- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani called Tuesday for a $30 billion “Marshall Plan” for Pakistan and Afghanistan over the next five years to fight al Qaeda, blunt anti-American sentiment and secure Pakistan from extremists bent on destabilizing its civilian government.

Mr. Haqqani, who plans to attend an international donors meeting for Pakistan in Tokyo next week, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times that the cost to the West of an aid program like the one provided to Europe after World War II would be negligible compared with that of rescuing failing banks and corporations.

“Despite the economic issues that the world is facing, the cost of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan is going to be minuscule [compared with] the bailouts being given to American car companies and [American International Group],” Mr. Haqqani said. “And the impact in terms of American security and in terms of the longer-term stability of the world in a very precarious region will be far greater. Pakistan has the will to fight terrorists. It needs the means, and the United States should provide those.”

Mr. Haqqani said Pakistan needs $5 billion a year for the next five years from the United States and its allies to build a local law enforcement force of about 100,000, strengthen counterinsurgency against the Taliban and al Qaeda and convince average Pakistanis that the U.S.-led war on extremism is Pakistan's war and essential for the country's survival.

Another $1 billion a year should go to Afghanistan, he said.

The Obama administration has pledged $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years to Pakistan. President Obama, however, made clear that in return, Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to fighting al Qaeda and Taliban extremists who have used Pakistan's tribal borderlands as a haven from which to launch attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Mr. Haqqani spoke as Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held talks in Pakistan on a new strategy to defeat Islamic extremists and bolster Pakistan's civilian government.

The ambassador said the government of President Asif Ali Zardari faces challenges in dealing with domestic opposition and countering anti-U.S. sentiment within the Pakistani public and intelligence services.

He denied published reports that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency is still helping the Taliban, which the ISI helped create 20 years ago.

“There are contacts for source building,” Mr. Haqqani said. “The era of active support for jihadis is over.”

He noted that Pakistanis chose secular over Islamic parties in the most recent elections and were turning against extremists as suicide bombers hit major cities.

“The question is, is [civilian control over the military and intelligence agencies] moving in the right direction?” the ambassador asked. He suggested that it was.

Despite Mr. Haqqani's assurances, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, last week introduced a bill that would withhold U.S. military aid to Pakistan unless Mr. Obama certifies that it is not supporting terrorist attacks on India.

The Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act, or PEACE Act, would triple U.S. economic aid to $1.5 billion a year, similar to legislation in the Senate.

“This bill has one essential purpose: to strengthen our relationship with Pakistan,” Mr. Berman said. “Our commitment to Pakistan's political stability and economic development is matched only by our sense of urgency in ensuring that Pakistan has the right tools to protect its people, secure its borders and intensify its operations against extremist elements.”

U.S. lawmakers also question Pakistan's commitment to the war in Afghanistan.

“The evidence is mixed as to whether or not the government of Pakistan is going to take on the religious extremists,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said Tuesday on National Public Radio.

Mr. Levin said Pakistan has proved ineffective in the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda.

“The border, particularly down in the south, between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is wide open now. Extremists are flowing across that border into Afghanistan. Pakistan has not done anything to stop them,” he said.

Mr. Haqqani said he understood concerns regarding Pakistan's past efforts to fight Taliban extremism in the region, but that the governing Pakistan Peoples Party is fully committed to the war on terrorism and to partnership with the U.S.

“It is time for our allies, our partners, especially the United States, to understand that any misgivings and disagreements that relate to the past should not come in the way of helping Pakistan in the present and for the future,” he said.

He said U.S. public diplomacy in the Muslim world lagged under the Bush administration, and he praised Mr. Obama's efforts to reach out to Muslims.

“We are glad that President Obama has taken the initiative,” Mr. Haqqani said. “The more President Obama and his team reach out, the easier it will be to mobilize people against the extremists and terrorists.”

He cautioned, however, that it will take time to change attitudes in Pakistan, where more than 40 percent of the people are illiterate. Many remember that the U.S. supported the country during the fight against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, then “deserted us,” he said.

“This is not a switch that can be turned on and off,” he said. It “takes awhile for the counternarrative to be accepted.”

In a sign of the difficulties the U.S. faces, Pakistani TV channels reported Tuesday that ISI chief Lt. Gen. Shujaa Pasha refused to meet with Mr. Holbrooke and Adm. Mullen as a protest of U.S. accusations about ISI relations with terrorists.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Gen. Pasha was present during a meeting of the two Americans and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani.

c Nasir Khan contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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