Remarks at the Launch of the Asia Society's Series of Richard C. Holbrooke Memorial Addresses

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
New York, NY
February 18, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, it is wonderful to be back here at the Asia Society, and I thank Vishakha for that introduction and for her strong leadership. I also want to thank Jack Wadsworth and all the board members and supporters who are here doing what I think is very important work: continuing to build ties between people across regions and continents and looking for opportunities to find those points of common concern and common cause.

It is always a pleasure to be back here. I tell Vishakha that it’s mostly because of the gift shop – (laughter) – that I’m always coming back. I gave my first major speech, as she said, as Secretary of State, here. And I am so pleased to be back here today to really celebrate you and all you do, to strengthen relationships and understanding.

And I also want to say a special word of greeting and acknowledge to Kati Marton, the wonderful partner in the life of Richard Holbrooke and a dear friend and colleague to so many of us who are here.

Now, if there were ever any fear that I might somehow forget about the Asia Society, that could not happen with Richard Holbrooke being sure to remind me at every single turn. He never stopped serving as a champion and promoter for this organization that he loved so much.

And in the days after we lost Richard, I heard so many stories, many of which made me smile in memory of similar experiences that I and others had had with Richard along the way. And one story in particular about the mark that he left on this organization involves his time as chairman of the Society, and he was trying to recruit Orville Schell, who is out there somewhere in the audience, to run the new, very exciting China Center – Orville, who had a really nice life in northern California. He was reluctant. Now, if any of you ever tried holding out on Richard, you know what a losing proposition that turns out to be. And Richard would have none of Orville’s reservations. And in the midst of one intense recruiting session Richard picked up the phone and ordered a private helicopter to whisk himself and Orville off to Easthampton for an impromptu meeting with a key donor. Now, Orville, you have to admit it, you were really impressed and ended up taking the job, and we were all the better for it. (Laughter.)

But that was just Richard being Richard. He had a flair for the dramatic, to be sure. But it was farmore than theatrics. He understood in every cell of his body that bold action and big ideas can and will change history. After all, he did it himself, again and again.

And that was how Richard approached his final mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He called it his toughest assignment. And certainly, the challenges were almost beyond description. And Richard was always the first to enumerate them. But he understood the importance of this mission to our national security and to the future of such a critical region of the world.

We’ve made progress, but the tribal areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain the epicenter of violent extremism that threatens Americans and peace-loving people everywhere.

Here in New York, Richard’s hometown, we need no reminder of the stakes. Nearly 10 years ago, al-Qaida launched a terrorist attack planned and prepared in the safe haven of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. And it took, tragically, the lives of thousands not only of our fellow citizens, but individuals from across the world.

Since then, al-Qaida and its followers have killed innocent people and encouraged the killing, whether it was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Madrid, London, Bali, or Istanbul. These attacks have served only to steel our resolve. As President Obama said at West Point, we did not ask for this fight, but we will surely finish it.

Since that terrible day in 2001, two successive administrations from different points on the political spectrum have made an enormous commitment of American lives and treasure to pursue the terrorists who attacked us and those who harbor them. And after all that, many Americans understandably want to know how we plan to achieve the goals we have set forth.

For their part, people in the region – not just in Kabul or Islamabad, but in Beijing and Moscow, Delhi and Tehran – wonder about America’s long-term intentions and objectives. They want to know if we will walk away again, as we did in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.

Today, I want to answer some of those questions and talk in more detail about a new phase of our diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan. I will be clear right at the start about a few key elements: our adversary, our goal, and our strategy.

First, our adversary. Despite heavy losses, the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 retain dangerous capabilities. They continue to plot large-scale, catastrophic international attacks and to support and inspire regional affiliates. The United States and our allies remain their principal targets. Before 2001, al-Qaida was protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban, along with various associated groups, still maintain an alliance, based largely in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Taliban continue to wage a brutal insurgency against the government in Kabul in an effort to regain control of the country. The Taliban and al-Qaida are distinct groups with distinct aims, but they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken.

After he took office, President Obama launched a thorough review of our policy and set out a clear goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, and prevent it from threatening America and our allies in the future. Al-Qaida cannot be allowed to maintain its safe haven, protected by the Taliban, and to continue plotting attacks while destabilizing nations that have known far too much war. From the Tigris to the Indus, the region will never live up to its full potential until it is free of al-Qaida and its creed of violence and hatred. That is an aspiration that should unite every nation.

