Remarks at World Affairs Council

Marc Grossman
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Philadelphia, PA
May 10, 2012

Ambassador Grossman: First of all, let me just thank all of you for being here this evening.

As our introducer just said, this says something kind of about democracy that we are having this conversation, and I think that’s right. The fact that you have come here this evening, that we want to have this conversation about Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is an important region, but that people come out and talk about foreign affairs, and people come out and talk about America’s engagement in the world is extremely important. So really, it’s my honor to be here and I thank you for taking time out of your schedule to come and participate this evening.

The second thing I wanted to say was simply to follow up on the very kind remarks from the beginning, which is to say that I have a great place in my heart, for World Affairs Councils. When I was a junior officer, they were among the very first places that I had a chance to come and speak to people in the United States. And over the years they have provided a forum for people in our business all across the country. And when I had the good fortune to be the National Chairman of the Board of the World Affairs Councils of America for a couple of years, it was really my honor to participate with these 94 councils in cities and states all around the United States of America with people like you who are interested in the engagement of the United States and the world. So I am one of those people when the World Affairs Council calls, my answer to that question is always yes. So it’s a pleasure to be back here in Philadelphia where I’ve had the good fortune to be on a number of panels and programs over the years.

A third thing I wanted to say was just, if I could, to thank all the students that I met earlier today. I’m sorry we had such a short time. I’m glad to see that you are back here and look forward to your questions as well. Because as Claudia said, this is a huge part of the effort of the World Affairs Councils of America, to look after and consider the next generation of leaders.

Trudy, if you’d allow me, I’d just like to take five minutes and talk a little bit about what we’re trying to accomplish in this area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, at least to try to set some frame for our conversation.

I retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2005. I’d been retired for six years. In December of 2010 there was the terrible death of Dick Holbrooke who was the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secretary Clinton asked if I would take this responsibility on. I said I would, and I came back to the service of the United States and have been since February 2011 the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

She and I thought when we began this phase of our effort that we needed to be clear about where we were headed in Afghanistan in particular, and then try, as you said, sir, to manage our relationship with Pakistan. I’d like to report to you in both of those areas.

I started this job with very clear guidance. Secretary Clinton gave a speech in February of 2011 in New York at the Asia Society in which she said there were two parts of our policy in Afghanistan that were then operational. One was the military effort we were making in Afghanistan. Very large, very important, very successful, needs to continue. At that time you’ll recall there were 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. That’s something that we need to continue to focus on because I believe that everything else that follows, the civilian effort, the diplomatic effort, is based on the fact that we’ve shown strength in Afghanistan. As you all know, we’re moving from 100,000 troops now to 68,000 forces in September of this year. That number will go down further, until there will be a real change in the way that our forces and our allied forces are working together in Afghanistan in 2014.

The second thing she said was to focus on the civilian effort that’s being made in Afghanistan. Again, those of you who follow this know that over a period of a couple of years we’ve tripled the number of civilians in Afghanistan. What are they working on? They’re working on governance. They’re working on trying to end corruption. They’re working on economic development, to try to get Afghans to take responsibility for their own country. And like we’re proud of the military forces that serve in Afghanistan, I want you to be proud of those civilian forces as well. We have 1,250 people from the State Department and other government agencies on the civilian side in Afghanistan, and they do a very hard job every day as well.

If you look at some of the things that they have accomplished along with their Afghan partners and partners from around the world, what do you see? We were talking a little bit before. A GDP in Afghanistan that has quadrupled in the last five or six years. An Afghanistan where 60 percent of the population has some access to health care, up 10 times what it was 10 years ago. An Afghanistan in which 900,000 children were in school in 2003, all of them boys, to a time today when 7.5 million children are in school, 37 percent of them girls. A time when 10 years ago nobody had a telephone in Afghanistan, and now the vast majority of people are able to communicate. It doesn’t say there aren’t many, many things yet to accomplish in Afghanistan, it doesn’t mean that our job is finished in Afghanistan or that Afghans yet have the kind of society that they want, but we ought to recognize that Afghanistan is a different place than it was 10 years ago by very measurable statistics.

Secretary Clinton said there was a third piece of our policy that was missing. We had a military surge. We had a civilian surge. What was missing was a diplomatic surge. She charged us with trying to find out if it were possible to see if there was as political end to this 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan. Was it possible to put together some diplomacy so that the region, first of all, would take some responsibility for Afghanistan; and then was it possible to open the door to a conversation between the insurgents and the people in Afghanistan so that they could reconcile, so that they could live in peace?

