US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will visit Pakistan on Monday, officials said, as the suspension of Nato shipments from Afghanistan via Pakistan due to anti-drone protests was lifted. Hagel, who has been in Afghanistan since Saturday, will meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the first visit by a US defence secretary to Pakistan for nearly four years.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad have become deeply troubled over US drone strikes targeting suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt. In recent weeks, activists opposed to the drones forcibly searched trucks in north-west Pakistan in a campaign to disrupt Nato supply routes to and from Afghanistan.
But a US defence official told reporters in Kabul that the suspension of shipments via Pakistan had been lifted because the protests had stopped, allowing Nato trucks to move safely through the Torkham gate pass.
The pass is the main overland route used by the Americans and Nato to withdraw military hardware from Afghanistan as part of a troop pullout set to wrap up by the end of 2014.
“Secretary Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his visit to Washington earlier this year and looks forward to continuing candid and productive conversations,” Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog told reporters on Sunday.
“Secretary Hagel also looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the United States and Pakistan’s common interest in a stable Afghanistan.”
Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace in neighbouring Afghanistan as it was a key backer of 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul and is believed to shelter some of the movement’s leaders.