WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has had a series of “productive and positive” meetings with high-level US officials at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, the State Department said Monday.

A department spokesman said that Gen Sharif – on his first visit to the United States as the army chief — discussed a wide range of issues, including the situation in North Waziristan and border security.

“We have a broad relationship with Pakistan and chief of the army staff is a key figure,” Jeff Rathke, director of the Press Office at the State Department, told the daily press briefing when asked about Gen Sharif’s visit to the United States.

Responding to a question, Rathke acknowledged the importance of Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts including the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan.

“Of course, we consider it extremely important the fight against extremist groups,” he said.

The army chief’s visit – at the invitation of Chairman US Joint Chiefs Staff Gen Martin Dempsey - began on Sunday with his arrival in Tampa. The visit is taking place in an improved environment with upward trajectory of Pakistan-US relations and Pakistan’s disruption of militant groups in North Waziristan with its major Zarb-e-Azb operation.

Gen. Sharif, who arrives in Washington in the evening, is expected to spend almost whole day on Tuesday holding meeting with top defence officials, including Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Rathke said that senior State Department officials will engage with Gen Sharif during the visit.

He said the general will also meet administration officials and Congressional leaders.

Ahead of his visit Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) told American journalists that Pakistan will eliminate all terrorists and not allow its soil to be used for terrorism, and that Gen Sharif’s visit was aimed at enhancing bilateral military-to-military cooperation.

Bajwa also said Islamabad sees no signs of Islamic State fighters having infiltrated the country despite recent reports that the radical group is recruiting hundreds of people in Balochistan.

He said an ongoing Pakistan Army offensive against extremists in Waziristan shows his government’s determination to combat terrorism.

Bajwa said 500 Pakistani soldiers have died in the current offensive, which Islamabad launched in June after a terrorist attack on the Karachi airport. He said extremists have killed 5,000 troops and 45,000 civilians since Pakistan joined the United States in fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

“We probably have suffered the most in our continued terrorism fight,” Bajwa said.

Last week, Lt Gen Joseph Anderson, a senior commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the Haqqani network is now “fractured.”

Monitoring desk adds: The ISPR said 10 more militants in Bara tehsil of restive Khyber tribal region have surrendered to security forces along with their weapons and ammunition. 350 militants have so far surrendered to security forces since the start of Operation Khyber-1 last month.

Why target all: Sartaj

Meanwhile, the BBC Urdu put up an interview of PM’s Adviser on National Security Sartaj Aziz and reported him asking why Pakistan should target militants who do not pose a threat to the country’s security. However, the authenticity of the comments could not be confirmed immediately.

The BBC quoted Sartaj as saying in an interview that Haqqani network is part of the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan govt should talk with both. “When the US attacked Afghanistan, the militants were pushed into our territory. Out of them, some are a threat to us and some are not. Why should we make all of them our enemy,” Sartaj was quoted.

He however said that Pak-US relations were on a positive trajectory. He said that the issue of presence of Mullah Fazlullah in Afghanistan was discussed with President Ashraf Ghani during his recent visit. Sartaj said that it was not clear how long progress on this front may take.