So the charge that we were given was to see if we could create this diplomatic surge to see if we could create this diplomatic effort. She gave us some very strict requirements, which was to say that at the end of this conversation, this reconciliation, that those insurgents had to meet three requirements. One, break with al-Qaida; two, end their violence; and three, be prepared to live inside of an Afghanistan that had a constitutional requirement and constitutional protection for the rights of women, for individual rights, rights of minorities. So that all of the sacrifice and the effort that has gone on in these past 10 years was not forgotten.

So we’ve spent the year or 15 months I’ve now been at this job trying to create this diplomatic surge, and we went at it in two ways.

First, we tried to create a regional structure in and around Afghanistan. We tried to say to the regional countries, you have a responsibility here as well. And those of you who again follow this know that last November we supported an international conference in Istanbul of the neighbors and near neighbors of Afghanistan. What did they say? They said here’s the vision we have for this region going forward. Then we supported in December of last year an international conference which was designed to say that the international communities supported the effort of the region. And we’ll go forward here in 2012 with also a series of gatherings. One is going to be in Chicago here in a couple of weeks, a NATO Summit. Then a meeting in Tokyo in July to talk about the economic aspects of what has to go forward in the region.

One really important parentheses, because people talk about the military effort, they talk about the civilian effort, they talk about the diplomacy, but one of the things we have really tried to put into this debate, especially in the regional area, has been to say you know, there’s also a really important part of this that’s economic. And until people in Afghanistan, and if you’d allow me, until people in Pakistan get a job and have some commitment to their society and there’s some sustainable economic growth in that area, all the other things that we’re doing don’t really add up in the long term. So we’ve promoted an idea that we’re calling the New Silk Road, or other people call historic trade routes, to try to connect Central Asian economies and South Asian economies. The great effort that’s being made in Central Asia, as those of you who visited there know, for economic growth and development. And there are great markets in India, Bangladesh. Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the center of that. So transit trade. Investment. The effort that could be made in this economic area is extremely important.

We also in this area of trying to create this diplomatic surge tried to see if it were possible to talk to the insurgents, talk to the other side. Again, those of you who follow this in the press know that we were able to find some people to talk to. We for some months were in a conversation using our own regional contacts with the Taliban for one purpose and one purpose only, which was to try to open the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan. Again, those of you who follow this know that on March 15th of this year the Taliban decided they were done having this conversation with us and suspended these conversations. I think that’s too bad. We’ve been very clear that we would be prepared to get back into this conversation with them, but that’s a decision for them. I suppose they have their own reasons for suspending these talks, but they did.

So we end up now with really three efforts. A military effort that continues. A civilian effort that’s extremely important. And this diplomatic effort, bot regionally and to try to create some possibility for peace which is also important.

As we go forward here, as I say, we’ve got some milestones in 2012. You saw the first one met last week when President Obama went to Afghanistan and signed the Strategic Partnership Document. What’s it say? It talks about the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan for the years after 2014. We thought it was important to send the Afghan people, the region, the insurgents and others a message that this wasn’t going to be 1989 again, and that the international community would be part of this conversation in Afghanistan for a long time to come. As I say, we’ve got the NATO Summit coming in Chicago, and I hope you’ll see three things there. First, I hope you’ll see what we’re going to call a milestone, to note that in 2013 100 percent of Afghanistan will be under Afghan security control and that U.S. and allied forces will be in support of Afghan forces by the middle of 2014.

Second, I hope you’ll see the international community stepping up to fund the future of the Afghan National Security Forces. We’ve been out trying to collect that money and I encourage others to join us to create the Afghan National Security Forces so they can take responsibility for their own country.

And third, I hope that you will see a clear statement of what NATO’s role will be in Afghanistan after 2014. That meeting comes up I think the 21st, 22nd of May, so this is happening and something you will all be able to follow.

I think some days when you read the newspapers and try to follow what’s going on in Afghanistan it’s just a never-ending flow of bad news. That’s not to say there are not a lot of important challenges in Afghanistan. This is a very difficult problem. But I want you to feel that, as hard as it is on some days to keep at it, we’ve got this larger plan and we’ve got a larger vision and we’re trying to pursue it and we think we will end in a place where Afghanistan and Afghans will be responsible for their own country and responsible for their own future.

