The EU will increase its aid to Pakistan to 50 million euros ($63 million) over the next three years, the bloc's external affairs commissioner said Monday, Dec. 8 as Pakistan kept up its renewed crackdown on terrorists.
The EU hopes that the increase in aid will help Pakistan quell its extremist problem
The money is to be directed at boosting EU programs in the field of education, trade and farming in Pakistan's north-west, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan.
"The border area is very important," Ferrero-Waldner said, noting that educational programs were particularly important in a destitute part of the country that is also a breeding-ground for terrorists.
The EU has already supported Pakistan to the tune of about 500 million euros since 1976, and the commissioner conceded Monday that fighting corruption and guaranteeing security would be needed to ensure that any fresh money is well spent.
Strengthening Pakistan's democratic institutions and helping it crack down on terrorism "is also in India's interest", she said.
The commissioner also praised Pakistan's raid on a suspected militant camp, which has led to the arrest of the alleged planner of the November 26 Mumbai terrorist attacks, describing Pakistan's move as "courageous".
Her comments came as EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss ways of enhancing the bloc's ties with Pakistan following the end of emergency rule by ex-president Pervez Musharraf and its slow return to full democracy.
Ministers were also expected to call for closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, both within Pakistan and over its borders in Afghanistan and India.
Aid pledge comes after insurgent attacks on US vehicles
The discussions in Brussels were taking place amid reports that Pakistani insurgents had torched more than 50 trucks carrying supplies for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The pre-dawn attack took place on the periphery of Peshawar city, where hundreds of militants on Sunday raided two parking bays for NATO-bound lorries and set ablaze around 150 vehicles and cargo containers, some loaded with armored Humvees for the US military.
In Monday's attack, an unknown number of attackers forced their way into a truck terminal and set rows of flatbed trailers on fire, gutting the supplies loaded on them, Peshawar police officer Anwar Zeb said.
Zeb said there were no reports of any casualties in the incident, the third of its kind in the area in a week.
Attacks on trucks hauling cargo for the western forces have recently seen a surge in Peshawar, where the vehicles are parked at night before moving on to the Khyber Pass to cross into landlocked Afghanistan.
The mountain pass in the militant-infested tribal region is part of a major supply line for the international troops, who receive three-fourths of their food, fuel and military supplies through Pakistan.
Pakistan's battle against extremists has become a major concern, given their use of its territory to fight NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, and the EU's anti-terror coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is set to travel there in January.
EU looking to deepend relations with Pakistan
Ferrero-Waldner said a free-trade deal will be discussed in 2009
Pakistan is also pushing for a free-trade agreement with the EU. But Ferrero-Waldner suggested Monday that no decision would be taken by EU governments until early next year.
Meanwhile, the EU is about to send a ministerial-level group of diplomats to Islamabad with the aim of boosting political dialogue, officials said prior to Monday's meeting.
EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, were also expected to commit themselves "to intensify political dialogue and deepen relations with Pakistan," according to a draft statement prepared for the talks.
"The EU will jointly explore with the government of Pakistan how to intensify dialogue in the areas of trade and development, intercultural exchange, non-proliferation, human rights, migration, counter-terrorism and radicalization and education," added the text.
Acknowledging the "complex and urgent challenges Pakistan is facing", the ministers will look to develop political dialogue through a visit soon to Pakistan by a delegation including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The possibility of "consultations taking place at the highest level" will also be considered.
Islamabad's reaction leads to Mumbai suspect arrest
Meanwhile, Pakistan arrested a senior leader of the group widely suspected of being behind the Mumbai attacks, responding to intense US pressure to crack down on militants, an official said Monday.
The Mumbai terrorists have been linked to Pakistan
Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi -- who according to Indian media reports was named by the lone surviving gunman as a key planner of the attacks -- was detained with 14 other people during a raid on a camp in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The arrests late on Sunday came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there was evidence that Pakistan had been used by "non-state actors" to mount the deadly assaults on India's financial capital.
The 15 men arrested in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir were at a camp run by a charity closely linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba -- the group at the centre of investigations into the Mumbai siege, an intelligence official said.
"Security forces raided a relief camp set up by Jamaat-ud-Dawa," he said.
The raid was to gather information "in the wake of allegations by India that LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) was using Pakistani territory for training," he added.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa is run by Hafiz Saeed, who founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1989. He reportedly abandoned LeT when it was outlawed in Pakistan after India alleged it was behind a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi.
Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Pious") was established to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to both Pakistani intelligence services and al Qaeda.