ISLAMABAD: A US delegation headed by Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with the Pakistani team led by Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz at the Foreign Office on Thursday.

Kerry flew into Pakistan on Wednesday night to hold meetings with the top political and military leadership aimed at easing tension over US drone strikes, the war in Afghanistan, and the fight against religious extremism.

The two teams were holding consultations today on a number of issues including the fight against militants as US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, US-Pakistan strategic relations and drone attacks inside Pakistani territory.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the two delegations were discussing matters pertaining to resumption of strategic ties between the two countries, drone attacks as well as Afghanistan.

The delegations were also scheduled to discuss matters relating to energy and education.

Prior to the start of his meeting with Aziz and his team, Kerry on Thursday paid tribute to the polls, which marked the first time that an elected civilian Pakistani government completed a full term in office and handed over to another at the ballot box.

“This is a historic transition that just took place. Nobody should diminish it,” he told US embassy staff.

“I think President Zardari deserves credit… It is an enormous step forward. It is historic. In the 66 year history of Pakistan that has never happened. So change comes over time,” he added.

Kerry will also hold talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as well as with outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

It is Kerry’s first visit to Pakistan as Secretary of State although he has visited the country in other capacities before and he is the most senior US official to visit the country since Sharif was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister.

Although ties between the two countries have remained deeply troubled in recent years, a more stable government under Sharif, with a clear majority, may offer a new opportunity to rework relations along realistic objectives.

Since winning the election, Sharif has said he wants to strengthen Pakistan’s relations with Washington, but that the US must take seriously concerns about drone strikes.

He has made economic growth and resolving the energy crisis the top priority of his new administration, but Kerry will be looking to stress that more must be done on militant havens.

Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high, complains that the US fails to appreciate the sacrifices it has made in fighting terror, claiming to have lost 40,000 people since 2001.

Pakistan faces mammoth challenges posed by a domestic Taliban insurgency, the external threat posed by Afghan and foreign militants on its soil, a crumbling economy and an energy crisis.

source:Dawnnews