In pursuit of this goal, we are following a strategy with three mutually reinforcing tracks – three surges, if you will: a military offensive against al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban insurgents; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments, economies, and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to undercut the pull of the insurgency; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region.

The first two surges set the table for the success of the third, which aims to support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al-Qaida and reconcile those who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution with an increasingly stable Afghan Government. That would leave al-Qaida alone and on the run.

In 2001, after 9/11, I would remind us all, the Taliban chose to defy the international community and protect al-Qaida. That was the wrong choice, and they have paid a heavy price. Today, the escalating pressure of our military campaign is sharpening a similar decision for the Taliban: Break ties with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution, and you can rejoin Afghan society; refuse and you will continue to face the consequences of being tied to al-Qaida as an enemy of the international community.

They cannot wait us out. They cannot defeat us. And they cannot escape this choice.

All three surges are part of the vision for transition in Afghanistan that President Obama reaffirmed in his December policy review and that NATO endorsed in Lisbon at the most recent summit. Ultimately, Afghans must take responsibility for their own future – for providing security, for strengthening governance, and for reaching a political solution to the conflict.

That transition will be formally launched next month, with troop reductions starting in July and continuing based on conditions on the ground. It will be completed by the end of 2014. As transition proceeds and Afghan leadership strengthens across the country, a process of political reconciliation will become increasingly viable.

In turn, successful reconciliation will reduce the threat to the Afghan Government, making transition more sustainable. Crucially, the enduring commitment of the United States, our allies, and our partners will continue to support the stability of the Afghan Government and the durability of a responsible political settlement. That is the vision of transition – one that is shared by the Afghan Government – that we are pursuing.

So we have a big challenge with many moving parts. Let me go through each surge – military, civilian, and diplomatic – and explain how they fit together to advance our larger goals.

First the military surge, which sent thousands of additional American and allied troops to Afghanistan to deny safe haven for al-Qaida and to break the Taliban’s momentum. More and better-trained Afghan security forces are also in the field, working side-by-side with our troops. And we honor the service and sacrifice of all the women and men, from every nation, as well as their civilian colleagues, who have put their lives at risk and, all too tragically, for too many, paid with those lives. They are engaged in a very tough fight. But we are in it together. Thanks to their efforts, the rapidly deteriorating security situation the Obama Administration inherited in January 2009 has begun to stabilize. Expanded local security measures at the village level have helped protect vulnerable populations. Security has improved in Kabul and in key provinces like Helmand and Kandahar. The momentum of the Taliban insurgents has been blunted, and in some places even reversed.

Now, from the beginning, we have recognized the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremists’ safe havens and enablers in Pakistan. It is no secret that we have not always seen eye-to-eye with Pakistan on how to deal with these threats or on the future of Afghanistan. But as a result of growing cooperation between our governments, militaries, and law enforcement agencies, and determined action by the Pakistani army, we have been able to dramatically expand our counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.

Pressure is increasing on both sides of the border. As a result, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are under threat like never before. Al-Qaida’s leadership is weakened, its safe havens in the border regions are smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been significantly degraded. But make no mistake, al-Qaida remains a serious threat, but it is finding it tougher to raise money, train recruits and plan attacks outside the region. Just as importantly, we have given its Taliban allies and sympathizers reason to question the wisdom of their loyalty.

Now let me turn to the second track. I know there are some on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who question whether we need anything more than guns, bombs, and troops to achieve our goals in Afghanistan. As our commanders on the ground would be the first to say, however, that is a short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating view. We will never kill enough insurgents to end this war outright. The military campaign must proceed hand-in-hand with a robust civilian effort that helps the Afghan Government build credibility with its own people, offer alternatives to the insurgency, and provide incentives for all Afghans to renounce violence and work together toward a better future. That is how insurgencies end.

And that is why we have matched our military surge with a civilian surge that tripled the number of diplomats, development experts, and other specialists on the ground. These efforts are mutually reinforcing and both support the transition process. We now have more than 1,100 civilian experts from nine federal agencies working in Afghanistan on everything from improving agriculture, to expanding infrastructure, to stemming the drug trade, and training Afghan civil servants.

We have also expanded our civilian efforts in Pakistan, including through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman assistance program, which is funding projects to address Pakistan’s urgent energy and economic needs.

