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N-deal, India talks on Pakistan wish list, US non-committal

world Updated: Mar 24, 2010 10:45 IST

AFP
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Pakistan is seeking broader cooperation with the United States on Wednesday on a range of areas from trade to military hardware, hoping to reap the benefits of its recent action against the Taliban.

President Barack Obama's administration has cautiously welcomed what it sees as a shift in Pakistan and is looking to convince the country's public, where anti-Americanism runs rife, that it is committed to a long-term partnership.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the powerful army, will hold a first-of-a-kind "strategic dialogue" with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.

"We want to take our relationship to a deeper level," Clinton told Pakistan's Dunya TV on the eve of the talks.

"We can't just wave that magic wand and say we've eliminated the trust deficit," she said, pledging to go to Islamabad for further rounds. "This takes time, and we have to build it step by step."

Qureshi and Kayani met on Tuesday with Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, who authored last year's bill that promised $7.5 billion in aid over five years to build Pakistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions.

Many Pakistanis are distrustful of the United States, remembering how it distanced itself in the 1990s after teaming up with Islamabad to arm Islamic guerrillas who ousted Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

"There is a recognition now in the United States that the cyclical nature of our relationship has benefited neither Pakistan nor the United States," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.

"Everybody talks about the anti-Americanism in Pakistan. It would not have been there if the United States had been seen by the people of Pakistan as a consistent and reliable partner."

The Pakistani side came to Washington with a wishlist for further cooperation, including military hardware and trade incentives, people close to the talks said.

Pakistan is hoping the United States will agree to give Islamabad more unmanned drones to operate itself in lawless areas.

The United States has launched more than 90 drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, killing more than 830 people, according to local sources. US officials say they have killed top Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, but the Pakistani government bristles at the undercutting of its sovereignty.

Pakistan is also seeking greater access to US markets, including for its textiles, arguing that US economic aid is insufficient if its goods still face prohibitive tariffs.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell downplayed expectations for major announcements, saying it was a mistake to see the dialogue as "a discussion of requests and replies."

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has launched ambitious military offensives against homegrown Taliban militants, sending about 30,000 troops into South Waziristan last year.

US officials have also praised Pakistan for the recent arrest of the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

But some have questioned Pakistan's motivations. The former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said the arrest closed secret communications with the Taliban to reach a settlement in Pakistan's northern neighbor.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation think-tank said the dialogue was meant to show that the United States has a long-term interest in Pakistan beyond Afghanistan, which joined in three-way talks last year.

"The main problem is that the United States and Pakistan are still far apart in terms of how they perceive the situation in Afghanistan," she said.

"The US is of course seeking to ensure the Taliban cannot return to power, while Pakistan is mainly interested in limiting Indian influence."

The United States seems certain to shoot down one Pakistani aspiration -- recognition and acceptance as a nuclear power.

Pakistan's historic rival India in 2008 signed a landmark deal on civil nuclear cooperation with the United States.

But unlike in India's case, US officials have concerns about Pakistani proliferation. The father of Pakistan's bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he later retracted his remarks.

Asked by Pakistan's Express TV if nuclear cooperation could assuage the country's chronic energy shortages, Clinton said there were "more immediate steps that can be taken" including upgrading power plants.