The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan
May 19, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:25 A.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: A renewed guest appearance. Thank you all for coming. As we talked last week here, you all know the national security priority that Pakistan is for this administration. President Obama asked all those in the administration to respond quickly to the conditions that we're seeing now in the Swat Valley and in Pakistan. And I will turn it over to the Secretary of State for an announcement on that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Robert. And I appreciate the opportunity to provide some information about what our government and the people of the U.S. are doing with respect to the humanitarian crisis that is affecting Pakistan.

The last time I was in this room, on May 6th, I spoke about the United States' commitment to stand by Pakistan's people and the democratically elected government as they work to restore security in their country. And President Obama is determined to match our words with our actions, because Pakistan's government is leading the fight against extremists that threaten the future of their country and our collective security.

At the same time, though, Pakistan is facing a major humanitarian crisis. Approximately 2 million people have fled their homes, and Pakistan's government, their military, and relief organizations are working to meet the needs of these displaced persons. So many are finding refuge with family members, or in schools or mosques; they are relying on the generosity of relatives and friends. And I'm confident that Pakistan's institutions and citizens will succeed in confronting this humanitarian challenge if the international community steps up and provides the support that is needed.

So today I am announcing that the people of the United States are responding to a request for assistance from the government of Pakistan with more than $100 million in humanitarian support. Now, this money comes on top of almost $60 million that the United States has provided since last August to help Pakistanis who have been affected by the conflicts, and in addition to the other funding for Pakistan that we are already seeking from the Congress.

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 as the situation demands.

The United States has a history of working with the Pakistani authorities to alleviate suffering. When an earthquake struck the country in 2005, we moved quickly to assist. Altogether, the United States has provided more than $3.4 billion since 2002 to alleviate suffering and promote economic growth, education, health and good governance in Pakistan.

A U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team -- a so-called DART team -- and embassy personnel from our embassy in Islamabad are on the ground working with and supporting Pakistani authorities in evaluating needs for shelter, food, health, water and sanitation services. And supplies from the U.S. are already flowing to Pakistan. USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has delivered 30,000 family relief kits, 5,000 tents, FM radios, and generators to provide both light and water.

At the request of the government of Pakistan's special support group, the U.S. military is providing water trucks, halal MREs, and large tents within environment units for hot weather.

At the same time, one of our guiding principles of this assistance package is that it should be more than just the delivery of supplies. It should also be an investment in the people and the economy of Pakistan. So a significant portion of our pledged food aid will go to buy Pakistani grain in local markets, taking advantage of the country's bumper crop of wheat. And we will work to create quick-impact job programs that will put Pakistanis to work, making supplies that will help their countrymen who have been forced to flee the fighting. Our approach to the aid reflects our conviction that all Pakistanis have a stake in resolving this crisis.

In addition to supporting the work of Pakistan's democratically elected government, we are coordinating closely with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And we appreciate the work that U.N. agencies, the ICRC, and nongovernmental organizations are already doing.

The United States is also deploying new tools to meet these challenges. We are working to support the Pakistani government in launching a text-messaging system that will alert local communities to assistance efforts and will help family members keep in touch.

We have been hard at work in this area for a number of weeks, looking for ways that we can get communications directly to people on the ground. And we know that a lot of the Pakistanis who are being displaced by the conflict have cell phones. So we're going to try to reach directly to them, not only to give them information that will be of assistance to them, but also to provide a way of connecting them up with other people, with the military, with the governing authorities.

Now, Americans can use technology to help, as well. Using your cell phones, Americans can text the word "swat" -- to the number 20222 and make a $5 contribution that will help the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees provide tents, clothing, food, and medicine to hundreds of thousands of affected people. And before I came over here, we did that in the State Department. So we are making some of the first donations to this fund.

President Obama and I hope that individuals who have fled the conflict will be able to return home quickly, safely, and on a voluntary basis. Some have already gone back to their communities. And as they do, the United States stands ready to help Pakistan's government support displaced persons as they rebuild their lives.

But as long as this crisis persists, our assistance will continue. We face a common threat, a common challenge, and now a common task. And we know that the work ahead is difficult, but we have seen an enormous amount of support and determination out of the Pakistani government, military, and people in the last weeks to tackle the extremist challenge. And we're confident that with respect to the humanitarian challenge the people of Pakistan and their government, as well as the international community, can come together and forge not only the assistance that is needed, but stronger bonds for the years ahead.

So I'd be happy to answer any of your questions.

Q: Madam Secretary, how much of this money goes directly to U.S.-run programs that are there where it's sort of the U.S. is in charge of how the money gets disseminated, and how much of it goes to the Pakistani government? And then can you also talk about President Clinton's role with Haiti?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with respect to the money, the money is going primarily to international assistance efforts that the United States is deeply involved in supporting and helping to coordinate. The top United Nations disaster experts are either on the ground or shortly will be on the ground. We also have a very good working relationship with the Pakistani military coming out of our earthquake experience with them. And we believe that the person who's been put in charge, who was in charge of the earthquake relief, is especially well suited for that.

So we're going to be providing a lot of in-kind contributions and we're going to be providing financial support to multilateral organizations and NGOs. And as I said, we're going to try to be creative in buying locally produced goods and labor, so that the people of Pakistan have a stake in solving this humanitarian crisis. So it's a multitude of approaches, Chuck, and we think that's the smartest way to go.

Q: But not much of it actually goes directly to the government?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No.

Q: It's just mostly -- okay.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, yes, that's right.

Well, with respect to Haiti, we're very pleased that the United Nations is taking such an affirmative role in trying to assist the people of Haiti. They have not yet recovered from the four hurricanes of last year. This is a high priority not only for the U.N., but also for the Obama administration. And we think that Ban Ki-moon has chosen a high-profile envoy to raise the visibility of the needs of the people of Haiti. And it's the kind of partnership that we're looking for across the board.

We had already begun putting a team together, led by my Chief of Staff and Counselor, Cheryl Mills, to harness the support of the United States government to assist Haiti. And this is going to be an added bit of leverage and focus for us that we can all work on together.

Q: Thank you, Madam Secretary. How much money do you expect to raise through these $5 increments from text messages? And can you really improve the situation in the Swat Valley at $5 increments? And secondly, what does the United States expect in return for this $100 million?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we can do a lot to improve the conditions of the displaced people coming out of the conflict areas. I'm hoping that we'll have a big response to the text messaging. Just think if a million people in the United States gave at least $5, that's $5 million. And that would be a significant contribution from ordinary citizens, just people who care about what's happening.

We're enlisting the Pakistani American communities. One of the results of our trilateral meetings has been a commitment to help assist Pakistani Americans to establish a 501(c)3 that will solicit contributions from the Diaspora, and then be able to provide that money for this kind of assistance.

So I think it's important on the financial front, but equally important is enlisting people-to-people diplomacy and assistance, which is something that we believe very strongly in. We don't want this just to be government to government. We want Americans weighing in to try to help, and we think this does that.

What we're looking for is what we're seeing, the kind of commitment from the Pakistani government and the military to go after the extremists who threaten the safety and security of Pakistanis and of the nation. And I've been encouraged by the very strong positions that have been taken across the political spectrum in support of the military actions. And that's why it's important that we step up now and help on the humanitarian front.

Q: What assurance do you have that our assistance will not go to expand their nuclear power and arsenal? And what brought it center stage? We've been helping Pakistan for years and years and years, poured a lot of money into it. Why now -- I mean, I don't say why now -- I know the challenge of extremists. But what is it that that has been broken down?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first I have to say how honored I was to share the podium and the stage with Helen Thomas last week at the NYU graduation ceremonies -- (laughter) -- where we were both given honorary degrees, and in Yankee Stadium, which was a pretty exciting experience.

You know, Helen, I think that it is fair to say that our policy toward Pakistan over the last 30 years has been incoherent. I don't know any other word to use. We came in in the '80s and helped to build up the Mujahideen to take on the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis were our partners in that. Their security service and their military were encouraged and funded by the United States to create the Mujahideen in order to go after the Soviet invasion and occupation.

The Soviet Union fell in 1989, and we basically said, thank you very much; we had all kinds of problems in terms of sanctions being imposed on the Pakistanis. Their democracy was not secure and was constantly at risk of and often being overtaken by the military, which stepped in when it appeared that democracy could not work.

And so I think that when we ask that question it is fair to apportion responsibility to the Pakistanis, but it's also fair to ask ourselves what have we done and how have we done it over all of these years, and what role do we play in the situation that the Pakistanis currently confront.

I believe that what President Obama is doing with our new approach toward Pakistan is qualitatively different than anything that has been tried before. It basically says we support the democratically elected government, but we have to have a relationship where we are very clear and transparent with one another; where we have the kind of honest exchanges that have come out of our trilateral meetings, where we're sitting across the table and we're saying, what do you intend to do about what we view as an extremist threat to your country, which by the way, also threatens us.

And so in the last week I think we've seen an answer, which is very encouraging. And, therefore, it is our responsibility to support the democratically elected government, to be a source of advice and counsel where requested, but also to step in with aid that can try to make this government as successful as possible in delivering results for the people of Pakistan. That's what we are engaged in.

Now, we're doing this because we believe that the future of Pakistan is extremely important to the security of the United States. If we did not believe that I wouldn't be standing here, the President would not be directing us.

Q: Why do you believe that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, because we think that the advance of extremism is a threat to our security; that al Qaeda and their extremist allies are intent upon attacking not only our friends and allies in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, but our homeland and American citizens and interests around the world. And as the President has said, our goal, coming out of our strategic review of Afghanistan and Pakistan, was to defeat and disrupt and dismantle the al Qaeda network.

We have seen al Qaeda driven out of Afghanistan to find refuge in the mountains of Pakistan. I don't think anyone doubts their continuing efforts to plot against us. They have not given up on their desire to inflict damage, harm and murder on the United States of America. That is how we in this administration view the threat coming from al Qaeda and their allies. 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're going to forge a partnership with the people of Pakistan and their democratically elected government against extremism -- and that's what we're pursuing.

Q: So what is the U.S. role, actually? Is it just transferring money, or is there also going to be a physical presence on the ground, and in particular, any boots on the ground in Pakistan to deliver this aid?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Chip, we're doing what the Pakistan has requested of us. Obviously our military will be delivering a lot of these supplies, but they'll be handing them off to the Pakistani military and to the relief groups, both international and non-governmental organizations. And we think that's the appropriate way to proceed.

We were very pleased that the government appointed General Nadeem Ahmad to head up these efforts, because he directed civilian relief efforts after the earthquake of 2005. He was extremely capable and produced positive results, and where necessary asked for help not only from the United States but from other international groups. And that's what we're expecting will happen this time.

Q: Do you have any idea what the numbers of military would be involved in this? And is there any danger that they could get caught in the crossfire here?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. We are not engaged in any military action whatsoever, and we are not engaged in the delivery of any civilian relief. We are there to facilitate the Pakistani military and the international and NGO relief agencies to be able to do that.

Q: Thank you. Madam Secretary, are you worried the Pakistanis might abandon the fight against the Taliban without this aid? And is the lack of this kind of aid, in your opinion, the reason that former President Musharraf did not prosecute the war against the Taliban as efficiently as the current government?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Wendell, I can't speculate on why former President Musharraf did what he did while he was in power. I just know that at the end of his time in office, the extremists had found safe havens in Pakistan and were stronger than they had been when he came into office, in terms of their willingness to make alliance with al Qaeda as part of what we view as a terrorist network -- a syndicate, if you will.

But what I do believe is that the current democratically elected government and the opposition has recognized the serious threat posed by the Taliban's advance out of their usual territory, moving closer and closer to Islamabad. And I am very encouraged by the comments that the Prime Minister has made, that opposition leaders like former Prime Minister Sharif has made. There is a real national mood change on the part of the Pakistani people that we are watching and obviously encouraged by. And I think it has to do with a recognition that this is no longer about a part of their country that seems quite distant from population centers, like Lahore or Islamabad or Karachi. That this is a potential direct threat to their way of life in Pakistan.

The beating of the young woman that was videotaped had an electric effect on people throughout Pakistan. I've talked to a number of Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans who said, "We were shocked by that." You know, sometimes it just takes a visual image or an act to break through your everyday concerns about the economy and politics as usual, and I think that's happened in Pakistan.

The humanitarian relief is the right thing to do, no matter what the politics. People are in need, they're having to leave their homes and their possessions. We hope that they'll be able to return home quickly if the military not only clears the Taliban from their communities but also holds that ground with a combination of military and policing forces.

But this is a tough battle and I don't think anybody should underestimate how difficult it is for the Pakistani military to wage this battle in very challenging terrain. I don't know how many of you have either flown over or visited that terrain, but this is hard. And that's why what the Pakistanis are doing now deserves our full support. They're doing it. And we're encouraging them to do it because we think it's in their interests, but we also believe it's in the interests of our long-term struggle against extremism and, in particular, the al Qaeda network.

MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all.

END 11:48 A.M. EDT

Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan", May 19, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86183.
 
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