Clinton sees shared interest with Pakistan

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the United States and Pakistan share interests in fighting terrorism after lawmakers in Islamabad issued demands over the troubled relationship.

With relations between the war partners at historic lows, a parliamentary panel on Tuesday unveiled long-awaited recommendations, including an end to US drone strikes and an apology for an air raid that killed 24 Pakistani troops.

Clinton, asked about the demands, declined to respond formally until the report goes before Pakistan's parliament. But she said the United States was committed to an "honest, constructive, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan."

"We've been working through these difficulties and challenges. We believe we have shared interests. We believe we have the same enemies," Clinton said at a news conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.

"We believe that it's important to support counter-terrorism against the insurgents who kill and maim tens of thousands of Pakistani people, who send teams across the border to kill and maim people in Afghanistan and to kill and maim our soldiers and others."

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been in freefall for months, with Islamabad's powerful military livid after US forces found and killed the world's most wanted man Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2.

NATO planes killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border on November 26, leading Islamabad to shut NATO supply routes -- the crux of the two nations' ties since the United States invaded Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

US President Barack Obama voiced regret over the "tragic loss" and said the deaths were unintended, but stopped short of offering an apology, which would likely be politically controversial at home.

The Pakistani panel demanded an apology for the air strikes and taxes on NATO convoys. They also called for an end to drone strikes against militants deep inside

Pakistani territory, which US officials consider vital but Pakistan says are blatant violations of its sovereignty.

"We have made it clear we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan," Clinton said.

"We also respect the democratic process that Pakistan is engaged in. We think it is actually quite significant that the democratically-elected government -- the democratically-elected parliament -- is engaging in these matters."

Clinton's Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, recently accused the United States of flouting its own calls for democracy by refusing to heed appeals from parliament to end drone strikes.

Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank, said that the parliamentary debate could strengthen

Pakistan's democratic institutions but that the military -- long the country's chief power-broker -- would have the final say on security issues.

Curtis said that the "cooling-off period" since November had benefits for both countries by allowing a de-escalation of rhetoric. But she said that the United States needed to insist on drone strikes against militants and for answers on how bin Laden lived so long in Pakistan.

"The US also needs to put forward some of its own terms for the relationship. Trust is a two-way street, and US leaders have lost faith in Pakistan's credibility as a reliable counter-terrorism partner," the analyst added.

Amid the tensions, Pakistan has voiced outrage over a proposed congressional resolution by Representative Dana Rohrabacher that would call for self-determination in violence-torn Baluchistan province.

In his latest statement, Rohrabacher called for US-funded Radio Free Asia to start broadcasting in the Baluchi language to provide an outside news source.

"While the government and intelligence services in Pakistan act against the interests of the United States, I believe America can find common ground with the people of South Asia," Rohrabacher said.

The California Republican is known for his outspoken views. The Obama administration has distanced itself from his efforts on Baluchistan, which appear to have limited support in Congress.

 

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