SINGAPORE: President Asif Ali Zardari defended his decision to travel abroad while the country battled the worst floods in decades, saying he had helped focus international attention on the plight of the victims.
In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, he said he had used his trip to France and Britain to mobilise foreign assistance, money and food for the flood victims.
"Some have criticized my decision, saying it represented aloofness, but I felt that I had to choose substance over symbolism," he said.
The British government had pledged $24 million in aid, following his meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, the president said. He had also been in touch with the US government, which had promised $35 million in relief funds.
"As I return to Pakistan, I bring back tangible results that will help the flood victims in the short run and lay the foundations for national recovery in the long run," Zardari said. "I might have benefited personally from the political symbolism of being in the country at the time of a natural disaster. But hungry people can't eat symbols. The situation demanded action, and I acted to mobilise the world."
Even before the floods struck, Zardari's approval ratings had been falling. Only one in five Pakistanis viewed him positively, a poll by the US-based Pew Research Center released late last month showed.
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