Briefing by Special Representative Holbrooke on his Recent Trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, Georgia and Germany
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
I think he’ll be happy to entertain questions on the situation in Marja and also how other governments in the region see the issues unfolding and how they’re – we’re working together very closely with them. And then we’ll follow up on other subjects.
Richard, thank you.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you very much for coming. This is the pattern that P.J. and I are trying to evolve, that after every major trip I come down here and we just talk, so I want to talk about this trip which was my fifth trip this year and my second to the Gulf, second to South Asia, but my first, since taking this job, to Central Asia. And this is part of an accelerating intensification of our diplomatic outreach efforts.
In the last six months, we’ve had delegations in Beijing, in Russia, in Turkey, in all – almost every country in the Gulf and, of course, in Europe, in China and now for the first time, we’ve reached into Central Asia. I was in four of the five “stans,” in order – if I can remember them, we’ve moved so fast – Uzbekistan, first; then Kyrgyzstan; then Tajikistan; and then Kazakhstan. We had also planned to go to Turkmenistan, but through a logistical communications failure, we did not get the final clearance to land in Ashkabad until we were on the runway taking off for Estonia, so we were locked in. And that’s a minor story, but that’s the only reason we weren’t in Ashkhabad.
Now the purpose of this, as we alluded to last time I was down here, was to visit all the countries in the region, all the neighbors – with the exception of Iran. I’ve now talked face-to-face with the leadership. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which doesn’t have a common border with Afghanistan – the very important Manas Transit Center, which will be – which we will renew the arrangements some in the next few weeks, and I wanted to launch that process. We’ve very grateful to the Kyrgyz’s Government for that support. And I had a very emotional meeting with the troops at Manas. Thirty-five thousand Americans go through Manas training – Transit Center every month. And we just dropped in on the room where they would talk to their families on Skype and playing foosball and just chatted with some of them coming in and out. And that’s always valuable to have an encounter with – we talked, in particular, to a young first lieutenant who was on his way back to Alaska who had been in Khost and who gave us a very vivid word description of his efforts down there. I can go back to that later if it interests you.
In Tashkent, of course, we talked about the Northern Distribution Network and its importance to us. Most of the supplies coming through that entry point into Afghanistan – the Northern Distribution Network – come through Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, we talked about improving and increasing our over-flight facilities and improving rail transit, which is an issue we’re interested in. And in Tajikistan, we talked about also northern distribution issues. And in addition, we talked about resources. Water is a huge problem, as you all know, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Tajikistan has one of the greatest water potentials in the world, and President Rahmon described that to us in some detail. And we have, on a separate basis we have got a water resources task force now set up in the Department to examine how we can additionally help the countries of the area, and particularly Pakistan with the water issue.
And finally, after the four Central Asian Republics, we went on to Georgia. Now, Georgia – and we visited the Georgian battalion outside Tbilisi which will – will be deployed next month to Afghanistan.
The U.S. Marines, who are advising the training and who do this as a profession, said these are among the best troops that they’ve ever seen. These – many of these troops fought in Iraq with the coalition. Those of you who know Georgia, know that it’s a mountainous country with terrain features that are sometimes similar to Afghanistan. They have a tremendous fighting tradition. And they are going into Afghanistan with no national caveats, and after they unpack and get acclimatized, they will be integrated into the Marine operations in Helmand.
On a per capita basis, right now, they are – they appear to have the highest per capita troop contribution of any country in the world. They’ll be up to about 950 troops when this battalion gets there. It’s an extremely important deployment and we are grateful for it. President Saakashvili and I had discussed this a year ago and started the process which has led to the deployment, and he accompanied me on this trip to the training mission. I was not there on any other subject. We did not discuss U.S-Russian relations. We did not discuss issues involving their future relationships with NATO. This was an Afghanistan-related trip.
But I want to express with great strength on behalf of the entire U.S. Government how much the United States Government appreciates the Georgian contribution. It came by coincidence on the same day that the government in the Netherlands fell. No, this is an important deployment and it’s gotten far too little attention.
