U.S. Working to Support Afghan and Pakistani Cooperation

Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Conference Call
Washington, DC
March 27, 2009

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’ve had the President out speaking, we’ve had briefings at the White House, so let me just make a couple points very quickly and then we’ll do questions.

First of all, we consulted very widely, especially with Pakistani and Afghan leaders. And so I think they’re going to see a lot (inaudible) actually were their ideas, and we try to make sure that we listen carefully (inaudible). That’s an important part of what we announced today.

The second is a very strong commitment to taking a regional approach to working with persons foremost to empower the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Second, working to support their cooperation with each other, and them working to make sure everybody in the region was pushing in the same direction and supporting them.

The third is it’s a very comprehensive strategy. I think some of you speculated or have seen reports speculating that it might be a very minimalist strategy.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: It’s a very comprehensive strategy. It not only focuses on the military necessity and especially the training of local forces, but also recognizes we have to put the governments more broadly in a position to serve their people. There is a lot of effort put on the civilian side, on helping them provide economic opportunity and education, good governance for their people.

So that’s what it’s all about. I’d be glad to take questions.

QUESTION: I’m sorry to (inaudible). But is Washington still hoping that the Kyrgyz Government will let U.S. continue using the Manas air base? Because there have been some conflicting reports recently, some of them claiming that Kyrgyzstan and the United States have agreed to continue the talks over Manas.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, we’re quite aware of the decision they have made and that we’ve been officially notified of the decision that they want to see the base terminated. So that’s the way things are right now. Nothing’s changed with that. We are in touch with them. We’ll keep talking to them about the situation. We’ve appreciated the support they have given to the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan that helped us all. But if things changed, we’ll tell you.

QUESTION: Richard.


QUESTION: Richard, I know the President spoke about the regional approach and he spoke about – he included India too. But there has been some concern on India’s part, which (inaudible) was here, he kept on saying that “Please don’t give up on Afghanistan,” et cetera, meaning that he didn’t want a quick exit strategy by the U.S.

Could you speak a little bit to India’s role in this regional approach, how important, how indispensible it is? And also in terms of sort of India’s concerns that, you know, it may be sort of a much more – on a sort of military approach? Although I know that the President spoke a lot about development and things like that in sync with the military approach.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: All right. Well, I think there’s been a lot of speculation about where this review would end up. President Obama asked for a very thorough look at all aspects of the problem and at all the efforts that we had to make to resolve it. I think it’s time now to get beyond the speculation and actually read what he said and look at the – all the elements that he put into this. And one of the elements is certainly the regional interest.

We recognize India’s strong interest in stopping terrorism in the region. They have made an important contribution in Afghanistan. I think their total is up to about $1.2 billion. They have been very instrumental in key areas like training, civil service, and helping build Afghan institutions. I think we see a continuing role for India. We certainly see a strong interest in India. And let’s face it; the whole goal is to stop the terrorism that threatens everybody in the region, including India. And I think we all recognize that it’s going to require a sustained effort.

QUESTION: Ghilzai Amanullah from the Voice of America, Afghanistan service. Mr. Boucher, the Afghan Government was demanding for quite a while that the (inaudible) must be minimized in Afghanistan in the (inaudible). And at the same time, the government in Afghanistan was demanding that the house searches in Afghanistan should be coordinated with the Afghan Government. And is anything related to civilian killings and house searches is included in the new plan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think there are a couple of things that are important to look at in the new approach that’s laid out by the President. We have taken a number of steps recently that have been announced by General McKiernan to work much more closely with Afghan forces, and to make sure that our operations are done and to the very greatest possible extent to prevent and avoid civilian casualties. We recognize our goal is to protect the people of Afghanistan, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

It is very difficult, because you have an enemy who’s going out to kill people. I mean, they – their friends on the Pakistani side just blew up a mosque during prayers today. I mean, can you imagine how horrible that is? But in any case, you also saw the President talked about training Afghan forces so that Afghan forces can take over the lead in all the operations.

