US can help stabilise political situation: Holbrooke
‘US to back Afghan reconciliation with Taliban’ ‘US to back Afghan reconciliation with Taliban’ WASHINGTON: The United States can help stabilise the current political situation in Pakistan if it is asked by all parties to do so, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said on Friday.
Mr Holbrooke, who is scheduled to visit Pakistan next week, held a special briefing for Pakistani journalists at the State Department where he spoke on the country’s unsettling political situation and its possible impact on the war against terrorists.
“Political instability is always a concern in any country,” said the US envoy when a journalist asked if the situation in Pakistan was a cause of concern for the United States.
Mr Holbrooke, who leads the Obama administration’s policy planning team for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that Pakistani friends had advised the US not to get involved in these internal Pakistani issues and that’s why it had stayed aloof.
“But if we are asked and people think it will help, as in the past, we will,” he added. “We are watching (the situation) with sympathy and support for the elected government.”
When reminded that his expression of support for the Pakistani government might also have a major impact on the internal situation, Mr Holbrooke said that he did not make a new statement.
The Obama government, he said, had been committed to support an elected government in Pakistan. “We are not interfering (in Pakistan’s internal affairs) … but we are friends of Pakistani people and of the elected government.”
The United States, he said, also had good relations and respect for the Pakistani military which had taken actions in difficult conditions. “We also have good relations with Nawaz Sharif and others in the opposition.”
Mr Holbrooke played down the visa dispute between Pakistan and the United States, saying that it was an important but not a major issue.
Delaying visas to US officials and citizens also delayed some important projects that the United States was working on in Pakistan but Ambassador Husain Haqqani assured him last week that “all visas will be cleared up”, he said.
Mr Holbrooke also refused to discuss a US embassy complaint earlier this week that Pakistani authorities were harassing US officials in Pakistan. “I am not going to get into those issues,” he said. “We have an embassy in Islamabad and I will let them deal with it.”
The US, he said, also had heard Pakistan’s complaints on a set of new restrictions imposed on airline passengers travelling to America. The restrictions were introduced after the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US plane and was not Pakistan specific. But unfortunately some in the Pakistani media wrongly portrayed it as Pakistan specific, he added.
Earlier, in a speech at Washington’s Brookings Institution, Mr Holbrooke said that Pakistan was working through the problems it faced and it would be wrong to assume that it’s worse off today than it was a year ago.
The envoy was commenting on a think-tank report that Pakistan today was worse off than a year before, both in terms of welfare of its people and also in terms of America’s interests.
“I do not accept the core thesis of the question which is that the situation is worse today. I just don’t accept that. The situation is what it is today, and not worse,” said Mr Holbrooke.
“Pakistan is working its way through a series of issues which are for them to decide on their own,” he added, noting that recently the country went through “some political diagrams” which were internal to Pakistan “but which we watched with concern and sympathy”.
The Obama administration, he said, knew from the beginning that what happened in Pakistan was critically important to the region, and approached the country with great respect for its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and “the enormous complexities of what it faces economically, socially, politically, and strategically on both its major borders”.
Mr Holbrooke also made it clear that the United States remained focused on Pakistan’s tribal areas although a recent attempt to bomb an American airliner originated in Yemen.
“The fact that this particular person was not trained in Pakistan does not change the fact that the inspiration for all of this comes from Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda’s leadership is based in the remotest areas on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” he said.
“This was an area from which attacks on our soil and other countries, including Pakistan itself, had been planned. And the people out there had said very clearly they’d do it again, as the near-miss on Christmas Day demonstrates so fully.” Responding to a question about how the US was doing in Pakistan, Mr Holbrooke said: “It’s a very complicated issue, and I want to start by saying it’s not how we are doing at all. This is their country -- not our country. And the question is how Pakistan is doing.”
Mr Holbrooke said that while the United States welcomed Pakistan’s military operations in Swat and South Waziristan, he wanted to make it clear that there were no US troops in that country. “I want to underscore no American troops in Pakistan. We do not do fighting in Pakistan,” he said.
The passing of the Kerry-Lugar bill, he said, was “a quantum jump” in American economic assistance, although there was also a controversy over some of the reporting requirements in Pakistan.
“And at the end of the year, Pakistan is in the position it is today with the United States looking for any way we can support their government and their people,” he added.
Mr Holbrooke then outlined the sectors where Pakistan needed urgent economic assistance.
“Karachi, the world’s largest Muslim city, 18 million people, had about four hours of electricity a day during the worst of the summer months. And we want to do things to help address that problem,” he said.
“And on water, we’re looking for more ways to help. Water is not only a big problem, but as you well know from our own work, it’s going to become a more and more serious problem.”