Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for speaking to the BBC again.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: We’re very grateful for your time. I wanted to start by asking you about the United States relationship with Pakistan. You’ve worked very hard to try to address the trust deficit, as you called it. How do you feel you’re doing, and what remains to be done?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I think we’re making progress. I do believe we started at quite a deficit. But over the course of the last 16, 17 months, we have slowly but surely created more confidence and understanding. We have launched a Strategic Dialogue that brings together people in our governments and experts to talk about issues that are of mutual concern. We are focused on our mutual enemy, the terrorists who have caused so much destruction here in Pakistan but which also pose a threat to the United States and much of the rest of the world. We have worked to create a better relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan through a trilateral mechanism that we began.
So all in all, we’ve made progress. But I don’t want to oversell it because every day I know how much more needs to be done. But there is an openness and a level of candor that is more helpful in dealing with our ongoing challenges.
QUESTION: But how much do you still worry about an attack against the U.S. that could emanate from Pakistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I worry about it all the time. And so do the Pakistanis. It’s very clear that the Pakistani Government understands its responsibility to its own people to protect them from attacks, but also to the United States and the rest of the world. So we have increased our cooperation, deepened our relationship when it comes to fighting terrorism. There are still additional steps that we are asking and expecting the Pakistanis to take. But there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that should an attack on the United States be traced to Pakistan, it would be a very devastating impact on our relationship.
QUESTION: One of those steps that you mentioned may possibly be going after the Haqqani Network, isn’t it? Because the Pakistanis have still not gone into North Waziristan to pursue the Haqqani Network, which has been described as the real biggest threat possible against force – American troops, NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also against the United States. There have been calls to step up drone attacks to target the Haqqani Network because the Pakistanis themselves aren’t doing it. Would you support that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to talk about any operational methods at all, but what I would say is that in the beginning of our dialogue there was very little activity on the part of the Pakistani Government against any terrorist group, even the ones that were moving inexorably closer to Islamabad or which were very clearly attacking Pakistani targets elsewhere in the country. Now, that has changed and the Pakistani military has taken significant losses in going after a number of these terrorist groups.
There is, however, an absolute link now among all these terrorist groups. It’s like having a poisonous snake in your backyard, and you think, well, he’ll only attack intruders or strangers, he won’t turn on us. Well, now I think that the network of terrorists is clearly a threat to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and beyond, and we expect to see greater activity in cooperation with the Pakistanis against all these networks.
I see them as a syndicate of terror. You can’t separate one out. They are cooperating across the lines that used to divide them. And frankly, they are no longer so choosy about their targets. They are engaged in terrible attacks here in Pakistan and beyond. So we are going to continue to press for specific action against all of them.
QUESTION: You call – you refer to them as a terrorist group. There have been calls within the U.S. for the State Department to list the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization. Are you considering doing that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, we are. And of course, we have designated a number of their leaders over the years as terrorists and we’re now looking at whether and how to describe the group and if it meets the legal criterion for naming it.
QUESTION: How long would it take to --
SECRETARY CLINTON: It takes several weeks to begin that process.
QUESTION: You’ve encouraged the Pakistanis and the Afghans to talk to each other and we have seen a thaw. Are you possibly now worried that they’re leaving you out of the conversation, positioning themselves for the day when, eventually, American troops leave Afghanistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I’m not, Kim, and the reason I’m not is because decreasing the mistrust, the historic mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, among their people and between their leaders, is one of our key objectives, because we don’t see how you get a stable Afghanistan or a long-term outlook for stability in Pakistan if there is not some better coordination and cooperation between the two countries. And we are very much in the mindset that the more cooperation and the more that they begin to see a common future, particularly as against the destabilizing effects of the terrorist groups, the better it will be. And the more that you can get a peaceful, stable Afghanistan and Pakistan, the less of a threat that is to the United States or anyone else.
QUESTION: But the Pakistanis are trying to position themselves for the day when American troops are no longer in Afghanistan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, American commitment to Afghanistan will be enduring. It’s similar to what is going on in Iraq. We may be withdrawing combat troops, but we have a very clear set of understandings between the United States and Iraq, a path forward on continuing assistance that we’re providing. Off into the future, I see the same kind of relationship with Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Moving on to Afghanistan, we’re going to see a major international conference in Kabul this week. It’s yet another conference, and it seems as though very little is changing. There is some progress, but very little is changing. What is this conference about? Is it just about the optics?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think so, Kim. I think it’s a much more positive event than that. First, you have many countries who are contributing to the military action in Afghanistan through the International Security Forces, ISAF, and of course NATO, which is deeply involved outside of our traditional NATO territory. And their young men and women are dying in Afghanistan, and so I think it’s appropriate that there would be updates about what the progress of the military action is, because the United States has made it very clear that we are committed to providing security, but security alone through military means is not enough.
