US, Japan pledge $2 bn for Pakistan (Second Lead)

Tokyo, April 17 (Inditop) The US and Japan Friday pledged to provide $1 billion each in economic aid to Pakistan over the next two years as they seek to support a country seen as crucial to South and Central Asian stability.

“Pakistan plays an extremely important role in the international fight against terrorism and extremism,” Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said at a meeting of the Friends of Pakistan group in Tokyo.

At the opening of the meeting, Aso announced Japan’s pledge of aid, and the US embassy in Japan announced the US would donate the same amount.

Their combined assistance was expected to account for half the pledges to be made at the conference.

Aso said he recognised Pakistan’s potential to grow economically and pointed out the importance of cooperation from the international community in maintaining peace and stability in the region surrounding Pakistan, especially near the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan faces numerous hurdles from lack of infrastructure and increasing poverty near its borders to a shortage of training programmes, Aso said.

Visiting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari expressed the commitment of his government and people to defeat terrorism and militancy.

As Zardari called on the participating states to help fight terrorism, he said: “If we lose, you lose. If we lose, the world loses.”

The meeting called on Pakistan to strengthen its diplomacy to attract further support from the international community while emphasising the need for solidarity within the country, which has been racked by internal political turmoil and rivalries, a chairman’s statement said.

For Pakistan’s economic growth, the member states urged the country to increase policy reform and encourage growth in the private sector as well as its accountability and transparency.

At the opening of the donors conference, Zardari assured about 30 attending nations and international groups that his country was ready to face its challenges.

“I assure you that with your support and with the support of the world, we are ready to do all that it takes to rid the world of this menace, which is a world problem,” Zardari said, referring to extremism and terrorism.

“I feel that you are giving us a new hope, which I can go back with to give to the people of Pakistan and tell them, ‘The world stands with you’,” he added.

World Bank Vice President Isabel Guerrero, as a co-chairman of the meeting, urged Pakistan to commit to eradicating poverty and regaining economic growth and emphasised the importance of improving its infrastructure and increasing agricultural productivity.

The US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, called the conference successful because of large contributions from a range of countries and groups, including Saudi Arabia, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates.

With the aid from the conference, Pakistan hopes to achieve economic growth of 6 to 7 percent this year, Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said earlier.