Relief job done well: Nato

Published February 1, 2006

BRUSSELS, Jan 31: Nato troops involved in an unprecedented 90-day relief effort in Pakistan following last October’s devastating earthquake are leaving the country with a sense of achievement and satisfaction at a job well done, according to Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

In an exclusive interview with Dawn coinciding with Nato’s departure from Pakistan, Mr Scheffer said the alliance had focused exclusively on providing vitally-needed humanitarian assistance to the country.

“This was not about Nato having a political footprint in Pakistan, but just doing humanitarian relief,” Mr Scheffer insisted. The motives were “strictly humanitarian,” he insisted.

Nato’s efforts to help Pakistan with post-disaster assistance had also led to closer ties between Nato and Islamabad, he said. Cooperation with the Pakistani authorities had gone well, he added.

Nato had no plans to formalise its relationship with Pakistan but discussions were under way to clinch an agreement allowing vitally-needed supplies to transit through Pakistan to Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, Mr Scheffer said.

The alliance’s humanitarian operation in Pakistan had been “remarkable and unprecedented,” Mr Scheffer said, adding: “It went very well.”

Having received a request for assistance from Islamabad and the United Nations after the earthquake, Mr Scheffer said it was logical that Nato’s 26 governments had responded “positively.”

He said it was clear that after a disaster of such magnitude, the situation in Pakistan was still not back to normal — but he insisted that the alliance did not feel it was under any political pressure to leave. Nato’s commitment was to stay for 90 days although some countries like Germany and France were staying on a bilateral basis, he said.

Nato governments, having used the alliance’s “response force” for the first time in Pakistan, would now draw lessons from the massive humanitarian operation.

Mr Scheffer said he had followed Pakistani opposition protests against Nato involvement in humanitarian aid “with interest” but added that he had the support of the government and of opposition leaders such as PPP chief Benazir Bhutto who wrote to him “expressing strong support.”

The alliance had also informed Pakistan’s neighbours that it was only focusing on humanitarian aid, he said.

Currently, Nato and Pakistan were discussing a “lines of communication agreement” in order to provide Nato forces in Afghanistan with supplies, he said.

“If you look at geography, Pakistan can play a very important role in supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), he said.

Asked about future Nato-Pakistan relations, Mr Scheffer said he was taking things “step by step.”

“I think psychologically we have come closer together,” adding that this was of value to both sides. Pakistan was being kept informed of Nato plans for expansion into southern Afghanistan, he said.

“I think it’s useful to have good working diplomatic channels,” Mr Scheffer said, saying that it was now much easier for Pakistani leaders and Nato officials to contact and talk to each other.

Mr Scheffer also insisted that Nato was determined to expand into southern Afghanistan regardless of how the Dutch parliament votes later this week on deploying more troops in the country.

Nato was determined to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai bring stability to the entire country, he said. While a Dutch “no” to sending an additional 1,400 troops to the south-central Afghan province of Uruzgan, “would make my life very complicated,” Mr Scheffer said Nato expansion to the south of Afghanistan would remain on track.

The Nato chief said he was “optimistic” about the Dutch parliamentary vote on Feb 2, saying he expected a “positive decision.”

Dutch participation in the Nato force was important because “they have a state-of-the-art army” which was also good at “winning hearts and minds,” Mr Scheffer said.

The Nato chief insisted that alliance soldiers being deployed in the south would not be going into the region with “their hands tied behind their backs.”

Nato “cannot only rely on soft power,” said Mr Scheffer, adding that given the presence of Taliban and Al Qaeda in the south, the Nato-led ISAF would have a “robust” mandate.

While ISAF troops would not be on a counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism mission, if confronted by terrorists, ISAF commanders would be able to “chase them,” he insisted.

ISAF troops would work side by side with US-led coalition forces in the south but the two operations would remain distinct, he added.

Mr Scheffer insisted that the new focus must be on rebuilding the devastated Afghan economy, saying Nato would stay on in the country for the “foreseeable future” to ensure the security environment needed for such economic progress.

Mr Scheffer said NATO will help the Karzai government to undertake anti-narcotics operations by exchanging intelligence and by training the Afghan national army. However, ISAF will not be directly involved in active counter-narcotics operations, he emphasised.

ISAF, which has around 9,000 troops in the more secure north and west of Afghanistan, plans to deploy around 6,000 additional troops to the more troubled south. British and Canadian troops make up most of the extended ISAF mission.

During the three-month operation in Pakistan, Mr Scheffer said Nato had under taken 168 flights from Europe (Germany and Turkey) to Pakistan, carrying almost 3,500 tons of relief supplies including tents, blankets and stoves.

Nato helicopters lifted 1,750 tons of relief in-country and moved 7,650 people while Nato medical units treated over 8,000 patients. Nato engineers cleared roads and built schools, shelters and health structures and provided fresh water to over 8,000 people.

He said the Nato Field Hospital in Bagh had treated 4,890 patients and conducted 159 major surgeries, as well as sending mobile medical teams into the mountains.



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