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Kerry Urges Pakistan To Fight Militants, Mend India Ties

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called on Pakistan to fight militant groups that pose a threat to the South Asian country, the region, and the United States.

His comments came at a joint press conference with Pakistani national security adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad on January 13.

Kerry said the results of Pakistan's monthslong military campaign against Islamist militants in the North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan, were "significant."

But he said that the battle against the militants was a tough one and was far from over.

"Terror groups like the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e Taiba, and other groups continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, to its neighbors, and to the United States," Kerry said.

"All of us have a responsibility to ensure that these groups do not gain a foothold but rather are pushed back into the recesses of memory," he added. "The task is a difficult one and it is not done."

Kerry also announced that $250 million in previously appropriated money will be given to emergency relief efforts in the tribal areas, mainly North Waziristan, which hundreds of thousands of residents have fled due to fighting.

Aziz said the Haqqani network's infrastructure had been "totally destroyed" as a result of the Pakistani Army's operations.

"Their ability to operate from here across to Afghanistan has virtually disappeared," he said

Aziz insisted that Pakistani forces would "remain engaged in counterterrorism operations for some time in the foreseeable future."

Kerry also praised the reopening of the school in Peshawar where Taliban gunmen on December 16 killed more than 150 people, almost all of them children, in one of the country's worst terrorist attacks.

The school reopened on January 12, along with schools nationwide, after an extended break.

Kerry called the reopening a "testament" to the resolve of the Pakistani people.

Before leaving Pakistan for Geneva for talks on Iran's nuclear program, Kerry had planned to visit survivors of the school massacre in Peshawar, but the State Department said weather concerns forced him to cancel the trip.

Following the attack, Pakistan has promised to stop differentiating between "good" and "bad" militants and to step up operations against their hideouts on the Afghan border.

Aziz reiterated on January 13 that Pakistan will take action against all groups "without discrimination."

"Obviously, the proof is going to be in the pudding," Kerry said. "It will be seen over the next days, weeks, months, how extensive and how successful this effort is going to be."

The West has suspected Pakistan of playing a double game, fighting some militants while supporting those its generals have regarded as strategic assets to be used against its rivals and neighbors, India and Afghanistan.

Kerry arrived in Pakistan on an unannounced visit on January 12 after a trip to India, the country's longtime foe.

The visit comes after the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan, where the NATO combat mission formally ended last month -- more than 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

In Islamabad, Kerry urged nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to improve their relationship through dialogue, saying the United States was concerned about recent violence on the border dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

"It is profoundly in the interests of Pakistan and India to move this relationship forward," he said.

Aziz accused New Delhi of wanting to have talks only on its own terms and asked the United States to push the Indian side on the matter.

India and Pakistan had agreed to resume talks on improved relations last May, but an announcement by Pakistan's ambassador to India of plans to meet with Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi angered India and it called off the talks.

Aziz said the cancellation of the talks and recent border incidents are "a signal that India wants to deemphasize a serious discussion on Kashmir."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa