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Senators Weigh U.S. Policy in South Asia after Visit

February 25, 2008 at 6:05 PM EST
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Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Chuck Hagel, R- Neb., recently traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkey in an effort to review the state of security and U.S. diplomacy in the critical regions. The lawmakers assess U.S. relations in South Asia and the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been on the road for a week, committee Chairman Joseph Biden, Democrat from Delaware, and his fellow committee member, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel. Also on the trip, John Kerry of Massachusetts.

First stop, Pakistan, to observe the elections. Second stop, India. Then, Afghanistan. And finally, on to Turkey. They returned to the United States this weekend and they join us now.

Gentlemen, it’s good to see you both. You had an emergency landing high in the mountains of Afghanistan. We’re glad you made it out safely.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: Oh, so are we, Judy. Actually, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as some were making it out to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Senator Biden, let’s start with you and with Pakistan. You said yesterday that you think President Musharraf should find a dignified way to step down.

A spokesman in his office today, though, said that he’s not listening or doesn’t need to respond to any senator from the United States. Is there some contradiction?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: There is a contradiction. They didn’t say that. What we all three have been saying is that if, in fact, he’s treated with some respect by the parties that are forming the government, that I believe that he will, in fact, step back from the exercise of the kind of power he’s tried to exercise.

He made it pretty clear to us that he understood that his role as president was more constrained than the role of the prime minister.

And the point I’ve been making — and all of us, actually, have been making — is that this is a transitional moment. The parties should look forward, not backward.

I spoke against the idea of impeaching him. And the point was I think that he will step back from the kind of exercise power that he has attempted to do. He made it clear to us he thought the parliament should make the decisions now that it was elected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Senator Hagel, you said yesterday you think he will find a graceful way out. Help us understand where the miscommunication is here.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Well, Judy, that’s a big leap from calling for him to step down.

My goodness, what I said yesterday — go back and check the record on CNN — is that, first, the leaders who will form a new government, a coalition government, will need to work this through. Certainly, it’s up to them, the Pakistani people, represented by their leaders.

As to Musharraf, when we met with him, we met with him the morning after the election. He had accepted those results. I thought he was very confident; I thought he was very comfortable.

And I thought that he was willing to, at least what I heard from him, to listen to all of the offers that will be laid on the table as to his future. But I didn’t ever call for him to resign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No, that’s not what I said. I was quoting you as saying you thought he would take the graceful way out.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I think that’s right, over a course of time, if the coalition parties that will be forming that government, if they, in fact, allow him a way to do that, where, in fact, he can leave on his own terms with some dignity.

And I’ve been very clear and forthcoming, Judy, in recognizing the kind of service, the important service he has given to his country and to the world and the United States. He has been an important ally for us.

So I in no way want the record to show anything but what I’ve said about how important Musharraf’s been, and he deserves that kind of respect, because he — let’s not forget here. After September 11, 2001, Musharraf became a very important ally to us and at his political risk, his own risk here.

So we have differences with him. We’ve had differences with him, of course. But that in no way negates what he’s done for his country and for us.

Fighting terrorism in Pakistan

Sen. Chuck Hagel
R-Neb.
This is a very complicated part of the world. In my opinion, it is the center of gravity in our fight against extremism and terrorism, that strip, those mountains, those frontier lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Biden, you also met not only with President Musharraf, but with the leaders of the political parties that won the election. What approach do you think they are going to take to these terrorists on the border with Afghanistan, to whatever the threat is that they perceive in their own country? How will it be different?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, Judy, you just hit the nail on the head. The threat they perceive, the threat Musharraf perceives is a slightly different threat than we perceive.

There's a guy named Massoud (ph) in north Waziristan who's a real bad guy. He's an insurgent. He cooperates with al-Qaida and the Taliban, but he's a free agent. He's separate and apart from them. That's who they're concerned about. We're much more concerned about al-Qaida.

I think with a free and open government, a government that we can actually work with, where we come in with additional economic assistance, where we work closely with them and we help train their army to deal with counterinsurgency better than it is now, I think we'll find ourselves much more in lock-step with what cleaning out or at least attempting to curtail the activities, including al-Qaida, as well as the insurgents.

But right now there's a definitional problem. They're much more concerned about in their tribal areas, their federal tribal areas with insurgents. We're much more concerned with flat-out anti-American terrorists named bin Laden.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Judy, I might add...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is the proper focus?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, I think we should make it the same focus, because right now it's clear that the insurgents and this fellow, Massoud (ph), are working with bin Laden. He's helping train their troops, their foreign fighters, meaning the Arabs' foreign fighters. He's giving them some cover.

But he also has his own agenda separate from theirs, as well. So I think it's important to convince the Pakistani people that the threat is contiguous, it affects us both, and part of that is recognition of the fact that they may -- they not only need the will, they need the capacity.

And we all came away thinking that the military capacity for counterinsurgency in the Pakistan army needs some beefing up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Hagel, did you want to comment?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Yes, just to add this, Judy. This is a very complicated part of the world. In my opinion, it is the center of gravity in our fight against extremism and terrorism, that strip, those mountains, those frontier lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now, those areas have been incapable of any outside rule, and no one has ruled those areas for centuries. It's why they call it the frontier land or whatever other way you want to describe it.

