ISLAMABAD - American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday said the country’s relationship with Pakistan was “extraordinarily important”, and that the US would work hard “at all levels” to strengthen bilateral ties.

“Pakistan is critical...to the long-term stability of the [South Asian] region,” he said, adding that the US wants a stable government in Islamabad.

The US secretary of state was addressing media after holding talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif at the State Department on bilateral issues, new US policy on Afghanistan and the war on terror.

When asked do US has a reliable partner in Pakistan now, Tillerson said: “Yes, I believe we do. I think the Pakistan relationship — the Pakistan relationship and the US relationship is extraordinarily important regionally. And as we rolled out the South Asia strategy, we spoke about it in a regional context. It is not just about Afghanistan.

“This is about the importance of Pakistan and Pakistan’s long-term stability as well. We have concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government, too, in terms of them — we want their government to be stable and we want it to be peaceful. And many of the same issues they’re struggling with inside of Pakistan are our issues.

“We think there is an opportunity to strengthen that relationship. We’re going to be working very hard at all levels, from the State Department to the Defence Department to our intelligence communities, as well as economic, commerce opportunities as well. So it really is a regional approach and Pakistan is critical, I think, to the long-term stability of the region.”

Tillerson said: “Our approach to South Asia, specifically Afghanistan, is building relations with India and Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and support the Afghan government in providing security for their home people.”

He added: “There is much to be done, we are just getting started.” The secretary said Daesh was on the ‘brink of extinguishing’ due to Trump’s policy.

The talks come weeks after President Donald Trump’s tough stand against Pakistan. In August, he had blamed Islamabad of protecting terrorists and said Washington would “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations”.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was accompanied by other dignitaries including Pakistan Ambassador to US Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry during his meeting with Tillerson. The foreign minister is visiting Washington at Secretary Tillerson’s invitation.

During the meeting, Asif told the US secretary about the strong public reaction in Pakistan to the pronouncement of US Administration’s South Asia policy which, he said, was based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism.

He added that in addition to huge human and material cost incurred by Pakistan, its cultural ethos as a moderate state had suffered due to protracted instability in Afghanistan.

Tillerson acknowledged and appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the people and armed forces of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism and agreed that cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan was crucial to achieving durable peace and stability in the region.

He said Pakistan’s interests and concerns would be accommodated since its role was critical to President Trump’s South Asia strategy. He added future stability of Pakistan was an important element of the strategy.

Asif said Pakistan and the United States shared a common desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region at large. He emphasised that Pakistan sought a broad-based relationship with the United States building on a seven-decade long history of successful cooperation.

He pointed out Pakistan was winning its war against terrorism and in contrast to other countries the incidence of terrorism in Pakistan had seen a marked decline - with a salutary impact on economic and commercial activity. This, he added, was made possible because Pakistan had pursued a zero-tolerance and indiscriminate approach in its campaign against all terrorist and militant groups.

The minister reiterated Pakistan’s position on the need for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political approach to achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan.

He also conveyed Pakistan’s concerns with regard to ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan, from where attacks against it continued to be planned and carried out.

The minister urged the United States to take note of the gross human rights violations being perpetrated by Indian security forces in the occupied Kashmir. He said peace in South Asia would remain out of reach until the resolution of all longstanding disputes, including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.

Inviting Secretary Tillerson to visit Islamabad to continue their discussions, the minister stressed that a broad-based and structured framework for dialogue would best serve the two countries’ mutual interests.

Tillerson accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan at an early date. Both the sides agreed to remain constructively engaged with a view to achieving the shared objectives of peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region.

A senior official at the foreign ministry in Islamabad told The Nation that the meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and both the sides agreed to move forward. “Both sides agreed to strengthen the partnership and cooperate for peace in Afghanistan,” said the official, citing the meeting.

The foreign minister, he said, conveyed Pakistan’s concerns over Trump’s inclination towards India regarding Afghanistan.

The foreign minister will also meet US National Security Adviser Lieutenant General HR McMaster. He will address a gathering at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, on Pak-US relations today (October 5).

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 05-Oct-2017 here.