After the devastating floods, we stepped up with aid and relief, and our Strategic Dialogue is building habits of cooperation between our governments at every level. Now, of course, there are still significant challenges to overcome in our relationship. Distrust lingers on both sides. And we need to work together carefully to prevent misunderstandings and disagreements from derailing the progress we have made in the past two years.

So in both nations, the decision to deploy additional civilian resources is paying dividends, even as we remain determined to work smarter and better at how we deploy these resources.

The budget that President Obama announced on Monday provides the resources our diplomats and development experts need to be effective partners to the military to get the job done. Retreating from the civilian side of the mission – as some funding proposals currently before Congress would do – would be a grave mistake.

Now, I certainly appreciate the tight budget environment we find ourselves in. But the fact is that these civilian operations are crucial to our national security.

Consider the long-term price we have paid as a result of disengaging from Afghanistan after 1989. As Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee just yesterday, we cannot afford to make that mistake again. Or consider Iraq, where the transition to a civilian-led mission is helping the Pentagon save $45 billion, and the State Department and USAID require an increase of only $4 billion to make sure that we are robustly engaged with the government and people of Iraq. That is a good deal by any standard. So we are working with Congress to ensure that the civilian surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan receives the support it requires now and in years to come.

Now, I will not sugarcoat the fact that the Afghan Government has, from time to time, disagreed with our policies. And there is no denying the challenges our civilian efforts face in Afghanistan. Corruption remains a major problem. Fighting fraud and waste is one of our highest priorities. A major focus of the civilian surge has been expanding our presence in the field, getting more experts out to provide hands-on leadership of our development projects. We have partnered with the military to put in place stronger controls on contractors. And we are working with Afghan institutions that we fund directly to help them improve auditing and accountability.

So as the military surge weakens the insurgents and pressures them to consider alternatives to armed resistance, the civilian surge creates economic and social incentives for participating in a peaceful society. Together, the two efforts prepare the ground for a political process, which history and experience tell us is the most effective way to end an insurgency.

And that brings us to the third track. President Obama’s December policy review emphasized, and I quote, that “our civilian and military efforts must support a durable and favorable political resolution of the conflict. In 2011, we will intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

As promised, we are launching a diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome that shatters the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaida, ends the insurgency, and helps to produce not only a more stable Afghanistan but a more stable region.

Now, of course, we had always envisioned Richard Holbrooke leading this effort. He was an architect of our integrated military-civilian-diplomatic strategy, and we feel his loss so keenly.

But Richard left us a solid foundation. Over the past two years, he built an exceptional team and a strong working relationships with our allies and regional partners.

And today, I am pleased to announce that the President and I have called back to service Ambassador Marc Grossman, a veteran diplomat and one of Richard’s most esteemed colleagues, as our new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassador Grossman’s first tour in the Foreign Service was in Pakistan. He knows our allies and understands how to mobilize common action to meet shared challenges. He played a crucial role in the Dayton talks, and Richard described him in a memorable book that Richard wrote as “one of the most outstanding career diplomats.” Ambassador Grossman has followed in Richard’s shoes before when he served as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in the ‘90s, and I am absolutely confident in his ability to hit the ground running.

Now, Ambassador Grossman and the rest of his interagency team will marshal the full range of our policy resources to support responsible, Afghan-led reconciliation that brings the conflict to a peaceful conclusion, and to actively engage with states in the region and the international community to advance that process.

As I said, important groundwork has already been laid, both by Richard and his team, and by the Afghans themselves.

Many low-level fighters entered the insurgency not because of deep ideological commitment, but because they were following the promise of a paycheck. So in London last year, the international community pledged financial support for the Afghan Government’s comprehensive program to draw them off the battlefield and back into society.

As military pressure escalates, more insurgents may begin looking for alternatives to violence. And not just low-level fighters. Both we and the Afghans believe that the security and governance gains produced by the military and civilian surges have created an opportunity to get serious about a responsible reconciliation process, led by Afghans and supported by intense regional diplomacy and strong U.S.-backing.

Such a process would have to be accepted by all of Afghanistan’s major ethnic and political blocs. For this to work, everyone has to feel they have a stake in the outcome and a responsibility for achieving it.

President Karzai made a good start by convening a broad-based Peace Jirga in June that set out a framework for national reconciliation. He then formed a High Peace Council that includes representatives from across Afghanistan. Council leaders are holding meetings in key provinces throughout the country with tribal leaders, civil society, women, and villagers to hear their hopes and concerns for a reconciliation process. They are working to form local councils to begin engaging the insurgents and the broader community.