Two words about Pakistan. We had in 2011, as you said sir, one of the most difficult years we’ve ever had between the United States and Pakistan. It started, as you’ll recall, with the killings by a U.S. contractor, Raymond Davis, in Lahore; and went on then to the Abbottabad raid and the death of bin Laden. On September 13th of last year the Haqqani Network with a lot of ties to Pakistan attacked our embassy in Afghanistan. Then terribly in November of last year U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So it was tough, 2011.

Our job in early 2012 has been to try to lower the temperature. Let the Pakistani parliament meet and show where it wanted to go with U.S.-Pakistan relations and then try to move forward on the basis that both countries can agree.

I was in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago to try now that the parliament has made its recommendations to see how we can move forward. These are really important issues we have with Pakistan -- counterterrorism, work together on Afghanistan, supporting the work they are doing especially on the commercial side to have a better relationship with India, challenges in their own society in which we are giving assistance in many ways. So we want this dialogue with Pakistan to proceed.

What I’d like to see happen in Pakistan in the year 2012 is that if we could come to the point where Pakistanis and Americans could both say that we are able to systematically identify our shared interests and then act on them jointly, I’d consider that a success. Now you all might consider that as too low of a bar, but from where I sit if we could achieve that goal it would be a good foundation for the future. We want to support a Pakistan that is sovereign, that is stable, that’s led through a civilian government that’s economically successful, and I think we can begin to do that by organizing ourselves so we can systematically identify these shared interests and act on them jointly.

So as both speakers said, this is not an easy effort for the United States of America on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. But we’re committed to doing this. We’re committed to doing this in the right way. We’re committed to doing this in a way that protects and promotes the interests of the United States of America. And I’d be glad now to take any questions or comments you might have.

Moderator: I think what we will do is just talk back and forth a little bit, and then we’ll be happy to take questions from the audience.

Let me ask you, since you have worked so extensively on the diplomatic piece, many people ask why would the Taliban really want to make a deal? We’ve got the watches, they’ve got the time, and they know we’re leaving. This phrase is repeated so much that it’s almost become like the Bible.

You’ve had a chance now to talk to people who speak for at least we think the main central core of the Taliban. It’s another question whether they speak for other pieces of it. In those conversations did you get any sense of what their long-term political vision is for Afghanistan? And any inkling of why they might be willing to compromise?

Ambassador Grossman: All good questions. Let me try to answer all three of them.

First, on the question of why would they talk to us, why would they make some arrangement if all they have to do is wait?

I think the first thing for me, especially as a professional diplomat, was to keep clearly in mind that there was every possibility that that’s exactly what they were doing. In other words, they had entered this conversation in order to let time go by. I didn’t want to be caught up in this negotiation just because it was a negotiation. I think that’s something you have to be careful of. They are who they are. They have their own interests. So we wanted to be very realistic about all of this.

But I would say when I thought about their perspective on the world, and their perspective on the world, number one, is that they were being every day and every night affected by our military effort. And increasingly every day and every night being affected by the Afghan National Security Forces. It was my observation that they were tired of it. And that like Afghans after 30 years of conflict, there were a certain number of people on all sides of this that were just ready to try to find some way to stop fighting.

Second, I think that this idea that they said oh well, Americans will just leave after 2014, if they had that idea, that idea now is put aside by the Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Obama signed in Kabul last week. So when I said to you in my introduction that we wanted through the Strategic Partnership document to send a message to the people of Afghanistan, to the region, and very much to the insurgents, was to say that no, we’re not leaving after 2014. There will still be a presence of the United States of America there after 2014 and you need to accommodate to it.

A third point is that it’s very important for you and our wonderful audience to understand that we did not talk to them about the future of Afghanistan because there was nobody from the government of Afghanistan in the room with us. And as I said in my introduction, our job was to do one thing and one thing only, which was to open the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan. It’s not for us to make that arrangement. It’s for Afghans to make that arrangement. And at the moment, the Taliban’s position is that they won’t talk to anybody from the government of Afghanistan. And our effort was to try to change that reality so that they would.

