WASHINGTON, Oct 23: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged US President Barack Obama on Wednesday to end drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Sitting next to President Obama in the Oval Office, Mr Sharif said he “brought up the issues of drones during our meeting, emphasising the need for an end to such strikes”.
He said the two leaders also discussed building a constructive relationship with India, including on Kashmir.
Mr Obama did not mention drones when addressing reporters after the meeting. But in a joint statement, the two leaders said their partnership was “based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Mr Obama also tried to reassure Pakistan on the status of Afghanistan, from where US combat forces plan to withdraw next year.
He said he was “confident” of a solution “that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term”.
He hailed Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against extremism. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks over the past decade.
“I know the prime minister is very much committed to try to reduce this incidence of terrorism inside Pakistan and also wants to stop its export,” the president said.
He added that he wanted to prevent security cooperation from being a source of tension between the US and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the mere fact that Mr Obama and Mr Sharif met was seen as a sign of progress. Tensions between the two countries peaked in 2011 following the US raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden and the killing of two dozen Pakistani troops in an American air strike along the Afghan border that same year.
Since then, there have been signs of progress. Pakistan, which closed off some US supply lines out of Afghanistan in retaliation for the deaths of its troops, reopened the routes last year. And ahead of Mr Sharif’s visit, the US quietly decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid that was suspended in 2011.
Mr Obama acknowledged that there would always be some tension between the US and Pakistan. “It’s a challenge. It’s not easy,” he said.
“We are committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, it can be a source of strength.”
Mr Sharif invited Mr Obama to visit Pakistan, but the US president did not publicly accept the offer.
During his first term, Mr Obama had told Pakistani officials that he wanted to visit the country, but those plans were halted by the increased tensions that followed the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
Washington has warmly welcomed Mr Sharif, who arrived on Sunday for his first visit to the US capital since taking office in June. He dined with Secretary of State John Kerry and other top US officials and was hosted at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday at Vice President Joe Biden’s residence.
Mr Sharif’s wife was the guest of honour at a tea and poetry reception hosted by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife.
A military honour guard also lined the driveway leading to the West Wing of the White House as Mr Sharif arrived for his meeting with President Obama.