And second of all, he said that every American unit is going to be partnered with an Afghan unit, so that we’ll be operating much more together with the Afghans more and more in the lead. I think that will mean that all of us will be working very hard to avoid any civilian casualty, as well working very hard to make sure we go after the people who are a danger.

QUESTION: And what about the role of Iran? What ideal role can Iran play in bringing peace in Afghanistan? I mean working together with Americans.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think like all the regional players, we want to see people support the government and not try to divide the country. We want to see people that are contributing economically to opportunities for Afghans. And we want to help people deal with the problems that occur because of the problems of Afghanistan.

And I think with Iran, first and foremost, we think of the problems they have with narcotics coming out of Afghanistan. And we are willing to work with all the countries of the region. We will be looking to see how they approach things like the upcoming conference in The Netherlands, and we’ll see if there’s an opportunity there.

QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, this is Ashish Sen [Kumar] with Outlook magazine. President Obama reiterated his intention to reach out to members of the Taliban (inaudible). And what are you getting from – are there people coming forward who want to take part in this?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think there are two things to remember. Look very carefully at what he said today. President Obama has said there are people who might be fighting with the Taliban for money or for tribal reasons or because they’re against corruption. We have to make it possible for those people to come back to the government side. There are going to be some hard-core ideologues that we’re going to have to fight. But to the extent that there are people who are doing it for other reasons and not opposed to the government that we should allow them to assimilate back to the government side.

The second point to make about all these reconciliation issues are that our job is to support an Afghan effort and that Afghans will be in the lead.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I’m Zhao Yi [Xinhua] from China News Agency.


QUESTION: I would like to ask you a question. President Obama announced a comprehensive strategy about Afghanistan and Pakistan this morning. This strategy has been widely (inaudible) as a major U.S. shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. Do you agree this judgment? If you say yes, then why the coming additional U.S. deployment in Afghanistan is 21,000? In other words, 17,000 plus 4,000, not over 10,000 or more. So the – you say that –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Let me try to answer it simply. Our goal is not to move troops from one place to the other. Our goal is to make the effort necessary to help the Afghans and the Pakistanis solve their problems, to put them in a position where they can take care of their own countries. And so we look at the mission, we look at the needs, we look at what do we need. The President announced this morning was 17,000 troops that he’s already agreed to send, who are going out there to create space for the elections to open up space for the government. And second of all, the new announcement was 4,000 more trainers. Trainers because the goal is to build Afghan forces to where they can take the lead in their security.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, (inaudible) President Obama (inaudible) in Pakistan (inaudible) democracy over there?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think it’s very important to President Obama that we support the democratic government of Pakistan and that we support democracy. Having a democratic government in Pakistan, as well as one in Afghanistan, has opened up really a lot of new opportunities for the people of those countries, but also for cooperation between those countries. It is only with that cooperation that we think we can really master this problem. We’re going to do everything we can to support the democratic government of Pakistan and support democracy in Pakistan so that we’re not only fighting the problem, but we’re building the country on a democratic basis as well.

QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, is there a military component in the aid that the U.S. is going to give Pakistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I’m sure there will be a military component. We haven’t announced specific numbers yet, so I can’t give you any numbers for the new year. But yes, the President is very committed to supporting the Kerry-Lugar legislation which talks about a much higher level nonmilitary assistance, but also talks a little bit about military assistance as well. I think we’re going to have to keep working on both tracks.

