US Diplomat Offers Help to Pakistanis Displaced in Terrorism Fight
By Ayaz Gul
22 July 2009
U.S Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is in Islamabad where he has met with top civilian and military leaders to discuss efforts aimed at helping hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the anti-Taliban military offensive in the country's northwest. The United States has pledged $330 million in response to a U.N appeal in May for $543 million to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.
U.S special envoy Richard Holbrooke says he has reassured Pakistani leaders the Obama administration is making all possible efforts to help Pakistan deal with the humanitarian crisis. He told a news conference the United States has committed $165 million of the financial assistance it pledged to support internally displaced Pakistanis.
Holbrooke says Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani told him successes in the anti-Taliban offensive in Swat and other insurgency-hit districts have allowed the government to begin repatriation of displaced families.
"The military offensive in the west has made great progress and we were gratified today to hear from General Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani that a very large number of the refugees have already returned and more are returning everyday," said Holbrooke. "It is essential the refugees be able to return. We were also pleased to hear the damage is less than we thought it would be. That is a very good piece of news."
The Pakistani military says it killed 27 militants Wednesday and claims to have eliminated more than 1,700 Taliban insurgents since launching the Swat offensive nearly three months ago. The anti-insurgency campaign is said to be in its final stages targeting a few pockets of resistance.
The fighting has dislocated nearly two million people, but the government has begun sending displaced families back to their homes in areas the military has declared safe.
While asking for more international relief assistance in his talks with the visiting U.S envoy, an official statement says that Prime Minister Gilani reiterated his country's opposition to U.S drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan. The prime minister, it says, also raised concerns about a U.S-led offensive underway in southern parts of neighboring Afghanistan.
But Richard Holbrooke says that the United States is committed to coordinate with Pakistan to make sure Taliban militants escaping the U.S offensive do not cross the border.
"We want to be sure that we share with your [Pakistani] government and your military, the military plans so you can be prepared and coordinate because a lot of different things can happen here," he said. "The Taliban could move east into [Pakistani province of] Baluchistan and cause additional problems. They could move west towards [Afghan province of] Herat [on the Iranian border], they could be trapped, and we have to be prepared."
The U.S-led anti-Taliban offensive in the southern Afghan province of Helmand was launched in early July. The move prompted Pakistan to strengthen security on its side of the border to prevent militant infiltration into its territory.
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