So then we have to look at how all of our efforts, bilateral efforts, through the United Nations, the World Bank, and else – other organizations, are helping the Afghan Government get more capacity and deliver services. Now, the fact is that life is improving for the average Afghan. That doesn't mean it’s everywhere in the country and it doesn't mean that we haven’t still a lot of headaches ahead of us. But there are significant indicators of progress, but they’re not fast enough for the Afghan people or for the international community. I mean, we are a notoriously impatient people – America – and so part of my caution is we need strategic patience. We know what happens when we abruptly and prematurely leave Afghanistan.
So part of what this conference is about is a stock-taking, bringing everybody to the table, asking for reports from the Afghan Government, and frankly, having a very open exchange of what our questions and criticism might be.
QUESTION: You talk about the lack of patience. The war has been going on for nine years, admittedly only a year and a half under this Administration’s watch. But there is a growing war weariness in the United States. There is a sense that the end goal isn’t clear and there are calls now for the beginning of a drawdown possibly to perhaps see the Administration narrow the goals that it has in Afghanistan. Is this something you’re considering, or do you feel that you have the right strategy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have the right strategy. It’s a difficult strategy and it’s one that takes time to implement. But remember what we did; we inherited a situation where, for eight years, there had not been a response to the consistent request by our own commanders to put enough troops into Afghanistan to reverse the resurgent Taliban momentum. It was President Obama who inherited a request for troops, who I believe had the courage and the wisdom to step up and say we’re going to fulfill those troop requests. So for eight years, we were in a holding pattern and it was a deteriorating holding pattern, which was apparent to our military on the ground.
And I think it is important for Americans to realize that given the review of strategy that President Obama ordered, we, for the first time, began looking at the interconnection between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan was not going after any terrorists in any significant way prior to our revisiting what the best strategy forward was.
I understand completely the questions and the impatience, and I just have a broken heart every time we lose any of our young men and women or any of our allies in Afghanistan and elsewhere do. But this is a fight worth waging. And yes, there is a civilian component to it which is very significant, but in the absence of security and in the absence of people being able to defend themselves – and it was a great step forward when President Karzai agreed with General Petraeus to establish these local defense units – all of that could have been done five, six, seven years ago. But it wasn’t.
So are we playing catch-up? I’d be the first to admit we are. But I don’t see an alternative and I think that we are on the right track. We just have to persevere, and I think we can do that.
QUESTION: I have two final questions, one about reintegration and reconciliation. At the conference in Kabul, we’re going to see, as far as I understand, the launch of the reintegration program for low-level fighters. What about reconciliation? Because that is really the key to long-term political stability. Would you accept to see a power-sharing deal between the Karzai government and some elements of the Taliban?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Only under the most stringent conditions, and I have been very clear on that from the beginning. Any group that wishes to be in the political system, any individual leader who wishes the same, must renounce violence, must abide by the constitution and laws of the Afghanistan Government, must renounce al-Qaida. We cannot have any continuing connection between al-Qaida, which is at the heart of this syndicate of terrorism, and any of these groups inside of a government. And we must be sure that when we’re talking about enforcing the laws and constitution, that includes women’s rights, which to me is a very significant issue. It’s not going to be satisfactory if you have a government that continues to oppress its women, because, unfortunately, that is an unstable government and the future of it is not at all clear.
QUESTION: And just a final question on a totally different topic, Libya.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: You had a call with the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and you both agreed that the decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a mistake.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But he has been released.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: He is still alive. He is a free man in Libya.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: What are you going to do about it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m very regretful. I made my views known to the British Government, to the Scottish Government, consistently, during the process of considering this request for medical release. We have asked for additional information. Foreign Secretary Hague has been very forthcoming in saying clearly that his government, that Prime Minister Cameron, opposes – opposed the release.
QUESTION: But it can’t be turned back.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know if there’s any legal way to do that. I doubt it. But we at least want to get to the bottom of what actually happened.
QUESTION: Are you looking into the possibility that there is a legal way to turn this back?
SECRETARY CLINTON: From everything we know, there isn’t. But it is a very clear lesson as to why, when you have such a horrific crime committed, you have to go the extra mile to be very careful. And we want to know some of the details that are now being raised. And as you know, our Congress will be launching a congressional hearing into this.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. Thank you for your time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Kim.