One more point if I could. That is that it’s also very important, I’ve learned over this past time, that you shouldn’t conceive of reconciliation as an arrangement between the government of Afghanistan only and some insurgents. Reconciliation is about a reconciliation really in Afghan society, so the ethnic groups, the geographic groups, all the wonderful people who make up Afghanistan need to have a say in this reconciliation process.

So if you, for example, are a woman in Afghanistan today you think how’s reconciliation going to affect me? I worry. If you’re a young person in Afghanistan today or an entrepreneur, you say how’s this going to affect me? What guarantees will I have? So one of our jobs has been to try to encourage this national conversation in Afghanistan so that everybody that has a stake in this has a say in it and that reconciliation is a national conversation and not some kind of small slice that happens off in some corner somewhere.

Moderator: The issue over which the talks seem to have gotten hung up, and they’ve been essentially frozen since January, correct? Pretty much. Is an issue of the five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo. It seems the hang-up has a lot to do with our presidential campaign and there are a lot of people in Congress who recoil at the idea of letting these prisoners go.

Could you say a little bit about why it would be worthwhile to let them go? What is the cost/benefit analysis? And let me throw into that, some of you if you read the front page of the New York Times this morning, far be it from me to promote the competition, but if you did, there was a fascinating and somewhat sad story on the front page. There is, as you know, an American soldier being held by the Taliban, Bowie Burgdahl, and his parents have gone public with something that had been sub-rosa during this whole period of trying to get talks going which is that there might be a possible deal releasing him in return for letting these five prisoners go. Could you speak to that piece of it too? Might that change the dynamics now that that is public?

Ambassador Grossman: All good questions, but I have to with all due respect start from the premise of your question. I want to be really clear here to you and to everyone in the audience. This is not about releasing these people from Guantanamo. Not releasing. What the Taliban said was they were interested in these five people in Guantanamo. That’s no big secret. The issue was whether we would consider transferring them from Guantanamo to a third country, and in that third country negotiating a very very strict regime so that they would not be a threat to the United States, to our forces, to our allies. And again, it’s no big secret that over time we chose Qatar as that country and the Qataris were willing to engage in that conversation with us.

It’s very important also to recognize that we operate in this area under a very strict and very good law -- the National Defense Authorization Act. That law is very clear about what requirements are needed if you were to transfer detainees from Guantanamo. It was our intent from the very beginning and it remains so, that we want to meet all of our obligations under the law. That’s a very important thing. And the law is very strict. The law requires that the Secretary of Defense himself sign a certification to the Congress that we’ve done all that we could to make sure these people are not a threat to the United States of America. So we’ve worked hard to create that opportunity.

The second thing is we wanted to work very closely with the Congress on this. We’ve consulted the Congress with this. And with respect, I don’t think this really has much to do with presidential politics. I don’t think this has much to do with the year is 2012. This is a hard issue on which people differ, and people have different views. Some people think this is a good idea and some people think this is a bad idea. I don’t think it’s particularly partisan, because there are people on both sides of this, both parties, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable that people say are you sure that’s what you want to do? Have you really thought about this?

So where we stand today is that we’ve made no decision to move these people and if we were ever to make such a decision it would be entirely within our law and after the closest possible consultation with the Congress. As you said, we’ve lost an opportunity, a huge opportunity I think, to see what was possible when the Taliban suspended these conversations on the 15th of March. So really now the challenge is to them. Secretary Clinton gave a very good speech actually at the World Affairs Council in Norfolk, Virginia, a few weeks ago in which she laid out where we stand. We’ll talk again. But they have a decision to make about whether there’s a serious effort going forward.

On the second part of your question, Sergeant Bergdahl. As you say, this was something that was not public for some time. That Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents, with whom I’ve been in close consultation and conversation for a year, and I greatly admire them. I have huge sympathy for them, as you can imagine. They decided yesterday or the day before that they would make this a public matter, and you know, people have asked me what I think about this. I have sympathy for them. They make their own choice. Whether this has any substantive change in the Taliban’s position, I don’t know the answer to that question yet. I know that’s what the Bergdahls hope. I hope that the Taliban will see this as a humanitarian issue, that they have the son of these parents and it’s time they release him.

Moderator: I’m just going to ask one more thing, it may be a two-parter, and then we’ll throw it open to the floor.

One of the great fears that is often voiced by Afghans is that after we pull down troops, even if their forces are large, the country might deteriorate into civil war. And I’m wondering how important do you think it is to leave no stone unturned for a political negotiated solution, as you describe, if we don’t get to that point? Does it increase the chances of civil war after NATO troops draw down?

