Islamabad – Visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop Wednesday announced a $19 million aid package for Pakistan that includes help for border areas hit by conflict and natural disasters.
Bishop made the pledge during a two-day visit to Islamabad, where she is holding talks with her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz on efforts to counter militancy, the future of Afghanistan and the reported rise of the Islamic State group in the region.
The aid package includes $8 million to help restore infrastructure damaged by floods and conflict in the restive northwest and southwest, and around $8 million to support a trade initiative in partnership with the World Bank.
It has not yet been announced where the remaining assistance will be spent.
Bishop added the two countries “have common interests in countering transnational crimes including drug- and human-smuggling”.
Thousands of ethnic Hazara Shiites have in recent years fled the southwestern province of Baluchistan bound for Australia, which in 2013 introduced a military-led operation to turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers before they reach the continent.
Bishop said she would also encourage Australian tourism to Pakistan, which has been battling a homegrown Islamist insurgency for over a decade.
“People-to-people links are important and of course we want to see Pakistan as a safe and secure environment so that you can engage international visitors,” she said.
Regarding the Islamic State organisation, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, Bishop said: “We believe that there are around 100 foreign terrorists from Australia currently in Iraq and Syria supporting this… barbaric and terrorist organisation.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said an April suicide attack that killed 34 people was committed by the group, but NATO officials later expressed doubts over the claims.