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Obama congratulates Zardari on Pakistan's progress

By Suman Guha Mozumder
September 25, 2009 09:16 IST
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United States President Barack Obama on Thursday reiterated that the US will remain a steadfast partner for Pakistan as Islamabad moves towards peace and prosperity.

The President told the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, that he would like to congratulate President Asif Ali Zardari and the member states and organisations constituting the body, for the important work that has been done over the last 12 months and for the progress that has been made in an extraordinarily difficult situation.

"Most of all, I would like to reaffirm my country's deep commitment to the people of Pakistan," said Obama, who chaired the meeting  of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan along with President Zardari and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The assertion came on a day when the US Senate approved a legislation to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to approximately $ 1.5 billion a year through 2014.

The discussions at the meeting centered on combating violent extremism, addressing energy shortages and fostering socio-economic development in the Malakand District of the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  These have been the areas of focus of ministerial-level meetings of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

The Friends of Democratic Pakistan, which held its first meeting in New York on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2008, was founded by Pakistan, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the United Nations and the European Union.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attended the meeting of the leaders of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, said the meeting was a "valuable opportunity for leaders to show our commitment to working with the government and the people of Pakistan as they seek to build a more secure future".

Obama said all the world leaders present at the meeting shared an interest in the success of the Pakistani people. 'We stand with them -- as friends, and as partners -- on behalf of a future with greater security and prosperity; and we stand with the institutions of Pakistan's government as they seek to strengthen their democracy,' he said.

"We also face a common threat. The violent extremists within Pakistan pose a threat to the region, to the United States, and to the world. Above all, they threaten the security of the Pakistani people," he noted.

"But whereas these extremists murder innocent men, women and children -- and offer the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction -- we are here on behalf of a more hopeful future. We believe that hope can triumph over fear, and that adversity can be replaced by opportunity," he asserted.

"Success will require a sustained and expanded commitment from the international community. And that is why we are here today. Through the Friends of Democratic Pakistan -- and through our bilateral relationship --the United States is firmly committed to the future that the Pakistani people deserve -- a future that will advance our common security and prosperity," he said.

'That is why my administration has pledged substantial support for Pakistan, and the US. Congress has worked aggressively and effectively to expand development and economic assistance.'

Obama added that not only will the US  help Pakistan strengthen the capacity it needs to root out violent extremists, it will also work with all members to help Pakistan improve the basic services that its people depend upon -- schools, roads, and hospitals.  He also talked about the need to address an energy crisis that has added a huge burden on Pakistan and pledged to support Islamabad's efforts to strengthen its energy sector through partnership with this forum.

"We will also work with the Pakistani government as it makes its institutions more transparent and responsive, so that the assistance reaches the people who need it, and Pakistan's commitment to democracy is buttressed by a commitment to the rule of law. I believe that the people of Pakistan can and will shape their own future,' Obama said.

"America has great respect for the Pakistani people, and I have personally been enriched through my travels to Pakistan and my friendships with Pakistani-Americans. I have no doubt that if Pakistan harnesses the talent, and ingenuity, and ambition of its own people -- then there is no obstacle that can stand between it and a future of greater peace and prosperity," said Obama.

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York