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The Warsaw Voice » Society » October 1, 2010
Politics & Society
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On Fighting Floods and the Taliban
October 1, 2010   
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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak during a visit to Warsaw Sept. 7-8. He spoke to journalists at the Marriott Hotel. The following are excerpts from his press conference.

Relations with Poland
What brings me to Poland are a number of things. I see a lot of potential in improving bilateral relations between Poland and Afghanistan. You have troops in Afghanistan, and you have also suffered some casualties. Pakistan is playing a crucial role in the stability of Afghanistan, so that is a common interest that we have. I also wanted to discuss the flood situation with the Polish foreign minister, and how that would impact Pakistan’s political and economic stability, as well as what social implications it might have if people are not provided with help quickly. We are also interested in engaging with Poland when Poland assumes the presidency of the European Union.

Catastrophic floods in Pakistan
As you know, the flood situation in Pakistan is pretty serious. We’ve had floods in the past, but this has been an unprecedented flood. The last mega-flood of this nature was in 1929, and this flood far exceeded the water levels of 1929. Twenty million people have been affected, almost eight million people are displaced, almost four million acres of crops have been devastated and 1.7 million houses have been damaged to the extent that you cannot live in them. The loss to physical infrastructure—that is, roads, bridges, transmission lines, telecommunication networks—is huge. Close to 1,700 people have died, and obviously there are injuries as well. So the flood situation is pretty critical, and it is not yet over. We are in the fifth week and many areas are still inundated. One-fifth of the country was underwater. The area affected by the floods is the size of England.

Pakistan certainly is capable of handling the situation, but we will require international assistance for proper assessment because national resources will not be enough to deal with the enormity of the challenge we are facing. The money that has been contributed so far is highly appreciated, but not enough, because we have three phases. The first phase is rescue and relief; an appeal was launched by the Undersecretary General of Emergency Relief for 460 million dollars, and that has yet to be completely realized. Then on the question of reconstruction, the amounts are going to be huge. That is why we want to talk to our friends and well-wishers to help Pakistan in this phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Fighting the Taliban
There are some Taliban who can be dialogued with, and there are some who are irreconcilable. The ones who are willing to give up arms and violence and accept the writ of the government are the ones we can talk to. The ones who do not believe in giving up violence are the ones who are irreconcilable. We will not talk to them. We will eradicate them.

Obviously, they have links with certain organizations who have a global agenda. That is why Pakistan has been talking to friends in the United States and in Europe to help us fight this menace. Enhance our capacity to combat this element. Give us the economic stability that will further strengthen political stability in Pakistan, so that we can focus on the western front. Help improve Pakistan’s relations with India so that we can concentrate more on the western front. As we have said, terrorism is not Pakistan-specific. They will go anywhere to achieve their objectives. Pakistan today is acting as a front-line state to regional and global peace. Pakistani people, troops and soldiers are laying down their lives to protect many capital cities of Europe, so please understand that Pakistan is a vital ally of the West, and a very important bulwark against extremists and terrorists.

One of the ways of pushing the Taliban out of the tribal areas is by giving the people alternatives—job opportunities, development work, education—and by reducing levels of poverty in the tribal belt so that people are prosperous, people have hope and people have something else to do than just fight. Over the last three decades they have seen nothing but war and fighting.

The West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan
I think the withdrawal date that was initially announced—July 2011—has been somewhat qualified by American officials. They have now linked it to ground realities in Afghanistan and to the ability of the Afghan authorities to assume responsibility for security. President Karzai, in his own statement at the Kabul conference, clearly said they would not be in a position to assume responsibility by July 2011. They will at least take two or three more years—I think he’s talking about 2014. By then, he feels that they will have trained sufficient soldiers in the Afghan national army and the Afghan police to take on the security role within Afghanistan.

You also have to learn from mistakes of the past. Earlier on, the West and many countries now in Afghanistan left prematurely, and left Afghanistan without a proper exit strategy once the Soviets were pushed out. Look at the consequences we are all facing. The gun culture, the drug culture—they are all consequences of that hasty withdrawal. Obviously, nobody wants to stay there forever, and nobody should stay there forever. But the timing, when to leave, and leaving with a plan is what is important.

Hilary Heuler
Ewa Hancock
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