* President says economic cost of war on terror has risen to $35 billion
* Calls for urgent review of drone strikes

ISLAMABAD: The US regional campaign against militancy and the violence it has provoked in Pakistan have almost crippled the country’s economy, said President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday.

The president made the comments at a meeting with US special envoy Richard Holbrooke in Lahore.

“Pakistan’s industrial growth and export potential have been severely restricted, first because the region was a theatre of war against rival ideology in the past ... and secondly because of rising militancy in the country as a consequence of the first [factor],” a statement by Zardari’s office quoted him as saying.

$35 billion: Zardari told Holbrooke the war against militancy had cost Pakistan $35 billion over the last eight years, and “has almost paralysed the economy”. He said Washington was also behind on payments under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). US officials say red tape and problems in obtaining visas for US auditors to Pakistan have slowed the process.

Zardari also said drone strikes and new US screening measures for Pakistanis were a cause of concern, and called for an urgent review.


According to presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar, Zardari also highlighted that drone strikes inside Pakistani territory undermined national consensus against militancy and raised questions over the sovereignty of the country. The president reiterated Pakistan’s call for the provision of drone technology to allow national security forces, instead of foreign troops, to target militants inside the country.

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Holbrooke assured Zardari that his government had agreed to review the new screening regime, and said the US homeland security secretary would personally look into the matter. He said $349 million under the CSF would be released immediately, while the reimbursement of the remaining money would be expedited.

The president and the special envoy also discussed issues related to internally displaced persons (IDPs), Pakistan’s energy requirements and the capacity building of civil law-enforcement agencies. Babar said the president welcomed the US commitment to Pakistan’s stability, security and prosperity. He quoted the president as saying that relations between the two countries must be based on mutual respect.

He said democratic stability in Pakistan was dependent on the development agenda, which could be facilitated by the US and other countries.

Referring to the new US Afghan strategy, Zardari called on the US to remain sensitive to Pakistan’s core national interests and concerns. He said US operations should be limited to the Afghan side of the border.

Zardari said Pakistan had become a security-driven state that was forced to neglect social and human development, and called on the international community to help rebuild the country. agencies

Daily Times

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