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Holbrooke: Donations Offer Leverage Over Pakistan Floods; Need Still Enormous

August 19, 2010 at 4:17 PM EDT
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U.N. and U.S. officials declared the Pakistan flooding to be worse than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke speaks with Jim Lehrer about the humanitarian efforts and possible role of global warming.

JIM LEHRER: For more on the efforts to help Pakistan, here is Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was at the meetings today at the United Nations in New York.

Richard Holbrooke, welcome.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Special U.S. Representative For Afghanistan and Pakistan: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that the international community now understands how huge a catastrophe this is?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: They started slowly, because a flood, unlike an earthquake or tsunami, is not an immediate visual, after which journalists go in and do great stories on miraculous rescues and immediate need.

Flood in Asia is an old headline. But and we spent the first few weeks trying to get public attention. Today, at the United Nations, with Hillary Clinton leading all of us and speaking on behalf of President Obama and the administration, I think we got a lot more leverage.

The Japanese are now sending helicopters. Hillary raised the amount to $150 million, as you just ran in your piece. I would also note that that figure doesn’t include the very substantial cost of the helicopters, some of which General Petraeus sent from Afghanistan, others of which were brought in by ship.

And we’re going to do a lot more. The Asian Development Bank today issued a $2 billion soft loan to Pakistan. Having said all that, Jim, the enormity of this crisis takes a while to sink in. The land mass underwater is larger than Italy. And the amount of reconstruction aid is going to be in the billions.

So, I’m very glad to be able to to mention all this. The American public is just beginning to tune in. We have a special phone number. If you text, is S-W-A-T, SWAT, and punch in the number 50555, you automatically send $10 to the U.N. Refugee Commission. But a lot more needs to be done.

JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Say that again, Mr. Holbrooke. Say the SWAT and the numbers again.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You type in as a text message in an SMS text S-W-A-T, for SWAT, that area which is now completely underwater…


RICHARD HOLBROOKE: … once known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, SWAT. Then you send it to 50555, and you will be you will add $10 to your phone bill at the end of the month, and you will have sent $10 directly to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees.

And all the money goes directly to them. And no one has to worry about diversion, because it goes to the refugee issues of the U.N.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned the U.N. the U.S. effort thus far. What about some of the neighboring countries there next to Pakistan? For instance, India, what are they doing?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The Indians have offered assistance. Foreign Minister Krishna called Pakistani Minister Qureshi. They are working out the details now. We’re very encouraged by that. The Indians, by the way, like the Pakistanis, have dams holding back these raging, rising waters. More is to come, you know. This is the monsoon season is still in full force for another few weeks.

And we’re very worried about those dams, because the Indians may have to release some water, not out of any political reasons, but just to hold them from bursting. So, that’s a big problem.

As for the Chinese, Pakistan’s longest, closest ally, so far, they have not really made clear what they’re doing, except that they have taken over some responsibility for the area north of Gilgit, way up in the most remote area, which is actually more accessible to China than it is to Pakistan. And I hope China will help a lot.

One other point…

JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Were they was China involved at these meetings today at the U.N.?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: They were represented, but not at the ministerial level. In fairness to China, this meeting was put together in three days, four days’ notice, and it was hard for a lot of foreign ministers to get here.

JIM LEHRER: But if we as you speak now, China has not really weighed in, in a heavy way, correct?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Except for taking some direct responsibility for the area way up north at Gilgit, they have not made clear what they’re doing. And I hope they will.

The point I want to make here is that…


RICHARD HOLBROOKE: … we all know how important Pakistan is strategically and politically to the U.S. We’re doing this, however, because the people are in desperate need, as you pointed out a moment ago. And it but we are not oblivious to the political and strategic implications of it. It’s just that we’re the president, President Obama, who has issued a statement, the United States government, all of us are just pitching in to do everything we can right now. And then we will let the dust settle and see where we go from there.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Well, lay out those implications, the political and strategic implications. Why is Pakistan so important, beyond the tragedy itself?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Pakistan is important, in and of itself, because it’s one of the largest it’s the second-largest Muslim nation in the world, because it’s a nuclear power neighboring a nuclear power, which it has fought three wars with in the last 40, 50 years that’s India, of course because, on its western border, lurk and hide the Taliban, al-Qaida, and other very dangerous groups which threaten American troops, threaten our homeland, and would by the way, that’s an area which has been flooded, so we don’t know exactly what’s going on up there and because no outcome in Afghanistan will be successful unless the Pakistanis are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

All of that, of course, you and I have discussed several times before on your program going back five years.


RICHARD HOLBROOKE: So, I need to underscore that, today, we’re doing what we’re doing for Pakistan out of pure humanitarian need. There’s one other point I would like to make which is extremely important, and it was made today by both the foreign minister, Qureshi, and Dr. Rajiv Shah, the head of AID, USAID, at the Asia Society Conference this morning of NGOs.

They both said that this was a manifestation of global warming, that the melt off the Himalayan glaciers they both thought it was possibly linked to the fires outside Moscow. And Dr. Shah said very clearly that he thinks the world should expect more of this kind of event.

I know that sounds almost like a science fiction movie, but I think it’s worth your viewers recognizing that we’re at the we’re we may be in the process of seeing a dangerous new trend. I’m not sure about that. Our focus tonight is emergency rescue and relief, but I thought that’s important to mention.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. But, meanwhile, the strategic and military and political issues that are out there in that area, specifically Pakistan, Afghanistan, et cetera, are on hold right now while this tragedy and this disaster is dealt with?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I think that, more accurately, I would prefer to say that we’re dealing with the problems of Pakistan by dealing with the single most important.

Twenty million people are in danger. Thousands of lives have been lost. All the bridges have been washed out in parts of the country. The cotton crop is gone, and textiles are their only major export. The electrical grid is endangered. Cholera is spreading.

This is this goes from crisis to emergency. And the Obama administration is leading the effort. And the world is beginning to respond. We have got a long way to go.

JIM LEHRER: How far do we have to go? What is what what more needs to be done and needs to be done quickly?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: First, save lives, first, emergency relief, which means food, clean drinking water to prevent the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases, then tents, housing.

And, after that, when the waters finally recede, we will have a better sense of what the reconstruction bill is. And Dr. Rajiv Shah is going out, at the president and Secretary Clinton’s instructions, Sunday with members of my team to work on the needs assessment.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Richard Holbrooke, thank you.

And we’re going to put that on the screen. We’re going to put up your the number that you gave us earlier as we go, all right?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, thank you so much for doing that, Jim. It’s a cause all Americans, and particularly the Pakistani-American community, I hope, will rally to.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you, Richard Holbrooke.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Thank you. <-->