The – Germany, of course, was to continue our high-level coordinations with one of our most important allies, but the main focus in Germany was the German support of the police training program. Germans – by constitution, the Germans cannot put their police under a military command, and I’m sure all of you understand why that was written into the constitution. But within that framework, they’re doing a very important job on police training which is being closely coordinated with the military command, but under separate command arrangements consistent with the German constitution.
And we hope they will increase the amount of trainers. They do – although we raised, we pulled together a very impressive number of additional training personnel in the last week at the force generation conference, we’re still short some training personnel, so that’s important.
And the front end of the trip was in Doha and Saudi Arabia. Doha was to address the Brookings Institution Conference, the World Islamic Forum. They’re one of the best conferences in the world run by Ambassador Martin Indyk and the Qatari Government. Talked to the Qatari officials, of course, and then went to Riyadh to continue our dialogue with them, which is – obviously Saudi Arabia is of enormous importance.
Now, in the middle of this, I went to Afghanistan and Pakistan and saw the leadership. I’ve now seen President Karzai three times in three different countries in the last month. We’ve had extensive and detailed discussions on the implementation of his plans as he outlined them in Kabul on November 19th, in London on January 28th, and in Munich on February 6th or 7th – I don’t remember which date, but at the Munich conference. And so the conversations in Kabul were a continuation of that. And I met with other members of the government as well. Did not have a chance to get out of town, but I spent a lot of time with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry.
Finally, in Pakistan, extensive discussions with the president, Prime Minister Gilani, the leader of the opposition Nawaz Sharif, and the leadership of the Pakistani Army General Kayani and his senior colleagues. Those – that dialogue will continue. My next trip to the region will be with Admiral Mullen. Together, we did this just under a year ago. I think some of you in this room were on that trip. And Admiral Mullen and I try to do about one civ-mil – joint civ-mil trip a year, and that trip will include India.
Last point: We had – P.J. and I had hoped today to bring the FBI director with me, Bob Mueller, who has just come back from an important trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had a conflict and I apologize. If there’s interest, maybe we can bring him over at another time. I would recommend, P.J., that you consider that because I think Mueller’s trip up – P.J. and I heard a detailed discussion by him yesterday. It was in furtherance of our trilateral meetings last year which we’re going to resume in a few months here.
And in that – and in his trip, he put together a meeting between the two ministers of interior, Minister Atmar and Minister Malik of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is really important. The coordination between the two countries is at the core of the policies that we’ve been developing over the last 13 months. And we really think that Director Mueller’s meetings were important and move things forward.
So with that outline of what we did, I’ll be happy to take your questions. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sue Pleming with Reuters. In your discussions – let me rephrase that. What’s your assessment of how President Karzai is doing at the moment? You’ve met him this time, you’ve met him several times. This week, he’s imposed some restrictions on the media. There are concerns about media freedom in Afghanistan. He’s also, last week, introduced some new regulations with regard to the election. Maybe if you could discuss those two issues and whether you’ve raised this with him, whether you’re concerned about it. Is this a pattern? Do you see the Afghan Government moving in the wrong direction?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t see a pattern, Sue, but I – you have raised some issues of legitimate concern. On the first one, P.J. and I had an extensive discussion on that, and we are – it’s pretty obvious that we support free press. We don’t like restrictions on the press. My whole career has been devoted to supporting that. And P.J. and I and the Secretary of State are concerned and will make our support of free access by the press clear to the government.
On the second point on the elections – we’re talking about, what the Election --
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, yes.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: -- Complaints Commission? President Karzai – we have talked about this. Ambassador Eikenberry has talked to President Karzai about this. The integrity of the elections in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community is very important, and it is a legitimate concern of the international community that with all the troops that are there, with all the international assistance, that there be a process which is transparent and free and fair.
And so some of the concerns that have been raised are things that we think are legitimate and need to be discussed further. P.J. addressed this last week in his remarks, and I would only echo what he said then. I agree with what he said. And he talked at that time – I actually have a summary of what P.J. said. I think it’s engraved in stone, P.J. But it is – well, I don’t have the exact words, but let me tell you they were memorable and historic.
