/ 18 April 2009

More aid needed for struggling Pakistan

Pakistan will need more aid from world donors as it battles militants and tries to repair its economy, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said on Saturday, a day after Islamabad secured more than $5-billion in fresh aid.

Holbrooke also reiterated US concern about President Asif Ali Zardari’s decision, under pressure from conservatives, to sign a deal imposing Islamic sharia law in the north-western Swat valley to end Taliban violence.

Donors including the United States, Japan, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Iran pledged more than $5-billion in fresh aid over two years at a conference in Tokyo after Zardari vowed to step up the fight against militants.

The pledges, bigger than an expected $4-billion, reflect the international community’s worries that an economic meltdown in nuclear-armed Pakistan, propped up with a $7,6-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund over two years, could fan popular support for al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

Holbrooke told a news conference that he was ”enormously gratified” at the amount of pledges but stressed that huge problems remained for Pakistan’s security and economy.

”Five billion dollars is not enough for Pakistan,” Holbrooke told a news conference.

”The terrorists in western Pakistan are planning other attacks around the world … so we need to work hard to strengthen the government of Pakistan, to deal with the tribal areas with all its problems,” he said.

”After congratulating ourselves on yesterday, we should remind ourselves that the problem is far from over.”

Swat valley
Pakistan is central to US President Barack Obama’s plan for South Asia. That includes trying to stabilise Afghanistan where Taliban militants, many operating from lawless enclaves in north-west Pakistan, have thrown the effort into doubt.

Holbrooke repeated US concern about Zardari’s deal in the Swat valley after a militant spokesperson said on Wednesday that the Pakistani Taliban would not lay down their arms there.

The strategy of appeasement has alarmed US officials, while critics say the government has demonstrated a lack of capacity and will to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

”The actual agreement has been variously interpreted … and you are correct in saying that the West has been negative on it, and I have shared that scepticism, to be quite frank, and the government [of Pakistan] has explained their point of view,” he said. ”All I can say is it will depend on what happens next.” – Reuters