— File Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: The United States has said that maintaining a cooperative relationship with Pakistan is in its interest, with Washington’s top diplomat acknowledging the fact that the US has been partly responsible for the challenging relationship it has had with the key South Asian country.

Appearing jointly on popular Charlie Rose Show, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State James Baker, who served from 1989-92, both underscored that despite differences on some important regional and international issues, severing ties with Pakistan would not be in Washington’s interests.

“I think that our relationship with Pakistan has been challenging for a long time. Some of it is of our own making,” Clinton told the programme.

Continuing, she said, “there’s a lot of concern looking back. We did a great job in getting rid of the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But I think a lot of us  and Bob Gates (former Secretary of Defense) has said this, looking back now, perhaps we should have been more involved in the aftermath of what was going to happen to the Pakistanis.”

Clinton was referring to the post 1979 period when through the 1980s the US-led international partners used Pakistan’s tribal areas as staging ground for militants, to get them funding, training and arms to fight Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan and then left the region abruptly after 1990.

Islamabad was left to contend with wreckage of the Afghan war and flood of Afghan refugees in the face of internal Afghan conflict for more than a decade, until the US returned to the region in following 9/11 terrorist attacks, orchestrated by Afghanistan-based al Qaeda.

Since then Pakistan and the United States have worked closely in curbing al Qaeda-linked militants along the Afghan border but US-Pakistan relations soured due to a spate of unsavory incidents last year including killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore, American commandoes raid on Osama bin Laden hideout in Abbottabad and the deaths of 24 Pakistanis in a US warplane strike on Pakistani border post.

Currently, the US-Pakistan relations are strained over the November 26, 2011 attack on Pakistani border post, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Islamabad has asked Washington to apologize over the action before agreement on reopening the supplies lines that carry Nato supplies into landlocked Afghanistan but have been closed since the Salala incident.

In the interview, Clinton touched on some of the prickly issues of concern to the United States, including the ability of Afghan militants to cross Pak-Afghan border for attacks in Afghanistan, and the sentencing of Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani who worked for CIA in hunt for bin Laden before his death in the American raid last summer.

But, Clinton said, she would “completely agree (with former secretary Baker) it is not in our interests to cut off our relationship” with Pakistan.

“It is in our interest to try to better direct and manage that relationship,” she recognized.

Clinton asked Pakistan to recognize that “as we withdraw from Afghanistan, it is in their interest to have a strong, stable Afghan Government that only can come from being part of the solution, being at that table, as we were discussing earlier, to try to help with Afghanistan's economic and political and security development, rather than doing everything possible to try to undermine it.”

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