Special Briefing On Upcoming Kabul Conference

Special Briefing
Richard Holbrooke
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Washington, DC
July 13, 2010

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. As we do from time to time, when Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has traveled to the region, we bring him back down to kind of use -- review of his meetings to kind of give you a sense of where we are in terms of our policies and actions in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.


We also know that the Secretary’s getting ready to travel, and we’ll have more to say about the particulars of her travel later this week. Clearly, a major element of her travel will be participation in the Kabul Conference next week. So this is not really a trip briefing, per se. If it’s a trip briefing, it’s really about Richard’s travel over the past couple of weeks.


He was in Pakistan and took stock with the Pakistani officials of the various 13 working groups that we have as part of the Pakistani Strategic Dialogue. He was in Afghanistan working on some of the policy issues that will be a part of the Kabul Conference. He’s got some – his own travel, in addition, coming up in the next week or two. So – but with that, we thought we’d bring Richard back in and kind of give you a sense of where we think we are in terms of our Af-Pak strategy.




AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: He did not mean Af-Pak. (Laughter.) He meant Afghanistan-Pakistan. P.J., we talked about that.


MR. CROWLEY: I stand – I sit corrected. (Laughter.)


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes. Where’s – do you have any water, I’m sorry. I’ve got a little – it’s good to be back with all of you. And I am really between trips. I leave again tomorrow for Germany, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and London on the way back. And it’s – I’m just back from another trip. And we’ve – I think I want to start by talking a little bit about Pakistan.


No, let me start with Germany. In Germany, I’m going to meet with the coordinator for the international special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan group, Michael Steiner, who coordinates internationally and does a wonderful job. This is a very important organization which has grown from zero 15 months ago to somewhere around 35 counterparts now. It’s an extraordinary organization because it has no formal mandate, and yet it is functioning, meeting regularly. We met in Madrid in May and we will meet again in Italy in the fall. And we have moved around the world. We met in Abu Dhabi in January. And this group has proved to be an indispensible vehicle for coordinating civilian programs.


Now, it doesn’t have the formality of NATO, which is a legal treaty organization with a military command structure. But it proved to fill an essential gap in our policy structure. And we’re very grateful to Michael Steiner and the Germans for coordinating it. And many of you in this room know many details about it. There are seven OIC countries that are members, and we hope that number will increase dramatically. The seven OIC countries are Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia. And I draw your attention to the importance of the fact that so many Muslim countries are participating in this effort, which gives the direct lie to the clash of civilizations theory, which the Taliban and al-Qaida put out so continually. And I’ll be happy to take questions on that subject, which has received virtually no press attention in the United States. We expect more OIC countries to come. And the last meeting was focused very much on the Kabul Conference, which P.J. just mentioned.


In terms of my trip to Islamabad, this will be my 14th trip to Pakistan since I took this job, my second in less than a month, and we are focused on a very intense follow-up to the strategic dialogue, which took place here in Washington on March 24th and 25th. In that dialogue, 13 working groups were set up. And Foreign Minister Qureshi asked that all the groups come to Islamabad to discuss activities. The groups are – I want to be very clear on this – all 13 have now met.


Let me just give you the names of the groups: agriculture, communications and public diplomacy, defense, economics and finance – I’ll give you the chairs, if you want, later – education, energy, health, law enforcement and counterterrorism, market access, science and technology, security strategic stability and nonproliferation, water, women’s empowerment. Those are the 13 groups, all of which have met in Islamabad. When I was there a few weeks ago – two and a half weeks ago, excuse me – I met with Foreign Minister Qureshi and representatives of all the groups, and that process is continuing apace, and that is the critical operational detail in the strategic dialogue.


