Feb 24, 2009

US working on Pak-Afghan economic package

The United States besides involving the Pakistan and Afghanistan in the formulation of a new security strategy for their region, is also working on a major economic package for the two countries.
Diplomatic sources told Dawn that recently Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, invited about a dozen economists from the two countries for discussing various proposals for the economic uplift of the impoverished region.
The participants said that the United States is developing a multi-pronged approach for ending terrorism and militancy from the Afghan-Pakistan region, with a major emphasis on economic development.
A former Pakistani finance minister, Shahid Javed Burki, who also participated in the meeting, proposed a $60 billion package for economic development in Pakistan.
Under this proposal, the donors will contribute half of this fund while Pakistan will provide the other half. Since Pakistan does not have that kind of cash at this stage, the donors will make their contributions first.
The donors will also be involved in formulating various programmes for economic development and also in implementing them.
Diplomatic sources told Dawn that the Americans seemed ‘very interested’ in the proposal, which will also calls for establishing a social security system in Pakistan and for easing the economic burden on ordinary people.
Mr Burki also suggested that since the Pashtoons living on both sides of the border were one community, the Durand Line should be treated as a soft border.
Former Afghan finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, also supported this proposal.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said on Monday that the US, Pakistani and Afghan delegations will discuss ‘shared concerns’ and ‘shared problems’ in a trilateral meeting in Washington on Thursday.
But before the trilateral meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also hold separate talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, she will host a ‘trilateral dinner’ for the two ministers and their delegations, the State Department said.
The trilateral meetings will be an opportunity for the secretary to ‘sit down with the two leaders and talk about shared concerns, shared problems,’ said Robert Wood, the deputy spokesman for the State Department.
The talks will focus on ‘how all of us can work together to try to improve the situation in Afghanistan and on the tribal areas.’
Also on Monday, Foreign Minister Qureshi had an exclusive meeting with Ambassador Holbrooke while Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani began his engagements in Washington with an address to the National Defence University.
While the Pakistanis were unwilling to talk about their engagements in Washington, spokeswoman Wood told a briefing at the State Department that the decision to invite Pakistani and Afghan officials was linked to the Obama administration’s review of the US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
‘This is all in connection with our review. And we obviously want to hear from a wide variety of voices about the situation with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.
‘The secretary looks forward to meeting with both ministers, hearing their views, and of course sharing our views on what we believe is going on, on the ground. And as I said, that will all feed into our overall review.’
Asked why the US was hosting a trilateral meeting, Mr Wood said Secretary Clinton believed it's important that Pakistan and Afghanistan feed into the US review. ‘Their views obviously are very important. They will be taken into account,’ he added. ‘We want to try to do what we can to try to make things better.’
Mr Wood said that a joint statement my also be issued after the trilateral meeting.
Asked to comment on the Swat peace deal and the situation in the valley, Mr Wood said he believed it’s still not ‘very clear, in terms of what's actually happening … I have to refer you to the Pakistanis, who can give you a better sense of what, indeed, has been agreed to or not been agreed to.’

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