Wednesday, 2 September 2009

US senators raise Balochistan issue

ISLAMABAD: Three US senators called on President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday and expressed concern over the law and order situation in Balochistan.

According to sources, Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed of the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee and Edward Kaufman of the Foreign Relations Committee stressed the need for complete peace in Balochistan and asked the government to settle all outstanding issues with the Baloch people.

The US believes that peace in Balochistan is imperative to winning the ‘war on terror’ because security agencies will not be able to concentrate on other fronts if they remain engaged in the province.

President Zardari called upon the US to expedite reimbursement of $1.6 billion outstanding payments relating to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and work for early adoption of the Kerry Lugar Bill and legislation to set up reconstruction opportunity zones (RoZs) in war-affected areas.

He also sought help in the energy sector and for a $2.5 billion plan for rehabilitation of displaced people and reconstruction of their area.

Briefing journalists after the meeting, presidency’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the president had urged the senators to try to expedite the reimbursement and supply of critically needed equipment, including helicopter gunships.

‘Payment of outstanding amounts in the support funds is important for the security forces to continue the ongoing military operation against militants,’ he said.

The president said inordinate delays in reimbursement of the CSF claims were not conducive for the fight against militancy.

He said that security forces had cleared 94 per cent of Swat and a large number of displaced people had returned to their homes.

A national consensus and support of a cross-section of people had made the success possible, he said.

The president said Isaf and Nato forces in Afghanistan should ensure that there was no direct or indirect support to militant factions from Afghanistan. He called for increased access of Pakistani goods to the US and EU markets.

President Zardari said attaching conditions to aid would be counter-productive and impart a transactional nature to the relationship which must be avoided.

Terming the RoZ legislation a critically important national security initiative, he called for increasing its area as well as product coverage.

He said that a deadlock over the legislation would send wrong signals to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan who badly need a peace dividend.

He welcomed President Barack Obama’s commitment to help Pakistan address its energy needs and said the US government and private sector could help by supporting projects and mobilising investment.

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