Islamabad, Nov. 19: President Pervez Musharraf today thanked world leaders, including President George W. Bush, for their support to Pakistan’s urgent SOS for aid to help survivors of last month’s huge tremor.
Soon after Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced that the total pledges at the day-long conference had exceeded the $5.4 billion mark, Musharraf lost no time in acknowledging the big support.
“I express my deep appreciation and gratitude to the world community and leaders who backed me up in this effort' the understanding you have shown for us will never be forgotten,” Musharraf said.
The sum exceeds Pakistan’s target of $5.2 billion for recovery and reconstruction in the mountainous quake zone where a new disaster threatens as winter sets in.
Pakistan had been around $3 billion short of what it needs to rebuild houses, schools, hospitals, water and energy supplies, roads and civic administration.
The new pledges came after UN secretary-general Kofi Annan warned that survivors would die unless relief funds came soon.
“The pitiless Himalayan winter is almost upon us and growing more and more severe every week,” Annan told the conference which opened with harrowing video of quake damage and survivors.
“We must sustain our efforts to keep people as healthy and as strong as possible until we can rebuild,” he told representatives from around 50 donor countries.
Rich nations and multilateral lenders pledged the lions share of the extra aid, but even impoverished countries like Afghanistan and Bangladesh made contributions.
Thanking donors, Musharraf said it was now the turn of Pakistanis, at home and abroad, to ensure no aid need went unfulfilled.
“I know that we are going to spend about $6 billion,” he said. “Now that is a shortfall which we will make through government efforts and this is where I feel the people of Pakistan ... need to come forward.”
Musharraf and Aziz sat through the event for more than five hours, overwhelmed by the commitments of aid, grants and commodities.
The October 8 quake killed 73,000 people, wounded more than 100,000 and left an estimated 3.5 million people homeless.
The Asian Development Bank and World Bank each pledged around $1 billion in financial aid, mostly in soft loans, and the Islamic Development Bank doubled its financial aid to about $500 million for rebuilding public infrastructure.
Musharraf today appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take the “opportunity of lifetime” offered by the earthquake to resolve “together” the Kashmir issue “once for all”, saying this could be New Delhi’s “donation to Kashmir”.
India responded by stating that it was prepared to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir and other issues through dialogue with Pakistan but made it clear that this can be done only in an “atmosphere free of terrorism and violence”.