President Barack Obama co-chaired a meeting of world leaders in New York Thursday aimed at generating political and economic support for Pakistan. The meeting coincided with U.S. Senate passage of a five-year non-military aid package for Pakistan.
U.S. officials say there was spontaneous applause at the meeting, at a New York hotel, when word arrived of Senate approval of the five-year Pakistan aid plan, which would triple civilian U.S. assistance to about $1.5 billion a year.
Expected to win final approval in the U.S. House of Representatives as early as Friday, the unusual multi-year plan is aimed assuring a dependable flow of Washington support to the economically hard-pressed Pakistani government.
The New York meeting - co-chaired by President Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari - was the first summit-level session of the informal Friends of Democratic Pakistan grouping, and it brought together leaders of some 25 countries and organizations.
Briefing reporters on the meeting, U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said it reflects a growing realization around the world that Pakistan is critically important in its own right and to the surrounding region, especially Afghanistan.
"We want to convey through this meeting today in which President Zardari sat between the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the President of the United States, flanked by many of the world's greatest leaders - Sarkozy, Berlusconi, the U.N. Secretary General, the president of the World Bank, Turkey Japan, the European Union - we wanted to show clearly that the United States and Pakistan's other friends are all working together for Pakistan," said Richard Holbrooke.
Holbrooke said the Pakistani government has successfully weathered a series of domestic crises earlier this year, including the Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley and neighboring northern areas that he suggested has generated a public backlash against religious extremists.
"The army now has the backing of the Pakistani people," he said. "There seems to be a growing recognition that the Taliban and other miscreants, to use the Pakistanis' own word for this, are a threat to the entire country and are alien to the spirit of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the founders of Pakistan."
Though he did not announce dates, Holbrooke said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is preparing for a visit to Pakistan next month.
He said one focus of that trip will be helping the country deal with an energy crisis that has forced daily power cuts in the largest city Karachi, among others.
The Pakistan aid bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and ranking Republican Richard Lugar, is aimed at regularizing a civilian aid relationship that has fluctuated over the years depending on events in Pakistan.
While not stipulating dollar amounts of U.S. military aid, it authorizes such sums that are necessary to help the country deal with security needs.
It conditions such aid on Pakistani efforts to combat nuclear proliferation, fight terrorism, and uphold democracy.