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Pakistani Official: The World Should Stand by an Ally in Its Hour of Need

August 20, 2010 at 6:12 PM EDT
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Judy Woodruff interviews Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi about what his country needs to help it recover from the massive floods. Qureshi addresses possible donor reluctance by saying most Pakistanis oppose militant groups, and they need relief in the form of food, shelter, medicine and agricultural tools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the floods in Pakistan, I talked a short time ago to that country’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Minister Qureshi, thank you very much for talking with us.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, Pakistani Foreign Minister: You’re welcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the latest you can tell us on the scale of this disaster and what your country is doing to deal with it?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, the scale is huge, as you have learned, that over 20 million people have been affected. Millions have been displaced. Over a million houses are damaged.

You know, physical infrastructure like roads, bridges have been sort of battered very badly by this unprecedented flood that we have had. You know, issues of waterborne disease are sort of a big challenge that we are confronted with.

I was here in New York to address the special session of the General Assembly highlighting these issues and drawing world attention to this evolving situation, this unprecedented flood situation that we in Pakistan are dealing with. We have mobilized all our national resources, but we need international help, and we need it now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much of that help is coming?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, I would say the initial response was slow, because the world wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the challenge. But now I think it is filtering in, it is pouring in.

The U.N. appealed launched the other day on the 11th of August of $460 million, I think from the response that I saw yesterday and today, I think that target will be met. But that’s only the beginning. We have to look at the recovery and the rehabilitation, reconstruction costs as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard last night on the program from U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke. He told my colleague Jim Lehrer that, ultimately, the costs are going to run in the billions. He did express concern about aid coming in from other nations.

Are you now satisfied that that — that aid is starting to come in as you need it?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, I think I’m satisfied to the extent that, today, I think I have been able to sensitize, you know, the world leaders who were present here yesterday and their representatives and senior officials who were at the G.A. session that this is a very serious, indeed a very alarming, critical situation. To that extent, we have succeeded. But now to what extent the world responds, we will have to wait and see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things Ambassador Holbrooke said last night was that China — as of yesterday, it wasn’t clear how much China was prepared to do. Now we know two planes, I understand, have arrived in Punjab from the Chinese. Do you expect more?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, China has been giving us relief goods. They have provided us financial assistance as well. I believe they are announcing some more today. They have also taken on responsibility of some population up in the north Gilgit, Pakistan, area that had become inaccessible because of the loss of bridges on the way. So, there was no road connection left for that area. And the only way you could access them was through the Chinese border. And they have taken responsibility for about 27,000 people in that area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The $5 million in aid you are now getting from India, it took some time to work this out. What’s the significance of that?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, we have been helping each other in the past. India has helped Pakistan during the 2005 earthquake. We responded to them when they had natural disasters. So, there is a precedent, and we are neighbors. So, this was a very welcome gesture on their part. And we in Pakistan appreciate this gesture.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And political sensitivity to accepting that money from India?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: No, as I said, there are past precedents. And, you know, they have helped us, and we have helped them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have also talked this week, Mr. Foreign Minister, about — on this program, we have discussed whether your government is capable of dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. How do you answer that question?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: I would say any government would find this disaster challenging. Any government, whether it is a First World — First World government or a Third World government, it is huge. And you have to understand that.

So, that is why, despite all our sources, national resources, provincial resources, we will need international help.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to those — because there has been discussion about some extremist groups operating in Pakistan, to — to anyone on the outside who, for a political reason, may be hesitant to make a contribution, what do you say?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: I think the overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan are against those militant groups. They have been cornered. We have been fighting them. We have had successful operations against them. We are a major ally of the United States and the free world in defeating extremism and terrorism. And we have paid a price, a human price, economic price. I think the world should stand by its ally in this hour of need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and, to sum this up, Mr. Foreign Minister, how would you characterize the most urgent needs of your people right now?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, the most urgent need today is relief. We have to provide them with food. We have to provide them with shelter. We have to provide them with medicines that protect them against waterborne disease. We have to cater to their rehabilitation, early recovery, you know, provide them assistance to return home and rebuild their homes, provide them to start their livelihoods again, you know, agriculture.

Most of the agriculture area has been — the breadbasket has been hit very severely. So, we will have to provide them with seed and fertilizer, so that they can plant their coming winter crop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just from a personal perspective, Mr. Minister, what does this mean to you?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, it’s — it’s — it’s shaking. It has shaken me, like many, many Pakistanis and many citizens all across the world, to see this natural disaster.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to leave it there. Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, thank you very much.