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US Secretary Kerry to Visit Pakistan

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif, second from left, walks along with then-U.S. Senators John Kerry, Joseph Biden, Chuck Hegel and his party president Shahbaz Sharif, Lahore, Feb 18, 2008 file photo.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Pakistan in the next few days for talks likely to focus on the countries' often rocky bilateral relations and regional cooperation, particularly with Afghanistan.

Future economic needs of Afghanistan and Pakistan are likely to dominate discussions during Kerry’s planned stop in Islamabad, on what will be his first visit to the south Asian nation since the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in May.

Former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi says this first high-level engagement between Sharif's new government and the Obama administration will give the Pakistani leader the opportunity to reset what has often been a rocky relationship.

Sharif, she says, who has made reviving Pakistan's moribund economy a top priority, will most likely focus on both short term regional and longer term bilateral issues.

"I think what you will see is the prime minister engaged in the conduct of economic diplomacy, but at the same time also deal with issues that are immediate," she said. "And the immediate issue is how to revive the stalled Doha process which was aimed at bringing the United States, the Taliban, as well as the Afghan government, together for peace talks that can put an end to the fighting."

Attempts at bringing the Taliban and Kabul representatives together in the Qatari capital, Doha, collapsed earlier this year. Washington has been pushing hard for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan before international combat forces leave at the end of 2014.

Sharif, who was sworn into office in June, has kept both the Foreign Ministry and Defense portfolios to himself. Lodhi says that signals he will be conducting a great deal of personal diplomacy and providing the strategic direction to the country's foreign policy.

"I think the important thing is that there is a new government in place," she said. "It is headed by a prime minister who has a handsome majority. He has an opportunity to re-orient Pakistan's foreign policy, and I think he will be calling the shots more than his predecessors in the recent past."

To date, Pakistan's foreign policy has been heavily dominated by the country's powerful military establishment.

Sharif met with U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson on Friday in preparation for the visit.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister's office, Olson laid out Washington's priorities for the visit, while Sharif affirmed his commitment to strong ties with the U.S. and peace and stability in Afghanistan.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.