UAE, US and UK promise to back Zardari

The UAE joined the United States and Britain in a coalition pledged to assist Pakistan's new democratic government.

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UNITED NATIONS // Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, won an international show of support as the UAE joined the United States and Britain in a coalition pledged to assist the country's new democratic government. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, joined statesmen at the inaugural Friends of Pakistan Group meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The global coalition of the UAE, the United States, Britain, eight other countries, the European Union and the UN is designed to help Pakistan reverse economic decline and fight terrorism following Mr Zardari's election. "We fully back Pakistan. The UAE has been a very close ally, friend of Pakistan. But we want to further our relationship with Pakistan," Sheikh Abdullah told reporters in New York after Friday's meeting.

"We want to show our Pakistani friends and brothers our commitment towards them. So I really thank our friends from the US and the UK in joining us today with the president and helping Pakistan in its new future." Mr Zardari, widower of the assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was elected president earlier this month, replacing Pervez Musharraf. The group pledged to address Pakistan's energy shortfall, help build its democratic institutions and promote stability and development, particularly in the tribal border areas that have been a haven for militants, the US state department said in a statement.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said Washington would work with Islamabad, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to support Pakistan as it struggles with a surge in its current account deficit, a slide in the rupee and a sharp drop in foreign currency reserves. "We know that Pakistan has many challenges in security, in the economy and in bringing stability to this young democracy," Ms Rice said.

"The international community will be by their side as they make difficult decisions and move toward a more stable and prosperous Pakistan." A new complication in cross-border tensions emerged on Thursday when US and Pakistani ground forces exchanged fire across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. US and Pakistani officials clashed over whether American helicopters had entered Pakistan. That incident followed a US campaign of attacks on militant targets inside Pakistan, including a commando raid on a village compound in South Waziristan on Sept 3.

Ms Rice played down the dispute, saying Washington would help meet Mr Zardari's appeals for international support for Pakistan's strategy to deliver economic development and alleviate food and energy shortfalls. "We discussed all the weaknesses" as well as the South Asian nation's strengths, Mr Zardari said. "We are going to do something for our country, and we are all together." The group, expressed "outrage" at acts of terrorism against Pakistan, such the Sept 20 attack that destroyed the Islamabad Marriott hotel, killing 53 people and injuring more than 260.

"I think this Friends of Pakistan meeting today has been a very strong signal of political support and a means of practical support for the democratically elected government of Pakistan," said David Miliband, the British foreign secretary. Mr Zardari said the group, which also includes Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Turkey, had agreed to meet in Abu Dhabi next month. "It just proves that all the world cares," said Mr Zardari.

"The people of Pakistan can rest assured the democracy does work, and it is working. It is the success and the victory of a democratic Pakistan."