International donors pledged another $3.4 billion in quake aid to Pakistan, surpassing the amount sought by the government, officials said Saturday. The U.S. nearly tripled its pledge to more than $500 million in a show of support for a key ally in the war on terrorism.
Also, India and Pakistan opened their disputed frontier in earthquake-devastated Kashmir, allowing people on both sides to cross by foot for the first time in 58 years to meet separated relatives.
The aid pledges came at a donor conference attended by nearly 80 nations and international agencies. Pakistan had hoped to get $5.2 billion for rebuilding after the Oct. 8 quake, which killed 86,000 people in its territory and another 1,350 in neighboring India.
Before the conference, aid pledges totaled $2.4 billion but Pakistan had only received about 10 percent of that. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the new pledges brought the total to $5.8 billion — $3.9 billion in loans and $1.9 billion in grants.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf expressed his “deepest appreciation and gratitude to the world community for rising to this occasion and helping Pakistan in this hour of need,” adding that “it will never be forgotten.”
The contributions will be used “in the most transparent manner at exactly the place that you would want it to be used,” Musharraf said, adding that it was “not too easy” for him to ask for help.
However, about two-thirds of the pledges were loans rather than grants, and British-based aid agency Oxfam warned that this could represent “short-term solutions for the long-term needs,” given that Pakistan’s debt burden would balloon in coming years.
‘Even more misery’
“The international community risks heaping even more misery on survivors,” Jane Cocking, the group’s coordinator in Pakistan, said in a statement.
The United States already promised Pakistan some $180 million, of which $54 million had been spent. But U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios raised the offer to $510 million, including $300 million in cash.
“The U.S. pledges today our continuing support to our friend and ally, Pakistan,” Natsios said, adding that was America’s turn to give, following the generosity of the international community in helping the United States recover from Hurricane Katrina earlier this year.
Washington also sent 1,200 troops, 24 helicopters, heavy equipment and two mobile hospitals to the quake zone.
The Asian Development Bank pledged $1 billion, the World Bank more than doubled its offer to $1 billion and the Islamic Development Bank doubled its pledge to $501 million. Other major pledges include $573 million from Saudi Arabia, $375 million from the International Monetary Fund and $326 million from China.
The opening of the frontier in Kashmir marked a landmark event in relations between rivals India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since 1947 — two of them over control of Kashmir.
One Pakistani army official said 23 civilians crossed from the Indian side, but none came from Pakistan.
S. L. Sreeramulu, an Indian passport officer, said security agencies were still verifying the credentials of the Pakistani Kashmiris. The clearance was, however, expected soon, he said.
At the conference, Musharraf said the calamity provided an “an opportunity of a lifetime” for Pakistan and India to improve relations and resolve their dispute over Kashmir.
“If leaders fail to grasp fleeting opportunities, they fail their nations and peoples,” he said. “Let success and happiness emerge from the ruins of this catastrophe, especially for the people of Kashmir. Let this be the Indian donation to Kashmir.”
The nuclear-armed neighbors agreed to open five crossing points on the militarized frontier after the quake to facilitate the flow of relief and let separated families reunite, but civilian crossings had been delayed by bureaucratic wrangling and Indian fears that Islamic militants might infiltrate from Pakistan.
India also has offered $25 million in aid to Pakistan.
Appeal from Annan
The new aid pledges followed an appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who urged donors at the conference to launch an “unprecedented response” to the earthquake. A day earlier, he chided the international community for a “weak and tardy” response to the quake.
The United Nations, facing its own shortfall of quake donations, warned that relief efforts could collapse without sustained funding.
“There are urgent humanitarian needs that demand our continuing attention. The difficult terrain makes this one of the most challenging relief operations ever undertaken,” he said.
About 3 million people lost their homes in the quake, with hundreds of thousands still living in flimsy tents and some with no shelter at all. With snow already falling in the quake zone, aid workers warn time is fast running out to prevent a second wave of deaths from exposure, hunger and disease.
“We are now in a race against time,” Aziz said. “While the first wave of injuries and trauma have been taken care of, we recognize that the emergency relief assistance must continue for a period longer than expected.”
He said $1.7 billion was needed for relief and recovery and restoration of livelihoods, and $3.5 billion for rebuilding infrastructure and restoring the economy.