QUESTION: You could ad lib if you like. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And I can – I wouldn’t forget them for a moment except I just can’t remember them right now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But do you think that there should be some restrictions on assistance to Afghanistan? Secretary Clinton was very clear before the London conference that if Afghan – if the Afghanistan – if the Afghan Government did not act responsibly and was not seen as, you know, ruling as you’d like them to and doing what they need to do, that you might withhold assistance.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, particularly when the assistance has been structured and restructured now to help the Afghan people. You want us to withhold cash for work in the agricultural sector because of this issue? That makes no sense. I’m not going to advocate things like that.
Our – we have a large, overriding goal here – to help Afghanistan succeed in its efforts to defeat the Taliban and its allies in al-Qaida. And we’re not going to take our eye off that goal. But to get there, we want to encourage policies that give the broadest possible support to the government from the Afghan people, but – and that carries a wide range of issues, including this one.
QUESTION: There’s been some concern --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Can you identify yourself?
QUESTION: Desmond Butler with the AP.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: All right.
QUESTION: There’s been some concern in Germany about the command structure in Kunduz following the buildup. Is that something that came up in your discussions and is that – do they have any reason for concern?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It did not come up, although I’ve read about it in the press. And I don’t believe they have a cause for concern, Des.
QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with McClatchy newspapers. What about paying for the elections? The international community does fund the elections – funded the presidential election. Is there a chance that you could withhold international funding for the Afghan election unless this is taken care of?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to go – I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals. That kind of issue is always there that you said, international. The bulk of the money you’re referring to is not American and it’s not controlled by the United States. So let the international community deal with that.
QUESTION: Peter Green from Bloomberg. If I could ask you about Marjah, how long do you think it’s going to take before that whole offensive finally secures the area and then what comes next and if you have any insight into the next portion of the campaign which is supposed to be the Kandahar region, what that is going to look like.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: P.J. and I and Ashley and my colleagues just got off the phone with Frank Ruggiero. That’s why, in fact, we kept you waiting. We wanted to get up to the date information from the field. Frank Ruggiero, as I think all of you know, is the senior civilian in the southern command, a former assistant secretary of state, and one of our most talented, highly-valued members of our team. And so let me just give you a sense.
First of all, there are already six civilians on the ground in Marja full time. That may not sound like much. Four are American. Two are British. It may not sound like much, but it’s a lot because, first of all, they are setting up the district support team. Secondly, there are plenty of other civilians coming in and out. Frank, himself, was there two or three days ago. And the object here is to start channeling the assistance and, most importantly, getting the Afghan Government to stand up its support at that level.
To your specific question: no, I can’t give you – well, I’ll let my McChrystal and his colleagues speak about the military aspects of the battle. That’s their business and they’re on the ground, but McChrystal, yesterday in Marjah, in effect said the military phase was coming to an end. But there are always going to be IEDs. There’s always going to be terrorist attacks. Those happen in the middle of Kabul and, for that matter, they happen in the middle of major cities all over the world these days. I have a feeling, however, that some of the energy has gone out of this approach to warfare.
Now, the critical test of Marja, which was well-reflected, for example, in Chris Chivers’s piece in the New York Times over the weekend. The critical variable is to bring civilian services to the people of the region and to make sure that they are not tainted by corruption. That’s a heavy order in that area given the history of the area, given the danger of operating, and given the complexity of it. But we are committed to it and it’s what the military likes to call, “Proof of concept.” Marja is a test of the strategies that are now being put into place. So just to make clear, there isn’t going to be a date in which this campaign ends. If we start saying we’ve succeed and we start to pull out, we’re going to repeat the past and that’s not the way to do it.
