"Dialogue and military strategy (to combat terror) will continue...I do not agree that there is a lack of synchronization between the two," Kerry told a joint news conference with National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz after intensive meetings with Pakistan's top leadership. (Agencies)
Kerry refused to promise that US drone attacks inside Pakistan would stop and rejected the impression that the strikes were a violation of the country's sovereignty. "I know there are issues of sovereignty that are raised. I would simply remind all of our friends that somebody like Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri is violating the sovereignty of this country," he said.
"And they attack people in mosques, (they) blow up people in villages, in market places, they are violating the sovereignty of the country."
Drone strikes have emerged as a key irritant in Pakistan-US ties, with Islamabad describing them as counter-productive. Kerry said the US is gearing up for the drawdown of its forces in Afghanistan and to prepare the grounds for talks to organize the Afghan presidential election next year. He made it clear that the US will not completely pull out of Afghanistan, saying it was a "drawdown and not a withdrawal".
Troops of over Western 50 countries will remain to counter terrorism and help train Afghan forces, he said. Kerry hoped the Afghan Taliban will return to negotiations as part of efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan problem. "The reason we hope talks can take place is because everybody understands a political resolution is better than the continued fighting," he said.
As an apparent sop to Pakistan, Kerry announced that the US will resume the stalled strategic dialogue process over the next six months and also improve bilateral trade ties. Aziz, the advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs and national security, said Pakistan is committed to an Afghan-led peace process.
"I think what Secretary Kerry said, it is the process between Afghan stakeholders and we can do our best to facilitate the process. We cannot do more than facilitate," Aziz said.
He reiterated Pakistan's demand for the US to stop drone attacks, saying they were creating more problems for the country. However, Kerry said President Barack Obama had already outlined detailed policy guidelines to target militants in remote areas as part of the US counter-terrorism strategy.
Referring to the issue of terrorist safe havens, Kerry said a lot of issues need detailed attention and talks. The two sides had agreed to start their strategic dialogue and five sub-groups will begin meeting immediately. "We agreed...that we are going to begin the strategic dialogue immediately and over six months, we would have the ministerial (meeting)," he said.
Kerry said the talks will cover "all of the key issues between us, from border management to counter-terrorism to promoting US private investment".
The two sides further resolved to fight the common threat of terrorism and move relations forward, with Kerry saying that Washington wants to make its ties with Islamabad more broad-based and lasting.
Earlier, Kerry met Prime Minister Sharif and invited him to visit the US later this year to meet President Barack Obama. Kerry arrived in Islamabad last night for a one-day visit aimed at improving strained bilateral relations and to seek cooperation in asking the Taliban to enter constructive peace talks with the US and Afghanistan to facilitate regional stability after the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.
This was Kerry's first visit to Pakistan as Secretary of State though he has a long history of helping overcome irritants in bilateral ties. He was sent to Islamabad for talks after CIA contractor Raymond Davis gunned down two Pakistani men in Lahore in January 2011 and then again after the unilateral US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad a few months later.
China keeps wary eye on Kerry's Pak visit
Wary of US's 'Asia Pivot' strategy, China kept an eye on Secretary of State John Kerry's first visit to Pakistan as the state media noted that the Obama administration has adopted a "milder" approach on issues like terrorism and drone strikes to improve bilateral ties.
"Washington is quickening its steps to implement its "pivot to Asia" and "return to South Asia strategies", an article in the state-run Global Times said on Thursday.
"Pakistan, the second largest country after India in South Asia, is an important neighbour and strategic partner of China. Thus the future development of US-Pakistani ties is worthy of our close attention," it said.
Kerry is on his maiden trip to Pakistan since he became the Secretary of State to improve relations after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to power in Islamabad.
US-Pakistani relations have looked to be improving since the beginning of the year. Kerry had expressed his hope to visit Islamabad on phone soon after Sharif won the May 11 general elections this year.
Unlike his predecessor Hillary Clinton, who held a "tough attitude towards Pakistan, Kerry has adopted a far milder manner by avoiding any links between the country and terrorism as well as calling for India and Afghanistan to develop friendly ties with Islamabad", it said.
"What's more, Sharif conveyed his willingness to strengthen ties with the US immediately upon returning to power," it said.
Washington has drastically scaled back the number of drone attacks against militants in Pakistan and limited strikes to high-value targets in response to growing criticism of the programme.
Only 16 drone strikes have taken place in Pakistan so far this year, compared with a peak of 122 in 2010, 73 in 2011 and 48 in 2012, the paper quoted New America Foundation think-tank as saying.
"Such actions appear to have temporarily appeased the indignation of Pakistan's powerful generals who publicly oppose covert CIA strikes," it said.
"Dialogue and military strategy (to combat terror) will continue...I do not agree that there is a lack of synchronization between the two," Kerry told a joint news conference with National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz after intensive meetings with Pakistan's top leadership.