Washington: Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has expressed confidence that the US and Pakistan can patch up their differences, saying that good relationship between them were critical to peace in Afghanistan.

"Ultimately, we can't win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well," Panetta told reporters during his trip to Africa nation of Djibouti, according to American Forces Press Service abroad a military aircraft.

"I think it is going to be important, as we are able to move and progress in our efforts in Afghanistan, that we continue to do outreach in Pakistan," he said.

"If that region is ever going to find peace, it is going to happen not only by achieving stability in Afghanistan, but also by achieving some degree of stability in Pakistan as well," he added.

This is the first statement coming from Panetta, after the November 26 incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO fire across the Af-Pak border.

This resulted in furious reaction from Pakistan, with Islamabad stopping the crucial NATO supply line, asking US to vacate the secret Shamsi air base and boycotting the Bonn conference on Afghanistan early this month.

Emphasising that the mission of confronting terrorism supports both the United States' and Pakistan, the Defense Secretary said, "And if we can recognise that, despite our differences, there are some common areas that we share in terms of our security, then I think we can ultimately find a way to resolve our differences and improve our relationship."

The US defence chief conceded that the US relationship with Pakistan has been "difficult and complicated", while emphasising that "it is an important relationship, and it is one we have to continue to work at".

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has ordered a full investigation into the November 26 incident that has driven down the US-Pak relationship to an all-time low.

Pakistan is not participating in this investigation and has questioned the transparency and reliability of this CENTCOM investigation, which has been asked to submit its preliminary report by December 23.

"A number of interviews have been conducted," to determine factors involved in the incident, Panetta said.

Panetta expressed hope that the investigation will shed light on "exactly what happened," but said he has not yet received an update on any findings.

Acknowledging that the US-Pak relationship is experiencing a rough patch, Panetta stressed on the need to restore the line of communication between the two countries.

"The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and make sure we do everything we can to restore some degree of a relationship that will allow us to be
able to fulfill our mission," he said.

Noting that Pakistan has provided important cooperation to the US, Panetta said, "At the same time, we have had some serious difficulties with regards to some of the operations that involve groups in the FATA [federally administered tribal areas] and groups along the border."

Panetta acknowledged that the strain between the two countries increased after the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader, who was hiding in a safe house in Abbottabad.

"The November 26 incident had further strained it," he said.

(Agencies)