- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Obama administration is considering additional aid to Pakistan to help hundreds of thousands of its citizens displaced by heavy fighting in the Swat Valley, the top U.S. envoy for the region said Tuesday.

Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration has not decided on the amount and type of assistance.

Still, he promised the committee chairman, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to share his recommendations for a budget supplemental.

“We are looking at how to act on that,” Mr. Holbrooke said when Mr. Kerry called on the administration to help Pakistanis in need of humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Kerry suggested aid during a time of crisis could improve attitudes toward the United States.

“I don’t know if it’ll be a supplemental or something, but I think the administration ought to come up here and seize this opportunity,” Mr. Kerry said.

He added that U.S. aid after a 2005 powerful earthquake changed many Pakistanis’ perceptions of the U.S.

“I share your view, and I’ll relate your views immediately to the executive” branch, Mr. Holbrooke said.

The United Nations has appealed to countries around the world to help manage the massive exodus from Swat, where the Pakistani military is widening its offensive against Taliban militants.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres said Monday that the speed and scale of the latest displacement requires an immediate international humanitarian response.

“The total number of displaced Pakistanis registered by authorities with UNHCR help since May 2 has now reached more than 360,000 people. Not everyone is registered and people continue to flee, many arriving only with what they can carry on their backs,” Mr. Guterres said.

“These are the same people who for decades showed great generosity to millions of Afghan refugees. Now it is time for the international community to show them the same generosity by supporting humanitarian programs for the Pakistani displaced,” he said.

UNHCR has helped the Pakistani government set up three new camps for refugees the Mardan and Swabi districts, and is helping the Pakistan Red Crescent set up a fourth.

The agency is also supplying basic relief items such as tents, kitchen sets, jerry cans, sleeping mats and blankets that are delivered through non-governmental organizations and Pakistani authorities.

Mr. Holbrooke received praise for his work so far, though several lawmakers were skeptical of the administration proposal to triple U.S. non-military aid to Pakistan without a clear strategy of how the money will be spent.

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