Holbrooke arrives on three-day Pakistan visit

June 3rd, 2009 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Richard Holbrooke Islamabad, June 3 (IANS) America’s top trouble shooter for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke arrived here Wednesday on a three-day visit to study the military’s anti-Taliban operations in the country’s restive northwest and to assess the needs of the millions of people who have been displaced by the fighting.
Soon after his arrival here, Holbrooke went into a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Holbrooke, who is accompanied by officials of the state and defence departments and USAID, will also meet some of the displaced people to understand first hand their needs and requirements.

The US embassy here said Holbrooke was travelling at the request of US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make an assessment about the military’s anti-Taliban operations in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and about the needs of the refugees.

While flying here in his special aircraft, Holbrooke told APP news agency the US had promised to supply four helicopters to Pakistan for its counter-insurgency operations in the NWFP.

“We want to see how much we can do to support Pakistan in this moment of extreme pressure,” he said.

The White House has requested Congress to approve $200 million in humanitarian aid for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

“We have already contributed $110 million, more than any other country. But we think that is not enough. And we hope to learn about needs,” Holbrooke maintained.

As for the military’s anti-Taliban operations, the envoy said Islamabad had “responded appropriately to the direct challenge to its authority”.

The security forces were ordered into action April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal, and later spread to Buner and Swat. The cleric is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

Under the peace deal, the Taliban were to lay down arms in return for Sharia laws in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and four other districts of the NWFP that are collectively known as the Malakand division.

The military operations have triggered the biggest and fastest civilian exodus in recent times.

The social welfare department of NWFP has registered some 1.4 million refugees at its camps but the UN estimates the number could be as high as 3 million as many could be staying with relatives and friends.

The UN estimates that close to $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

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