up Pakistan's Concerns With India: Sartaj Aziz to US

Pakistan today said it is committed to normalising ties with India but contended that its concerns were not being taken up by the US administration with the "same intensity" as India's concerns.

"There's a strong perception in Pakistan that while a lot of pressure is exerted on Pakistan on issues of concern to India, our legitimate concerns are not conveyed to India with the same intensity," said Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the premier on National Security and Foreign Affairs.

He reiterated the Pakistan government's commitment to normalise relations with India and said the settlement of the Kashmir issue would help achieve this objective.

"The overwhelming majority of the people in Pakistan support the normalisation of our relations with India and believe that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would result in achieving this goal," Aziz said in his opening statement as the US and Pakistan held a ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue here after a gap of three years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's "bold vision of normalising relations with India is being pursued with full commitment", he said.

Aziz is leading a high-power delegation to the US for the dialogue. The team includes Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad and Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani.

The American side, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, includes Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan James Dobbins and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.

Describing "mutual trust" as the most important prerequisite for the strategic partnership, Aziz asked the US to look at the legitimate national security concerns of Pakistan in Afghanistan.

He said legitimate US concerns on Afghanistan "must be balanced by giving due importance to Pakistan's own security concerns". He added: "There is in fact need for a careful attention to the long term effects of US policies on Pakistan's security.

"I am sure, most of you will agree that historically, Pakistan's security concerns were not taken into account when the US decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the defeat of the Soviet forces with Pakistan's active support, or when it invaded Afghanistan after 9/11," he said.

"If these important pre-requisites are met, then the contribution of other elements of this important relationship such as expanded trade, higher level of private investment, long term partnership on some major projects, will become far more significant and mutually reinforcing," the top Pakistani leader said.

In his opening remarks, Secretary of State Kerry said the US and Pakistan must continue to find avenues of cooperation on counter-terrorism and nuclear security.

The two sides have a vital shared strategic interest in pursuit of a Pakistan that is at the centre of an economically diverse region and a dynamic South Asian marketplace, he said.

The US and Pakistan also have a common obligation to be partners for one another's prosperity in the fight against those who want to limit opportunity and take Pakistan backwards, Kerry said.

"That is also why it remains essential for the US and Pakistan to continue to find avenues of cooperation on counter-terrorism, on nuclear security. We recognise that Pakistan is a vital partner in supporting a secure Afghanistan," Kerry said with Aziz sitting by his side.

"We know how closely Pakistan's own security is linked to Afghanistan's success. That's why addressing the threats posed to both Pakistan and Afghanistan by cross-border militancy is a key aspect of our conversations this week."

The Strategic Dialogue was put on hold after bilateral ties nose-dived over a number of issues, including the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in an American military raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad and the killing of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore.

Kerry said the reinvigoration of the Strategic Dialogue "is an important symbol of our strengthening ties across a broad spectrum of our mutual interests".

He added, "And where we have differences, we pledge to work through them as friends and partners do in an effort to make our relationship stronger and more open for the long term."

Kerry praised steps being taken by Sharif to reinvigorate Pakistan's economy and the commitment made to engage in serious reforms that would help to tap into the enormous potential of the people of Pakistan.

"The US has no doubt that Prime Minister Sharif's policies will put Pakistan on a path towards a more prosperous future, and we fully support his goal of making Pakistan's marketplace a tiger economy for the 21st century," he said.

Kerry, who was the author of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill in the US Congress, said the legislation provided significant economic assistance and still does.

"I checked; even as of this morning, we are continuing. There is a latest recommendation from the Secretary of Defense, which is before the Congress now, and so we are continuing to provide a connection between the people of the US and the people of Pakistan," he said.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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