In addition, we will have continuing discussions in Islamabad with the government on their dialogue with Afghanistan, a very important dialogue which, I believe, is beginning to show signs of some degree of building some degree of mutual confidence between Kabul and Islamabad. Nothing could be more important to the resolution of the war in Afghanistan than a common understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan on what their strategic purpose is. That’s a really important issue and it’s one that is a long, arduous, complicated process because of the complicated history between the two countries going back to the day that Pakistan became an independent state. So it is a longstanding goal of this Administration. From the early part of this Administration, we’ve identified that as a critical issue, and we are continuing to work on it.


In Afghanistan, I will be there to attend the Kabul conference, along with the delegation that will be led by Secretary Clinton and that will be – I will – excuse me, I will stay on a little bit after her and work on some other issues involving the reintegration program, discussions with AID, discussions with General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry and others. And then I’ll stop in London on the way out to continue discussions with the British.


With that, I’ll take your questions.




QUESTION: Lalit Jha. I have two questions. One, what is Kabul Conference all about? This – is it a pledging conference of what – some donations, money, have been given to Afghanistan? And secondly, this week in Islamabad, foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are meeting there after longtime revival of Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue. How helpful is it for you to achieve your goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the second part of your question, anything that reduces tensions and increases confidence and understanding between Pakistan and India is something we would encourage and support. But we are not directly involved in those talks. I did have a very good discussion this morning with the Indian Ambassador to the United States who came and at my invitation so that I could brief her on the things we’re talking about here.


In regard to the first part of your question, our – this is not a pledging conference. It’s not a pledging conference. It is a follow-on to the January 28th Conference held in London and it was called at the invitation of President Karzai. I am told it’s the largest gathering of foreign leaders in Afghanistan since the 1970s. It will be an Afghan-led conference, and in it, the Afghan Government has told us that they will present their renewed commitments on security, governance, development, and they will put heavy emphasis on their programs on reintegration. This is a – I can’t give you the exact number of foreign ministers who are coming because I really don’t know it, but we know that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be there, the NATO Secretary General Rasmussen will be there, and many other foreign ministers.


I’m sorry about this cough. I apologize.




QUESTION: Ambassador, could you expand a little bit on the integration plan? How you –




QUESTION: Yeah, reintegration, how you see it coming along, how you – a few months ago, I believe, you were looking for the Afghans to come up with a firm plan.




QUESTION: Are you –


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Your memory is exact, Elise.


QUESTION: -- happy with the developments?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And what happened is that the – President Karzai did sign the decree setting it up about, I believe, on July 1st or June 30th – anyway, two weeks ago. And now, you have the program established. The Japanese and the British led an international effort to assemble funds roughly in the neighborhood of $180 million and growing, which now will go into three different baskets. The British have one basket because of their accounting procedures. The United Nations Development Program has another basket. And the government itself will have a trust fund. So the money is starting to come in. This will be a major focus of the conference and Minister Stanekzai is in charge of this issue, as you know. And he was in London and he was in Abu Dhabi, he was in Madrid with us. He’s the key person on the program.


In addition, the Department of Defense has reserved $100 million of CERP funds with congressional approval for this project. And all of you who know General Petraeus know how important this project is to him. David and I have talked about it many, many times as a key ingredient of a successful campaign in Afghanistan. So that is – that, to me, is the really – this is – we’ve talked about this a long time, some of you with us in London in January, where it was a subject. This is the real launch date. That was the announcement of the program. It’s now assembled and ready to go.


QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up about the delisting of certain Taliban from the UN. I mean, you said the U.S. has said kind of in theory that it would be on a case-by-case basis. Are you kind of meeting – reaching a meeting of the minds with the Afghan and the UN over which Taliban members could be delisted?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: This 1267 list – if you don’t mind I’d like to give a little background on this because there’s so much history and misunderstanding on this. The UN Security Council Resolution 1267 was passed in 1999. It’s that old. It predates 9/11. And it was designed because of Taliban noncompliance with certain UN Security Council resolutions. And over the years, names were just dropped into the hopper, particularly after 9/11. And the list grew to about 137 people who are under certain, very specified, international sanctions. They couldn’t travel, they couldn’t have bank accounts, and so on.


