US seeks to shore up relationship with Pakistan by releasing US$300m aid

Congress is asked to unblock aid as Nawaz Sharif visits Washington

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 3:23am


The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than US$300 million in blocked security assistance to Pakistan amid an upswing in relations and a visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"This is part of a long process of restarting security assistance co-operation after implementation was slowed during the bilateral challenges of 2011 and 2012," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The development came as Secretary of State John Kerry met Sharif, who is making the highest-level official visit by a Pakistani to the United States in years.

"We have a lot to talk about and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important," Kerry said. He called Pakistan a "democracy that is working hard to get its economy moving and deal with insurgency and also important to the regional stability".

The State Department said the pair discussed counterterrorism co-operation, energy, trade and investment, and "the common interest in a secure and stable Afghanistan".

Sharif was elected in May, and Washington has praised his efforts to reduce regional tensions.

Relations with the US have also improved since they plunged to one of their lowest points in 2011 after US commandos killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan and a US air strike left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.

US security assistance was interrupted during that period, although US$857 million in civilian assistance continued to flow.

Harf said US security assistance would build the capabilities of Pakistan's security forces, "which is critical to countering violence in the western border regions". "And US civilian assistance to Pakistan has delivered real results on the issues most important to Prime Minister Sharif and all Pakistanis: energy, education and economic growth."

Sharif is also due to meet President Barack Obama tomorrow.

Kerry visited Islamabad in August.