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Giving direction to Indo-Pak bilateral ties a priority

Islamabad: Days ahead of her visit to New Delhi for crucial talks with her Indian counterpart, Pakistan`s new Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said her priority in the parleys with India would be to set a future direction for the bilateral relationship.

Khar said it is a "positive step" that India is serious in the talks and is moving to institutionalise the process of negotiations with Pakistan.

There was forward movement in recent talks between the two countries, she said.

The Pakistani position for the upcoming talks is that it wants to "look at the entire picture and at the root causes of problems", Khar said in an interview with state-run PTV.

It was the success of Pakistan to bring India back to the negotiating table, and the priority for the upcoming talks would be to set a future direction for bilateral relationship, she added.

During her talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, the two sides will take stock of progress made at secretary-level talks, said Khar, who will travel to India on July 26 and hold talks with Krishna the following day.

She said Pakistan is pro-actively engaging with neighbouring countries, particularly Afghanistan and India, to achieve sustainable peace and stability in the region.

Asked about the arrest of Kashmiri separatist leader Ghulam Nabi Fai in the US on charges of working for Pakistani intelligence agencies, Khar said Fai is a US citizen and "he will be able to resolve his present problem within the available system".

Khar, 34, became Pakistan`s youngest and first woman Foreign Minister on Tuesday when she was elevated to the status of a full-fledged cabinet minister. She was earlier the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

She said peace and stability in Afghanistan is critical for Pakistan and the destinies of the two countries are inter-linked.

Pakistan desires that Afghanistan should be peaceful and stable, she added.

"The only role of Pakistan as a neighbour is to help stabilise Afghanistan… We insist that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned," Khar said.

Afghanistan should be a sovereign country and due consideration should be given to what the Afghan jirgas, government and parliament say, she said.

"Many countries have the view that any foreign presence in the region will create problems in the long run," she remarked.

Asked about her upcoming meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of an ASEAN conference this week, Khar said Pakistan is "reviewing its terms of engagement with the United States".

She stressed the need to bring clarity on issues between the US and Pakistan.

Her job, she said, is to bring more clarity on issues and look at convergences with other countries.

"Our relationship with the US has suffered because of lack of clarity on issues… We should be more pro-active in the engagement with the US and try to minimise grey areas, so that there are no misperceptions," she said.

The Pakistan-US relationship is based on convergence of interests. "Pakistan is a very important country in the region. Why we should be apologetic?" she added.

Khar was hopeful that both countries would continue with their Strategic Dialogue based on diplomatic, economic, trade, military and intelligence cooperation.

She noted that the government has taken full ownership of the resolution passed by parliament after the covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May and told the United States that drone attacks are counter-productive.

"The drone attacks are contracting the political space gained by the democratic leadership," she said.

Despite the fact that Pakistan has various challenges, it also has numerous opportunities for development and prosperity, Khar said.

Pakistan`s economy is "not dependent on foreign assistance and there is a need to come out of the dependency syndrome", she said.

Those who are killing innocent people in mosques and at public places and attacking law enforcement personnel are not the well-wishers of Pakistan, she remarked.

The current law and order situation is hampering the progress of Pakistan, she said.

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