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Clinton Reaffirms US Commitment to Pakistan

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi, 19 July 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi, 19 July 2010

Concluding a second round of the so-called U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Islamabad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday announced more than $500 million in several new aid programs for Pakistan.

The string of new projects unveiled by Clinton during a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi are designed to help Pakistan meet its energy needs and boost power generation, health and agricultural development. The programs are the first to be launched under U.S legislation passed last year tripling civilian aid for Pakistan to $7.5 billion during the next five years.

Secretary Clinton said the United States hopes the new aid will translate into real life improvements for families and communities, describing them as long-term investments in Pakistan's future.

"We are committed to building a partnership with Pakistan that of course strengthens security and protects the people of Pakistan, but goes far beyond security," Clinton said. "We want to help you drive economic growth and prosperity, strengthen your democratic government institutions and expand access to the tools of opportunity."

Pakistan is playing a key role in the international fighting against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. But public opinion in Pakistan still views U.S. motives with a considerable amount of suspicion. The skepticism stems from the U.S decision to abandon support for Pakistan after Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

But Secretary Clinton says she can see positive change resulting from what she called deeper and broader bilateral engagements in recent years.

"We have moved beyond a standoff of our misunderstandings that were allowed to fester and not addressed… to a position where we are engaged in the most open dialogue that I think our two countries have ever had," she said.

Foreign minister Qureshi also agreed that the enhanced U.S cooperation in various fields such as energy, power, health, agricultural and education sector is critical for changing the public perception in Pakistan.

"The opinion of the United States will change when the people of Pakistan see that their lives have changed," said Mr. Qureshi.

Sunday, Clinton attended the signing of a landmark trade deal reached by Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of negotiations. The United States has been pushing Afghan and Pakistani leaders to improve bilateral relations it says will contribute to the fight against extremists.

Secretary Clinton's next stop as part of her Asia trip will be Kabul, where she will attend an international conference on Tuesday.

At the news conference in Islamabad, she reiterated that insurgents who wish to reconcile must lay down their arms, renounce partnership with al-Qaida and accept Afghanistan's constitution.

"It seems to us that there will be some who are willing to meet those conditions and others who are not. And we would strongly advise our friends in Afghanistan to deal with those who are committed to a peaceful future where their ideas can compete in the political arena through the ballot box, not through the force of arms."

Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks against Afghan and U.S-led coalition forces in recent months. More than 50 foreign troops have died in July while the previous month was the deadliest for international forces since the war against Taliban and its allies began nine years ago.