ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's allies promised $224 million in aid for about 1.5 million people displaced by an offensive against the Taliban after the government warned that the militants could exploit a failure to help.
The military launched an offensive this month in the picturesque Swat Valley and neighboring districts to stop the spread of a Taliban insurgency that had raised fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan's future.
The United Nations has warned of a long-term humanitarian crisis and called for massive aid for the displaced, who have joined about 555,000 people forced from their homes by earlier fighting in the northwest.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told the donors' conference in Islamabad that Pakistan was issuing an urgent call for help from all those who are committed to fighting terrorism.
Aid for the displaced would help win the battle against the Taliban, he said.
It would also help in ensuring that the militants don't exploit the vulnerability of the displaced population ... We have to win the hearts and minds of the people, he said.
Minister of State for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar later told reporters donors had promised $224 million, including $110 million the United States promised on Tuesday.
That sum would go toward a flash appeal that the United Nations will launch on Friday in a bid to raise up to $600 million, she said.
Khar noted the latest call for aid comes amid the global financial crisis and a degree of donor fatigue just weeks after donors promised Pakistan more than $5 billion.
By and large, we are very satisfied with the donors' response, Khar said.
The Obama administration is confident that Pakistan will not use a planned sharp increase in U.S. aid to strengthen its nuclear arsenal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
The New York Times this week reported U.S. lawmakers were told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear capability while fighting a Taliban insurgency, stoking fears in Congress about diversion of U.S. funds.
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday approved tripling U.S. economic aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for each of the next five years, including money for Pakistani schools, the judicial system, parliament and law enforcement agencies.
The United States, which sees Pakistan as vital to its plan to defeat al Qaeda and bring stability in Afghanistan, has applauded Pakistani resolve to fight what some U.S. leaders have called an existential threat to the country.
Politicians and members of the public broadly back the offensive, but support will quickly evaporate if many civilians are killed or if the displaced languish in misery.
About 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants in Swat, the military says.
Pakistan says more than 1,000 militants and more than 50 soldiers have been killed in the fighting.
The estimate of militant casualties has not been independently confirmed. Reporters have left Swat and communications with remaining residents there have been disrupted.
BATTLING IN TOWNS
After clearing many Taliban strongholds and supply depots in Swat's mountains, soldiers have begun battling militants in towns where many thousands of civilians are believed to be hiding.
Soldiers were battling militants on Thursday at a Taliban stronghold in a remote side valley off the main Swat valley, and in some Swat towns as well, the military said.
Five soldiers and an unspecified number of militants were killed, it said.
President Asif Ali Zardari has said Swat was just the beginning and the army would next move against militants in the Waziristan region on the Afghan border.