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Kerry Leaves Pakistan Hopeful, Despite Divides

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has wrapped up a visit to Pakistan with an agreement by the two countries to resume a dialogue on security issues. The agreement ends a chill in relations that goes back to the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden two years ago.

It was handshakes and smiles during John Kerry’s first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state. He walked away from key meetings sounding hopeful.

“This revitalized dialogue will address in a realistic fashion all of the many issues between us, from border management to counterterrorism, to promoting U.S. private investment and to Pakistan's own journey to economic revitalization,” said Kerry.

Yet just how much comes from this visit, and what the push for a “full partnership” actually yields may be in doubt. Michael Kugelman at the Wilson International Center is skeptical.

"There are so few convergent interests in this relationship from views on militancy in terms of who the enemy is, who the targets are to go after," said Kugelman.

The biggest divide is over U.S. drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas, used as safe havens by militants launching attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistani foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz, speaking after Kerry’s visit, was clear about the Pakistani government's position. "We are asking them to stop it, not just contain it," Aziz said of the program.

During his visit, Kerry suggested in an interview with Pakistani TV that the strikes could end as soon as the threats are eliminated.

That may please newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but the Wilson Center’s Kugelman says it may not play well with Pakistan’s military.

"There's good reason to assume that what the Pakistani government criticizes publicly, it actually sanctions privately. And at the least, we know based on recently leaked documents that the Pakistani military has, in fact, had an agreement with the United States where it signs off on these drone strikes," said Kugelman.

Still, the U.S. and Pakistan have much to gain in fixing their relationship. Pakistan needs U.S. investment and help with an infrastructure that has left many without power. And the U.S. needs stability in Pakistan as it prepares to withdraw from neighboring Afghanistan next year.