The United States supports this Afghan effort. Over the past two years, we have laid out our unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: They must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan. Those are necessary outcomes of any negotiation. This is the price for reaching a political resolution and bringing an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks.

If former militants are willing to meet these red lines, they would then be able to participate in the political life of the country under their constitution.

Now, I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face-to-face with Milosevic and ended a war.

It won’t be easy. Old adversaries will need to see that their own self-interest lies in setting aside their grievances. Taliban militants will have to decide that they are better off working within the Afghan political system rather than fighting a losing struggle alongside al-Qaida in bombed-out caves. The Afghan Government must be prepared to be more inclusive and more accountable. All parties will have to commit to a pluralistic political system that respects the human rights of every Afghan.

The United States is committed to helping Afghans defend those rights. We will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.

The Afghan Government needs to safeguard the rights of all Afghans, especially women and minorities. I know firsthand from what happened in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and other places recovering from conflict that the participation of women and civil society groups will be essential to building a just and lasting peace.

The United States supports the participation of women at all levels of the reconciliation process, because we believe the potential for sustainable peace will be subverted if women are silenced or marginalized. Afghan women made significant contributions to the Peace Jirga, they must continue to be a part of the High Peace Council, and they have an important role to play at the provincial and local levels if genuine reconciliation is going to take root.

Reconciliation – achieving it and maintaining it – will depend on the participation and support of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including and most importantly Pakistan. Let me be blunt: We all need to be on the same page for this to work. Whether we live in Kabul or Islamabad or Washington, we need to share a common vision for the future. A vision of a stable, independent Afghanistan rid of insurgency and proxy conflicts fought by neighboring states. A vision of a region free from al-Qaida.

As we have underscored from the beginning, Pakistan plays a pivotal role. It is a nuclear-armed nation of nearly 170 million people with deep ties and strong interests in Afghanistan. It was with Pakistan that the United States and other countries supported the Afghan people in their fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. And Pakistan continues to host thousands of refugees from the current conflict. Unfortunately, the historic distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains a major cause of regional instability and does not serve the long-term interests of the people of either country.

Pakistan has legitimate concerns that should be understood and addressed by the Afghan Government under any reconciliation process, with steps that provide transparency and reassurance. But Pakistan also has responsibilities of its own, including taking decisive steps to ensure that the Afghan Taliban cannot continue to conduct the insurgency from Pakistani territory. Pressure from the Pakistani side will help push the Taliban toward the negotiating table and away from al-Qaida.

For reconciliation to succeed, Pakistan will have to be part of the process. It will have to respect Afghan sovereignty and work with Afghanistan to improve regional stability. We know cooperation is possible. Just last month, Afghanistan and Pakistan took a huge step forward with formal ratification of a long-awaited Transit Trade Agreement, which will boost economic opportunity on both sides of the border by opening new markets and trade routes for Afghan and Pakistani goods. This was one of Richard’s proudest accomplishments, because it had been in negotiation since the early 1960s.

Expanding this cooperation to security issues, including reconciliation, is in the interests of both nations and will be a focus of our diplomatic efforts going forward.

Beyond Pakistan, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors – India and Iran, Russia and China, the Central Asian states – stand to benefit from a responsible political settlement in Afghanistan and also an end to al-Qaida’s safe havens in the border areas and the exporting of extremism into their countries. That would reduce the terrorist and narcotics threat to their own citizens, create new opportunities for commerce, and ease the free flow of energy and resources throughout the region. It could also help move other regional conflicts toward peaceful resolution.

Indeed, we are encouraged by news that India and Pakistan are re-launching a dialogue aimed at building trust, and we encourage them to work in that same spirit to support a political process in Afghanistan. We look to them – and all of Afghanistan’s neighbors – to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, which means agreeing not to play out their rivalries within its borders, and to support reconciliation and efforts to ensure that al-Qaida and the syndicate of terrorism is denied safe haven everywhere. Afghanistan, in turn, must not allow its territory to be used against others.

The United States will intensify our efforts to build broad international support for Afghan reconciliation.

In early March, we will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with our partners in the International Contact Group, hosted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Contact Group, which Richard worked so hard to build, brings together more than 40 countries and international organizations, including a growing number of Muslim-majority nations. The Afghan leaders of the High Peace Council will join us and review efforts toward reconciliation.

