TOKYO, (Reuters) – Pakistan secured more than $5 billion in fresh aid over two years at a donors conference on Friday after Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari vowed to step up the fight against militants.
The amount exceeded Pakistan’s hoped-for $4 billion and comes at a time when the international community is worried an economic meltdown in the country could fan popular support for al Qaeda and other militant groups.
Commitments to existing aid programmes totalling $15 billion were reaffirmed.
Foreign investors are eager to see Islamabad proceed with tough economic reforms seen as vital to restore growth. Pakistan is already being propped up by a $7.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund over two years.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is central to U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan for South Asia. That plan includes trying to stabilise Afghanistan where Taliban militants, many operating from lawless enclaves in northwest Pakistan, have thrown the effort into doubt.
Zardari assured Islamabad’s allies that Pakistan would do its utmost to deliver on economic reforms and fighting militants.
“Despite the fact that I lost the mother of my children, I have taken up this challenge … to lead Pakistan out of these difficult times,” said Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “If we lose, you lose. If we lose, the world loses,” he said.
“With the support of the IMF, the (World) Bank, and other development partners, Pakistan is now returning to a path that should allow for economic growth and poverty reduction,” said Isabel Guerrero, World Bank vice president for South Asia. “While it’s been imperative to focus on the short term, in terms of regaining macroeconomic stability, we would not also want to undermine the importance of staying focused on the longer- and medium-term priorities,” she told the donors.
U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke lauded the outcome.
“This conference is an extreme success,” he told reporters. “It’s gotten a much better pledge than anyone expected,” he said, adding that many countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had chipped in.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who met Zardari for talks on Thursday, said he was impressed by his resolve. “I am convinced that the strong commitment by Pakistan itself will strengthen the resolve of the international community to support the civilian government,” Aso told the gathering.
“We cannot stabilise Afghanistan without stabilising Pakistan and the opposite is also true,” Aso added.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki echoed that view.
“We feel and we believe that Pakistan is serious to combatting against terrorism,” he told reporters.
Speculation had simmered that Mottaki and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke would have a chance to chat at Friday’s gathering, but Holbrooke indicated there were no extensive talks.
“We ran into each other,” he told reporters.
Pakistan has a wish-list of projects worth $30 billion that it wants to see implemented over the next 10 years, including hydro-electric dams, roads and projects aimed at improving security in its violence-plagued northwest on the Afghan border.
The United States said it would provide $1 billion in aid over two years, subject to approval from Congress, matching a pledge from Japan.