Pakistan, Afghanistan have mutual interests: Hagel
KABUL (PAN): Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, who departed from Islamabad after a brief visit, said on Monday Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan had a “lot of common and mutual interests” and that he looked forward to discussing regional issues.
In the first visit by a US defence secretary in nearly four years to Pakistan amid seriously strained relations over US drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt near the Afghanistan border, Hagel flew from Kabul to Islamabad.
During his stay in Islamabad, Hagel met with Pakistani prime minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. The meeting between Hagel and Sharif was also attended by Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Federal Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins.
Hagel was in Pakistan “in recognition of the tremendous support that Pakistan has provided in the war on terror”, a senior US defence official told reporters.
The defence secretary wanted “to deepen our defence partnership” and to affirm continued US military assistance, the official said.
“There is some friction in the relationship” and Hagel wished to tackle that “head on”, he added.
The visit came as Hagel's deputies withdrew Sunday's statement that said NATO shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan were to resume due to the end of anti-drone protests.
Hagel also met with Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Issues concerning defence relationship, Pak-US bilateral ties and regional stability came under discussion.
US Secretary of Defence was accompanied by US Ambassador in Pakistan Richord Olson and US Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence Dr Peter Lavoy.
“Issues concerning defence relationship, Pak-US bilateral ties and regional stability came under discussion,” the Pakistan military said after Hagel met the army chief, who last month succeeded General Ashfaq Kayani.
Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace in neighbouring Afghanistan as it was a key backer of the hardline 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul and is believed to shelter some of the movement's leaders.
Hagel visited Pakistan after two days in Afghanistan, where he urged President Hamid Karzai to sign a long-delayed security agreement.
Hagel, who did not meet Karzai, also said his Afghan counterpart Bismillah Khan Mohammadi had assured him the security pact would be signed in a timely manner.
Hagel began his trip last week in Bahrain, seeking to reassure Gulf allies that the United States would retain a robust military presence in the region despite an interim nuclear deal with Iran.
After morning meetings in Pakistan, Hagel was due to travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where he was expected to renew his message of solidarity with the Gulf Arab states.
The last Pentagon chief to visit Pakistan was Robert Gates in January 2010.
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