ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and Afghanistan sealed a landmark trade deal Sunday as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed the two neighbors to step up civilian cooperation and work together against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Shortly after kicking off a South Asia trip aimed at refining the goals of the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, Clinton looked on as the Afghan and Pakistani commerce ministers signed the trade agreement. It was reached only after years of negotiation with recent and very active U.S. encouragement.
The pact, which eases restrictions on cross-border transportation, must be ratified by the Afghan parliament and Pakistani cabinet. U.S. officials said they believe it will significantly enhance ties between the two countries, boost development and incomes on both sides of the border and contribute to the fight against extremists.
"Bringing Islamabad and Kabul together has been a goal of this administration from the beginning," said Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. "This is a vivid demonstration of the two countries coming closer together."
Despite the agreement, Clinton faces challenges in appealing for greater cooperation between the neighboring nations on the nearly 9-year-old war, pressing Pakistan for more help in taking on militants accused of plotting attacks on the United States and stepping up action against extremists along the Afghan border.