Background Briefing on the Secretary's Events in Islamabad
MODERATOR: All right, ladies and gentlemen. Senior State Department Official.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve had a lot of public comments today from the Secretary, both in her press conference with Foreign Minister Khar, in her townterview/interview with Pakistani civil society, and then some or most of you were able to hear her TV interviews. I wanted to give you guys an opportunity to get any clarification on some of the things that she said if that’s of interest to you.
You’ll recall that when we came and gave you the very, very brief and, what you found, unsatisfactory readout on the dinner last night, we talked about a conversation between the Secretary and the whole American team, Prime Minister Gillani and the whole Pakistani team, in three areas – talking about our counterterrorism relationship; talking about our regional relationship, meaning Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S., but also the Silk Road vision; and then talking about our bilateral relationship.
So I think as you heard from the Secretary’s comments, particularly when she was in the press conference with Foreign Minister Khar, and – she was able to outline in response to a question some of the concrete areas where we want to work. But particularly with regard to counterterrorism, she spoke about the importance of working together to end the safe havens both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and specifically the need to squeeze the Haqqani Network.
And what does she mean by squeezing? She spoke about intelligence-sharing to ensure we’re working together against their activities. She talked about the importance of doing all we can to stop the planning and the execution of attacks. She also highlighted for you publicly and for the Pakistani people publicly the importance of really implementing the Pakistani strategy, their own national strategy on countering IEDs. And you all heard her talk about the fertilizer problem, which is one of the inputs to IEDs.
She also spoke quite a bit publicly about what we mean by reconciliation. We mean U.S. and Pakistani support for an Afghan-led process that meets the Afghans’ own red lines. You know these red lines well. She said them about 12 times this morning. This is in the context of people who are prepared to renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, support the Afghan constitution in all of its elements, including full support for universal human rights, rights of women, rule of law. And she was very strong, as you saw in all of her public comments, got even more strong over the course of the day that she is not prepared to support anything that would roll back the progress that Afghanistan has seen on all of these elements.
And on the bilateral side, I think a lot of the elements that were talked about over the course of this visit also came out quite clearly in her public comments – the need to move, as the Pakistanis are asking, from an aid-based relationship to a trade-based relationship; the need to build – work together on sustainable initiatives that will give Pakistanis and Americans a real stake in this relationship and will support progress and prosperity. And she named a few of the things that we are working on – enterprise fund – I should have taken a better note here – but you’ll see those in the transcript.
But – so obviously, trying to move things from an aid-based relationship to a trade-based relationship. But again, some of these things require congressional support, they’re going to require that we also make progress on the other dockets – on the fight, talk, build docket – in order to make these things possible.
So why don’t I stop there and go to questions that you have, things that you need unpacked from what she said today.
QUESTION: Can you give us any indication at all – she said at the town hall (inaudible) that there’s agreement on 99 percent of issues, there’s been a clearing of the air. It seems like some progress, but can you qualify that at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: In the context of the reconciliation but talk agenda, I think the issue here is how you conduct this dialogue or tri-alogue or whatever it’s going to be. And first of all, a reassertion that we are all agreeing on these red lines, that we are all agreeing that it’s going to take – that it has to be Afghan-led, has to be at the pace and scope that the Afghans decide on. That Pakistan has to play its part in this; it has to encourage reconciliation, not – it has to encourage reconciliation. And that as efforts are made at reconciliation, if the U.S. can play a helpful role, that we would be available to do it – do that.
So that’s the frame, but now we need to operationalize it. What does it mean? And particularly in the context of the awful, horrific experience that the Afghans had with the death of Rabbani. So something went wrong there. And if we’re going to have a talk track, we have to ensure that we’re all working off the script that is going to protect against that kind of thing happening again.
QUESTION: So --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let’s go to Indira and then to Kim.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask – my understanding is that the Pakistanis have been pretty clear in these meetings that they are sticking by the all-party conference statement about prioritizing peace talks with Pakistani-based Taliban groups over military operations. So is it true, as the Pakistanis say, that that was the message they were consistently giving the U.S. side? And so that suggests that they’re more about the talk than about the fight in Pakistan territories at the moment.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The message that we have on their continued – harkening back to the all-parties conference – was the same as what you heard from Foreign Minister Khar today. What does the all-parties conference mean to them? It means that every party in Pakistan got together and agreed that reconciliation, if it can be done right and if it is Afghan-led and if it meets the red lines, is in Pakistan’s interests.
And so as they seek to work with Afghanistan and with us on this, what I heard there, I think what we heard in general, was that they need to keep the Pakistani body politic together on this agenda. And they think that they have a framework for doing that with this agreement of the all-parties council.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Pakistan that the discussion has been since the all-parties conference that they want to prioritize peace talks, that that is the way they want to go, that the military operations of the last two years haven’t achieved what they want.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The conversation that we had, both last night and throughout the day, was very much on the lines that we have to squeeze them. We’re obviously working with the Afghans to fight them, those who will not reconcile, but we also have to have a track for talking for those who are willing to come in off the battlefield within the parameters that we’ve – that the Afghans have set and that we have supported. So I don’t think there’s any different disagreement between us, that we have to fight and squeeze even as we talk.