The second part of this is, you were just in Pakistan. It was a difficult trip. Is there buy-in by Pakistan’s intelligence services to these negotiations? Or are they simply not interfering at this point, but not signaling whether they would really help make them work?

Ambassador Grossman: Again, both good questions, and that is a two-parter.

I’d say on the first, every effort we are making -- military, civilian, diplomatic -- is to try to offer and create the conditions for Afghans to be successful going forward. We were talking a little bit beforehand about 2014 and the issue you raised is the issue you raised here. In my introduction I talked about the transition in 2014 that’s tied back to Lisbon and that’s, Trudy, what you were talking about. The drawdown of NATO forces, the change of mission in 2013 and then 2014 that will come from Lisbon. We want to stick to that Lisbon decision. It’s very important that we do so because it keeps the allies together, first of all; and secondly, it sends I believe the message to the Afghans that something serious will be there between now and 2014. So there’s the Lisbon transition.

But it’s also very important to recognize that there’s a second transition happening in 2014 and that is the constitutional transition called for by the Afghan constitution which says there needs to be an election in 2014, a new president in 2104, so Afghanistan will also have a political conversation in itself, among itself, in 2014 about how their future will look.

So the whole effort that we are making is to make sure that that conversation can take place in a sensible manner, that Afghans can choose what their future will be like, and I consider that if all this will come together, that they’ll make a decision to continue on the path that they’re on which is to a different Afghanistan and not want to go backwards and not want to return to conflict. That’s the whole idea, is to lead us out of conflict.

On the question of Pakistan, as I said in my introduction, there are two or three very important areas in which we need to have a conversation with Pakistan that’s about identifying our shared interests and acting on them jointly, and an Afghan peace process is high on that list. I would argue to you, and perhaps there should best really be a Pakistani here, but I would argue to you that if you take the last year, it’s almost exactly a year, is that on, I think on the 15th or 16th of April of last year the government of Pakistan went up to Kabul, and what did they do? For the very first time they talked about their support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process. It was a big breakthrough because that’s what Secretary Clinton had called for in February, and in April the Pakistanis said that’s what we’re for too.

As you go forward now, increasingly I think that Pakistani leaders -- civilian and military -- recognize that a secure and stable Afghanistan is a secure and stable Pakistan. That the idea that chaos in Afghanistan is somehow in any way good for Pakistan is I think a receding thought in Pakistan and that’s a positive thing.

I’ll give you two other examples. On that 16th of April of last year the Pakistanis and the Afghans agreed that they would create a Core Group of the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan to talk about the future of reconciliation, and that core group has now met six different times, and I represent the United States on that group. It starts slow, but little by little people start to talk about the important things.

We had our last meeting in Islamabad a couple of weeks ago. And secondly, very interesting to me, is that the Afghans had asked the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister Gilani, for some time to make a statement calling on the Taliban to participate in the political process. And in February of this year he did.

So again, I think the idea that peace and stability and prosperity in Afghanistan is good for Pakistan is something that more and more Pakistanis have come to accept as their future as well.

Question: That was a great presentation, great questions and answers.

Not to be gloom and doom about this --

Ambassador Grossman: That’s okay.

Question: A couple of concerns I have that I’d like to ask you about. How does Iran play into this? And also, one of the industries I think Afghanistan has is their poppy industry, and how does, you mentioned about economics, but how does dealing with all those issues fit in as well?

Ambassador Grossman: Fair enough. Again, both very good questions. And let me just say when you stand up and say I don’t want to be doom and gloom -- I think we have to be very realistic about all this. This is very hard business to do. And I don’t mean it’s a hard business to do for me, it’s a hard business to do for the United States of America and for everybody else. So I think being realistic about all this is very important. I thought that the talk that President Obama gave from Bagram was very measured, and very straightforward and recognized that this is hard. You have identified two of the really hard parts.

First on Iran, I can only of course give you a second-hand impression because we’re not in direct contact with the Iranians on this subject. Iran obviously has got a whole other set of issues on the nuclear questions and terrorism and all the things that they need to change in the way that they live their lives.

But on Afghanistan, what I can report to you, sir, is that on this effort that we are making to try to bring the region together, to recognize that they have some responsibility for Afghanistan, the Iranians have so far played quite a constructive role in the public aspects of this.

