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Forum in Turkey seeks to boost aid to Pakistan

An international forum in Turkey sought to boost aid and investment in Pakistan on Tuesday to support that nation's democratic institutions and curb the violence there.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An international forum in Turkey sought to boost aid and investment in Pakistan on Tuesday to support that nation's democratic institutions and curb the violence there.

The meeting of the "Friends of Democratic Pakistan" group followed fighting between the Pakistani government and the Taliban that forced more than 2 million people to flee earlier this year. Over 1.4 million have since returned to their homes, according to a group statement.

Pakistani border areas have also served as sanctuaries for militants fighting in Afghanistan, where the U.S. and its NATO partners face a growing insurgency.

"The recent situation regarding the internally displaced persons affects millions of people awaiting urgent relief" in Pakistan, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the conference in an Ottoman palace on the shores of the Bosporus strait.

"The challenges posed by extremism and terrorism ... have ramifications across borders," he said.

The conference on helping Pakistan includes delegates from 20 nations as well as the United Nations and other international institutions. Among those attending were the foreign ministers of Iran and Canada, and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Holbrooke, who recently visited the two countries, has pledged U.S. assistance to Pakistan to help tackle an energy crisis in which millions go without power each day. He said resolving the energy shortfall and improving Pakistan's economy was vital to ensure the country's long-term stability.

China's ambassador to Turkey praised Pakistan for what he said was its relative political stability, a gradually recovering economy, military successes against militants and progress in reconstruction. But Ambassador Gong Xiaosheng said Pakistan still faces grave challenges.

"The Pakistani government and people still need to make more arduous efforts to attain the overall goal of stability and development," he said.

Pakistan at the meeting was pitching projects in energy, institution-building and other areas, hoping for international financing and loans.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said he had achieved his objectives of winning political and strategic support at the conference.

One topic of discussion was a reconstruction project that seeks to help displaced people in Malakand, a Pakistani region where Islamic militants have been active. An army offensive dislodged Taliban fighters in Malakand and the adjacent Swat region after the Taliban advanced to within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the capital, Islamabad.

Motohide Yoshikawa, Japan's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, commended the Pakistani military but said terrorism cannot be defeated by military operations alone.

"The government has to win the hearts and minds of the local people in order to prevail against the Taliban," Yoshikawa said. "Without doing so, the Taliban could easily influence and recruit local residents as they have so successfully done in the past."

The Friends group was launched a year ago under the auspices of the United Nations, and donors pledged more than $5 billion to Pakistan at a conference in April. The group has promised to help build dams, power stations, schools and clinics.