US to provide Pakistan choppers for CI ops

June 3rd, 2009 - 6:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Richard Holbrooke Islamabad, June 3 (IANS) Bowing to a long standing demand, the US has promised to supply four helicopters to Pakistan for its counter-insurgency operations in the country’s troubled northwest, a top American diplomat has said.
“We want to see how much we can do to support Pakistan in this moment of extreme pressure,” Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan told APP news agency on board his special aircraft on a flight to Islamabad.

Holbrooke’s visit is aimed at studying the refugee camps that have been established to house the millions of civilians fleeing the Pakistani Army’s anti-Taliban operations in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

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.

“We are going to consult President (Asif Ali) Zardari and Prime Minister (Yusuf Raza) Gilani in order to do whatever we can in terms of assistance,” he added.

Holbrooke’s tour, which will also take him to countries like Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, is to mobilize international support for Pakistan in dealing with the refugee crisis.

“The rest of the world, both the Muslim countries and the Western democracies should band together to help Pakistan. The United States has given by far the greatest amount of assistance and it is our view that other countries should join us. We have talked to many other nations in the world and we will continue to do so,” Holbrooke contended.

As for the Pakistani military’s operations against the Taliban in the NWFP, 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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