Remember, it’s clear, hold, build, and transfer. The clear phase was always going to be relatively easy and the casualty rate was very low. The hold phase is a transitional phase in my view. It’s the build and transfer that is the test of our policies, build and transfer. And that’s what we’re testing. The final part of your question, Kandahar, I can’t answer that. That is, obviously, a tactically issue and to discuss it prematurely serves no purpose at all.QUESTION: (Inaudible) Largos and Print Politico. My reporting has indicated that Blackwater is likely to get the police training and mentoring contract in Afghanistan. The other bidder has been disqualified. Are you at all worried about the sort of optics of Blackwater playing that role. Did the Germans also express –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: My understanding of that is it’s somewhat more complicated than that. I think there’s a review of the whole process now going on. I don’t know how much of it’s public. It’s proprietary information on a contractual basis, and it’s being conducted in a – at an arms-length basis so that neither I nor this building nor the people on the ground in Kabul are involved in the award of the contract under the procedures laid out by the United States Congress and by the U.S. Government.
And I want to stress this point because it’s very important. Whether you like this process or not, whether you like this system or not, it is not being handled by the State Department or by people in Kabul. It’s handled in a separate channel of – and I – what little I know about it, Laura, suggests that it’s not exactly where you say it is. But I’ll let you continue your prodigious digging and find out more.
QUESTION: I’m Charlie Wolfson with CBS. Can you go back to your stop in Georgia and tell us how much this – the Georgia contribution of sending troops there is costing and who’s paying for it?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The incremental costs in the – in country are paid for by the United States and other countries. The salaries of the troops are paid for by the Georgians, of course. And there are all sorts of additional things that we pay for, but they’re related only to the deployment in Afghanistan. And if you really want more details, I’d like you to come down to our office, we’ll lay it out, we’ll get General Field. Or he’s away today, but we’ll get Colonel Lamson to help you on that.
QUESTION: And just to Pakistan, arrests of these Taliban – sorry, I’m (inaudible) Dawn newspaper. The arrest of these Taliban leaders, there also was a story in the media here suggesting that they were arrested to derail the reintegration process, that they were already talking to the Afghan Government and the Pakistani arrested them to stop this process or that they were trying to once again impress the Americans or the Pakistanis had connections with them and they’re just trying to hide their tracks. So what is the real story why the Pakistanis have become – suddenly become so active?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, on the story you’re talking about, I keep reading it, I keep hearing about it; I see no evidence to support that theory. But it’s out there. Conspiracy theories are stock-in-trade in – not just in this part of the world. But I don’t see any evidence for it. And I know somewhat more than I’m at liberty to disclose about the circumstances under which these events took place, and every detail tends to work against that thesis.
Now the second part of your question was what, sir?
QUESTION: What – why the Pakistanis have become so active.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, this is a work in progress. This Administration took office just over 13 months ago. I have said before and I’ll say it again today that U.S. relations with the Government of Pakistan, civilian and military side, are much better today than they were 13 months ago. We have really worked on this. Some of you have accompanied us on the trips. I’ve been to Pakistan now twice this year, a third trip coming up. Secretary Gates has been there. General Jones has been there, twice – once in November, once last month. Admiral Mullen goes regularly. I just mentioned FBI Director Mueller. Don’t estimate the importance of a trip by a man of that stature, gathering together two interior ministers who, previous to our efforts, starting about nine months ago had never even met.
So there’s a cumulative effect, in my view, of this effort. And to me, the turning point trip was Secretary Clinton’s at the end of October, where she just – she stayed much longer than she normally does. P.J. was with us and he can give you – remind you of the details. There was a – she did a very public series of meetings and a very intense private series of meetings. She answered every question, no matter how hostile they were, and won over a lot of people. And this came right on the heels of the misunderstanding over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation, which was an unfortunate misunderstanding, in my view. So this process has produced a gradual improvement in cooperation.
Simultaneous with that, the Pakistani military has undertaken two major military offensives, in Swat and in South Waziristan. I went to Swat on the previous trip, not this one, and met with the leaders of Swat. And finally, some very bad people have been eliminated, by – Tula Mehsud for sure, maybe Hakimullah Mehsud, and now Mullah Barada and some other high-ranking members of the Taliban have been incarcerated.
