International donors have pledged more than five billion dollars to help stabilise Pakistan, a country riven by strife and poverty and seen as a frontline in the international battle against Islamic extremism.
AFP - International donors pledged more than five billion dollars Friday to stabilise poverty-stricken Pakistan, seen as a frontline state in the battle against Islamic extremism.
The United States and Japan promised one billion dollars each over two years, the European Union pledged 640 million dollars over four years and Saudi Arabia committed 700 million dollars to the fellow Muslim nation.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the 5.28 billion dollars "will enhance Pakistan's capacity to fight terrorism and give us the ability to strengthen civic institutions that have weakened over the years."
US envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said there were "unexpectedly large pledges from Saudi Arabia, from United Arab Emirates and from many other countries" and told reporters that "this conference is an extreme success."
"I think Pakistan should consider this a very good day for the people of Pakistan," he said, but he also stressed: "Will it be enough? No. Pakistan needs more. Pakistan needs the world's help."
About 40 donor countries and groups were meeting to pledge development funds to help the politically volatile and nuclear-armed South Asian country of 160 million fight poverty, strengthen its institutions and reduce militancy.
US President Barack Obama has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda and previously unveiled a sweeping new strategy to turn around the Afghan war and defeat Islamist militants on both sides of the porous border.
Leading members of Al-Qaeda -- including its leader Osama bin Laden -- are widely believed to be holed up in Pakistan's lawless tribal border areas.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said at the start of the meeting that "we are ready to fight" Islamic extremism, telling delegates that in his country now "there is a bomb blast every third day."
"In spite of the fact that I lost the mother of my children, I have taken up this challenge," said Zardari, whose wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a December 2007 attack.
"It does not end on my border. If we lose, you lose. If we are losers, the world is a loser."
Japan Prime Minister Taro Aso, citing recent attacks in Islamabad, Lahore, Mumbai and Kabul, said "seven and a half years have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the world is still facing the threat of terrorism."
Holbrooke called the US pledge over two years "a downpayment on President Obama's commitment" to a bill to pump 1.5 billion dollars a year into Pakistan for at least five years to fight poverty and strengthen democracy.
Asked what strings would be attached, Holbrooke said: "That's up to the Congress. The Congress has to sign the cheque, and if they put some conditions, we'll negotiate with them."
The World Bank said the pledges would help Pakistan "meet its immediate needs and protect expenditures on safety net and human development initiatives critical for poor people. The amount exceeded initial expectations."
Isabel Guerrero, the bank's vice-president for Southeast Asia, said Pakistan -- where up to 40 percent of people live on a dollar a day or less -- had "faced daunting challenges over the past year."
She said the country was hit by an economic crisis worsened by high oil and food prices and then the global recession, as well as "political turmoil and senseless militant attacks in the face of these shocks."
Among the conference delegates was the foreign minister of Iran, which has had hostile relations for decades with the United States, although Obama has signalled he is willing to resume dialogue.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki declined to comment on US relations and stuck instead to the meeting's theme, telling reporters that "we do believe that there is no geographical border for extremism."
"It is time to have a real and practical change to our approach toward the Afghanistan crisis," he said. "Our help to Pakistan... is not assisting only Pakistan, it is assistance to all of us to prevent expansion of extremism."
Date created : 2009-04-17