Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday said the US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas were a challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty and he will seek immediate cessation of such attacks during his meeting with President Barack Obama.
Talking to reporters in London en route to Washington, Nawaz said that all political parties of the country had unanimously endorsed peace talks with militants of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and an end to drone strikes would help his government in resolving the decade-long bloodshed in the country. The TTP has also demanded an end to drone strikes as a pre-condition for talks with the government.
Meanwhile, economic cooperation and the Afghan reconciliation process are some of the key issues that Prime Minister Sharif and President Obama would discuss in the first official White House meeting amid a changing regional and world scenario.
The White House is eager to hear from Nawaz – who came to power with a massive parliamentary victory this year – about his government’s strategy on talks with the TTP, and policy on Afghanistan, India and regional economic integration.
The meeting on October 23 comes in a markedly different scenario, when Pakistan has a new government and the United States is no longer amplifying allegations of militant havens in Pakistan as it did at the height of Afghan war a few years ago, though it remains focused on the tribal areas and other Pakistani security issues.
Washington and Tehran are also predicted to hold talks soon in a major development for the region, while the US forces are drawing down from neighbouring Afghanistan by 2014. Meanwhile, the White House has increased its focus on the Mideast.
But several American experts say the US would continue to have wide-raging ties with Pakistan in view of its regional importance and its role in regional security and stability.
For Nawaz, who will advocate expanded trade and investment, particularly in energy sector, to be linchpin of future ties, it will be far different context during the visit than the last time when in 1999, he visited the White House to pull Pakistan out of the Kargil crisis.
His schedule includes meetings with US Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Congressional leaders.
While releasing a statement on the visit, the White House said recently Nawaz Sharif’s “visit will highlight the importance and resilience of the US-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism”.
“The president looks forward to discussions with Prime Minister Sharif on ways we can advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, in resolution of a lingering problem, the US has cleared the outstanding amount of $322 million, it owed to Pakistan as reimbursement under the Coalition Support Funds.