QUESTION: I don’t know if this is putting the cart before the horse, but when you say we need to find a way to – we need to look at how to operationalize the process, I mean, are you starting to talk about where and who and what form, what formats, how long, or not yet?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, all of those kinds of things have to be worked out, but I think we needed to start with ensuring we were all on the same page in terms of the framework, because if we learned anything from Rabbani, it was that it wasn’t going right.
QUESTION: And another question: The foreign minister, in her comments, said that – she basically admitted there were safe havens in Pakistan. It’s not exactly new, but it seemed to be more of an overt admission that this was the case. It’s a rare statement, I thought, by a Pakistani official. Do you find that they are more willing, at the moment, to acknowledge some of these things, or a slip of the tongue of hers?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that she started – remember where she started in for her press conference, that the meeting last night resulted in strategic congruence – was that the term she used? I would take you back to – right? So it takes you back to this general framework that we recognize we’ve got a problem. So I think her statements speak for themselves in terms of the mutual recognition.
QUESTION: But if she’s thinking --
QUESTION: Are you willing to --
QUESTION: I mean – sorry. Is what you’re hearing from she said, is that similar to what others have said or is she just one lone voice who happens to have made that statement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think she was representative of the conversation that we had.
QUESTION: I have a big one and a little on, or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Please.
QUESTION: -- vice versa. The first one is: Just as sort of context for this whole meeting, the interagency coming here en masse, basically, was the Rabbani assassination a trigger that in – that sort of set the U.S. Government on this tack of saying we’ve got to get all of the big wheels in Islamabad as soon as possible to make sure we reach this on the same page understanding that we just talked about? Is that – was that the cause and effect?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s all three – or it was all three pieces at once, the fight, talk, and build pieces; that on the fight side, the Afghans, with U.S. and ISAF support, have really stepped it up on the border regions. Many of you have been reporting on this over the last week. We have to have similar effort on the Pakistani side. And we had had tensions about that over the past time. I don’t have to remind you of that. There was the talk side, where we’ve had – we have to get it together how this is going to go, and that was a piece of this. And then on the build side, we have in a week, or two weeks, this meeting in Istanbul on the New Silk Road Initiative, where Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S., and many other players are going to be there.
We have an opportunity here to change the dynamic through better economic openness, better transportation and infrastructure links, and to have both – the people on both sides of the border see the benefits of a cooperative, collaborative relationship with U.S. support, with other neighbors pitching in, with international support, and then also this issue that the Secretary talked about, about the importance of direct dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I think it’s all of it together. It’s the turbulence that we’ve had. And then the third piece was that, on the Pakistani side, we’ve been concerned about lack of unity of message and effort. And on the – and the Pakistanis have also accused us of lack of unity of message and effort. So this was all the players together, setting it out going forward.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the way – Elise.
QUESTION: On the Afghan-led reconciliation, how do you reconcile the fact about what Karzai is saying is that how can it be Afghan-led if the Pakistanis are controlling the Taliban and the Pakistanis are saying it has to be Afghan-led? So do you think that the Pakistanis are – yes, in theory, they support reconciliation if it’s done right or it’s Afghan-led, but do you sense that the Pakistanis are willing to use their influence on the Taliban to say, hey guys, because you know that the Pakistanis are – have been – prevented the Taliban from talking, and they maybe – talk to some people on the ground, they say that members of the Haqqani Network, some of them do want to talk but they say the Pakistanis are threatening us. I know how true that is, but that’s what we hear (inaudible). So the Pakistanis – are the Pakistanis committed to using their influence with the Taliban to get them to the table, and the Haqqani Network to get them to the table?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is precisely what Karzai was asking for in the press conference that we had with him. This is precisely what the Pakistani public emphasis on their own all-parties congress – conference commitment to reconciliation was about, reminding themselves that they all have supported this, and that that’s the message that they have to give, and that’s the vector that they have to take if this is going to work.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) committed to do it, then?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was the conversation that we had, that Afghan-led, within the red lines, and all of us pulling in the same direction, so that those who want to come off the battlefield can, that there’s a way to do it, but that we also have a very rigorous standard for whether this is true reconciliation, and it’s everybody’s standard.
QUESTION: Can you talk about what – the meetings that she’s talking about with the Haqqanis? This is the meeting that was reported about that happened in August, or reported about in August but happened before then. I’m trying to get a sense because she mentioned the meeting happened, so the Pakistanis organized it. She’s then – I think she then mentioned the attack in Wardak. And is it correct that the attack on Wardak happened after this meeting, as did the attack on the Embassy?
QUESTION: And she also made – it sounded like it was two meetings – (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Do you – does anybody remember what the date of the attack in Wardak?
QUESTION: It was after (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So let me just go through a little bit more on this point.
QUESTION: Just for these two meetings, she said we talked with the Taliban --
QUESTION: No, no. This is just the Haqqani meeting. I’m not talking about the Taliban. That’s --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So, the Secretary made a statement in her TV interview on this issue, just to give you a little bit of background on what she was referring to. First of all, to remind you that we have said in the context of this Afghan-led reconciliation, within the Afghan and U.S.-shared red lines, that we have had a lot of informal straws in the wind.