These – this is a very important sequence of events, and we hope it will continue. I don’t want to draw any strategic conclusions from it. I just want to express my appreciation to the Pakistani Government and its army for what it’s doing. They’re doing these things in the face of enormous, overwhelming economic problems. They’re doing it in the face of water and energy problems, which are getting more and more of our attention. We, in turn, are trying to increase our support for the Pakistanis. I should have mentioned Senator Kerry, who went back again. I talked to Senator Kerry at length yesterday. He is paying a special attention to Pakistan and playing a very important independent but supporting role.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m (inaudible) with The Boston Globe, and I just wanted to ask you about the Kerry-Lugar funding. Is there a – I’m wondering, first of all, whether you feel that the misunderstanding is gone in Pakistan. Did you feel like the people were starting to change their conception of it?
And the second question was whether there is any kind of bottleneck in giving out the aid. I know that your team is personally reviewing all the projects. And how does that – affected the money?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: First of all, the misunderstanding over Kerry-Lugar-Berman has abated but it certainly hasn’t disappeared. And we work on that.
Secondly, on the bottlenecks, the biggest bottlenecks are not with Kerry-Lugar-Berman. That money has been appropriated and it is beginning to flow. The biggest bottleneck has been in regard to Coalition Support Funds, which is a very different matter. We, under the Coalition Support Funds, CSF, we – the Pakistanis are waiting for close to $2 billion in money that has been appropriated by Congress and has been set aside.
Last week, we released $349 million of that money, urgently needed. We are still working through the rest of the money. Not all the money that is asked for comes in. About 60-65 percent of it gets reimbursed. And the delays have been caused by a lot of things. The Congress and the GAO have accounting procedures which are pretty complicated. And we have offered to have auditors go to Pakistan to help with this, and the auditing team was held up in a massive delay over other visas and we pulled them out of the visa issue and they are on their way. And it’s a complicated process, so – and there’s a long history here. And again, I don’t want to blame everything on what we inherited, but when we took office, the backlog was amazing and there was no procedure for it.
General Petraeus and I have spent a lot of time on this. It comes up on every trip. But we are just going to continue to work this issue through. Talked to Ambassador Haqqani about it yesterday and again this morning, and we’re working on it very much. But I do want to stress $349 million of CSF went to Pakistan last week.
QUESTION: Today in Pakistan, Pakistani security forces, they declared an important victory in Bajaur tribal area. This is just on the border with Afghanistan and al-Qaida –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m sorry. I’m having a little trouble understanding you.
QUESTION: Today in Pakistan, there was an important development. The Pakistani security forces have declared victory against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants in Bajaur, tribal agency, which is just on the border with Afghanistan.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: In Bajaur?
QUESTION: Yes. And was used to stage attacks on NATO.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I know. I’ve been to Bajaur.
QUESTION: So what is your reaction to that in the overall struggle against –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t know the details, but I’m delighted to – I’m delighted they feel they’re making progress. When I first went up to Bajaur, it was a very bad scene. We flew over it. We couldn't land. We had to divert and land in Mahmund agency. So the fact that they feel they’ve succeeded there is a very positive development.
QUESTION: Ambassador, Elise Labott with CNN. (Inaudible) to talk about the kind of killings and captures of some of these major Taliban leaders, do you have any sense yet about what kind of psychological effect it might be having on either the Taliban leadership or some of the mid-level commanders? Do you think there – do you sense any that they’re making any thoughts about considering alternatives like reconciliation? And do you think any kind of Pakistani influence from the ISI would have any effect either way on yea or nay on reconciliation?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s – well, Elise, it’s a very good question. We ask it all the time of ourselves. We don’t – I don’t have any empirical, quantifiable, black-and-white answer to that. However, the anecdotal information coming in which suggests that the combination of the offensive in Marja, the Pakistani army’s success in South Waziristan, and now you mention Bajaur today, and the apprehension of Mullah Barada and other senior Taliban all having an effect. People are starting to reevaluate. ISAF is reporting more and more people contacting them and saying we want to talk about a separate – separate peace arrangements. You really – but it isn’t clearly quantifiable. It’s logical to assume it’s happening. It’s – these are steps forward in both countries going forward. You know I’m just congenitally unable to use phrases like “we’ve turned a corner” or just “lights at the end of the tunnel.” It’s just part of where I came from throughout my career.
