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Hagel In Pakistan To Ease Drone Strike Tensions

In 1st visit by a US Sec'y of Defense in 4 years, Hagel arrives in Pakistan amid tensions over US drone strikes, concern over Afghanistan.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 12/9/2013, 11:56 AM

Pakistani protesters burn US flag (file)
Pakistani protesters burn US flag (file)
AFP photo

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Monday visited Pakistan to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other officials. His visit, the first by a US Secretary of Defense in 4 years, aims to soothe tensions over US drone strikes and raise cooperation regarding Afghanistan.

During their meeting, Hagel and Sharif vowed to work together to strengthen their countries' relationships which have been strained over US drone strikes on terrorists. Pakistan has criticized the strikes as jeopardizing peace talks with Pakistani Taliban to end its six year insurgency that has left thousands dead.

On November 3, the US Ambassador was summoned by the Pakistani government regarding two drone attacks that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud along with four other suspected terrorists. Mehsud at the time had a $5 million bounty on his head from the US government.

Furthermore, in late November a drone, apparently American, attacked an Islamic seminary where a leader of the Afghan Taliban-linked Haqqani terror network in Pakistan had visited just two days earlier. The strike left 5 dead, and came a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief said the US had promised to end drone attacks during the peace talks with the Taliban.

A senior US defense official told Al Jazeera prior to Hagel's visit that "there is some friction in the relationship" with Pakistan, which Hagel wants to confront "head on" in bringing the two countries closer together.

The official added that Hagel intends "to deepen our defense partnership" with Pakistan and affirm continued US military assistance. Since July 2012 Pakistan has reportedly received around $1.2 billion in military aid from the US.

Meanwhile officials traveling with Hagel retracted a statement issued late Sunday saying NATO shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan would resume. The shipments had been cancelled due to anti-drone Pakistani protesters violently searching the shipments. Hagel's official confirmed the shipments were still on hold.

The Pakistani route is the main one used by the US and NATO to withdraw its military equipment from Afghanistan in the massive pullout set to conclude by late 2014.

Hagel arrived in Pakistan after two days in Afghanistan. There he pressed President Hamid Karzai to sign a security agreement allowing US forces to stay in the country after 2014. In late November Karzai said he wants to delay the security deal, adding "my trust with America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me."