NEW YORK, Oct 4: Citing the threat posed by militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the possible economic meltdown, President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the international community to give Pakistan $100 billion in grant to ensure the country’s survival.

“I need your help, if we fall, if we can’t do it, you can’t do it,” Mr Zardari repeatedly said during an interview with Wall Street Journal’s columnist Brent Stephens, published on Saturday.

In the interview, Mr Zardari also called for a broader free trade agreement with India and said: “India has never been a threat to Pakistan.

“I, for one, and our democratic government is not scared of Indian influence abroad.”

Stephens said in his column that Mr Zardari spoke of the militant groups operating in occupied Kashmir as “terrorists”, adding that he had no objection to the India-US nuclear cooperation pact so long as Islamabad was treated “at par” with New Delhi.

“Why would we begrudge the largest democracy in the world getting friendly with one of the oldest democracies in the world?”

On Mr Zardari’s request for $100 billion in grant, Stephens says that he “has a simple and powerful argument to make that the world cannot allow his government to fail – not when it’s becoming increasingly plausible that Pakistan itself, with its stockpile of as many as 200 nuclear warheads, could be toppled by Al Qaeda and its allies”.

In asking the international community for infusion of $100 billion into Pakistan’s economy, Stephens said Zardari was keen to insist that it not be described as aid.

“Aid is proven through the researches of the World Bank . . . (to be) bad for a country,” Zardari told WSJ. “I’m looking for temporary relief for my budgetary support and cash for my treasury which does not need to be spent by me.

“It is not something I want to spend. But (it) will stop the

(outflow) of my capital every time there is a bomb. . . . In this situation, how do I create capital confidence, how do I create businessmen’s confidence?”

On US-Pakistan differences to conduct the war on terror, Mr Zardari was anxious to downplay any differences with the US. “I am not going to fall for this position that it’s an unpopular thing to be an American friend. I am an American friend,” Zardari said time and again.

On the incident last month in which Pakistani troops allegedly fired at US aircraft, Zardari told WSJ: “It was merely an incident, and while incidents do happen, they are not important.”

He goes off the record to describe sensitive military subjects, but acknowledges that the US is carrying out Predator missile strikes on Pakistani soil with his government’s consent. “We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together.”

Zardari, Stephens maintained, also conceded “the problem that had bedevilled past efforts at US-Pakistani cooperation, particularly in intelligence sharing: the widely held suspicion that Pakistani intelligence services continue to cooperate with, and even arm, the Taliban.”

“You know, you keep an uglier alternative around so that you may not be asked to leave,” he says in reference to charges that former president Pervez Musharraf was not sincere in fighting militancy.

Mr Zardari refuses to go into detail other than to say he “solved the problem”.

Mr Zardari expressed a hope that, with the intelligence problem out of the way, a new era of cooperation can open up with the US. “We want to be able to share [US] intelligence,” he told WSJ. “We need helicopters, we need night goggles, we need equipment of that sort.”

He said there was a need for precision and finesse in fighting militants, rather than large-scale military force. “My eventual concept is that we should be taking them on as they are, as criminals.”

Of Osama bin Laden, Zardari said: “The minute I make anybody my enemy, he becomes as big as I am.”

Referring to reports that Pakistan has deployed F-16s against militants in tribal areas in part because the army’s own troops have been routinely routed in ground fighting, he said: “Their problems aren’t simply tactical. What kind of a joke is this that I cannot pay my security personnel more than the Talibs are paying?”

“Those terrorists are paying their soldiers 10,000 rupees; I’m paying seven or six thousand rupees.

“The effects of such a disparity are increasingly in evidence. The recent bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott hotel, in an area that is under particularly tight security controls, is a fresh reminder that Pakistan’s terrorist problem extends well beyond the tribal hinterlands,” Stephens argues in his concluding note.



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