Jack Lew’s briefing challenges Pakistani media disinformation

Beena Sarwar

Yesterday there was a front page report in The News (Sept 13) – “US says no direct money to PPP government,” supposedly based on the briefing by Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew –  The claims in the report vary wildly from the transcript of Mr Lew’s briefing, available here – which is actually quite optimistic about Pakistan.

Briefing on Recent Trip to South Asia Jacob J. Lew Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Washington, DC September 11, 2009 [Pakistan section] And in Pakistan, we focused on a number of issues. I think, as you all know, with the Kerry-Lugar program being worked through now in Congress and the budget process working through, in terms of the appropriations, we’re ready to take the next step and put a detailed program out there that really goes and specifies what forms of assistance will be provided. In the conversations we had with the Pakistani officials – we met with the Prime Minister Gilani, we met with the Finance Minister Tarin – they are very much focused on not just the amount of assistance in Kerry-Lugar, but the fact that it’s a multiyear commitment. They see it as an extremely important statement from the United States that we’re thinking in multiyear terms and thinking about a program that has integrity over a period of time.

We had detailed discussions following up on the Secretary’s interest and the issue that Ambassador Holbrooke raised when he was there recently, of an energy relationship with Pakistan, how we could work together using the assistance that we’re providing to help Pakistan address what is one of its core economic issues. We raised also the fact that it’s not just a question of assistance on projects, but that Pakistan had to take some very hard steps to reform its electric utility sector in order for there to be the real opportunity for sustainable progress. I was pleased that both in the conversation with the prime minister and with the finance minister, they heard that message and they responded very positively. On the question of aid, there, as any of you who have seen the press releases put out would know, they’re very much anxious to have as much of the assistance as possible flow directly into the Pakistani Government. We made clear that we’re looking at a variety of approaches, that we certainly intend to be supportive of Pakistani ministries where the programs are ready to accept that support effectively, but that we also needed to look at the provincial level and to work with the traditional NGO community, and it wouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. The key to us was that for each of the undertakings that we agreed upon, and they had to be things that were mutually attractive from the point of view of the Pakistani Government and the U.S. Government, we had to choose a method of funding that was most likely to produce results efficiently and effectively, and that the money needed to go to the purposes for which it was intended. We were able, while we were in Pakistan, to go to the North-West Frontier province – provinces to Peshawar. In Peshawar, we visited the U.S. Consulate. And I have to say, while I was going to say about all of the State Department employees that I met with on this trip, particularly in Peshawar. You have to have enormous respect for our Civil Service, our Foreign Service officers, and our military who serve in extremely difficult surroundings. I’m not sure one could find much more difficult surroundings than Peshawar in terms of the conditions that they work in and the mobility that they have, and frankly, the risk. It is a real tribute to the patriotism and the dedication of our staff there that they do the very important work that they do so well. In Peshawar, we had meetings with our own staff, again, but we also had meetings with the local governor, the governor who has authority over both the NWFP and also the FATA, and we met with the chief minister in the NWFP. There was a great deal of interest there, much as we heard at the federal level, in having U.S. assistance provide a basis for partnership at – for provincial development. There also seemed to be a fair amount of capacity at the provincial level. It was – we were impressed that the chief minister had a very good sense of both his budget, his needs, and his limitations. And you had the sense that there was the capacity to partner quite effectively. We discussed at length the issue of IDPs, the enormous number of IDPs that were in that area over the summer, and many of whom – the majority of whom – have been able to return home. It was clear that they see – they were very grateful for the assistance that was provided quickly by the United States and the international community. But they also saw remaining needs and were anxious to have an ongoing sense of partnership, that – and we said we were very hopeful that we would be able to maintain. The meetings we had on IDPs were both in Peshawar and we went to Mardan, which is a smaller community that was one of the areas that a great number of IDPs moved from Buner and Swat. In the – and we went to a school, a girls school which had closed classes a month early in order to become home for 10-plus families. It’s hard to describe it as a home. It was quite primitive classrooms, limited outdoor plumbing, and there must have been well over a hundred people living there from May until recently. While they closed classes early in order to accept the IDPs, they opened classes on time to get the girls back to school this fall. There was a huge focus on the need to get back to normal and the need to open school, and I would just have to say looking at the faces of these middle school girls reminded you of the hope that – and the reason that you can think that there is the possibility of things being better. They’re in this school that just weeks ago had been a home for IDPs. And they’re learning English, they’re a little shy of a foreigner, but not afraid to engage. And it was really quite moving. We met with families – IDP families that had not yet returned. They were from Bajaur, which is an area that, from their perspective, had not yet become safe enough for them to go back to. Very traditional families; it was – women were wearing full burkas and the men were quite traditional. But they talked quite movingly of how much they wanted to go home. We asked them, in a number of different ways, whether the other IDPs who had already gone home had gone home voluntarily or not. And they very quickly responded, saying they went home because they wanted to go home – we want to go home, we only want for it to be safe to go home. And they talked about the damage to their communities and their homes. And from their perspective, their sense was that the Taliban had targeted schools, particularly girls schools. They had targeted police stations. And they didn’t know, frankly, whether their homes would still be habitable in the winter. They hoped that they would be. They were still hopeful of getting home by the winter. We met with NGO and international organization officials on the ground and asked a lot of questions about what they saw as being the next steps. And there’s obviously two things that they’re focusing on. One is kind of getting the first round of IDPs back home and safe for the winter. But they also are aware that with ongoing military activities, there could be new IDPs. So they’re kind of working on coming to some kind of closure on the current experience while knowing that there may be more ahead. They were all focusing on the need for ongoing food and clothing support. It was not clear, frankly, the scope of damage to be repaired. Apart from the reports we got about schools and police stations, one didn’t have the sense that there had been the ability to do the detailed assessment. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are supposed to complete an assessment even this week. So we will work together as we go through that. I guess the conclusion that I drew from the days we spent were that the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan have really done an extraordinary job in dealing with millions of displaced people in a way that, from the brief time we spent there, seemed to have left considerable feeling of – that people had been taken care of in very difficult circumstances. And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems. There certainly are still problems. But it – the notion of people taking tens of people into their homes, their small homes, on very modest incomes, it just – people-to-people – gave you great respect for the outpouring of help that came from just regular people

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