The meeting came one day after the House of Representatives approved an additional $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan for each of the next five years.
Richard C. Holbrooke joined Reps. Elijah E Cummings,D-Md.,and Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas,to meet with Pakistani businesspeople and lawyers from Cummings' district to discuss ways to strengthen the American-Pakistani relationship.
Cummings' 7th District encompasses the majority of Howard County,a suburb between Baltimore and Washington,and majority-black sections of Baltimore County.
Much of the discussion focused on providing humanitarian aid to the Swat Valley region of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province,where recent fighting between the Pakistani government and Taliban has displaced 2.5 million people. Holbrooke said the United States has already committed $330 million to this effort,but the Pakistanis at the meeting said the U.S. must take a leadership role in raising $1 billion.
Holbrooke agreed with the amount but said the rest of the world must contribute. He said 65 percent of all current humanitarian aid to Pakistan comes from the United States,even though the U.S. normally funds only 30 percent of international relief efforts.
At the same time,he emphasized President Barack Obama's personal commitment to supporting Pakistan.
“President Obama has essentially been the chief refugee officer,the chief helicopter procurement officer and the chief economic officer for Pakistan,” he said.
He said al-Qaida's dwindling popularity in Afghanistan and Pakistan has lessened their involvement in the region,thereby reducing pressure on both nations' militaries. However,he said the true test will be how soon the refugees can return home.
The humanitarian aid might accompany a more comprehensive aid package that would bolster Pakistan's democratic,economic,social development and security apparatuses. On Thursday,The House passed the PEACE Act,sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman,D-Calif.,by a 234-185 vote.
Jackson Lee,who co-chairs the Congressional Pakistan Caucus,said this result points to the increased prestige of Pakistani-Americans.
The Senate is considering the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act,sponsored by Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass.,which would provide aid for projects that promote democratic governance,economic freedom and growth and investments in women and children. A spokeswomen in Kerry's office said the Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled hearings on the bill.
After Holbrooke spoke,his discussions with the Pakistani-Americans was closed to reporters,but the Pakistani-Americans composed a written statement outlining their desired improvements in the bilateral relationship over the next several weeks and months.
In the near term,the group would like to reduce mistrust between the people of the two nations through institutions,culture and increased trade. And in the long term,they would like Pakistan's leaders to be more accountable and U.S. leaders to be less closely affiliated with particular individuals and political parties.
These efforts might be facilitated through a visit by Holbrooke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India next month. Holbrooke announced the trip at the meeting,and a State Department spokesman confirmed it. Holbrooke said the department wants to ensure that Clinton can visit Pakistan as well – the State Department wouldn't confirm this,however.
In the meantime,government and Pakistani expatriates are moving to create the Pakistani-American Foundation,a nonprofit organization that would bring together diverse Pakistani voices and give them an elevated platform from which to unite and express their concerns. Clinton suggested the foundation,which will be modeled after the Irish Fund created by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
“This is a big deal,” Jackson Lee said. “This is American democracy at its best.”
Cummings said the foundation will also enhance democracy in Pakistan.
“This is not a one-day thing,” he said. “This is something that will go on for a long time,for generations that are not yet born.”