And President Karzai, for a long time, has felt this list should be changed dramatically, and he said so publicly. The United States position under the previous administration was to oppose any change in that list. We reexamined this policy starting late last year. There were five names on the list that the Karzai government had specifically asked be delisted. And that was done just before the London Conference in late January.


Now, to get a name delisted takes Security Council approval, which means the five permanent members must do this – must agree. So there’s a UN process. Last week, I went up to New York to talk to the Austrian Ambassador to the UN who was in charge of this process for the UN Security Council, and to various other UN officials, and to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. And we went through these discussions. President Karzai would like to have names dropped from the list. We agree to do that on a case-by-case process.


We will not support a blanket ending of this list. There are people on it who are dangerous threats to the United States and our allies, and there are people on it who are active in movements which threaten to kill members of the coalition. But there are also people on it who are dead. It seems to us we ought to delist them. There are people on it who are fully reconciled. There are people on it who have run from the National Assembly or are even in the National Assembly. There are people who live openly in Kabul or overseas. And we want to scrub the list down. This is not a one-time-only event, as reported in some newspapers in the last few days. It is an ongoing process. And the U.S. is not in charge of it; the UN is. But we are working on it along with them.


QUESTION: Can I ask you a couple of quick things including one on that? Is there any – it’s not just a – you said it’s UN Security Council. Isn’t there a certain northern power which also has some objections to scrubbing names from the list?


MR. CROWLEY: I said that it requires all five Security Council –


QUESTION: Yeah, but isn’t there one in particular?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, do you have anyone in mind?


QUESTION: Well – (laughter).




QUESTION: The Russians.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They have a legitimate role in this process.


QUESTION: No, but don’t they have --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They approved the last five.


QUESTION: Well, right. But I mean --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: We – in January. They have a legitimate role.




AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I talked to very senior Russian officials in the last several weeks on several occasions, and they said they would take each name on a case-by-case basis. And since that’s our position too, it now comes down to each name. And to – it is not unfair to conclude that in the past they were the slowest people to respond, but it is not accurate to say they’re doing that now, because the process is going on. So let’s wait and see.


QUESTION: And then just very briefly, do you still make a distinction, as you did during – in London, between reintegration and reconciliation?




QUESTION: And then the final question is --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Definitely make it.


QUESTION: You do. And you still – you’re still opposed to reconciliation? I mean – yeah, to reconciliation.




QUESTION: Well, you made the big distinction talking about reintegration was one thing and reconciliation was another --




QUESTION: -- and that you weren’t so – you’re not so keen on the whole reconciliation --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t think that’s what I said in London, but you might have a better memory than I do. What I – our position on reintegration is clear, right? We all understand that. Our position on reconciliation should be equally clear. We support Afghan-led reconciliation. I don’t believe that’s a change since London. But in London, the press got way out ahead of the story. No one in this room, frankly. It was the press in London that did it. And that was because certain other people in London were claiming that all sorts of stuff was going on which, in fact, wasn’t. If you go back and read the articles in the press, the British press particularly, on the eve of London and during London, you will conclude that something really major was happening, and that was six months ago. Why have there been no follow-up stories? Because the stories that I’m talking about weren’t true. They were put out there by individuals with their own agendas. All I said in London – I didn’t say I was opposed. What I said was there’s a lot less here than meets the eye if you read the papers. And I think the last six months show that that was accurate.


Now, what is our position on reconciliation? Once again, both the President and the Secretary of State have laid out the red lines on this issue many, many times. I’ll be happy to repeat them if you want, but I think you all know them. And we support Afghan-led reconciliation. We are not in direct contact with the Taliban. There may be other indirect contacts going on, track-two diplomacy, individuals who contact each other, other things, but they don’t involve the United States. And that’s our position.


And we’re not opposed to taking the distinction, which General Petraeus used to talk about a lot and others do now, about reconcilables and irreconcilables. People who are willing to lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaida, participate in the political process, are always ready to be – we’re always ready to reconcile them – groups or in – as individuals.


QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, thank you. Let me ask you, one, what will this Kabul conference will make a difference? And second, as far as change in the command at the highest level from General McChrystal to General Petraeus will make any difference? And finally, as you said that you have briefed the Indian Ambassador here. What role you think India will play in this Kabul Conference?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: First of all, the Kabul Conference will be a very important international demonstration of support for the Government of Afghanistan and they will outline their programs.


Second – let me take your third question and go back to your second. Secondly, in regard to the Indians, you have to address the ambassador here and her government as to who will represent India and how that will be done. But on your larger question, India has a very real role in the region for historic and strategic reasons, and they can play an important role in resolving these issues, going down the – looking forward into the middle distance.


In regard to the change of command at ISAF, I think a lot’s been said on this already. I don’t need to add much. I was in Kabul with General McChrystal when the article appeared. He called me to apologize personally. I – of course, I wasn’t personally upset by what was said. Worse things have been said about me. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Remind us what was said about you? (Laughter.)


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Don’t you have to be accredited to be here? (Laughter.)


And – but the President made the only possible decision under the circumstances of reaffirming civilian control over the military. It wasn’t easy because we all admire and like General McChrystal, myself included, and I worked very closely with him.


We have a seamless transition, and I mean seamless, to General Petraeus, who was my counterpart until a week ago when he took his new job. And incidentally, I got a call from the nominated – his nominated successor, General Mattis, yesterday, who I’ve never met, and we’ve set up a – we’re going to meet as soon as I get back from this trip. And I’ll look forward to working with him.


But David Petraeus is one of the most extraordinary people to wear a uniform that I’ve ever known, and I’ve known a lot of four-stars going all the way back to Vietnam. And David is extraordinary and I’m proud that I’ve been working with him so closely. We continue to remain in very close touch and he’s doing his job. So in terms of its effect on what the Pentagon, the military, would call the battle rhythm, no effect at all, except perhaps an intensification of his emphasis on civilian-military coordination.


Now, David Petraeus and I have always believed in civ-mil coordination, civilian-military coordination. We have held repeated conferences by video conference and in person. We flew out to Afghanistan together in April to chair a two-day conference of the civilian-military involving 300 people, including the Afghan Government’s leadership. We’ve held offsites at Fort McNair on Pakistan and Afghanistan several times. We had plans to continue this process in the fall. Those plans will now be continued with a slight change in personnel, but I will continue to participate in them, continuing my job, which is not – my job is not affected by this command change at all except in terms of having a different counterpart here and having a different commander of ISAF there.


So the point I want to underscore, and I really want to underscore this – glad you asked this question – is David Petraeus has now been in his job for about – what’s today, the 12th?




AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: 13th. So he’s been in the job only 10 days. And he has – he’s just started out at 100 miles an hour and he hasn’t paused. And we’ve had meetings, we’ve had SVTS, we’ve had – and all focusing on civilian-military coordination, which, in my view, and I’ve lived this in other wars, is in very good shape.


QUESTION: But, sir, might I just follow up quickly? Thank you. Will this conference bring peace and stability in Afghanistan and a confidence building for the people of Afghanistan who has not confidence really – much confidence in NATO and others working there?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No one conference is going to end the war. This is a difficult, arduous process.


QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, alignment seems to be the watch word for this conference. I’m wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about the goals for actually bringing the funds in. I know President Karzai is saying that he’s hoping 50 percent or more of the funds can go through central government. And I’m wondering what sorts of monitoring and evaluation or accounting are we looking for from the Afghans to make sure that there isn’t a lot of linkage there.




QUESTION: And what can we do to address concerns like Nita Lowey’s?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let’s not conflate three different issues here – the conference, the flow of funds to the Afghan Government, and Chairwoman Lowey’s situation.