These are tribal areas. These are areas steeped in history in their own tribes, loyal to their own tribes. This is very difficult, so this has to be handled the right way.

And that means that we certainly can't put troops in there. That would be the wrong thing to do. But the Pakistanis lost over 1,000 troops up there.

It's not a matter, I don't think, just of them not wanting to do it. In some cases, that may be. There's complications with the ISI and the intelligence services.

But I think it's important to come to the realization here, if some of us haven't, this is complicated and it is difficult to do this. Now, it remains to be seen what the new government will do.

Investing in war in Afghanistan

Sen. Joe Biden
D-Del.
If we don't significantly increase our economic resources and, in my view, some of our military resources and coordinate with Pakistan better than we're doing now, we will lose Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn to the country next door, Afghanistan. Senator Biden, you said in a speech today that the United States is losing -- or I correct that, you said the U.S. is not winning the war. Is that the same as saying that that war is being lost by the U.S. and its allies?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, let me say it another way. If we don't significantly increase our economic resources and, in my view, some of our military resources and coordinate with Pakistan better than we're doing now, we will lose Afghanistan.

And the loss of Afghanistan will destabilize, in my view, Pakistan eventually. And that's a giant, giant loss.

We have to do three things in there. We have to get in there -- for example, Judy, to sum it up this way -- we have spent in six years on all reconstruction and military activity in Afghanistan what we spend in three weeks -- three weeks -- in Iraq just for military operations.

That equation can't stand. We have to make a significantly different investment, including a governance investment. We've got to get better governance in Pakistan. And it's going to be very hard, and it's going to take a long time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, Senator.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Judy, this area, this region, this area generally of South Asia lapping over into Central Asia, from Iran to India, with Turkey and China on the borders to the north, this is the most complicated, combustible, dangerous area in the world.

You have three nuclear powers in this area with an aspiring nuclear power in Iran. And one spark, no margin of error, could set this whole thing off. That's the Middle East; that's Central Asia; that's all of Asia.

So this is an important area of the world that we're going to have to put a whole new focus on with, I think, a whole new frame of reference.

Shifting U.S. focus from Iraq

Sen. Chuck Hagel
R-Neb.
We're nation-building in Iraq. It's consuming our force structure. It's consuming our will, our leadership, our attention, our treasury. And I don't think we've got the framework in a strategic context to deal with it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there the will, at this point, in the United States to do that?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I hope there's the will, because it is the most dangerous area in the world and it represents the most significant threat to the interests of the United States. The next president is going to have to deal with this in a very realistic way.

And Joe just talked about difference of resources where we're applying resources in Iraq. We are now truly bogged down in Iraq.

The other part of this is we've got to be honest with ourselves. We are, in fact, nation-building in Afghanistan. We're nation-building in Iraq. It's consuming our force structure. It's consuming our will, our leadership, our attention, our treasury. And I don't think we've got the framework in a strategic context to deal with it.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Judy, can I make one point? Secretary Gates said, relative to Europe, he said that our failures -- I'm paraphrasing -- our failures and preoccupation in Iraq have turned them off to cooperating with us in Afghanistan.

And he made the point that Europeans are making little distinction between NATO being involved in Afghanistan and the debacle in Iraq.

I would argue the same thing is occurring here in the United States of America. And the president has to separate Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of what needs to be done in each of those countries and level with the American people.

And one of the things I've asked for -- I just spoke with the chairman of the Armed Services Committee -- when Petraeus comes up to lay out what he needs in Iraq, we should have McNeill, the American general in Afghanistan, come up and say what we need in Afghanistan.

This is the forgotten war, but it's also the war if we lose we have, in my view, even more to lose than we do with regard to a failure in Iraq.

Turkish-Kurdish relations

Sen. Joe Biden
D-Del.
[U]nless there's a total political settlement in Iraq, I think this whole thing could blow up, including a more permanent invasion by the Turks into Kurdistan, which is not good for anybody.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly to Turkey, gentlemen. You were also there. You met with the leaders. There was a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. Senator Hagel, death toll now over 150. How much longer do you believe the Turks will stay there?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I think the Turks have made a commitment, a very significant commitment, when they decided to go in with the kind of force that they have, that they're going to do what it takes to try to put an end to this cross-border incursion that's been going on for years and years.

Politically, the government of Turkey is not able to sustain holding this thing back any longer. This is not new to us. We knew this was been brewing. The Iraqi government had been aware of it. The Kurdish government and leadership has been aware of it. This is not new.

And now this thing has broken out into a very, very dangerous exchange here. And I think the Turks are quite serious, at least that's the impression I got from meeting with the foreign minister and the prime minister and the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Final word from you, Senator Biden. Are you confident that is going to end in a short period of time?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I'm hopeful. I expect it, but I'm not confident. The PKK -- that's the terrorist wing of the Kurds -- are their bad guys. We declare them terrorists.

And we need a political settlement, Judy, in Iraq in order to bring this under control, because absent that the Turks are going to continue to think that here with the PKK, as well as with Kirkuk, which is where the Kurds want to maintain control, and a referendum may be held, that's the flashpoint.

And unless there's a total political settlement in Iraq, I think this whole thing could blow up, including a more permanent invasion by the Turks into Kurdistan, which is not good for anybody.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Biden, Senator Hagel just back from a trip to Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, gentlemen, thank you very much.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Thank you very much.