But all I can – I’m not going to project anything. All I can tell you is that these are positive events and they should be welcomed by anybody who opposes extremism and terrorism. And I think that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, but particularly in Pakistan, there’s been a movement, a shift in sentiment here. In Pakistan right now, my greatest concern is to help the Pakistanis with their economic and energy problems. I think they’re on the right track in this other area.
QUESTION: Samir Nader with Radio Sawa. Can you give us an idea about your visit to Saudi Arabia? This is the second visit. Last time, you met with the king. Did you meet with him this time? And what is the agenda?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I didn’t meet with the king because after I scheduled the trip the Secretary of State came in at the same time as me and she went out of Riyadh to meet with him at the place they call the farm. And they had a very extensive meeting, and I came in like five hours later, only had time to stay for the night. And I saw very senior officials at the level I needed to see them, and she and I worked very closely together on this. One of the people who was with the king left and came in to see me. And you know Saudi Arabia; those meetings take place pretty late at night.
And the subject was illicit terrorist financing. Again, we’re doing everything we can to try to put more pressure on the money trail. This is hard in Saudi Arabia because while the Saudis have internal controls, they also have an obligation as Custodian of the Holy Mosques to let any Muslim on hajj or umrah in. But this was a major subject.
We also talked about the issues that had brought President Karzai to Saudi Arabia only a few days earlier. We consider Saudi Arabia one of the most important countries in the largest strategic region which is affected by Afghanistan, and we will continue the dialogue intensively and we’re very grateful for the Saudis for their support.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
MR. HOLBROOKE: Can’t have a press conference without calling on you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
QUESTION: That is true.
QUESTION: Goyal Raghubir of India Globe and Asia Today. You are a well-known face in the region, sir. One day you might end up to be a mayor in one of those cities.
MR. HOLBROOKE: You really don’t like me, do you? (Laughter.) I want to be mayor of Multan.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Multan, okay. Mr. Ambassador, my question is on the security in Afghanistan for the locals Afghanis, and also for the international community serving there. There is a concern now that somehow, somebody doesn’t like India in Afghanistan because they’re having multiple attacks on the Indians now, this latest one on the Indian community. There are also similar function at the SAIS in Washington here and same thing, about India and Afghanistan.
So where do we go, what kind of message do you bring to the Indians in India? They are safe in Afghanistan?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s a very, very important question. First of all, in regard to this attack, I don’t accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility like the embassy. There were foreigners, non-Indian foreigners hurt. It was a soft target. And let’s not jump to conclusions. I understand why everyone in Pakistan and everyone in India always focuses on the other. But please, let’s not draw a conclusion which – for which there’s no proof.
Now, on the larger issue, let me just make a general comment about this. This is my own personal feeling about these three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The three countries are vastly different in culture, socioeconomic standing, political development, and – but they share a common strategic space. And in order to understand America’s policy and America’s policy dilemma, one has to understand that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in the region.
And I’m not talking about that certain area between them which I’m not going to mention by name. (Laughter.) I am – because I am not going to get involved in that. And people who have advocated that are making a proposal which I believe runs counter to stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan must be dealt with on its merits.
But as President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and I have said repeatedly, there are many countries that have legitimate security interests in what happens in Afghanistan. It’s not an accident that Afghanistan was the center of the so-called Great Game in the 19th century. And it’s not an accident that when you have a country that has been torn by war, which is relatively weak compared to very powerful neighbors, that it draws other countries in. That’s what happened in Cambodia in a different way and it’s happened in other parts of the world. It’s part of the story of the Congo.
