Donors line up $5 billion for Pakistan

Pledge to fight terrorists earns Zardari tranche of global aid

by Jun Hongo

About 50 nations and international groups pledged in Tokyo on Friday to give strife-torn Pakistan more than $5 billion in aid after President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to continue a war against extremists still raging eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Addressing the Friends of Democratic Pakistan Group Ministerial Meeting, Zardari said that although he has taken up the challenge of leading his country, progress cannot be made without international aid.

“We are willing to fight, despite the fact that I lost the mother of my children,” Zardari said in his opening remarks, referring to his late wife, the assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“I bring a message from the people of Pakistan — we are hurting,” Zardari said, adding that the issues Pakistan faces don’t end at its borders.

Japan and the U.S. each pledged $1 billion of the total aid package at the two-stage meeting. The aid will be delivered over two years.

“Pakistan has played a vitally important role in efforts of the international community to counter terrorism and extremism,” Prime Minister Taro Aso said in his opening speech at the conference.

“The international community must show its solidarity by pledging concrete assistance,” he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, announced that Washington will match Japan’s $1 billion contribution to Islamabad.

“The U.S. is committed to working with the government of Pakistan and the international community to assist the people of Pakistan,” a statement by U.S. Department of State acting spokesman Robert A. Wood said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi welcomed the donation, saying it will help his country fight terrorism and rebuild civilian institutions.

“I am more than satisfied. I am delighted,” he said.

Despite a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund infusion in November, Pakistan’s balance of payments remains precarious.

Experts say that in addition to the negative impact of the global economic downturn, the cost of fighting the Taliban, who are partly funded by the drug trade, amounts to an annual $1.5 billion.

The Friends meeting, chaired by Zardari, detailed Islamabad’s commitment to antiterrorism and strategies to boost the nation’s economy.

According to a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters, Pakistani delegates stressed that terrorism is linked to the issues of poverty and education in the country, and cannot be eradicated without comprehensive steps.

The delegates came up with nine major tasks they intend to work on, including stabilizing Pakistan’s economy, developing human resources and improving social welfare.

“We felt that Pakistan has its own strategic ideas (to deal with its problems) and the commitment to follow them,” the official said.

Earlier in the meeting, Aso said he is “convinced that the strong commitment by Pakistan will strengthen the resolve of the international community to support the civilian government of Pakistan.”

A chair’s statement adopted afterward stated its support in boosting Pakistan’s strength and capacity to meet its challenges. It also called on Pakistan to speed up economic reform by increasing private-sector growth, accountability and transparency.

Some 49 nations and international organizations taking part in the second half of the meeting, the Pakistan Donors Conference, chaired by Japan and the World Bank, agreed to provide loans and grant aid of more than $5 billion to the troubled state.

“The amount surpasses our initial target of $4 billion,” Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters after the agreement, saying it resulted from an international consensus on helping Pakistan.

“We hope it will be used efficiently,” Nakasone added.

Isabel Guerrero, vice president of the World Bank’s South Asia region, expressed hope the money will help Pakistan’s poverty-struck population through better education and health welfare. But the delegate also said Pakistan’s needs may be much bigger than the amount pledged.