ISLAMABAD - Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday announced 19.9 million Australian dollars to help Pakistan boost its regional trade and investment and rehabilitation of its terror-affected border areas.

Addressing a joint news conference along with Adviser on National security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shortly after their meeting, the Australian foreign minister said Pakistan and Australia enjoy excellent relations which are based on mutual respect and shared interests.

She said Australia will provide $24 million in financial assistance, including $10 million for the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

“We have long been friends and want to enhance cooperation in different fields,” she said and added her country has strong and longstanding defence relations with Pakistan. “We have common interests in countering transnational crimes, including drugs and human smuggling.”

Bishop said she would also encourage Australian tourism to Pakistan which has been battling a homegrown insurgency for over a decade.

“People-to-people links are important and of course we want to see Pakistan as a safe and secure environment so that you can engage international visitors,” she said.

About Australian development assistance to Islamabad, she said during her visit she will announce an assistance package of 24 million Australian dollars for Pakistan. She said 19.9 million dollars, which is part of this package, will be given for facilitating regional trade and investment as well as for the rehabilitation of the country’s border areas.

In his opening remarks, Sartaj Aziz said the two sides have agreed to further consolidate the existing friendly people-to-people contacts, underpinned by the presence of 80,000 strong Pakistani diaspora and around 13,000 Pakistani students in Australia. He said: “Our talks focused on the need for regular political exchanges between the two countries, including high-level visits.”

“We feel that exchange of parliamentary visits is important,” he said, adding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will visit Australia this year or early next year.

Appreciating Australian development cooperation programme for Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz said Islamabad intends to strengthen interaction with Australia in agriculture, livestock and water resource management.

“We want both the countries to focus more on sports and culture,” he said, adding both the countries share common perceptions in combating terrorism and have resolved to continue cooperation in countering terrorism and transnational crimes.

Answering a question, the Australian foreign minister recognised the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the war on terror. She said under a plan her country is sending Australian students to different countries, including Pakistan. “These visits of our students will give a message to the world that Pakistan is a place to visit,” she said, adding her country wants a peaceful and safe Pakistan.

She said it is vital for the region that both Pakistan and Afghanistan work together to manage the border and effectively fight the menace of terrorism. Voicing concerns over the rise of terror outfit Daesh, the Australian foreign minister described the Islamic State organisation as more dangerous and brutal, and said her country is working with the international community to fight such terror outfits. She said her country is also hosting a summit in June on countering extremism.

Bishop said the Islamic State organisation has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. “We believe that there are around 100 foreign terrorists from Australia currently in Iraq and Syria supporting this barbaric and terrorist organisation,” she said.

When asked about Australian-India civil nuclear cooperation, the Australian foreign minister pointed out that her country is a powerhouse and want to export energy to the world. She said currently both Australia and India are negotiating the deal. She, however, said her country will extend the facility to India under strict controls.

On the issue of Kashmir dispute, Julie Bishop admitted the issue needs to be resolved. She said her country will encourage both Pakistan and India to resolve the dispute through negotiations. “Australia will encourage both Pakistan and India to resolve their longstanding dispute over Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.

Earlier, during the bilateral talks, Pakistan asked Australia to provide greater market access to its products in the Australian market. Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz made the proposal during his talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly after arrival of Bishop in Islamabad. Both the sides agreed to further strengthen their relations in diverse fields, including trade and economy.