The many sides of the Af-Pak border (photo: Uzra Shamal)
In an interview with Afghanistan Today, departing US ambassador Richard Olson discussed the evolution of US-Pakistani relations, the rising threat of ISIS, girls education and more. Richard Olson presented credentials as U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to President Asif Ali Zardari at the Governor’s House in Karachi on October 31, 2012.
Olson, on a visit to Peshawar to meet with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor and the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, emphasized that "there are less anti-Americanism feelings in Pakistan and we are more focused on productive aspects of the bilateral relationship." Cooperation on anti-terrorism, says Olson, will be key in the future of both countries. "Since October 2009, the United States has provided over $1.58 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to the region," said Olson, emphasizing that the US remains financially committed to supporting this process and contributing to the stabilisation of the region.
Bridging the divide with roads and development
Olson highlighted that US funded infrastructure programs have helped the KP and FATA governments build bridges and roads. He said that new dams and irrigation systems now provide water year-round to around one million acres of farm land, directly benefiting more than 250,000 people. Since 2009, the US has helped build and reconstruct over 650 kilometers of roads in KP and FATA and has provided $70 million to reconstruct the 46 kilometre Peshawar to Torkham road in KP which continues to serve as a vital trade transit route. He said the United States is also helping to construct the Peshawar Southern Ring Road. The Ambassador said that US funded roads lead to three of the four major border crossing points on Pakistan’s western border, including Torkham, Ghulam Khan and Angoor Ada.
Olson added that a dozen bridges damaged in 2010 floods have been rehabilitated. About improving flood control and irrigation system in KP and FATA, Olson shard that $437 million of total assistance has been provided for humanitarian purposes to help KP and FATA recover from conflict and flood. He said that US funded reconstruction of the Munda and Amandra Headworks has revived agricultural land; the Batkhela Valley and the Swabi plains are irrigated by these projects. The Gomal Zam dam and the Kurram Tangi dams, both built with US funding, also provide flood control and year round irrigation to more than 500,000 acres of cultivable farmland in KP. Olson further informed that more than 2200 families have benefited from micro-grants and training to female entrepreneurs. He added that other training in basic business skills and product improvement has been provided to more than 34,000 entrepreneurs, 75 percent of whom have been women.
"The era of proxy war in South Asia should come to an end," said Olson in response to accusations of Pakistan interefering in Afghan sovereignty. "Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have improved since President Ashraf Ghani came to power," he added. Olson emphasized that despite the growing insurgency in Afghanistan, strides have been made in the right direction, for example in girls education. "It is important to support capacity of the institutions in Pakistan and Afghanistan to counter such threats and in the troubled context of this region, it was important to be vigilant against ISIS." Olson emphasized, however, that the capacity of terrorist organisation in the region has been dramatically reduced in the last 14 years. Olson cited Afghan forces' recent successful resistance to an attack on the Afghan Parliament earlier this year as a sign that Afghan forces are prepared to handle domestic security in Afghanistan. "Since 2013, Afghan forces have been fighting alone and have performed quite admirably in very difficult circumstances," Olson told Afghanistan Today.
Olson also pledged that the US would support scholarships for 10-12 surviving students from the army Public School Attack in Peshawar that killed more than 150 students and teachers on December 16, 2014.