On his fifth visit here since his high-profile Afpak mission, U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke made it clear that his main purpose this time was to discuss the country’s economic and energy crisis, underlining Pakistan’s position that the bilateral relationship was more wide-ranging than “just about Afghanistan or Malakand”.
Mr. Holbrooke told reporters at a joint press conference with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday that the “success” of the anti-Taliban operations in Swat had enabled the U.S. to shift focus to other issues. The envoy, who held talks with Mr. Qureshi earlier in the day, said his discussions with Pakistani officials on this visit would deal mainly with the country’s struggling economy and the crippling energy shortage.
He said the security situation had “much improved” since a few month ago when the Taliban was reported to be less than 100 km from the capital, while the death of Beithullah Mehsud meant “there is one less bad person”.
Though this had not diminished U.S. concern about Pakistan’s restive border regions with Afghanistan, there was now “some breathing space” to talk about other issues, said Mr. Holbrooke.
The U.S. official is scheduled to visit Karachi on Monday where, he said, more details would be made public on what assistance the Obama Administration will offer to Pakistan to resolve the severe energy shortage in the country. Bad weather forced Mr. Holbrooke off a scheduled visit to Swat on Sunday morning, but he may still make the trip later in his three-day visit before he leaves for Afghanistan.
Mr. Qureshi stressed that the U.S. Special Representative’s different focus during this visit reflected the broad range of Pakistan-U.S. ties.
“Pakistan is not just about FATA region. Pakistan is not just about Swat and Malakand,” said the Foreign Minister, underlining that the country faced other pressing challenges that the U.S. must help to resolve.
“The U.S. must come forward and help Pakistan overcome its economic crisis,” he said. “The issue that is pinching every Pakistani household today is the energy crisis, and the U.S. must come forward and help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis.”
But both said they also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the security situation in Pakistan.
Mr. Qureshi also made a pitch for the resumption of the stalled U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, the fourth round of which has been lying postponed since last year. A planned visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Pakistan later in the year would be opportune time to take it up again, he said. He also asked the U.S. to expedite legislating a Bill to treble non-military financial assistance to Pakistan.
Asked about Indian “discourtesy” in not allowing him to include New Delhi on this trip, Mr. Holbrooke said there was no such thing.
The U.S. had “a close and continuing dialogue” with India, he said, and he had received a “very gracious” letter from the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. informing him that the officials he wanted to meet would not be available.