And Afghanistan is surrounded by – and when I say surrounded, I just don’t mean its contiguous neighbors; I mean countries in the region. Russia still has an interest even though they don’t have a common border. India has a legitimate interest even though they don’t have a common border. Iran and Pakistan are obviously the two most important countries with power – common borders. But I just visited two of the others, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and I missed Turkmenistan only because of logistics, and I’ll go back.
Now, having said all that, I need to stress that each – that Pakistan and India have a historic relationship which people must respect. It is complicated. Its origins go back to 1947 and before 1947. I’m an amateur student of that history, but I don’t profess to know a lot about it, but it – but what happened then affects us today. But I need to stress that both countries have legitimate security interests. And if one country says the other has no interest, then you – then it’s hard to have a dialogue. That’s why President Obama has said we encourage any sort of dialogue between the two countries, and Afghanistan is not the core of the issue, but it is a part of the issue.
The other issues I would mention that are very critical are water – water is a huge issue here, and increasingly on our trips, people in both countries talk about water – and overall security relationships. Other issues have arisen continually. And we have good relations with both India and Pakistan. It is our view that it is in our national interest to improve relations with both countries, neither – not at the expense of the other. It is not – improved relations with one country is not at the expense of the other; on the contrary. We – by improving relations in both countries, we can move forward a general search for peace and stability in the region.
This policy really began in the year 2000 when President Clinton went to both countries, the first president to visit either country in 22 years since Jimmy Carter had gone in 1978. And since then, President Bush has done the same thing. And we will – this is the overriding approach we have to the issue. And that’s our starting point for the strategic overview of the region.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, may I have just a quick follow-up, please?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Wasn’t that long enough? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: As far as India-U.S. relations and the U.S. mediation, Foreign Secretary (inaudible), she said the other day that the difficult task ahead is that India has demanded Pakistan to hand over those terrorists of – in Mumbai attacks and all that. Whenever you visit or you have talks with India and Pakistan, do these issues come during your talks as far as handing over the terrorists in Pakistan or India?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, of course both sides raise issues like that, but it will not serve any purpose for me to make public confidential discussions. We – our relations with both countries are good. We are improving relations with both countries. Both in New Delhi and in Islamabad, people come up to us and say, oh, you’re pro-the other country, you’re favoring one country over another. That’s not true. We are focused on the issues themselves and on generally good relations, and we seek to do everything we can to help Pakistan economically, which is, I think – which is my highest priority. And we work closely with India on a whole range of issues which you’re all familiar with and which my colleague, Bob Blake, oversees for Secretary Clinton. And I hope that addresses your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more and then we’ll wrap it up.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russian daily Rossyskaya Gazeta. While being in Kabul, did you discuss with President Karzai how to deal with narcotrafficking from Afghanistan? Because as you probably know, this problem is very pressing in Russia and in Central Asia.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I didn’t discuss it with President Karzai on this trip, but I discussed it with other American officials, and I was discussing it on the phone with Frank Ruggiero a few minutes ago. And when I was in Moscow, I had very extensive talks on this with General Ivanov, who was – I’m sure you know which Ivanov I mean, the head of the drug agency.
We – President Obama and President Medvedev issued a communiqué on this in July of last year and – with particular attention to precursor chemicals and other interdiction measures. We are working as actively as we can with Russia to work out common policies. This also came up in my meetings in Tashkent and Dushanbe because it’s of enormous importance to them. So it’s a very high priority for us.
We don’t always agree on every single detail, but we have the same objective, and so we work it through. The Russians do – the Russians think that poppy crop eradication should be continued. We think it works against our larger purpose, and we’re focusing on high traffickers’ interdiction and destroying drug bazaars, but that’s a tactical difference. We have the same objective completely, and I spend a great deal of time talking to Russian officials about this.
And as you know, there’s a Russian – I have a Russian counterpart, a Russian special representative, Ambassador Kabulov, who was the Russian ambassador in Kabul, and he and I are in regular contact on that as well. My deputy, Paul Jones, was going to leave from Moscow today, but he got sick and he’s had to reschedule the trip or else he’d be in Moscow tomorrow. I’m sorry about that.