ISLAMABAD – Pakistan and US Saturday reiterated their commitment to keep on working together for their bilateral interests and for the establishment and maintenance of peace in the region.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in their separate meetings with US special envoy Marc Grossman noted that it was important for the two sides to revive mutual confidence and move forward, adding that Islamabad regarded its ties with Washington as “very important”.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was in Islamabad on a two-day visit, also met with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, members of the parliament and other officials.

During these meetings, Grossman said that his country believes that its relationship with Pakistan should be enduring, strategic and clearly defined. A US Embassy statement quoted him as saying that the US and Pakistan should work together to identify shared interests and act on them jointly, for the benefit of both nations and the region. Grossman also raised the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, though he failed to achieve any assurance in this regard.

Ambassador Grossman was accompanied by Acting US Ambassador Richard Hoagland, Lt- Gen, Douglas E Lute, Dr Peter Lavoy and other US officials in his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. On Pakistani side, Defence Minister Naveed Qamar, Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Secretary General Salman Faruqui, Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and other officials were present.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, while briefing newsmen about the meeting, said that Pak-US bilateral situation, fight against militancy, regional situation, drug trafficking and drone attacks were discussed during the meeting. He quoted the president as saying that it was important for the two countries to work for greater engagements in all fields for mutual interests. The president expressed the hope that the foreign minister’s forthcoming visit to Washington would help jump-starting the bilateral strategic dialogue.

On Afghanistan, the president said that the peace and stability of Pakistan depended on peace and stability of Afghanistan and that Pakistan would continue to assist the international community in a search for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process in that country. He said that the two countries shared a common objective to defeat al-Qaeda and terrorism and that it could best be achieved through coordinated actions across the border.

The president said that Pakistan believed that drug-trafficking and heroine was a major issue as it provided financial backing to the militants. He said that heroine was developed by the international community as a war weapon and it was now for the international community to find a solution to it.

He said that Pakistan would be hosting a conference of the regional countries at the end of this year to formulate a common strategy in fighting drug production, heroine and narco trade in the region to dry up the financial sources of militancy.

On terrorism, the president said that Pakistan had been extending full support to the international fight against terrorism and would continue to do so in the future as well. He said that Pakistan would continue lending every support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington have been rocky for years, and have only just resumed after nosediving following the secret raid that killed Osama bin Laden and an air raid that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops. US considers Pakistan’s semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt as the main hub of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.

President Zardari also reiterated his call for an end to the drone attacks, terming them counterproductive in the fight against militancy and in the battle of winning hearts. We need to discuss alternatives on the question of drone attacks, he added. He said that the goal of establishing a long-term, sustained and durable Pak-US equation would remain elusive till the issue of trust deficit was addressed in an effective manner.

In a separate meeting with the US special envoy, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that his country regarded its relations with the United States as “very important” and that Pakistan valued it as a major development partner. “The prime minister said that relations between Pakistan and US are very important and we value United States as a major development partner,” a statement issued by his office said.

Ambassador Grossman agreed with the Prime Minister that it was of fundamental importance to build a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest. He said that both the countries shared common objective to fight the scourge of terrorism. He agreed that partnership with Pakistan was important to establish peace and security in the region.

Prime Minister Ashraf said that Pakistan had suffered the most, both in human and material loss, but that could not weaken the resolve to fight terrorism and extremism. “We have no other option but to fight it out so that we have peace and tranquilly in the region,” he said.

The prime minister said that Pakistan had rendered great sacrifices in the war against terrorism. He said that being a political government, “we are sensitive to public opinion and have succeeded in mobilising the people and making them realize that terrorism is a threat to our country and is a menace”.

The prime minister said that cooperation between the two countries would help in achieving the common objective of fighting terrorism and extremism. “We (Pakistan and US) have a shared objective in fighting terrorism and need to cooperate more to get rid of this menace.”

The prime minister said that as far as Afghanistan was concerned there had been a “sea change” in relations with it. “We are just like family members,” he added. The prime minister said, “We need a peaceful and stable Afghanistan in our neighbourhood and we cannot leave our children on the mercy of those terrorists.”

The prime minister recalled his visit to Afghanistan in July last month where he met with President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. He said that the visit was very helpful in developing understanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He expressed the confidence that given the resolve of his government and with the help of international community, specially the United States, Pakistan would be able to overcome the challenges. He referred to recent high level exchanges between the two countries, which he said, were very useful in creating better understanding between them.

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that Pakistan was facing energy crises and the United States could help in overcoming it. He said that American cooperation in energy sector would send a good message from the US because it would help reduce miseries of the common man.  Referring to the Diamer-Basha Dam project with storage capacity of 8.1 MAF and capacity of generating 4500 MW of electricity, the Prime Minister said that the participation of the US would be welcomed.

Ambassador Grossman said that future relations between Pakistan and the United States should be based on market access and trade. The US government is working on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) to facilitate US investment in Pakistan and improved market access, he added.

The Prime Minister said that he had directed all the stakeholders and authorities concerned to give their inputs for an early agreement on the BIT. Grossman assured the Prime Minister that the US would continue to work for strengthening Pak-Afghan border to check illegal infiltration. Referring to the energy crises in Pakistan, the Ambassador said that the US had made a promise of $200 million for the construction of Diamer-Basha Dam and was ready to participate in this project.

The US government was working on a bilateral investment treaty to “facilitate” US investment in Pakistan and improve market access, according to the Pakistani statement. It said that the United States has promised 200 million dollars for the construction of Diamer-Basha dam in northern Pakistan.

Charge d’affaires US embassy Richard Hoagland, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor Lt-Gen Douglas E Lute, Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs for Asia Maj-Gen John F Newell assisted Marc Grossman during the meeting. Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik and Senator Syeda Sughra Imam were also present during the meeting.

A US Embassy spokesman said that Marc Grossman in his meetings with the Pakistani leaders said that the United States believes that its relationship with Pakistan should be enduring, strategic and clearly defined. The US is committed to building on recent achievements, such as the reopening of the Nato supply lines and the meeting of the Safe Passage Working Group held in Islamabad on September 5, he added.

He said that the US looked forward to welcoming Foreign Minister Khar to Washington and President Zardari to New York for the UN General Assembly, and to several bilateral working groups this fall. The spokesman said that Grossman noted that each of these engagements was an opportunity to continue to identify shared interests and to discuss concrete actions the United States and Pakistan can take together on our broad agenda.

Grossman said the United States is committed to continuing work on shared counterterrorism objectives; to increasing market access and economic opportunity for Pakistan; and to supporting civilian democracy and civil society, he added. He said it was important that the United States and Pakistan cooperate closely to ensure that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the region are more secure, stable, and prosperous.

Ambassador Grossman emphasised that while none of those are simple tasks, and will require vision, cooperation, and hard work, the United States is committed to its relationship with Pakistan, to continued engagement, and to building on joint successes. Ambassador Grossman also offered his condolences for the victims of the tragic fires in Karachi and Lahore this week and expressed appreciation for the condolences offered by Pakistan for the loss of US diplomats in Libya.