Oct 22 2013, 1:00am CDT | by IANS
Washington, Oct 22 — The US justified plans to release more than $1.6 billion in aid to Pakistan saying it was doing so partly to build Islamabad's counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities "encouraged by an improvement in bilateral ties".
"This is part of a long process of restarting security assistance cooperation that was slowed during 2011-12 when we had some bilateral challenges," state department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Monday.
Among the signs of improved ties, she pointed to the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his first to Washington since his election in May. He met Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday and is set to meet President Barack Obama Wednesday.
"The visit last night with Secretary Kerry and Mr. Sharif was a good one," Harf said. "And so we're going to move forward with this 1.6 billion" which is separate from $1.16 billion that the administration has asked for 2014 Fiscal Year.
The $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was from previous multi-year funding "that had been designated for Pakistan but that had been slowed because of the bilateral challenges", she said.
Harf didn't spell out the "bilateral challenges" but aid to Pakistan had been blocked because of tension over events including drone strikes and the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.
The spokesperson said she didn't have an exact breakdown, but the $1.6 billion is "close to being 50/50" between security and military.
"The security assistance will work on to continue to build the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities of Pakistan's security forces," Harf said.
"This is especially important in the western border regions when we're talking about fighting Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups," she said.
Asked if the issue of US drone strikes that has caused a lot of anger in Pakistan was discussed during the Kerry-Sharif meeting, the spokesperson said she did not have any specific information but "obviously, counterterrorism is an issue that we discuss all the time with the Pakistanis".
"Again, we're going to keep talking to the Pakistanis about this," Harf said referring to a speech by Obama "when he talked about our counterterrorism operations, when he talked about the fact that, in any operation, we undertake every effort to limit civilian casualties".
A State Department statement issued after the Kerry-Sharif meeting said it was their third meeting in three months, "and continued the robust dialogue on our shared goal of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan".
"Discussions covered a broad range of domestic and regional issues, including peace and security, counterterrorism cooperation, collaboration on Pakistan's energy sector, increasing bilateral trade and investment, and the common interest in a secure and stable Afghanistan.
"Both sides agreed on the importance of our continued counterterrorism cooperation, and that extremism is countered in part by opportunities arising from greater economic stability," the statement added.
Sharif Monday also met with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and US Trade Representative Michael Froman and addressed a gathering of business leaders at the US-Pakistan Business Council.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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