US, Pakistan to start new chapter in relations
Updated: 2013-08-02 10:01
Kerry, who arrived in Pakistan late on Wednesday, is the most senior US official to visit Islamabad after Sharif's election in May.
While this is Kerry's first visit to Islamabad as secretary of state, he has a long history of dealing with Pakistan as former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sharif described him as "a wonderful friend", and Kerry said, "I have had the pleasure of visiting (Sharif's) home and having a number of meals with him."
Yet, continued US drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's northwest remain a big hurdle. The use of drones is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan and anti-US feelings run deep in parts of the South Asian country.
Drone missiles have been hitting targets since 2004 in troubled areas on the Afghan border such as North Waziristan, the main stronghold for various militant groups aligned with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Despite the tensions in ties, the US remained Pakistan's biggest donor, although there have been calls in Congress in the past to cut off aid.
The ties improved fractionally last year after the two sides reached a deal to reopen land routes used to supply Western troops in Afghanistan that were cut off after the air strike in November 2011 that killed Pakistani soldiers.
Mutual suspicions, however, remain. Washington wants Islamabad to do more to eradicate militant havens and crack down on groups such as the Haqqani network, which regularly attacks US forces in Afghanistan from hideouts in Pakistan.
Pakistan itself has seen a spate of attacks against its military and civilians by the Pakistani wing of the Taliban since Sharif was sworn in on the back of promises to talk to the insurgents rather than fight them.
Speaking alongside Kerry, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs, appeared to harden that position, saying his government might resort to the use of military force after all against the Taliban.
"Obviously, dialogue has to go along with military action," he said, adding at the same time that Pakistan wanted the US to end the drone strikes.
"We will explore that (talk) option first and if that doesn't work, we will see under what conditions and by what time frame we do the alternative."