For example, they were participants at the meeting in Istanbul last December and signed the document about the region’s vision. So that document was signed by China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran. Not so bad. Because these are the people who are going to live in that region for a long time. Now I want to be clear, they do a lot of things in Afghanistan that we wish they wouldn’t do, but I give you this sort of perspective, that on the public level and the regional level, both in Istanbul and again in Bonn, they participated, participated constructively. So I hope that that will continue and that their public position that they also need a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan will become their whole position and not just a part of it.

It’s intimately connected, of course, to your second question because the Iranians suffer from the drug production and drug trade from Afghanistan just as I would say do the Russians. One of the most interesting conversations I have is with my Russian counterpart. Thirty thousand Russians died of heroin overdoses last year. The vast majority of that drug comes from Afghanistan. So their interest here is large and it’s important and it’s something we want to work with them on.

The poppy trade and this whole drug business is a huge problem. I think that the way out of this is two-fold. One is we have to continue the prosecution of the drug dealers. You have to continue the prosecution of the drug makers. You have to continue also the eradication of the poppy itself. Right now that’s done by Afghans, by governors. They do it manually. They come and rip up the crop. But that’s not the only answer.

The other answer of course is to go back to this question of the economic side. You have to have some way so that people have an alternative. To say I’m either going to get my poppy crop ripped up or I can grow something else or I could be in some other business or I could participate in this New Silk Road. So we have to provide alternatives. Not an easy thing, not a short term thing, but very much on our agenda.

Question: Suppose that the United States is unable to produce in Afghanistan the kind of government that the majority of the people there would be loyal to. Number two, suppose also that the ISI and the Pakistani military, narrowly defined, become more radicalized. As I understand it they’re moving steadily towards radical Islam.

Do we have a Plan B as far as fighting not so much the Taliban but the remnants of al-Qaida central in Pakistan in such a circumstance?

Ambassador Grossman: A very good question as well.

Let me start from the last part of your question. Fighting al-Qaida in Pakistan, fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan, that al-Qaida that’s left in Afghanistan, is not Plan B, it’s Plan A. That is part of the point of being involved in these two countries. I think that’s what the President said from Bagram, and I think if you look through all of the conversations that we have in public and in private, the final destruction of al-Qaida in that part of the world is Plan A. So this isn’t a Plan B question. In fact when I was in Pakistan last week one of the things I said was if we were working together on counter-terrorism wouldn’t it be fantastic if one day we could stand up together and jointly announce that we had together defeated al-Qaida in Pakistan? The same in Afghanistan. One of the jobs of the Strategic Partnership document is to position ourselves so that al-Qaida can never come back into Afghanistan and reconstitute itself there and pose a threat to the United States, our friends and our allies. So not Plan B at all, but Plan A.

If I could take the other part of your question. I guess for me, and I’m not trying to duck your question, but kind of suppose, suppose. My job is to see if it’s possible to create the conditions not for us to produce a government in Afghanistan that Afghans will love, but that Afghans will produce a government that Afghans will be loyal to.

It’s our job to try to create those conditions. How do you do that? Well, you help them defeat the Taliban. You help them create an Afghan National Security force. You participate as you can in this effort to get reconciliation going in Afghanistan. You pursue the transition at Lisbon. You support the constitutional transition in 2014. But in the end you can create these conditions but it’s not for the United States of America to produce a government for Afghanistan. It’s for Afghans to produce a government in Afghanistan. I don’t see any other way for us to describe this.

They are on a path to take responsibility for themselves in their political life; in their security life; and I hope increasingly in their economic life. And that’s what we should be for.

In terms of Pakistan, again, I’d go back to the answer I gave to Trudy which is to say, and again, I’m not a Pakistani. I’m a foreigner. So I give you this as an observation. My observation is they have come to conclude that chaos in Afghanistan is not in their interest; that a better economic and commercial relationship with India is in their interest; that participating in this regional conversation is better than not; and that that is an increasingly important part of their society. And one of the reasons to be in favor of civilian government in Pakistan is so that that civilian effort is the guiding force there over a long period of time.

Question: I was just wondering how much progress do you think you’ve made towards your goal since you’ve been in this position of office?

Ambassador Grossman: That’s also a very good question. [Laughter].

