Interview With Margaret Warner of PBS
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton thanks for being with us. Now, you’ve been to Pakistan many times, but never as Secretary of State, never at such a volatile time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Was there anything unexpected that you found here, something that you didn’t imagine?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Margaret, it wasn’t that I found here anything unexpected; it was that I knew before I came that we had our work cut out for us, that there was a level of mistrust and misunderstanding that I wanted to tackle head on, because in my previous times here about 15 years ago, and then three times as senator, I had a very warm feeling about Pakistan. I have a great deal of admiration for the culture and the history and the struggle of the people of Pakistan.
But what became clear in the time that I’ve been Secretary of State is that there was an enormous number of questions about our motive, our intention, our actions, that had been built up over the last eight years, so I wanted to try to address those. And I didn’t want to just talk to the government. I obviously am spending three days, which is a long trip for a Secretary of State, but to do so in order to go out and meet people and hear and listen and have a really good dialogue, which I think we’ve had.
QUESTION: But it is – you say, you know, you’re saying to all these audiences, “Let’s turn the page.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: And they’re saying, “Well, no, let’s read some old chapters first.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) That’s true. Well, but I think that’s a kind of necessary stage to go through, because I don’t think anybody from our government has really ever done this in recent memory – at least that’s what I’m told – where you subject yourself to the pent-up feelings of the Pakistani media, of the Pakistani young people, of the business community, of women, of all kinds of audiences. And it is what I try to do in every place that I go, but it was especially important to do here.
We will not always agree. We have different perspectives, experiences, historical understandings of how we got to where we are right now. But I think it is important for me to be seen as really building the confidence and the trust that we need to have between our two countries to pursue our mutual interests.
QUESTION: But you also had some blunt talk for them. I mean, using just one example from yesterday at that roundtable with the newspaper editors, who were going on and on about the trust issue, and then you said, “Well, you know, let’s talk about trust, and al-Qaida’s been here since 2002, I find it hard to believe that anyone in your government doesn’t know where they are.”
Are you saying there that you think there are people in significant positions in the government who are complicit in protecting them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, but what I am saying – and I think the context is as you portrayed it – I respect their perceptions, whether or not they comport with what I believe to be the reality of their not trusting us on a range of issues. And I have been very willing to entertain every single question that was on their minds about the Kerry-Lugar bill, about other kinds of actions that they see us taking, which they either don’t understand or they’re not sure they agree with.
But in order to have the kind of partnership that we are seeking between our two countries, the trust deficit goes both ways. We have some questions of our own, and I think it would have been unfortunate if I was not willing to say, well, okay, fine, I’m willing to answer your questions, but we have questions. We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we certainly entertain them. And we also have some points we’d like to make about your economic development. Why is a country like Pakistan that has so many talented people and so many successful and affluent people not doing more to deal with the poverty that, unfortunately, marks the lives of the vast majority of Pakistanis?
So I thought it was a rich and important exchange of views, and I think we are laying questions on the table. But when it comes to what Pakistan is now doing in the war against the extremists – al-Qaida and their allies – I’m very encouraged. I think that the questions that have been raised in the past about their capacity and their resolve are being answered by the actions that they’ve taken in Swat and in Waziristan. But clearly, this is just the beginning. And it is not just about the Pakistani Taliban who are threatening their state and attacking their institutions --
QUESTION: Which is their interest at the moment.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Which is their interest, and it needs to be their priority. I fully accept that. But if you believe, as I do, that increasingly, these extremist groups are part of a syndicate, that al-Qaida is a major player in that syndicate, that they provide training and direction and funding and encouragement to the kinds of attacks that go on on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, then you cannot just say that you’re finished when you clear out South Waziristan, because these groups are still connected and they have to be defeated.
QUESTION: So you met with the army chief of staff General Kayani --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: -- last night and the intelligence chief General Pasha. What did they tell you about their intentions in South Waziristan? I mean, are they clearing out the militants so that they can just go somewhere else, or are they taking them out?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think they’re doing both. I mean, they are very committed to seeing through this action in South Waziristan. And they gave me a briefing on where they are in their campaign against the Taliban.
