Eye on Pakistan

Zardari Interview in the FT: Part 2

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs by onpakistan on June 8, 2009

Zardari recently gave an interview to the Financial Times (FT), which was given substantial coverage in this newspaper. In this blog post, the second of three, I reproduce the FT’s summary of the interview. This article can be found here.

By Farhan Bokhari and David Pilling in Islamabad

Published: June 5 2009 10:08 | Last updated: June 5 2009 10:08

Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan, said he feared that some of the millions of people displaced by fierce fighting in the northern Swat valley could become Talibanised if help was not urgently provided.

In an interview with the FT, Mr Zardari described the month-long battle with the Taliban in Swat, 100 miles north of Islamabad, the capital, as a “fight for our very survival.” He added: “Future generations will not forgive us if we fail.”

He said he had “full confidence” in the ability of Pakistan’s armed forces to defeat the militants. But he was concerned that, if the estimated 2.5m people displaced from Swat in a matter of weeks could not be quickly resettled, they could become prey to militant propaganda.

“Democracy could suffer a serious blow and the militants will gain more strength if the issue is not addressed urgently and effectively,” he said.

Mr Zardari, who initially struck a peace deal with the Swat Taliban before sending in the army last month, said the west needed massively to step up its aid to Pakistan if the country was not to remain a breeding ground for international terror.

“The world must realize that, if the militants are not stopped at the border of Pakistan, then the peace of the region and indeed the whole world will be threatened.”

He called on Barack Obama, the US president who was on Thursday delivering a speech addressed to Muslims in Cairo, to launch a Marshall Plan for the region. “Poverty and underdevelopment breed terrorism,” he said.

Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, on Tuesday asked the international community to write off some of Pakistan’s debts. “We desperately need support at this difficult time as we continue to fight against the Taliban,” he said.

On the immediate need to help displaced people flooding out of Swat, United Nations officials said only one-fifth of the $543m called for in its humanitarian assistance plan had been funded.

Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said this week in Islamabad that Mr Obama had requested Congress to provide a further $200m in aid. He urged other countries to do more to help.

Some aid experts criticized Mr Zardari’s government for being slow to respond. Ghazala Minallah, a fundraiser for Swat victims, said there had been unacceptable delays in assigning space for the establishment of camps.

Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, head of the team overlooking relief efforts, admitted that the resettlement process had been chaotic when the war in Swat began last month though he said it had since improved.

Mr Zardari firmly denied accusations, commonly aimed at Pakistan, that it secretly nurtured some extremists, both to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan and to ensure that US military assistance kept coming.

He accused his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, whose nine-year military dictatorship ended last year, of failing to clamp down properly on Islamism. “In dictatorship, the fight against militancy was fought whimsically without building national consensus.”

That is why Pakistan had been suspected or “running with the hare and hunting with the hound,” he said.

Mr Zardari also rejected suggestions that his government had flip-flopped by concluding a peace deal in Swat only to launch an attack months later.

The Swat Taliban had reneged on the accord by seeking to impose sharia law and challenging the authority of the Pakistani state, he said.

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