US offers Rs1 billion for arson-hit traders

KARACHI: US ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson on Wednesday announced a support grant of Rs1 billion ($12 million) through an American Business Council (ABC) initiative to help the traders who were hit by the violence that erupted following the bomb blast at the Ashura procession on Dec 28.

At a press conference at the ABC secretariat, she expressed her grief over the Ashura tragedy in Karachi and urged the people of Pakistan to cleanse their society of the Taliban who, she said, were bent upon destroying their lives and livelihood and threatening the nascent democracy in the country.

She said that the Taliban wanted to destroy Pakistan and would exploit any fissure in society to attain their goals. Ms Patterson said that the business leaders of Pakistan could not remain on the sidelines and they must play a constructive role to strengthen the country.

“In this new democratic framework, Pakistan’s business leaders need to roll up their sleeves and pitch in,” she added.

She said the Boulton Market losses went beyond damage to property and businesses and targeted peace and harmony in Karachi. She told the media that her office was approached after the tragedy by ABC executives seeking capital support for an initiative to assist in rebuilding of Boulton Market by affected traders.

“The US government response was prompt and it agreed to chip in Rs1 billion initially for the said initiative,” she said.

She said the violence and destruction that occurred after the attack on the Ashura procession multiplied the tragedy many times as the businesses, livelihoods and savings of so many people were destroyed.

Responding to a question regarding a method of the aid disbursement to affected traders and families, Arif Usmani, who heads the ABC, said that the council’s executive committee was yet to finalise a programme.

“We are actively considering multiple options such as providing a guarantee cover to local commercial banks to extend speedy loans to the people of the area for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of their businesses.”

He observed that some of these small businesses would face difficulty in obtaining the credit they required to start anew. “We may provide insurance cover to lenders to arrange for easy accessibility of loans,” he said.

OICCI to bolster FDI

Earlier in the day, the US ambassador visited the Overseas Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) and urged the influential business community to join hands with the governments of Pakistan and the United States to help meet Pakistan’s long-delayed hopes for a stable democratic government and economic development.
She said she wanted her staff also worked with the council for an assessment of the damage to help facilitate a speedy mobilisation of US funds and other support to the victims of the tragedy.

Ms Patterson discussed the previous year and outlined the agenda for 2010 during her visit, according to an OICCI press release.

US Consul-General in Karachi Stephen Fakan and Economic Officer at the consulate Mary Elizabeth Madden were among the others present.

The ambassador appreciated the overall investment climate in Pakistan despite the current law and order situation, and said that the US government was keen to work with the country towards making it an investment-friendly destination.

“Recognising our shared interests and concerns, our two governments have proclaimed a desire at the very highest levels to build a balanced, deep and broad partnership. The decisions and actions we take this year will have long lasting implications for the future of this partnership; we need help from you — the business community — and everyone else in Pakistan if we are to succeed,” she added.

OICCI President Farrukh H. Khan expressed willingness to play a significant role in increasing investment and achieve economic growth despite the challenging times.

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