QUESTION: Which is?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they’re making real progress. And I think that the sacrifice that the Pakistanis have undertaken, the loss of life that they are suffering, is the clearest evidence of their seriousness and their resolve. But the terrain on which these battles are fought obviously is extremely challenging, and there will be certain elements that will escape, just as they escaped from the United States military in Afghanistan back in ’01 and ’02. So that’s why you have to clear and hold the ground you take. And they’re very concerned about reconstruction in both Swat and Waziristan, something that we want to help them and have been helping them on. But they also know that the attacks will continue unless they continue to go after these organizations. And I am very convinced that they understand that and they will.
QUESTION: But then you’re talking about you would like them to also be willing to go into more settled areas, like in Quetta, where many of the top Taliban and al-Qaida figures are believed to be.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think, ultimately, that is an inescapable responsibility that we see has to be met. Wherever they are, the fact that they can still operate freely, that they can still communicate and direct actions, not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan but elsewhere in the world. We just had some arrests in our country of people who are clearly connected to al-Qaida and other extremist groups here in Pakistan. So we want to keep the pressure on, because I don’t think any of us, including Pakistan, can be successful in defeating this extremist threat unless we do take out the continuing leadership that is present here, present in Afghanistan and other places.
QUESTION: So what did they tell you are their concerns about President Obama’s impending decision on Afghanistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are very knowledgeable about the challenges in Afghanistan. So what we discussed in great detail was the perspective that they bring to the decision that President Obama has to make. Now, this has – the perspective of the military and the intelligence leaders has been shared with Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal and General Petraeus and --
QUESTION: Right. This isn’t the first time they’ve voiced --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, it’s not the first time. And we really appreciate their consulting and advising us on this. But at the end of the discussion, what is clear is that we’re in this together. We have a common threat and a common enemy. The best way to achieve our strategic goals of defeating al-Qaida and their extremist allies and creating a political situation that permits the reintegration of the foot soldiers back into society and undermines their commitment to militancy is really the strategy on both sides of the border, and how best to achieve that is what we discussed.
QUESTION: I guess what I’m asking is did they tell you that they’re worried about reports that the President may be settling on a strategy of protecting mostly the population areas, the settled areas in Afghanistan? I mean, do they feel that will leave them exposed on the border?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. There was a story circulating that the United States and our ISAF allies had removed a lot of our troops from the border, and that was raised with me on several different occasions by the press and by officials. But that’s not the case, and they know that; that we have actually beefed up our border, but we’re changing the way that we are taking on the border responsibilities. These small isolated outposts that have been tried are not the best way, so there’s going to be some consolidation, some more patrolling, but there are actually more troops, not fewer.
QUESTION: But are you saying that whatever the new strategy is, there will be forces maintained along that border?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there will be a continuing joint effort by the Pakistanis and the American and our allies and the Afghan security force. I mean, remember, part of what we are looking to do is to build up a more robust and effective Afghan security force that can be patrolling their own border eventually. And that will be done in several different ways, and we discussed that last night. Because in this very rugged terrain, eventually, local people have to believe it is in their interest to protect themselves.
QUESTION: But are American boots going to remain on the ground in the border areas?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, yes, of course. But what numbers and where, that’s up to our generals to determine.
QUESTION: And the President?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, the President. But the President is not going to micromanage what our generals do. The President is going to say, “Here’s our strategic objectives, here’s what is needed for us to meet the mission we have, here are the troops that you’re going to be given, here are the civilians and the political strategy that we are integrating.” But he’s not going to be looking at a map and saying, “Do you have two people there and four people there?” That’s not the way it’s done.
QUESTION: Finally, you said yesterday, that the President will make his decision, or announce his decision, when the election in Afghanistan is – quote – “finally resolved.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Afterwards, right.
QUESTION: Now, that took weeks and weeks last time. Are you saying he’s going to wait till all the challenges are settled?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no. I think – I just said he’s going to do it after the election. So when that is, is up to the President. But I think it’s important to remind your viewers that back in March when the strategy was first unrolled – the strategy’s not going to change. I mean, we are still committed to defeating al-Qaida and their extremist allies and to have a combined civilian-military strategy that works with the Afghans themselves.
The President said we will reevaluate this after the election. It’s just that the election hasn’t gotten over yet. So there’ll be the run-off on November 7th, and hopefully, the results will be in sooner than they were from the first round. But since our strategy really does take into account what the Afghans themselves are willing to do – not just in Kabul, but certainly Kabul is a big piece of this, and the president, his cabinet, however that turns out, governors, district leaders, all kinds of responsible parties – we want to make sure that they know what we’re expecting of them. And it’s been a little difficult to present that until we know exactly how this is turning out.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Margaret.