WASHINGTON - Amid new strains in Islamabad-Washington ties following the drone strike that killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, the United States has pledged to assist Pakistan in its efforts to privatise power distribution companies and announced technical help to increase production from gas fields.

The Commitment to help Pakistan was made at the US-Pakistan Energy Group meeting, a part of the Strategic Dialogue framework between the two countries which concluded Tuesday. “The US committed to assist the government of Pakistan’s effort to privatise at least two power distribution companies by 2015,” the State Department said.

Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif led the Pakistani side. They were joined by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Musadik Malik. US Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs Ambassador Carlos Pascual led the US delegation and co-chaired the meeting.

At the end of the meeting the State Department said, Ambassador Pascual announced “technical assistance to help Pakistan increase production and maximize recovery from existing gas fields as well as to identify new areas for conventional gas development in order to help meet the country’s increasing energy demand, especially for power generation.”

"These efforts build on the sustained and substantial efforts the US has undertaken to help Pakistan meet its critical energy needs, including adding 1,000 megawatts since 2009 to Pakistan’s national grid--enough electricity for more than 16 million Pakistanis.”

The Energy Working Group meeting underscores the sustained bilateral partnership in the energy sector, and the critical importance of a stable supply of energy in accelerating Pakistan’s economic growth, the State Department noted.

"The Pakistani government is committed to expanding power generation, promoting energy efficiency, and discussing ways to better use Pakistan’s domestic natural gas, hydroelectric, and renewable resources." The United States has organised a Pakistani trade delegation later this week to Houston, Texas to meet with major US oil and gas companies, facilitating investment from the private sector in addressing Pakistan’s energy needs.

Abbasi highlighted the need to attract private-sector investment to catalyse domestic gas exploration and production in Pakistan. Ambassador Pascual welcomed the Pakistani government’s commitment to undertake necessary reforms to improve efficiency in gas development, acquire liquefied natural gas (LNG), and increase domestic natural gas production.

Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif welcomed US support for the Pakistan government’s power policy and privatisation plans.

Additionally, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US government’s development finance institution, is in the process of negotiating a $95 million loan to a prospective 50 MW wind power plant in southeastern Pakistan’s Gharo-Keti Bandar Wind Corridor.

The Pakistani delegation also met with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, with whom they discussed potential collaboration in grid resiliency and the energy-water nexus.

The US Department of Energy invited their Pakistani counterparts to visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado next year to explore areas of further cooperation in research, and to share best practices.

Energy issues were also a core topic of discussion during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Sharif’s official visit to Washington last month.

The US-Pakistan Energy Working Group is part of the Strategic Dialogue framework, which was revived during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan in August. The Washington meeting, held at the US Institute of Peace, was the first Working Group meeting to be held since the announcement of the resumption of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, though the fifth time it met since 2010.