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US Secretary of State John Kerry in Pakistan to Shore up Counterterror Cooperation

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US Secretary of State John Kerry in Pakistan to Shore up Counterterror Cooperation

US Secretary of State John Kerry has met Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif.

Islamabad:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Pakistan on Monday to press the country's leadership to step up the fight against extremists and eliminate safe havens for terror groups along the Afghan border.

He was welcomed by Pakistan's foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz and headed directly into meetings with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Mr Kerry is making the case for more robust efforts against all extremist groups in the country, particularly after last month's devastating Taliban attack on a Peshawar school that killed 150 people, most of them children.

Pakistan has boosted operations against violent extremists in its recent months, notably following the Peshawar attack that stunned the nation. But U.S. officials traveling with Mr Kerry said Washington wants to ensure that there is a "real and sustained effort" to limit the abilities of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Laskhar e Tayyiba, which pose direct threats to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, as well as to American interests.

Underscoring the importance of the security aspect of Mr Kerry's trip, he was being joined in his meetings with General Lloyd Austin, the chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and South Asia.

Pakistan has been on edge ever since the December 16 attack on the Peshawar school that was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban as retaliation for an army operation launched in June in the North Waziristan tribal area. In response, Pakistan has boosted operations in the rugged tribal areas, reinstituted the death penalty for terrorists and moved to try civilian terror suspects in military courts.

The extremists, however, have vowed to keep up attacks and just on Friday, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, killing five people.

Pakistan faces numerous obstacles in combatting extremism, not least from networks of hardline Islamist seminaries and religious schools that promote radical ideology, and a flawed judicial system that has been criticized for an inability to prosecute and convict terror suspects.

Still, Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game when it comes to dealing with militancy - fostering some militant groups that operate in Afghanistan and India, while pursuing other militants who target the Pakistani state.

In June, when the military launched its operation in North Waziristan, it vowed it would go after all militants. Doubts remain, though, about how aggressively the army has pursued groups like the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani network, which the U.S. says is responsible for numerous attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan, wary neighbors, have also seen an improvement of ties in recent months with the launch of the North Waziristan operation and the election of President Ashraf Ghani, something Washington is likely hoping will continue as it reduces its military presence in Afghanistan.


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