Clinton, Zardari discuss Indo-Pak ties, anti-US protests

clintonzardariNEW YORK: The improving trade ties between Pakistan and India, terrorism and violent anti-US protests were among a host of issues that President Asif Ali Zardari discussed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when they met here on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

Zardari brought up the issue of the anti-Islam movie with Clinton and the two leaders “spent quite a bit of time talking about the violence throughout the region,” that has resulted in the aftermath of the movie, a State Department official told reporters after the meeting yesterday.

Clinton reiterated that those who provoke violence cannot be tolerated and it undermines the sovereignty of states.

Over 20 people were killed across Pakistan in violent protests against the film deemed offensive to Islam.

The Pakistani side also stressed that there was “zero tolerance” for both violence and extremism.

Zardari was accompanied by Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

The two leaders also discussed the “growing trade relationship between Pakistan and India even as noted in the recent visit… (and) discussion of the Commerce Secretaries (of the two countries),” the official added.

Last week, Indian Commerce Secretary SR Rao was in Islamabad for the 7th round of talks on Commercial and Economic Co-Operation with his Pakistani counterpart Munir Qureshi.

The two countries signed three agreements for cooperation in customs matters, redressal of trade grievances and conforming to quality standards to further normalize economic relations between the two countries.

The two leaders also talked about continued counter- terrorism cooperation, including efforts by the US to squeeze the Haqqani Network, which was recently designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
The State Department official also said that the US and Pakistan hope to sign a bilateral investment treaty by the end of the year to boost economic ties.

As the two countries aim to focus on building relations, significant working groups constituted between them will be meeting before the end of the year, among them being one on counter-terrorism and law enforcement, which will address counter IEDs.

“So there’s a lot that we’re re-energizing at this point.

I don’t think anyone wants to set expectations too high or too broad. But I think the general trajectory is certainly one that we’ve worked very, very hard,” the officials said.

The official said the two countries also discussed the impact of the Haqqani designation on reconciliation efforts adding that the Pakistan government was kept in close touch about the issue of the designation of the Haqqani network.

When asked if the Pakistani-US ties were moving forward, the official said, “I would certainly say that they’re moving upwards and in a positive direction. I don’t, again, want to overestimate and oversell what’s occurred.”

“We’ve been working at a very diligent, disciplined, workmen-like manner over the course of these last 18 months, which have been very difficult, and especially over the last several months, since we’ve had this opening opportunity again, given the Ground Lines of Communication, to get this back on track,” the official said.

“I think they’re reinvigorated, but we’re looking at very specific, discrete, incremental steps that we can show that by acting together jointly, we can pursue many of our shared interests,” he said, adding the continued high-level meetings and working-level meetings will focus on ways to improve ties.

“I’m very comfortable with the direction that this is headed. But we want to be realistic and clear-eyed about all this,” the official added.

The ties between the two nations have been fragile after US Navy Seals flew into Pakistan last May and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a secret raid.

Relations plunged to new lows after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a US air strike in November.

Zardari also conveyed to Clinton that greater market access should be given to Pakistani products in the US.

The Pakistani President expressed hope that substantial progress would be witnessed in the coming days in the bilateral investment treaty between the two countries.

The US official, however, refused to comment on whether the issue of drone strikes came up from either side.

When asked about trilateral talks between UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan scheduled to be held here, the official said the US is “completely supportive” of any number of other talks that engage the Afghans and Pakistanis. -PTI