ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday offered Pakistan $110 million to help people driven from their homes by fighting in the Swat Valley and said it was trying to redress 30 years of “incoherent” U.S. policy toward the nuclear-armed country.
Pakistani soldiers battled Taliban militants in towns in the picturesque valley, which is about 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, as authorities scrambled to get food to thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting.
The government has said the offensive, launched this month as international alarm grew over an intensifying insurgency, is making progress and every effort would be made to help the more than 1 million people displaced by the conflict.
Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged over the past two years, raising doubts about its stability and alarming the United States, which needs Pakistani action to help defeat al Qaeda and stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
Though Pakistani politicians and members of the public broadly back the offensive in the Taliban’s Swat bastion, support will quickly evaporate if many civilians are killed or if the displaced languish in misery.
The White House said the United States would provide $100 million in humanitarian aid such as food, tents, radios, generators and other items and that the U.S. Defense Department would give a further $10 million in unspecified assistance.
The United Nations estimates that about 1.4 million people have become homeless since the Swat offensive started in early May on top of some 550,000 people displaced by fighting there and in other regions in the autumn.
“Providing this assistance is not only the right thing to do but we believe it is essential to global security and the security of the United States and we are prepared to do more,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters.
Clinton also described the last three decades of U.S. policy toward Pakistan as “incoherent,” saying that the United States had worked with Pakistan to arm the Mujahideen fighters who helped drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s only to effectively abandon both countries.
She said U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to forge a long-term partnership with Pakistan to confront al Qaeda militants who are believed to have fled to northern Pakistan from Afghanistan, where they plotted the September 11 attacks.
“Our policy toward Pakistan over the last 30 years has been incoherent,” Clinton said, implicitly criticizing the policies of her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. “I mean, I don’t know any other word to use.”
‘WALKED AWAY BEFORE’
“We have walked away from Pakistan before with consequences that have not been in the best interests of our security, and we are determined that we are going to forge a partnership with the people of Pakistan and their democratically elected government against extremism,” she added.
The Pakistani military said soldiers conducting search operations in the town of Matta clashed with militants, and an officer and a soldier were killed while seven soldiers were wounded.
Troops were also in, or advancing on, the towns of Kanju and Takhtaband, it said.
The government says more than 1,000 militants have been killed in the offensive, while the military says more than 50 soldiers have been killed.
There was no independent confirmation of the government’s estimate of militant casualties. Reporters have left Swat and the army is not letting any back in. Communications with residents still there have been disrupted.
About 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants in Swat, the military says.
The fighting has worried investors in Pakistani stocks and the main index has dipped over the past two weeks despite signs of economic improvement such as lower inflation which allowed for an interest rate cut last month.
The market ended 1.46 percent lower on Tuesday at 7,067.85 points as investors remained cautious, dealers said.
President Asif Ali Zardari said in an interview with the Sunday Times that Swat was just the beginning and the army would next move against militants in the Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech