WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, speaking after talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, has hailed the improved level of bilateral ties with US and neighbouring Afghanistan, saying Islamabad and Kabul are in “close cooperation” in counter-terrorism efforts.

“I think Afghanistan and Pakistan, working in close hands and in close cooperation, it will do wonders for the cooperation in the field of counterterrorism,” he said, adding that there had also been “a quantum leap in trust” between Islamabad and Washington.

The minister was speaking to reporters after the meeting with Secretary Kerry on the sidelines of thee-day summit in Washington on Countering violent extremism. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani accompanied the interior minister. On the US side, Dan Feldman, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, assisted Secretary Kerry during the meeting.

“Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been (this much) better, and that is a very, very positive development,” he said. The remarks came just days after Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, where they praised the recently improved relations between both sides.

On his part, Kerry praised Pakistan for acting against terrorist groups, saying the Pakistanis “are committed to going after terrorists, all forms of extremism in Pakistan”. “And they are making good on that in their initiatives in the western part of the country and elsewhere, and in their cooperation on counterterrorism,” he added.

Analysts consider Kerry’s statement praising Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts as rejection of the demand last week by two key Congressional leaders that US sanction Islamabad for its failure to take “meaningful action” against key terrorist groups operating on its soil.

In a letter to Kerry on February 12, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, and ranking member Eliot Engel, a democrat, called for a new approach towards Pakistan. “We urge you to consider implementing travel restrictions, suspending portions of assistance, and sanctioning Pakistani officials that maintain relationships with designated terrorist groups,” they wrote.

Kerry also praised what he called “an unprecedented level of effort to try to produce cooperation” between Pakistan and Afghanistan which he said was producing “some signs of real results.”

Ties between Washington and Islamabad hit a low point in recent years after the 2011 killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, shot dead during a US special forces’ operation in the Pakistani military garrison town of Abbottabad. But both countries have worked to improve relations, and Kerry visited Islamabad in January as the two nations vowed to step up cooperation to track down militants in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

“Over the last few months, and I think due to the efforts of Secretary Kerry and the administration, there has been a huge quantum leap in the level of confidence, in the level of trust, and in the level of cooperation,” Nisar Ali Khan told reporters.

During Nisar-Kerry meeting, matters relating to bilateral relations with particular focus on the peace and security situation in the region came under discussion. “The interior minister and Secretary Kerry expressed satisfaction over the pace of bilateral cooperation between the two countries under the strategic dialogue process,” the Pakistani embassy said.

Secretary Kerry recalled his last visit to Islamabad and fruitful meetings with the prime minister and other leaders. He expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and commended its resolve and the steps being taken to tackle terrorism in a comprehensive manner.

The top American diplomat also lauded the prime minister’s initiatives for regional peace and development. “Both sides recognised the need for the United States and Pakistan to closely coordinate and cooperate with each other and with Afghanistan to ensure peace and stability in that country.”

Nisar Ali Khan saw close Pakistan-US cooperation in a broad range of areas going forward. “Both the United States and Pakistan are working very, very closely. I think that forebodes very positively for a close cooperation, as the Secretary has said, not only in the area of counterterrorism, but also in the economy and in bringing about sanity and peace in the region.”

He said there are many challenges facing the region, and at the same time stressed that improving Pakistan-Afghanistan relations would help the two neighbours tremendously. “But there are a number of positive developments which have taken place over the last few weeks and over the last few months which point to a very positive outlook for our relationship and for our joint fight against extremism.”

AFP adds: Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif held talks in Kabul on Tuesday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on boosting security and continuing operations against Taliban militants.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad hit a low point in recent years after the 2011 killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, shot dead during a US special forces operation in the Pakistani military garrison town of Abbottabad.

But both countries have worked to improve relations, and Kerry visited Islamabad in January as the two nations vowed to step up cooperation to track down militants in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.