Islamabad: The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened high-level talks with Pakistan on Monday by announcing several new aid projects aimed at improving the country's water, energy and health sectors.
The projects are part of a $ 7.5 billion aid effort to convince Pakistanis that Washington is not only focused on backing the country's fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, but is also dedicated to improving the lives of average citizens.
The goal is to reduce the high level of anti-American sentiment in the country, providing Pakistan with more room to cooperate with Washington's effort to turn around the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the Presidential Palace in Islamabad on Sunday. (AP Photo)
"We know that there is a perception held by too many Pakistanis that America's commitment to them begins and ends with security," said Clinton. "But security is just one piece of this vital partnership. We share with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives; contribute to their communities; and make the most of their own God-given potential."
Clinton said the US will complete two hydroelectric dam projects to supply electricity to more than 300,000 people in areas near the Afghan border, will renovate or build three medical facilities in central and southern Pakistan, and will embark on a new initiative to improve access to clean drinking water in the country.
These projects and several others focused on promoting economic growth will cost some $ 500 million and will be funded by legislation approved by Congress to triple nonmilitary aid to $ 1.5 billion a year over five years. The initiatives mark the second phase of projects begun under a new and enhanced strategic partnership.
The announcement of the new projects came a day after the US successfully prodded Pakistan and Afghanistan to seal a landmark trade deal that was reached after years of negotiation. The Afghan parliament and Pakistani Cabinet must ratify the pact, which eases restrictions on cross-border transportation.
The US officials said they believe it will significantly enhance ties between the two countries, boost development and incomes on both sides of the border, and contribute to the fight against extremists.
Despite these initiatives, Clinton faces challenges in appealing for greater Pakistani co-operation in cracking down on militants who use their sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target Afghan Taliban militants in the country with whom it has historical ties because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after international forces withdraw.