QUESTION: And President Obama talked about not wanting to give a blank check to the Pakistanis. What is going to be expected? Are there going to be (inaudible) also? Is there going to be periodic reviews?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think there’ll be both. And in fact, this was one of the ideas that we discussed that came out of the trilateral discussions with the Pakistani delegation and the Afghan delegation when they were here. We all want to make sure that each of us is doing what is necessary. They have things they expect from us, we have things we expect from them, and they have things they expect from each other. We’re going to try to do this in a structured way so that we’re all making sure that with benchmarks, metrics, that we can evaluate very clearly to make sure everybody is doing their part. And of course, President Obama wants to make sure that we in the U.S. Government are carrying through on our commitment, so we’re going to measure ourselves as much as we measure anybody else.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I have another question. The U.S. officials have said that it is hard job to deal with Taliban (inaudible) militants when they hide on Afghanistan, Pakistan border area. Do you have concrete plan to solve the problem, or have you reached an official agreement with Pakistan to hunt for the Taliban militants inside Pakistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, there – we operate differently on either side of the border. In Afghanistan, we’re partners with the Aghans militarily. We and other coalition members working with Afghan forces are operating inside that country. On the Pakistani side, Pakistan has an established army with a history and capabilities. And I think our job is not to operate there. We understand they don’t want American forces inside Pakistan, and that’s something that we will respect. But at the same time, we want to make sure we’re supporting them properly.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, the role of the inspector general in Afghanistan, would it be like to oversee the expenditures by the Afghan Government and only to oversee the money spent on the U.S. sponsored project in Afghanistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Our inspectors general look at the way we spend our money and how we operate our programs.

QUESTION: And Ambassador Boucher, (inaudible) your point you made about transforming Pakistan. Predator strikes – is that something that is likely to continue? And what do the Pakistanis have to say about it during the course of your review?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: That wouldn’t be something I’d talk about, and that’s not on the agenda today.

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Ambassador, how much help is the U.S. expecting or hoping to get from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think each of them has a different point of view. I guess the simplest answer is to say, whatever they can do that’s useful. We do want to coordinate with all the neighbors. We want to coordinate with regional governments like the Russians. Everybody is concerned about the problems of drugs and terrorism that might be coming out of Afghanistan and headed their way, so we want to work against those problems together. But we also want to work for the opportunities. There are opportunities for these countries, particularly the neighbors – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan – for trade for, you know, for getting the energy and ideas and people and goods to and from South Asia and the Arabian Gulf. We recognize their interest and want work directly with them.

QUESTION: Now, are you asking for something for an air base in Uzebkistan again, going back?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: (Laughter.) No, we’re not. We’re looking for what people can do to help the effort.

QUESTION: Richard, nobody has really jumped on board in terms of contributing troops to this new policy that President Obama has announced. Will you all be looking for --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Are you measuring this after two hours? Is that it?

QUESTION: But – no, no, no. But –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Is that the timetable for measuring whether this is getting anything out of it?

QUESTION: No, but what I mean is it has – this is something that he has spoken about. This is something that, you know, even – well, maybe a few days earlier, 60 Minutes interview and everything else. But what I’m saying is you spoke about the fact that countries like India have (inaudible) with infrastructure, with development, et cetera, but would you all entertain a country like India also which can contribute troops, for instance?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, first of all, give me more than a few days to start measuring other countries’ contributions. Second of all, the President’s made sure we’re going to do what we think is necessary, and we want other countries to do what they think is necessary as well.


AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: There have been quite a series of countries actually who’ve announced that they’re adding more troops, thickening their effort. And more important than that, the big headline here would be more on the civilian side rather than the troop side -- they’re going to do what’s necessary to help the Afghan and Pakistani governments serve their people.

India is, I think, a special case. There are regional issues involved. And India has said they’re not trying to do anything militarily or put boots on the ground, and I think we all respect and appreciate that.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I have a question. President Obama has suggested to have Iran – to have a U.S. and Iran talks, to have a dialogue between the two countries. I wonder at what level will this dialogue be held, in mid level or low level or senior level.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I wouldn’t speculate at this point. We’ll just have to see they’re interested in having a constructive role, in having a constructive dialogue, then we’ll decide at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: So you do not have schedule for the talk yet, right?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: There’s nothing scheduled.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, the NWFP of Pakistan and in Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan, most people have voted secular parties. And in NWFP, the government is run by secular parties, like ANP and Pakistan People’s Party. Are you in touch – are the Americans in touch with them as well that they can play an effective role as well as like more true representatives of the people of the region?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’ve met with all the major political groups in Pakistan. We will continue to do that. It’s a democratic country. We want to keep in touch with everybody who’s committed firmly to a democratic course, and we certainly do meet with the provincial governments in those places. I’ve met them. Ambassador Holbrooke has met them. We’ll continue to work with people who are elected and people who are participating in democratic politics.

QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, in the wake of the recent protests in Pakistan, are you confident that the present government, the Zardari government, is strong enough to deal with the issue of terrorism in Pakistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, we deal with the elected government. We also encourage all the parties that on very basic issues, like defending the democratic state, defending the modern state from people who would try to kill Pakistanis and end democratic government there, that on issues as fundamental as that, that all the democratic parties ought to be able to join together. Obviously, there’s always going to be politics. There have to be in a democracy. But on some of the fundamental issues, I think people need to stand up for the democratic state.

QUESTION: Richard, while I’ve got you on the phone, can I throw in a quick question on Sri Lanka, please?


QUESTION: What’s the latest update in terms of the Sri Lanka situation, Richard, in terms of the civilians who are caught up in sort of a no-man’s land and some say are being held hostage by the LTTE, while the Sri Lankan Government offers the same zones which some say are not safe at all? And I know that Secretary of State Clinton had a very tough message for the Sri Lankan president a few – a couple of weeks back. But the Sri Lankans put a spin on it and spoke about the fact that she had spoken about the fact and praised them for fighting terrorism. What’s the latest on that situation?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, the latest is, first that we follow it very, very closely because we’re very seriously concerned about the people who are trapped in the fighting and the people who are stuck in the safe zone. We’ve tried to work very hard with the government and the international NGOs to make sure that the food and the medicine is getting in to people there. We think we’ve seen some progress there. But we’re also very concerned that the Tamil Tigers have not permitted people to leave and indeed are putting people in harm’s way. We’ve tried to make very clear they have to stop that.

We’ve also made clear that the government should not be shelling into the zone and that is something that we’ve repeated several times, and we will continue to press that point until we’re absolutely sure there’s no more shelling into the zone. Finally, we need to make sure there’s access for the international nongovernmental organizations and for others who are going to be able to help these people.

A lot of concern. We had a meeting at the UN yesterday with other countries. We know other countries share this concern. Now we need to see real action, real action very quickly, by the Tamil Tigers to let people go, and by the government to make sure people are safe in the zone.

QUESTION: And, Richard, I know that at one point you thought of an evacuation but you all have shelved that, because as long as there’s no ceasefire and no hostilities, that’s probably not tenable. But is there something that still’s being considered, sort of a tsunami-type of thing between India and the U.S. in terms of an evacuation?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think it’s hard to do an evacuation of civilians under fire, and so we need the parties to stop their fighting. We made very, very clear the Tamil Tigers should stop fighting and allow these people to leave, and so that’s what we’re pressing on very hard.

QUESTION: Thanks, Richard.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I have a question. (Inaudible) a director from the U.S. State Department visited Burma a few days ago and met Burmese foreign –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes, I’m sorry. I don’t handle Burma and there are conference calls all about Burma.


QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, what role do you see the Obama Administration playing in relations between India and Pakistan? President Obama talked about that today. And do you believe that a constructive role can be played (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think what role we want to play is first we want to have good relations with India, good relations with Pakistan. We want to do everything we can with each of these countries to develop solid relations that benefit the people of both places.

Second of all, we want to make sure that we’re fighting terrorism together in the region, that each country is doing whatever they can, and that we’re supporting all their efforts, whether it’s working with the Indians on protecting India, or working with the Afghans and the Pakistanis on ending the terrorist threat that comes out of their territory.

And the third thing is we’ve always been very supportive of efforts that they themselves have made with each other and see if India and Pakistan together can’t get back to really working to reduce tensions and to create a better situation between the two. As they move forward, we will support them.

QUESTION: And does this include brokering the subject of Kashmir (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: They’ve not asked us to broker Kashmir, and we’ve not suggested it.


MODERATOR: Okay, that’s it.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Thank you very much. It was good to talk to you all.

QUESTION: Thank you.