America’s Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has warned Islamabad that reconstruction in the country following the devastating floods would cost “tens of billions of dollars,” and the international community cannot foot the entire bill.
Talking to newspaper editors in Karachi on Thursday, Holbrooke called the floods “Pakistan’s 9/11” and urged the government to raise funds locally. “Just like after 9/11, some important decisions need to be taken,” said the special envoy, who started his visit to Pakistan this week to see the flood situation firsthand.
He, however, assured his audience that the US would lead the international effort to raise funds but hinted that Pakistan needs to do more locally, “given that the country has one of the narrowest tax bases in the world.” Holbrooke said that he had been to many disaster zones in the past but was shaken by the vastness of the problem in Pakistan. He said that it was a “holocaust-like situation” which required “one of the biggest reconstruction efforts in living memory.”
In a sparring mood, Holbrooke chided the media for creating hysteria and also for pinning wrong expectations on the US government. “On the one hand you tell me that the US is interfering in the affairs of Pakistan and on the other you ask us to come up with more help and sort things out. This shows there is too much confusion.”
The US envoy said that while America is criticised in Pakistan, “when the chips are down, it is the United States that comes to the aid of Pakistan first.”
Holbrooke recalled the adverse media reaction in Pakistan to “so called” conditionalities in the Kerry-Lugar Bill. “Here we were trying to get across a $7.5 billion assistance programme to Pakistan, and people in Pakistan were saying it was infringing their sovereignty,” he recalled, adding “that reaction kind of hurt us.”
In the questions that followed, Holbrooke clarified that his tough talking did not mean that if the Pakistan government did not work towards what was expected of in terms of resource mobilisation, the US would withhold funding. “We are committed to helping Pakistan. There is no question about that,” he said.
His worry, said the US envoy, was that a percentage of the money allocated under the Kerry-Lugar Bill was now diverted for flood relief. “Long term projects have been affected by this catastrophe,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2010.
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