NATO ministers will convene in Paris a few days later to review transition planning. We are also preparing for a conference in Germany later this year for the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference, which we hope will be an important milestone in the political process.

As this work proceeds, the United States will relentlessly pursue al-Qaida and those Taliban who refuse to renounce violence, while working to improve security, development, and governance on the ground. Again, the Afghan Taliban have a clear choice: Be part of Afghanistan’s future or face unrelenting assault.

For reconciliation to take hold – for it to be irreversible – Afghanistan’s government will need to provide security to all its people. So the United States and our allies will continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces.

We are working with President Karzai to implement a responsible transition to Afghan security leadership, which will begin in the coming weeks. And in July, we will begin to reduce the number of our troops based on conditions on the ground. Transition to Afghan leadership will be complete by the end of 2014. We think this provides the Afghan Government the time and space it needs to further build up the security forces, ministries, and institutions that will make reconciliation durable and sustainable.

Just as importantly, a political process that takes insurgents off the battlefield will make it easier for our troops to hand over responsibility to Afghan security forces and for transition to proceed.

We have been clear that this transition does not mark the end of our commitment to the people of the region. NATO has pledged an enduring military and financial commitment to Afghanistan that will extend beyond the completion of transition in 2014.

And at the request of the Afghan Government, the United States will launch negotiations on a new Strategic Partnership Declaration. It will provide a long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation in the areas of security, economic and social development, and institution building.

This new partnership will complement our ongoing Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan. The development of these relationships, along with our deepening engagement with key neighbors, is crucial to providing stability and confidence in the region.

The United States will always maintain the capability to protect our people and our interests. But in no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people. We respect Afghans’ proud history of resistance to foreign occupation, and we do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country or a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan’s neighbors.

The United States is not walking away from the region. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our commitment is real and it is enduring.

But for all that America is ready to do, and for all the work of the international community, the people and leaders of the region are ultimately responsible for their own futures.

Pakistanis are tired of terror and turmoil. Afghans have suffered through three decades of war. But the leaders of both nations, in and out of government, have not done enough to chart a different course.

Despite steps by the government over the past two years, Pakistan’s public finances remain in disarray. Energy shortages are hampering economic growth, and causing political and social instability.

Routine suicide bombings – including last week’s tragic murders of 31 innocents by a so-called “school boy” suicide bomber – underscore the continued threat of violent extremism. And shocking, unjustified anti-Americanism will not resolve these problems.

America stands ready to assist Pakistan’s leaders in addressing these challenges. They have already enacted some reforms aimed at stabilizing the economy. The test will be in how they are implemented, supported and expanded. Pakistan’s leaders still have a lot to do to reduce corruption, to rebuild from last summer’s floods, and to keep making progress in eliminating extremists and their sanctuaries.

The Afghan people also expect their government to present a positive vision for the future. President Karzai’s stated commitment to enhance transparency, improve basic services, and reduce corruption is a start. But his people will look for deeds to match the words. They will look for strong and independent democratic institutions, like the courts and electoral bodies, to ensure their rights. And most of all, they will look for results that make a difference in their lives.

Leaders in both nations will have to decide what kind of future they want for their children and grandchildren to inherit.

What that future looks like will depend, to no small degree, on the success of the political and diplomatic process I have described today. So long as leaders in Kabul and Islamabad eye each other with distrust, so long as the Taliban have safe havens from which to wage war, so long as al-Qaida operates anywhere in the region, the prospects for progress are slim.

Last month in Doha – actually, now two months ago, in December – just before the protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, I warned that the region’s foundations were sinking into the sand. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflict is blasting the foundations apart, brick by brick. Reconciliation and reform offer another way.

South Asia is home to nearly 1.5 billion people. They are talented and hard-working, rich in culture, and blessed with entrepreneurial spirit. If the countries of the region can move beyond their historic conflicts and cooperate to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, there are no limits as to what they can achieve.

Our friend Richard Holbrooke believed a better future is possible for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, and the wider region. He once observed, and I quote, “In every war of this sort, there is always a window for people who want to come in from the cold... If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in… there has to be a place for them.”

Those were his words. And that is the policy of the United States. It may not produce peace tomorrow or the next day, but it does offer our best chance. And it offers especially the best chance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who so richly deserve a different future. The United States will be there as a partner to help them achieve that, if that is the path they choose.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/240