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Foreign Donors Pledge $5.2 Billion in Aid for Pakistan


International donors meeting in Japan have pledged more than $5 billion to help the Pakistani government shore up its shaky economy and shrink the pool of militant recruits. President Asif Zardari said the world continues to underestimate the threat posed by militants in Pakistan.

The one-day Tokyo donors conference was aimed at meeting what Pakistani officials said was a $4 billion shortfall in government spending on programs for poverty alleviation, education and healthcare.

Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi told a private Pakistani news channel that the more than 25 nations at the conference were eager to meet Pakistan's needs.

"There was a unanimous commitment to support Pakistan, there was a very strong expression of solidarity with Pakistan and a statement of political support for Pakistan," he said.

He said donors pledged more than $5.2 billion - most of it to be spent during the next two years.

Pakistan's government has struggled to fund some spending programs in the last year. With the economy reeling from the global financial crisis and officials struggling to meet debt payments on foreign loans, last November the government accepted a two-year, $7.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The conditions of the loan have forced officials to make difficult cuts in some government programs, but initial indicators show the country's economy has improved in recent months.

Nevertheless, more than one-third of Pakistanis live in poverty - a situation that analysts say makes for a significant pool of people vulnerable to recruiting by militant organizations.

President Asif Ali Zardari told aid donors at the Tokyo conference that militants threatening both his country and Afghanistan also pose a great danger to the rest of the world.

"There is a want to help Pakistan," said Mr. Zardari. "But I still fear that the understanding of the danger of what Pakistan faces still does not register fully in the minds of the world."

Among the top donors, the United States and Japan pledged $1 billion each, followed by Saudi Arabia with $700 million and the European Union committing $640 million.

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