Top US experts urge greater trade access, aid increase for Pakistan

Top US experts urge greater trade access, aid increase for Pakistan
Associated Press, February 26, 2008

WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (APP): Seeing Pakistan’s parliamentary poll as an historic step towards democratic progress, top South Asian experts have urged the United States to bolster economic aid as well as trade access for the country so that the Pakistani people may genuinely feel that America wants their long-term development.

“We should try to help Pakistan in its economic development, we should try to do things which masses see as genuine gestures which should be seen as trying to help their interest, which we believe, are also in our long-term interest,” said Eric Bjornlund, cofounder of Democracy International that observed last week’s polls in Pakistan.
Speaking on “The Pakistani Election: What Next’ at a Washington think tank, Bjornlund described the Feb 18 polls as representing a landmark stride in the country’s democratic process. He said “there was general acceptance that the results reflected what people were trying to say” and added that it was a “remarkable” finding for Democracy International.

Robert M Hathaway, Director Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars stressed that one of the best ways to send the message of enduring relationship with Pakistani people is through materializing a robust assistance package for socio-economic development of the country. Such assistance, he said, may target building hospitals, healthcare delivery, schools, roads and projects that create livelihoods and jobs and touch lives of the people.

The Pakistani nation, he said, deserves democracy dividend as “the Pakistani people, for their own reasons and not because the US wanted it, carried out an exercise in political freedom, which has clearly exonerated all of us.

“They clearly demonstrated that they believe in political pluralism, and I think it is entirely appropriate for the US to say that after this demonstration that our two people share the values it is all the more reason to build our relationship through economic aid.”

Hathaway also favoured the idea of establishing reconstruction opportunity zones and said these should serve both the local populace and the American taxpayers.

On boosting access for Pakistani products including textiles in the huge American market he said, “I think it is entirely appropriate for the United States to give Pakistanis greater access to the American market - it is difficult political issue - but clearly, and particularly after the election last week I think the US should revisit the entire issue as to what we can do to support Pakistani people. And one way to do that is to give them greater access to the market, including the textile market.”

Hassan Abbas, a research fellow at Harvard University underlined the importance of political stability for sustained economic progress and said in view of challenges facing the country, PPP co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari should be credited with reaching out to political forces across the spectrum. He stated the leaders of largest winning party plan to move forward with a comprehensive economic strategy.

Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar associated the Middle East Institute, said the election was also about bread and butter issues and people want to see improvement in their lives. He emphasized that the Pakistani economic system must ensure that the people benefit from its success.

He said last week’s polls mark a unique occasion as they represent the “first truly democratic transfer of power” in the country.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a scholar at Johhs Hopkins University, drew attention to some of the major economic and fiscal challenges facing the country and said the South Asian country needs external economic assistance to ease balance of payments and meet other economic goals.

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