Pakistan must fight militant groups that threaten interests of Afghanistan, India and the United States, US secretary of state John Kerry said on Tuesday, as he voiced sympathy for the victims of the December 16 attack on a military school in Peshawar.
Pakistan has long been suspected by the West of playing a double game, fighting some militants while supporting those its generals have regarded as strategic assets to be used against rivals and neighbours.
Kerry, on a visit to Pakistan, said all extremists groups should be targetted equally.
"Terror groups like the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e Taiba, and other groups, continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, to its neighbours, and to the United States, and we all of us have a responsibility to ensure that these groups do not gain a foothold but rather are pushed back into the recesses of (Pakistan's) memory," Kerry said in Islamabad.
"This task is obviously far from finished."
US secretary of state John Kerry (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Pakistan's national security advisor Sartaj Aziz at the foreign ministry in Islamabad on Tuesday. (AFP Photo)
Speaking after visiting India over the weekend, Kerry added that he was deeply concerned by the recent violence on the border dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and called on India and Pakistan to find a diplomatic solution.
"We continue to be deeply concerned by the recent spate of increased violence along the working boundary and the line of control," Kerry said, referring to a ceasefire line that has become the de facto border dividing Kashmir.
"It is profoundly in the interests of Pakistan and India to move this relationship forward," he said.
Kerry also advised India and Pakistan to re-engage in serious dialogue. "I encourage (both) parties to have a dialogue."
India called off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan after Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit held discussions with Kashmiri separatists in August last year.
Praise for military
However, Kerry also praised the Pakistani military's operation against militants in the country's northwest, saying the results are "significant".
His comments came during a meeting in Islamabad with Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister's advisor on foreign affairs.
Pakistan launched a major operation in the North Waziristan region in June. The US had long advocated for such an operation because the region had become a hub for militant groups.
The current operations "in the northwest have disrupted militant activities in the tribal areas and resulted in important seizures of weapons," Kerry said. "The operation is not yet complete but already the results are significant. Pakistani soldiers and their commanders deserve enormous credit."
Kerry also announced that $250 million in previously appropriated money will be given to emergency relief efforts in the tribal areas, mainly North Waziristan. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the area due to the fighting.
Kerry praised the reopening Monday of the school in Peshawar where Taliban gunmen slaughtered 150 people, mostly children, in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country. Kerry called it a testament to the resolve of the Pakistani people.
The secretary arrived in Pakistan on Monday and met with Aziz as well as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan has boosted operations against violent extremists in recent months. But US officials traveling with Kerry said Washington wants to ensure that there is a "real and sustained effort".
Pakistan has been on edge ever since the December 16 attack that was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban as retaliation for the North Waziristan army operation. In response, Pakistan boosted operations in the rugged tribal areas, reinstituted the death penalty for terrorists and moved to try civilian terror suspects in military courts.
Aziz defended steps Pakistan had taken after the school attack, saying action was being taken against all militant groups.
Pakistan has often been accused of having a "good Taliban, bad Taliban" policy, meaning they tolerate or support some militants they find useful as proxies in Afghanistan or India and battle other militants who target the Pakistani state. Pakistani officials insist they go after all militants.
Kerry also maintained that it was important not to view the US-Pakistan relationship only through the prism of counterterrorism and security. He noted that the United States has provided significant assistance to Pakistan to improve its infrastructure, including roads and power generation.
Between 2009 and 2014, the US provided Pakistan with more than $4.38 billion in civilian assistance, including more than a billion in humanitarian aid.
(With Reuters and AP inputs)