On the first point, the conference and this issue are not directly related. This goal has been a goal that we set into place the week I took this job. And one of the first things I did was ask for an accounting and it turned out that 8.8 percent – 8.8 percent of all American aid went through the government we were trying to strengthen. That made no sense. We were weakening the government we were trying to strengthen. It was one of a number – a large number of things we inherited which we’ve changed dramatically.


Now, it takes a while to make a change, and you talk about the 50 percent goal. That isn’t just President Karzai’s goal. That’s the goal we laid out – the Secretary of State, myself, the President. We’re trying to put – funnel more money through the government to strengthen the government’s ability to strengthen its relations to the government.


This is extraordinarily complicated. First of all, you have contracts with contracting partners, NGOs, and other contractors. Some of it can’t be done, or a big road contract is more difficult to do. But you can take a contract – like, for example, all our women’s programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan used to be done through contracts with companies, usually in the Washington area. And that didn’t make any sense to me. So we phased out most of it except for some accounting purposes and took the money reserved for women’s programs and turned it over to the ambassadors for their – for a fund which would be more flexible and which would eliminate the amount of money that’s diverted in overhead, which was 15 to 25, 30 percent – really very enormous waste of taxpayers’ money.


This created somewhat of a backlash among some of the contractors who felt they were disadvantaged, and some of you guys reported that as though it was an argument between us and the Hill, but it wasn’t. One article – more than one article reported that Senator Kerry and I were at odds on that, but we’re not. John Kerry and I see eye-to-eye on it. We’re saving taxpayer money, we’re increasing flexibility, we’re increasing the flow-through the government.


Now, you raise the question of accountability. That is the issue. Are we less accountable or more accountable under this system? There’s an assumption here that the government – anything that goes to the government automatically disappears into a corrupt maze. That’s not the case with these AID funds. These are not a large part of the overhang. This is not where the corruption lies, in my view. I think there’s a lot of data to support that. And there’s very good oversight.


And anytime you want to get into this more – because it isn’t going to interest everyone here – just let us know, go over to AID, talk to Rajiv Shah again, see what the safeguards are, talk to the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. We – I don’t feel this is a critical issue for a lot of reasons – our oversight and the following. We do not put money through a ministry unless the ministry has passed certain certification tests. Right now, only a handful of ministries have passed that. And as they’re certified, we will increase the amount of money that goes through.


This is a matter of great importance to the Congress, and it brings me to the third part of your question – Congresswoman Lowey. Her concerns were triggered by articles and stuff that she had seen that raised the concern about diversion, corruption, and abuse. So she put a hold on about $3.9 billion worth of appropriations, but she fenced it off so it isn’t going to be diverted to other things. Meanwhile, we – I’ve talked to her at great length about this.


There was a hearing – I was supposed to testify before her tomorrow, and I’m testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee in the afternoon and then leaving for Europe and Pakistan. I was going to testify before her in the morning. She postponed the hearing two weeks for technical reasons, so I’ll testify as soon as I get back. But she went to some lengths to explain that she is not doing this to gut the bill, to gut the assistance to Afghanistan, but to make it more responsive.


And I have great respect for her. She’s – her district is one in which I lived for much of my life and I’ve known her a long time. I think what she’s doing is quite understandable. She’s protecting the taxpayer money and she wants more accountability. And we’re going to work together with her to get that.


MR. TONER: Last couple of questions.




QUESTION: Jack Lew is, as you know, leaving to take a new job, and he’s been very involved in Afghanistan in terms of funding, which you were just talking about, and also structuring the civilian surge. How big a hole does that leave in the civilian side of the Afghanistan strategy?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, Jack and I served in the Clinton cabinet together. I’ve worked very closely with him now in this job and the previous job. He is the – my – other than the Secretary of State, he’s my closest colleague and collaborator in this building on our projects. And I think from my personal point of view, it leaves enormous shoes to fill. He called me before the announcement. We talked about this. He’s going to work right up to the last minute on these issues. He has been tremendously valuable. And when he goes to his new job, a job for which he’s ideally suited – he did it for – he oversaw six budgets under President Clinton – he is going to spend much more time on these issues than otherwise would be the case. So while he’s leaving an enormous gap here, he will also bring a knowledge bred of the intense effort he’s made on this issue and other issues to the table at OMB.


