- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani Tuesday called for a $30 billion dollar 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 was neglible compared to 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] to the bailouts being given to American car companies and AIG [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 local law enforcement of about 100,000 men, strengthen counter-insurgency against the Taliban and al Qaeda and persuade average Pakistanis that the U.S.-led war on extremism is Pakistan's war and essential for the country's survival.

The Obama Administration has pledged $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years. President Obama, however, made clear that in return, Pakistan needs to demonstrate its committment 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 Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, held talks in Pakistan on a new strategy to defeat Islamic extremists and bolster Pakistan's civilian government.

The ambassador conceded that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari faces challenges in dealing with domestic opposition and countering anti-U.S. sentiment within Pakistan's intelligence services.

He denied published reports that the Interservices Intelligence body (ISI) was helping the Taliban, which the ISI helpd 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 secular parties defeated Islamic ones in Pakistan's last elections and said that the country was turning against extremists as suicide bombs go off in major cities.

“The question is is it [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 that the Zardari government is gaining in strength, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, California Democrat, last week introduced a bill that would withhold U.S. military aid to Pakistan unless the president certifies that it is not supporting terrorist attacks on India.

The Pakistan Enduring Assistance 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. legislators 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,” Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday on National Public Radio.

The Michigan Democrat said Pakistan has proven 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 People's Party is fully committed to the war on terror 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 had lagged under the Bush administration and 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 would take time to change attitudes in Pakistan, where more than 40 percent of 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 a while for the counter-narrative to be accepted.”

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