ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News with wires
A group of nations that support stabilization in Pakistan gathered Tuesday for an international forum in Istanbul to discuss development projects and security in the South Asian country.
The conference held by the "Friends of Democratic Pakistan" group includes delegates from 20 nations as well as the United Nations, the European Union and other international institutions.
The main focus of the talks, co-chaired by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, will be the Malakand Pilot Project, a comprehensive development program for tribal areas where the Pakistani army launched a major offensive against the Taliban in April.
The project addresses the return of 2 million people displaced by the operation as well as reconstruction of the area, which the Pakistani army says it has cleared of Taliban insurgents, a senior Pakistani diplomat told AFP.
Participants will also discuss ways to encourage the private sector from member countries to invest in Pakistan and increase their partnership with the public sector.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was also attending the meeting, along with foreign ministers Monoucher Mottaki of Iran, Carl Bildt of Sweden and Lawrence Cannon of Canada.
During an opening speech at the forum, Davutoğlu said the task of countries included in the group was to offer cooperation and assistance to the Pakistani government.
"We are gathered here to support the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people. NGOs are also extending great assistance. We respect the efforts of the Pakistani government. It is working to boost its relations with Afghanistan and India as well as to establish a democratic future with the support of the international community," he was quoted by the state-run Anatolian news agency as saying.
He said Pakistan was a very important market and production center, adding that it was located at a crossroads for significant markets.
Davutoğlu said Malakand project would be a good example for the country. "This project should be assisted by the Pakistani people. It is a good beginning and such projects should be conducted in other regions of Pakistan," he said.
The Friends of Democratic Pakistan group – whose members are Pakistan, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Britain, U.S., the European Commission, EU, U.N., Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and World Bank – aims to support economic and social development as a means of stabilizing the nuclear-armed country.
Pakistan’s lawless semi-autonomous areas in the northwest have been beset by violence after Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels sought refuge there following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
U.S. President Barack Obama has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Islamic extremists and has vowed to boost aid and assistance to Islamabad.