Without mincing words, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday said Pakistan would have to make some difficult choices regarding its future course. Maintaining that the U.S. could not solve Pakistan's problems for it, she added that they could not be wished away by whipping up anti-Americanism or conspiracy theories either.

Stating that the U.S. would stand with Pakistan at this “pivotal moment” for the country, Ms. Clinton admitted that public perceptions in both countries were a drag on the relationship. While the American people were not appreciative of the sacrifices made by the Pakistanis in the war on terror, the people in Pakistan were yet to realise that the U.S. had been providing this country more aid than Saudi Arabia, China and many other countries put together, she lamented.

In her half-day visit to Islamabad, Ms. Clinton made a rare departure from previous visits by giving the drive to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi a miss. Instead, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani came to the Presidency to meet her along with the civilian leadership.

Visiting Pakistan at a time of doomsday predictions about the future of this country, Ms. Clinton reiterated Washington's confidence in the nation's resilience. ``We look toward a strong Pakistan -- one that is democratic, prosperous and stable -- being a cornerstone for regional stability and global security. That is why the U.S. will continue to support Pakistan's sovereignty, its civilian elected government and above all its people.... We are prepared to stand by the Pakistani people for the long haul.''

According to a statement put out by President Asif Ali Zardari's office, the two sides agreed to work together in any future actions against high value targets in Pakistan. A similar understanding had been reached on May 16 during U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry's visit to Islamabad.

The statement also indicated the resurrection of the strategic dialogue process that got stalled because of the souring of bilateral relations. Both sides agreed to recommence the preparatory work for the strategic partnership dialogue process. Though Ms. Clinton was initially slated to visit Pakistan this month-end for another round of the strategic dialogue, there was no mention of it this time.

Meanwhile, as part of the measures promised by Pakistan during Mr. Kerry's visit to demonstrate its commitment to the war on terror, Islamabad has allowed the U.S. access to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, returned the tail of the damaged helicopter used in the operation, and granted access to his widows.

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