On-the-Record Briefing to the Press

Richard Holbrooke
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 24, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have that much time, so we’ll forego all introductions. You know who the speaker is, but with – there’s been a lot of focus on Afghanistan this week, but we thought today, it might be appropriate to kind of help you understand what’s happening on the other side of the equation in Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’ve got ten minutes because I’m already late to a press meeting with – in Urdu – with Foreign Minister Qureshi, and my Urdu is – I need to practice a little. So why don’t you just go ahead with your questions. And I really am going to leave in ten minutes.

QUESTION: Any response to Kerry-Lugar, which now looks like it’s got --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It passed the Senate.

QUESTION: Yeah, which is --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The President announced it while we were in the room. I received a note. The President – it was handed to the President. The President announced that it was the only spontaneous applause of the meeting, and we’ve just been on the phone with the House side. They won’t get to it for another few days, but it’s a big step forward. And it was done on a bipartisan basis by the Senate, and specifically timed to this meeting.

And I would like to single out, on the Republican side, Senator Kyl and Senator Graham for their very intense efforts over the last 24 hours which kept us up pretty late last night and started us again this morning, and on the Democratic side, the entire leadership – Senator Reid, Senator Kerry. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Senator Kerry yet. And my deputy is outside talking to Chairman Berman right now.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of the wider context of why it’s so important?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The bill is important or the timing?

QUESTION: Two things, (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The bill is a five-year authorization, which, as you all know, is very unusual in the modern world, and represents the Senate making a multiyear commitment to the security of Pakistan, 1.5 billion a year. And we all know the difference between an appropriation and an authorization, and there’s a lot of work left to be done.

But as an indicate – and this bill, in various forms, has been kicking around the Hill for a long time. It was originally called Biden-Lugar-Obama. And Senator – then-Senator Obama used to joke that the third man – his name on a bill never gets mentioned. And so we – this is a very important step forward, but it’s only a step. We’ve got a lot more work to do.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of the meeting that was just held, the --


QUESTION: -- Pakistanis in particular, if they are concerned at all about the debate that’s going on here, about maybe not increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, but increasing (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The subject of the troop levels in Afghanistan simply didn’t come up in the meeting we were just in. I spent a lot of time already with President Zardari. Secretary Clinton and I will see him again this afternoon. I think there are many other issues here in New York, but certainly Pakistan is getting as much attention as any other nation here, and deservedly so. There’s a growing realization around the world that Pakistan is critically important in its own right, and it’s also important in terms of the entire region, especially Afghanistan.

And if you look back to the beginning of this year, on an official government-to-government level, we think we’ve come a long way, and I think that the Government of Pakistan would agree with that. In March, we weathered a major – “we” – I should be more specific. In March, Pakistan weather a major political confrontation between the two leading political figures. Now they are working more closely together. There’s a coalition government in the Punjab. The chief justice is back.

Then there was the Swat affair, which you all know about. The army rallied and pushed them out of most of Swat. There was a huge refugee flow, 2.5 million people. Ninety percent of the Swat refugees have gone home, a lesser number in Bajaur, and Mohmand district agencies, but still, over 70 percent. And the army has – now has the backing of the Pakistani people.

There seems to be a growing recognition that the Taliban and other miscreants, to use the Pakistanis’ own word for this, are a threat to the entire country and are alien to the spirit of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the founders of Pakistan. And so we feel – and as Secretary Clinton gets ready for her trip to Pakistan, we are shifting our focus towards helping Pakistan with the energy crisis, which is, of course, at the top of the minds of most Pakistanis. And we are – I already did – spoke about this when I was in Pakistan, and Secretary Clinton will speak a lot more about it on her trip, the exact dates of which, by the way, are not yet finalized. And P.J. will let you know when they are.

So we think we’ve come quite a way, but we recognize that Pakistani public opinion on the United States is still surprisingly low given the tremendous effort the United States is making to lead in the international coalition in support of Pakistan. We recognize that.

And we want to convey through this meeting today, in which President Zardari sat between the prime minster of Great Britain and the President of the United States, flanked by many of the world’s greatest leaders – Sarkozy, Berlusconi, the secretary general, president of the World Bank, Turkey, Japan, the European Union – and we wanted to show clearly that we were – that the United States and Pakistan’s other friends are all working together for Pakistan. It’s a long way from this meeting to realities on the ground, but this is the first summit meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, and we’re very proud that it was co-hosted by our President on American soil.

QUESTION: Can you address the reports in The New York Times that there’s – that the Taliban is launching increasingly sophisticated attacks from bases in Pakistan further and further into Afghanistan?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m just here to talk about Pakistan today, and I’m going – and I’m going to leave in a minute, so --

QUESTION: But surely this has got to be one of your most significant issues in Pakistan, which is to say the use of its territory –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: We’ve talked about that many, many times. You know it’s of great concern to us. But I’m trying to focus on this. And in fact --

QUESTION: Just one more --

QUESTION: You have three minutes, three minutes. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you, you’re quite welcome. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The meeting notwithstanding, the friends meeting and the summit notwithstanding, with all the debate going on about Afghanistan, do you think that the international community sees Pakistan as of equal importance, or do you think that the debate on Afghanistan is kind of getting fatigued with this area in Pakistan –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I can’t speak for the international community. I can only speak for the United States and for this Administration. And for this Administration, Pakistan is, of course, of equal importance. But I want to be more specific. Pakistan and Afghanistan are interconnected in a way where progress in one requires progress in the other. And at the same time, Pakistan – I really want to stress this because you always get – the quote always gets chopped up. At the same time, Pakistan is a huge and important country in its own right with many other issues – the world’s second largest Muslim nation, Karachi the world’s largest Muslim city, less – four to eight hours of electricity a day. These are serious problems, and they contribute to instability.

And so do we take Pakistan seriously? You bet. Do we take Pakistan as seriously as Afghanistan? Of course. That was the whole point of our policy review in March. It was laid out clearly. And finally, is Pakistan – if Afghanistan were not a problem, if there was complete peace and harmony in Afghanistan, we would still be focusing heavily on helping Pakistan and its people.

QUESTION: But you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Last question, Charlie. Last question, and then I’m going.

QUESTION: Before you go, I want to give you a chance to, if you want, talk about counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency strategy.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I can’t talk today, Charlie. Sorry. It’s another story.

A last question then. Some other time.

QUESTION: Janine with Bloomberg. I just – could you get a little bit clearer about what you’re looking for from President Zardari at the meeting today when you have the bilat?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No. It’s a private meeting which is the continuation of our discussions, plus some focus on the Secretary’s own trip. I’m sorry to be so short. In fact, if it weren’t for P.J., I wouldn't have come up at all. But we all learn that you do what P.J. says. See you guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.


PRN: 2009/T12-16