NEW YORK - A British writer has strongly urged the United States to provide, on an urgent basis, economic aid to the financially strapped Pakistan in a bid to strengthen the country against extremism. "Limited American financial help can tide Pakistan over its immediate crisis, said Anatol Lieven, a professor at King's College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington in a newspaper article on Sunday. "At the same time, the United States should urgently craft longer-term aid programmes intended to strengthen resistance to the spread of insurgency," he wrote in The International Herald Tribune. In this regard, he cited the "excellent" long-term plan drawn up by the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, aimed at tripling the economic aid to Pakistan over the next five years. "The problem is, however, that Pakistan may not be able to wait that long. By the time a new administration has begun to work out its plans, it will be next spring," Lieven said, citing a leading Pakistani newspaper who said in last Monday, "if the government here can't do something serious to help the population economically within six months, it will be finished." "He (the editor) and others have warned that mass anger at rising food prices and lengthening electricity cuts could combine with hostility to the government's campaign against the insurgents and to Pakistan's alliance with America, he said in his article while making a strong case for aid to Pakistan. "Sporadic violent protests against power cuts have already occurred in several cities. The resulting instability could wreck any hope of Pakistan continuing its tough campaign against the insurgents." Lieven said: "Pakistan's new president, Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party, is already hated by much of the population, in part because he is seen as too pro-American. His government's prestige is being damaged still further by intensifying American raids into Pakistan's tribal areas." "The main opposition party, the Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will undoubtedly try to exploit all this as much as it possibly can. Sharif's popularity has soared in recent months, partly due to his opposition to Pakistani help to the Americans in Afghanistan and criticism of the Pakistan Army's campaign against the insurgents. "This does not mean that the United States should treat Sharif as an enemy. If he comes to power, he will probably follow a course of pragmatic cooperation with Washington. Nonetheless, initially at least, his return to power would be a blow to US-Pakistani cooperation. "The Pakistani population is suffering acutely from the twin effects of the surge in the international price of oil, almost all of which Pakistan has to import, and the surge in international food prices. The latter should at least have benefited farmers - but their gains have been largely wiped out by the increased cost of fuel for their tractors, transport and water pumps. "Electricity cuts, meanwhile, have reached 16 hours a day in some areas, including the North West Frontier Province, where the insurgency is gathering strength. The cuts stem from a number of long-term factors, including poor management and inadequate new investment in power generation. The most immediate problem, however, is that the state cannot pay some $1.4 billion in debts to the power companies, which in turn do not have the money to import necessary fuel. "The United States should make these funds available to Pakistan immediately for this specific purpose. Secondly, America should give emergency aid to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Pakistani military offensives in Bajaur in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Swat in the North-West Frontier Province. This should be treated with the same urgency that the United States approaches natural disasters like the Pakistani earthquake four years ago. "America should also use its influence with the IMF to procure its assistance to Pakistan. It is essential, however, that this should not be made conditional on cuts in subsidies and social programs that will further hurt Pakistan's poor; such cuts would undermine the Pakistani government still further. "These should be focused on the North West Frontier Province. The planned $750 million for the tribal areas is a good idea in itself, but given the security situation and lack of basic infrastructure in these areas, it will be many years before this money can be spent effectively. Meanwhile, the NWFP itself is in grave danger from the militants. "Unlike the tribal areas, the province does have a basic industrial infrastructure. American help should be devoted to building that infrastructure, above all in the areas of hydro-electric plants and communications. The province also badly needs hard cash to combat the militants directly. At present, for example, the NWF P's demoralized policemen earn only two thirds of the salary of their comrades in Punjab - and half what the Taliban pays its fighters. "The sums involved are miniscule compared to those spent by the United States on the war in Afghanistan - and Pakistani help is essential if the US is to have any chance of winning that war. Reliance on purely military means will be the surest way for the America to lose it."