We’ve made modest progress, but serious progress. Which goes back to my answer to you, sir. You have to be realistic about this. Here’s how I would describe it.

On the military side I believe we’ve made considerable progress against the insurgency and I also believe that. I would hope you would consider it progress that American forces are moving from 100,000 to 68,000. We’re going to recover the surge in September of this year. And that number will continue to go down to December of 2014. I hope you consider that progress.

Second, I’d go back to some of the statistics that I gave you about changes in Afghan society and I’d hope you’d consider that some modest progress as well.

Third, I think, and again I recognize my bias here, but I believe that a year ago people were not talking about an Afghan peace process. Nobody. But Secretary Clinton said in February of 2011, we’re going to talk about an Afghan peace process. Not only are we going to talk about it, we’re going to try to create one. And although these talks are suspended, I would argue to you that the conversation today about reconciliation in Afghanistan, about an Afghan peace process, didn’t exist a year ago. It exists today. And I hope you’d consider that some modest progress.

Finally, we set out, and again, you make these steps one at a time, but we set out on the advice of some very smart people like Henry Kissinger and others, to create this regional context in which Afghanistan could succeed. And Istanbul, Bonn, Chicago, Tokyo, are all just conferences -- I’ve got it. But we’ve put this regional question on the map as well. The region I think recognizes that they have a responsibility to take for Afghanistan. So I hope you consider that some modest progress.

Finally, we have also, I believe, put into this conversation in a way that didn’t exist a year ago, and here all credit to the Secretary of State because she’s talked about this and talked about this, the economic aspect of this. The New Silk Road. We’ve said to people that until there’s real live honest to goodness private sector economic activity in this area, all the rest of this is extra hard to do. And here again I give her all the credit. She has backed us on this wonderfully, spoken about it in public, worked hard on this. If we could connect Central Asian and South Asian economies, we will have made I think some contribution there.

So I don’t want to overplay this. Lots more problems out there in the world. But when I go to bed at night, I think we’ve made some modest progress towards this larger goal.

Question: Ambassador Grossman, you mentioned that the mission has kind of been extended to also having a diplomatic side of things. That’s your job there.

You mentioned that you had the meetings with the Taliban and those were suspended. How do you feel about, there are all these different factions, the different insurgent groups that aren’t the Taliban and they’re probably less likely to have discussions with the United States or even less likely to be in discussions with anybody. How do you feel that plays into the overall goal for diplomacy in that country and how do you feel that can be addressed by the United States, if at all?

Ambassador Grossman: Let me again take the last part of your question first. Again, we keep coming back, because we’re Americans, we keep coming back to how can this be addressed by the United States of America? I think the key to the answer to your question is there are lots of groups out there that are insurgent groups. The Heqmatyar, the HIG, this group, that group, all different kinds of groups. What I want to have happen is that they should start talking to Afghans, to the government of Afghanistan. In other words, what we’ve done as I’ve tried to answer this question is we’ve said there ought to be a peace process, but it isn’t an American peace process, it’s an Afghan peace process. So these groups ought to talk to Afghans. And there’s a very good way to do that. There’s a High Peace Council in Afghanistan. There’s a forum that this can happen. If you go back, I think, and search come of the new stories that Trudy and others have written, you’ll see that some of these groups indeed have talked to the government of Afghanistan. So this isn’t an American peace process. It’s an Afghan peace process and we need to keep that I think firmly in mind.

On the question of our diplomacy -- we pursued this Qatar channel honestly and realistically. We never, though, felt that it was the only thing that was ever going to happen. So we’ve always had our minds open to other possibilities. Because what if it fails? What if it doesn’t continue? But again, the important here is I think the Afghan peace process, Afghans will manage this, Afghans need to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan.

Question: About the captured soldier and his parents taking the issue public, I’m wondering what your opinion is on the traction that will gain in the U.S. compared with Gilad Shalit and his family in Israel. For all the two similarities the countries have, their militaries and their societies’ relations to those militaries are very different.

Ambassador Grossman: My answer is every country has a different culture and every country will have a different way of doing this business. We’ll see. As I said, my response to this is a simple human one which is to say that I have great sympathy for these people, and I understand their frustration. They made a decision to go public, so here we are.

Moderator: I want to thank Ambassador Grossman. It was wonderful for me to have the chance to talk with you on the stage.