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Clinton Looks For Improved U.S.-Pakistan Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a surprise visit to Kabul on July 7.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a surprise visit to Kabul on July 7.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says the United States and Pakistan are putting past tensions behind them to focus on the future.

Clinton was speaking in Tokyo on the sidelines of a major Afghan donors conference, where she met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

"We are both encouraged that we have been able to put the recent difficulties behind us so we can focus on the many challenges still ahead of us, and we want to use the positive momentum generated by our recent agreement to take tangible, visible steps on our many shared core interests," Clinton said.

Her comment was a reference to the deal reached last week to reopen key supply routes into Afghanistan, closed for months following a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Clinton and Khar met alone for about an hour, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be named, adding that the meeting was a sign of the "intensity of her engagement."

The two later joined Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul for three-way talks, and committed to work together for an "inclusive Afghan peace."

Clinton said the United States and Pakistan would seek to use the "positive momentum generated" by last week's deal to reopen NATO supply routes.

"We will reaffirm the core group's goal of enhanced cooperation and support of an Afghan peace and reconciliation process and, jointly, we will reiterate our call for the armed opposition to abandon violence and enter into a dialogue with the Afghan government," she said.

Rocky Relations

However, Clinton acknowledged that ties between the two allies would still be tested in the future.

The killing of the Pakistani soldiers, coupled with a U.S. raid on the Pakistani compound of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, seriously complicated U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Pakistan remains angry about U.S. drone strikes against insurgents hiding in its unruly border area with Afghanistan, while Washington has repeatedly called on Islamabad to do more to prevent it being a safe haven for militant groups infiltrating its western neighbor.

As part of the deal to reopen the borders, Washington will also release about $1.1 billion to the Pakistani military from a U.S. "coalition support fund" designed to reimburse Islamabad for the cost of counterinsurgency operations.

Protest March

Not everybody in Pakistan is happy with the government's policy.

On July 8, Pakistani Islamists from the eastern city of Lahore began a "long march" to Islamabad to protest the government's move.

Reports say that thousands of people joined a convoy of buses, trucks, and cars in the 275-kilometer journey.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Islamist group Lashkar-e Taiba, blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, said the aim of the protest "is not just withdrawal of U.S. from Afghanistan, but U.S. stooges and slaves in Pakistan should also leave."

Police estimated up to 8,000 people took part in the march, but organizers say "some 25,000 people" are participating.

The convoy is scheduled to reach Islamabad by the evening of July 9.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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