US diplomat arrives in Pak, meets top leadership

Islamabad: Pakistan`s leadership, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, today told a senior American diplomat on a fence-mending visit that the US "must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the country under new rules of engagements. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides arrived in Pakistan a two days after news broke that the US had offered a USD 10 million bounty for Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, adding to tensions between the two countries.

It was not immediately clear whether the bounty had figured in Nides` meeting with top Pakistani leaders. Nides reiterated that the US was committed to an approach that "respects Pakistan`s sovereignty and interests but also represents our concerns about our national security". Gilani told Nides that "new rules of engagement between Pakistan, US, NATO and ISAF must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the country, according to a statement from the premier`s office.

The ongoing parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties offers an "unprecedented opportunity to bring transparency and credibility to the rules of engagement", he added. Pakistan would like to build relations with the US "based on mutual respect and mutual interest", Gilani said. "We can achieve our objective (of) peace and stability in the region and Afghan reconciliation through greater cooperation and on the basis of mutual trust," he said.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar too raised the issue of respect for Pakistan`s sovereignty and territorial integrity during her meeting with Nides. The government wanted the voice of the people to be reflected in Pakistan`s foreign policy, she said. The government ordered a parliamentary review of ties with the US after a cross-border NATO air strike in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Bilateral relations have been hit by a string of crises since last year, including the killing of two Pakistani men by a CIA contractor and the US raid against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May.

Observers said the bounty for Saeed, who is now among the five most wanted men in the world, would add to the strains in Pakistan-US ties. In the past, Pakistan has said it has no evidence linking the Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief to terrorism. Nides, who travelled to Pakistan following a series of meetings between top US and Pakistani leaders on the margins of multilateral conferences, said he was visiting Islamabad at a "pivotal time" as the two countries engaged in discussions about the "future of this very, very important relationship".

He said he intended to build on talks that have taken place between President Asif Ali Zardari and Special Representative Marc Grossman in Dushanbe and President Barack Obama and premier Gilani in Seoul over the last 10 days. "As President Obama said last week when he met Prime Minister Gilani, we believe that we can achieve a balanced approach in a relationship that respects Pakistan`s sovereignty and interests but also represents our concerns about our national security," he said.

A "sustained engagement is the most productive way forward" and there was too much at stake "for us to turn away from each other, so we must work through all of these challenges", Nides said. The US also shares the desire for a stable, secure and peaceful Afghanistan, he added. The completion of Pakistan`s parliamentary review would offer an opportunity to ensure the relationship is "enduring, strategic and more clearly defined", Nides said. "We have different perspectives. And we will where we have those, seek to find solutions that respect each other`s interests," he said.