Q+A - Who are Pakistan's "Friends" and what do they want?

Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:38am IST

A file photo pf Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in London May 14, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

A file photo pf Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in London May 14, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville/Files

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REUTERS - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is due to meet his country's main backers, including President Barack Obama, at a "Friends of Pakistan" meeting in New York on Thursday.

Zardari rose to power after his wife, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in late 2007. He faces a range of problems from Islamist militancy to the economy and political rivalry, as he begins his second year in power.

Here are some facts about the meeting and what might be discussed.

WHO ARE THE FRIENDS AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

* The Friends of Pakistan group was set up in New York on Sept. 26, 2008, with the encouragement of the United States which wants to marshal political and economic support to promote stability, which is key to security in the region.

* In particular, the group wants to help Pakistan foster economic development and fight terrorism.

* The group includes Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, the United Nations and European Union.

* It is focusing on five areas: stability, development, Afghan borders, energy and institution-building.

* The group, also known as the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, is not an aid pledging forum.

WHAT DOES PAKISTAN WANT FROM THE FRIENDS?

* Pakistan was promised more than $5 billion in aid over two years at a donors’ conference in Japan in April after President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to step up the fight against militants and deliver on economic reforms. Only a fraction of those funds have arrived and Pakistan hopes the "Friends" meeting will provide an impetus for the realisation of those promises.

* Pakistan has a wishlist of projects worth $30 billion it wants to see implemented over the next 10 years, including hydroelectric dams, roads and projects aimed at improving security in its violence-plagued northwest on the Afghan border.

WHAT DO THE FRIENDS WANT FROM PAKISTAN?

* Donors will want to see Pakistan follow through on reforms to get its economy back on track, including improving revenue collection, cutting subsidies and expanding export industries. An energy shortage is undermining growth and is a big burden on public finances. The IMF wants to see higher power prices to improve the power industry's finances.

* The United States and other allies with troops in Afghanistan want to see Pakistan tackle Taliban enclaves in lawless ethnic Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. But some analysts say Pakistan might be reluctant to take on the only Afghan factions it can use to counter what it says is the ever-growing influence of its old rival India in Afghanistan. With questions being raised about Western military involvement in Afghanistan, and the United States and its allies and the Afghan government talking about dialogue with the Taliban, analysts say Pakistan is looking to the longer term when it can regain influence in Afghanistan by using its leverage with the Taliban.

OTHER POSSIBLE ISSUES?

As part of a review of Afghan strategy, the Obama administration is considering a range of options, from increasing U.S. force levels in Afghanistan to stepping up air strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan. The air strikes by pilotless U.S. drones are deeply unpopular in Pakistan even though Pakistani Taliban leader Bailtullah Mehsud was killed in one in August. Pakistan officially objects to the strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine its efforts to deal with militancy because the civilian casualties they cause inflame public anger. U.S. officials say the strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public. Analysts say Zardari's failure to stop the strikes undermines his authority at home.

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jan Dahinten)

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