There’s another aspect to Jack’s departure which needs to be looked at. This job he filled had been created by Congress many years ago, I think a decade ago, and had not been filled until Secretary Clinton – Secretary-designate Clinton – decided to fill it. In my experience in this building, this was a transformative event. And with Jack under Secretary Clinton’s guidance, Jack brought a whole new level of State Department involvement to resource issues and it has made a huge difference in this building.


And as he’s leaving, I want to just pay – though he’s not leaving yet, but as his departure is just being announced and he’s being nominated for his new job, I just want to pay a strong tribute to him and to emphasize how important this initiative, this innovation that Secretary Clinton did, has been to all of us. It really has made a difference. Jack did not run the civilian programs in Afghanistan. That was not his job. He did global resources. The personnel buildup, the (inaudible) was under our office. The management and coordination of civilian programs was under our office. The interagency representatives are under our office. But Jack was the indispensible person who reached out, helped work on the global resources, the allocation of resources between the needs for Afghanistan and Pakistan and other needs around the world. And he has done a phenomenal job.


MR. TONER: Last question.


QUESTION: Can I ask you about General Mattis? You mentioned that you haven’t met him, but considering you’re going to be working closely with him, presumably, in the near future, he made some comments several years ago that were pretty derogatory and inflammatory about the Afghan people. And are you concerned at all about working with him and that’s going to make your job more difficult having to have – that your Central Command commander --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I apologize, but I’m totally unaware of what he --


QUESTION: I can read you one of them, actually, if you’d like.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You can read them, but I doubt I’m going to comment. But go ahead. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I’ll just read you one, then. “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” I mean, does it concern you --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: He’s a Marine, right?


QUESTION: He’s a Marine, yes.




QUESTION: Does it concern you at all that that’s who you’re going to be --


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know the context of what he said when he said it. It’s clearly not a reference to the people we’re fighting on the side of. It’s clearly a reference to the Taliban and the treatment of women is something appalling. And while other people might use less colorful, less Marine-like language, the sentiment he expresses is one that I certainly can empathize with.


I’ll take one more question because that’s not much of an answer.


QUESTION: Actually, it sort of relates to this. (Laughter.) Not exactly, but is the U.S. not slightly concerned that there is a sort of contradiction here where, on the one hand, you do want a truly representative government which is possibly led by President Karzai, but on the other, whether it’s through the de-listing issue or other questions in that vein, there are conflicts over who alliances – what sort of alliances can be built in Afghanistan. So are you not concerned that this could snowball into a growing sort of contradiction?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not sure I follow your question. Everyone has said from the beginning that there’s no purely military solution to the war in Afghanistan, right? General Petraeus has said it. We’ve all said it. The President said it. Karzai said it. The – in every war of this sort, there’s always a window for people who want to come in from the cold. This is not a war between two foreign nations. It’s a war between people who are Afghans, some of whom may live next door and take sanctuary next door, but they are Afghans. If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them.


The lack of this reintegration program, the lack of a reconciliation policy, was, to my mind, the greatest single gap in what we inherited. The only reason we’re not – we didn’t have this discussion with all of you 10, 15 months ago was because last year we were consumed by the presidential election. And in the context of the presidential election, it was not possible for either the Karzai government nor the international community to move as rapidly on this program as otherwise would have been the case.


Now, I said all to all of you at the end of last year when I came to report on the elections, and people said, well, what are you going to do about these programs there? The programs were moribund. The so-called PTS program existed only on paper. So this is a big deal, this program. But it’s totally logical and I don’t see any contradiction in it.


Thank you very much.


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PRN: 2010/934