Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Clinton vows to support Pakistan

Hillary Clinton: "In recent weeks Pakistan has endured a barrage of attacks"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged to "turn the page" on her country's relationship with Pakistan.

Speaking during a three-day visit to the country, she also promised US support for Pakistan's fight against Taliban militants.

Shortly after her arrival, a massive car bomb killed dozens of people in the north-western city of Peshawar.

Mrs Clinton said the countries should begin to move beyond co-operation on terrorism into development projects.

"This is a critical moment and the United States seeks to turn the page, to a new partnership, with not only the government, but the people of a democratic Pakistan," Mrs Clinton told a news conference in Islamabad.

"We hope to build a strong relationship based on mutual respect and mutual shared responsibility," she said.

"I am confident that if we listen to one another, we consult, we work closely together, we will succeed."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the two countries needed to "build a relationship based on mutual respect and a relationship based on shared objectives".

He said his American counterpart's visit was "well timed" as Pakistan "entered a critical phase in its fight against extremism and terrorism".

"To visit Pakistan at this stage to express solidarity with the people of Pakistan is a loud and clear message from the government, the administration, and the people of the United States of America," he said.

US concerns

The start of Mrs Clinton's visit was overshadowed by a massive car bomb in the north-western city of Peshawar, which killed at least 91 people and injured scores more.

Kim Ghattas
Kim Ghattas, BBC News, Islamabad

The explosion in Peshawar comes as a violent reminder for Hillary Clinton - if any was needed - of the difficult task she and the Obama administration are facing both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

In the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad is a crucial ally and the secretary of state will press Pakistan to continue its offensive against the Taliban in the north west of the country in south Waziristan.

She will have to choose her words carefully. Her visit comes amid a surge of anti-American feelings here. The attack in Peshawar will be seen by many as retaliation by the militants against the army's offensive.

The secretary said the attack had been "vicious and brutal", and that the US was "standing shoulder to shoulder" with Pakistan in its fight against the militants.

She commended the Pakistani army for its operations against the Taliban in the South Waziristan province, and offered US help to Pakistan in its "fight for peace and security".

"We will give you the help that you need, in order to achieve your goal," she said.

Mrs Clinton is expected to sign several civilian investment deals during her visit.

The US has concerns about the increasing numbers of militant attacks on the Pakistan authorities, and the security of its nuclear weapons.

This is Mrs Clinton's fifth visit to the country, and her first as US secretary of state.

During her visit, Mrs Clinton will visit mosques and shrines, meet Pashtun elders and university students and hold a record number of media interviews with local journalists.

As she arrived in the country, she said she hoped her visit would reinforce the US commitment to the region.

"It is unfortunate that there are those who question our motives, perhaps are sceptical that we're going to commit to a long-term relationship, and I want to try to clear the air on that," she said.

US 'interference'

The BBC's Kim Ghattas, who is travelling with Mrs Clinton, says the visit comes at a crucial time for Pakistan and for Washington's relations with Islamabad.

Aftermath of bombing in Peshawar, 28 October 2009

The country is a key ally and its help is crucial to US core interests.

The Obama administration is currently debating how best to implement its strategy to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week the US Senate passed a big defence spending bill which aims to ensure that military aid to Pakistan is used solely to fight America's "war on terror".

It sets tough new conditions which say that no resources given by the US to Pakistan may be used against India.

The bill also stipulates that US military hardware sent to Pakistan must be tracked to see where it ends up.

Correspondents say the bill is likely to fuel tensions over what Islamabad sees as US interference in its domestic affairs.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed into law a $7.5bn aid package for Pakistan tripling non-military US aid to an annual outlay of $1.5bn for five years.

The aid money will not be directly handed over to Pakistan but will be spent on different development projects through the US embassy in Islamabad, Washington says.

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