Interview with Associated Press' Patrick Quinn

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Kabul, Afghanistan
December 5, 2013

AP: Sir, I’ll give the floor to you. Basically if you can tell us a little bit about your trip.

Ambassador Dobbins: My trip was fairly routine. In my position I try to get here every month or two. The last time I was here was with Secretary Kerry in mid-October so it was time for another visit.

I did go first to Islamabad. I spent a day there. Then I came here, arrived yesterday morning and will leave this evening. I had contacts with a number of people across sort of the political leader spectrum, if you will, to try to get a sense of where the country stands and among those I did have an opportunity this morning to meet with President Karzai.

A major theme of my discussions, both in Islamabad and here is the issue of reconciliation and the peace process. I think there are opportunities for moving forward there. This is something we’ve tried to advance for some time. The major obstacle has been the Taliban. But we are eager to try to advance the process and we believe that Pakistan is also trying to play a helpful role which is a relatively new and positive factor which suggests that over time there may be opportunities here.

AP: Did you bring the issue of reconciliation up with the President this morning? That has been a major theme --

Ambassador Dobbins: It was I think the major topic of our discussion.

AP: Did the discussion revolve around some of his requests with regard to resolving the issue of the security agreement that we’re about to sign?

Ambassador Dobbins: I’d have to say on the security agreement we didn’t really make any progress. It was sort of a restatement of the known positions. I explained why we thought it was important to remove the anxiety, uncertainty around this as quickly as possible in order to move forward with the election process and to sustain the broad international coalition. There are 40 countries that are part of the current military coalition. There’s an even larger number of countries that are part of the financial coalition. And the longer we postpone this, the more of that support we’re going to lose. The coalition will begin to fragment. The amount of assistance that’s going to be committed is going to start to erode. We really can’t afford to delay this much longer.

I can’t say that the President really changed his position as has been expressed publicly as well as privately.

AP: Was he satisfied with what you briefed him on with regard to what the United States is doing, and you’re free to expound on that if you like, with regard to restarting or starting the reconciliation process and possible talks with the Taliban?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think he has high hopes for this process. I think we’re a little more cautious about what the Taliban is likely to be willing to do. But we agreed that we need to have a common plan and it needs to be a plan in common also with Pakistan who has offered to be helpful. I said I was meeting with the High Peace Council, with Mr. Rabbani this afternoon, and that we would begin to try to elaborate such a plan for moving forward. But I did caution that in the end progress also depended on the Taliban and our assessment was that they continued to be resistant.

AP: As you know, let me get a little more blunt. He has made restarting the talks a conditionality for the agreement, or at least he has made what he refers to as U.S. assistance to getting the talks started as a condition. Were any of those points addressed? Is he satisfied with the efforts that are being made or is he just sticking to his guns?

Ambassador Dobbins: As I said, on the BSA I think we restated what are now familiar conditions. We thought it was important to move forward quickly. He continued to express the views that you’re familiar with.

AP: He’s placed an awful lot of emphasis on Mullah Beradar’s release. In fact during Prime Minister Sharif’s visit here it was a main topic of discussion. In a statement that was issued after the departure of Prime Minister Sharif the palace basically requested what they referred to as the full release of Mullah Beradar. And according to the palace, because the Pakistanis of course have not confirmed this, it was the palace read-out. Prime Minister Sharif said yes, we have agreed to the release, but we have to discuss it with the American side first.

Ambassador Dobbins: I believe that’s what he said, yes.

AP: Is that something you discussed with the Pakistanis?

Ambassador Dobbins: We’ve worked with both the Afghans and the Pakistanis on the issue of Mullah Beradar before. Our positions have been coincident and we need to discuss further exactly what we are looking for and what the Afghans and Pakistanis believe is the appropriate way forward.

AP: Ambassador, are you optimistic that this will lead to something?

Ambassador Dobbins: Reconciliation?

AP: Yes.

Ambassador Dobbins: Over the long term, yes. In the short term, as I said I think the Taliban -- The Taliban certainly don’t have any incentive to facilitate the signature of the BSA.

AP: I know that.

Ambassador Dobbins: So we do think that signing the BSA, holding good elections, having a clear outcome. Those are all things that are going to make reconciliation more fruitful.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to advance the process in the short term, but we need to have realistic expectation of how far in the short term it’s likely to go. But we’re prepared to make efforts to advance the process.