US Envoy Says Public Opinion Swings Against Taliban in Pakistan

The Obama administration's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, says there is a backlash of Pakistani public opinion against the Taliban because of its attempted seizure of the Swat Valley and acts of terrorism. But Holbrooke says the needs of Pakistanis displaced in recent fighting must be urgently addressed.

Holbrooke, who visited Pakistan last week for a first-hand look at fighting-related humanitarian needs, says he observed a dramatic change in public opinion there because of what he called the "outrages" of the Taliban and their supporters.

But the U.S. envoy warns that the consensus building in favor of the Pakistani government and its crackdown against extremists might be short-lived unless authorities can meet the needs of the hundreds-of-thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, get people back to their homes and restore security.

Speaking with reporters here, Holbrooke said the Islamabad government faces a "daunting task" of dealing with internal refugees in addition to the country's economic problems. He stressed the need for quick action on aid to Pakistan by the U.S. Congress and American allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf region.

Holbrooke met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and key military leaders last week and said he found "new determination" on their part to deal with the Taliban and other extremists. He also noted the outrage among the displaced Pakistanis he met.

"When you talk to them, and I need to stress this, they really understand why the military came in. They want the Taliban out. They hate them and they think they have destroyed this piece of heaven, which was [the] Swat [Valley]," said Holbrooke.

But Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Balkans peace envoy, made clear that long-term success for Pakistani authorities depends on restoring security and normal life in the Swat Valley and neighboring areas devastated by the recent fighting.

"I want to stress that the refugees must be able to return. Those camps and those temporary facilities cannot harden into a permanent refugee settlement as has happened in so many parts of the world," said Holbrooke. "So the test is not simply the military phase, but the ability of the government to get those people back into their homes as quickly as possible and provide them security."

While in Pakistan, Holbrooke announced an additional pledge of $200 million for humanitarian aid that pushed the total U.S. commitment in the current crisis to more than $300 million, more than half of the total sought by the United Nations in a worldwide aid appeal.

The U.S. envoy cautioned that similar amounts will be needed for reconstruction.

Holbrooke visited several wealthy Persian Gulf states to discuss Pakistani needs after leaving Islamabad. He would not say whether those countries committed to new aid, but he added that he could "say with confidence" that all of the Gulf states share with the United States "a similar view on the strategic importance of Pakistan."

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