This was one meeting. It was in the summer. We had it because ISI asked us to have it. The ISI asked us to have it. And the Afghans also knew about it. And our message was very clear: The door is open to those who can meet these red lines. And those who want to keep fighting us, the Afghans, we are prepared for that fight.
QUESTION: All right. Can you be a little more specific about where was it? When? When you say the summer --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That is all I’m prepared to say.
QUESTION: Can you say if it was before – see, you had this meeting before.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m told it was --
QUESTION: That Wardak attack was in September.
QUESTION: So it was afterwards? Yeah, both the Embassy and Wardak were after this meeting.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct. This meeting was in the summer. Both Wardak and the Embassy were after.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify that she said, in one sentence, “We have met with the Taliban,” comma, “we have met with the Haqqani Network,” so what was the other meeting that she was referring to about the Taliban?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: What I’ve just spoken of was with regard to the ISI-requested initiative with regard to Haqqani. On the larger effort to reconcile the Taliban, as I said at the outset, we’ve had a number of informal straws in the wind to support the Afghan-led process, so that’s what she was referring to.
QUESTION: So when she used the words, “We have reached out to the Haqqani Network,” what she really meant was the ISI said it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The ISI said it, asked us to do it.
QUESTION: And what was their justification for asking?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m not prepared to say anything more about this than what I’ve just said. We’re not going to get into precisely when, who, where.
QUESTION: How about why?
QUESTION: How about why?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The why was because we were asked by ISI to give this a try.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Because it was – the question was, as I said at the beginning, Afghan-led process, has to be supported by Pakistan, U.S. prepared to play a role if the Afghans think it can be helpful. So this was an instance where we were asked by ISI to give our position clearly – give the position clearly – and the Afghans supported that, and so we did it.
QUESTION: Can we go back to that fight thing for a minute?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because she talked about the intelligence sharing, she talked about the cross-border – or border crossings, the fertilizer and IED stuff she talked about. She made it sound there – in the discussions, particularly last night, that there were very specific plans, military or intelligence plans or operations, that were on the table being discussed. Is that true? And if so, did the Pakistanis respond in a positive way or did they continue in the vein of the foreign minister today, who seemed to be saying they’re (inaudible) on both sides, “We’ve been engaged with the Taliban”?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would say that the things that the Secretary talked about publicly, the list that you talked through, represents the – in the same way on reconciliation, we’re trying to all get on the same page about what the talk part of the initiative entails. On the fight part of the initiative, we wanted to make sure that the Pakistanis understood very clearly what the Afghans, with ISAF and U.S. support, are doing on their side of the border, and to have a serious conversation about how one might squeeze the Haqqani Network on this side of the border. Obviously, it has to be Pakistani-led, but we’re prepared to support intelligence, technical training, that kind of thing.
So that was the conversation, was how do we move forward on the squeeze and fight aspect.
QUESTION: But was that specific?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we’ve shared as many specifics as we’re prepared to share. We have to go forward now with a strategy.
QUESTION: She had – just to follow up, when she talked about --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you want to jump in here, [Senior State Department Official Two]?
QUESTION: -- operations within days and weeks, not in years --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, what – okay --
QUESTION: And I wondered – that it made it sound like we’re asking for this (inaudible) and we need that not to be some strategic agreement that we can all take home, but I mean actual specific things that need to be done right now. I mean, she mentioned urgency at least 15 times yesterday.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Again, we want to see steps, and we talked about the need for steps in days and weeks, not in months and years. So yes, we want to inject a sense of urgency in articulating and implementing the squeeze strategy on this side of the border.
QUESTION: But --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I would say days and weeks, not months and years, goes for the entire (inaudible) issue.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Exactly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible.) It wasn’t specific, but I think she said we need to operationalize these things in a matter of days and weeks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: But she meant – she also talked about operationalizing the talks (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The entire conversation – we have to get going now.
QUESTION: But you can’t talk to us about the operationalizing of (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But we’re – and to your question about whether or not they spoke specifically about the kinds of things that can be done to put a squeeze on the Haqqani Network, they did. We’re not going to get into the specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. But can I just follow up, though? I mean, yesterday they were supporting Haqqani and like, if not kind of implicit in – or condoning, and certainly not doing anything to stop these attacks. And today, they’re all of a sudden making – they have changed the calculus, that they could be going against and squeezing them? I mean, have you --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I – look, look --
QUESTION: Yeah, I just think it’s a jump from where they were yesterday to then going after and squeezing them.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You heard the Secretary in the TV interviews talk about what it would have looked like if the terrorists against the embassy, the terrorists in Wardak, had been more successful. And she spoke very clearly about that. And that was a message that was also conveyed in private. So it’s a matter of all sides – Afghans, Pakistanis, U.S. – understanding that we have got to work together on all three of these things, and we have to do it urgently because the situation is urgent.
So that was why we bring this full delegation here to meet a full delegation on their side, because we have to now operationalize. We have to first agree on the frame – which we have done – and now we have to operationalize.