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Holbrooke: Pakistan Must Be Part of Regional Solutions

October 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, discusses a proposed $2 billion aid package to Pakistan, the need to include the country in regional policies, and the U.S. stance on Afghan-led talks with the Taliban.

And joining me now is the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

Ambassador Holbrooke, thanks for coming.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Special U.S. Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan: Welcomed to be here.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there was certainly very warm feels on display at the State Department, but did the U.S. get a commitment from the Pakistanis to do more on the issue that really is of such concern, namely, go after these sanctuaries in their territory?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The Pakistanis have said repeatedly and repeated again today in the strategic dialogue that they are doing everything they can.

They — we urge them to do more. And they are doing gradually more, not as much, perhaps, as we would want. But I want to stress that the situation in terms of what they are doing is a lot better than it was a year-and-a-half ago. They’re engaged. They have lost 30,000 of their own people in this terrorist war. And, right now, 70,000 troops are diverted to flood relief. But they said they will do more.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Did General Kayani — and we saw quick footage of him there, very, very powerful man in Pakistan — did he make a commitment to do more as a result of this meeting, or did he bring anything to the meeting; even if he can’t send forces in there, maybe shut down supply lines?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, I don’t want to go into the details of highly sensitive tactical issues in which he is in very close dialogue with Admiral Mullen as we speak, in fact, and with General Petraeus.

The situation along the border is extraordinarily difficult. That border is not sealable. We have trouble sealing our own borders in a peacetime situation with Mexico. But the — the Pakistanis are doing more, say they want to do more and we want to work closely with them.

And that’s about all I feel free to say on that subject.

MARGARET WARNER: When you first took this job — and you have had interviews with myself and others here — you used to say, you weren’t sure yet whether the ISI, Pakistani intelligence and military — and/or military, at least elements, were aiding and abetting these extremists.

Is there any doubt in your mind now that that is going on?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I think that’s a very difficult question, because there is evidence on both sides of the issue.

They — as Secretary Clinton said today, they are our closest collaborator in the counterterrorism efforts. And there’s an enormous amount that goes on where we work together. On the other hand, there are areas which are very disturbing. And General Keane in that “Charlie Rose” excerpt alluded to them.

But I think, with all due respect to a man I greatly admire, I think he somewhat overstated the facts. But I’m not going to get into a dispute of details. The fact is that we — that I think people are so into the narrative that you are hearing, that they have not examined the fact that we are working together closely against the terrorists, but not in every area.
And in one area in particular, North Waziristan, where the Haqqani Network is poised against the eastern part of Afghanistan and cuts in towards Kabul, is an area of enormous concern to us.

MARGARET WARNER: What did you make of what Ambassador Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and elsewhere, in fact, a job you once held to the U.N., wrote in The Times this week that it was just — nothing had really changed and it was really time to get tough and give them a choice?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I like Zal and I have great respect for him and for his service to the country.

The suggestion he made, however, would have an absolutely unambiguous and certain response. Pakistan is a sovereign nation. And what that article advocated appeared to me to be a unilateral cross-border operation, apparently on the ground. And that would result in the — in a collapse of the relationship. And that would put our policy in Afghanistan into the most serious mortal peril.

We have to work with the Pakistanis. It’s very difficult at times. But one has to understand that it is a sovereign country. I know because I run into this when I go out on the street. The people come up to me and say, we have got to tell the Pakistanis that they got to do X, or else.

Well, the correct answer is, or else what? We are working together. And we have different situations, and we have to reconcile them. This strategic dialogue, which Hillary Clinton has now headlined three times in seven months here and in Islamabad and which will continue next year with a visit here by President Zardari and a visit to Pakistan by President Obama, is a — has made a tremendous set of moves forward.

And we’re going to continue to move forward. At the same time, it is clear that there are — there can be consequences if the United States is attacked from whatever country they are attacked from.

MARGARET WARNER: One thing that Ambassador Khalilzad suggested was greater incentives.

And Prime Minister Qureshi this morning said an incentive they would very much like — and it’s an old — it’s a familiar one — is for the U.S. to do more to push India and Pakistan into resolving their differences, particularly over Kashmir. Now, the president is going to India next month.

Is there going to be any greater effort on the U.S. part to get those two parties to resolve that, which, of course, then would make Pakistan ostensibly feel freer to move — even more forces away from the Indian border and to the disputed areas?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: The President, the Secretary of State and the rest of us have said repeatedly — and I will say it again — that we would welcome any reduction in tensions or any agreements between India and Pakistan.

We will be happy to be of help, if both sides want us to be. But we are not going to unilaterally put ourselves in the position of intermediation on issues in which our presence, our direct involvement, if not desired by both sides, would work against that objective.

So, let me repeat, whatever the two countries do to reduce their own tensions would be welcomed by us. But we’re not…

MARGARET WARNER: But you’re not nudging them?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I — what I want — I want to be clear in what I said. We are not going to put ourselves, without invitation, into a position of intermediation in a position — in an issue of such extraordinary and historic sensitivity.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get to another issue, that the Pakistanis came into this meeting with complaints of their own, particularly concerning the peace talks that are — or at least the negotiations or talks about talks that seem to be under way between the Karzai government and some high-ranking Taliban, NATO actually facilitating the movement of these Taliban figures from Pakistan to Afghanistan.Pakistanis say they are being cut out. Any change there? Are they being cut out? Or do they have a useful role to play?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, the news stories you are referring to are way out ahead of the facts. You used two phrases just now, negotiations, and then you amended it to talks about talks.

Let’s stick with the second version, which is quite accurate. There are no negotiations. There are plenty of contacts among Afghans. General Petraeus, in his public comments, was referring to the fact that, at the Afghan government’s request, NATO is willing to support Afghan-led discussions.

And that’s all that is happening. And the Pakistanis are not being cut out. We have talked extensively to them about it in the last few days. I met with General Kayani on this very issue yesterday, and we had some extensive discussions. And they understand what is going on.

MARGARET WARNER: But they’re not playing any role right now?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I didn’t say that. I — what I said is, they are not being cut out.

Of course, the — there is no solution in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is part of that solution, and not simply, as it had been in the past, part of the problem.

Prime Minister Gilani a few days ago in Pakistan said exactly the same thing: We are going to be part of the solution.

General Kayani and Foreign Minister Qureshi said this week: We don’t want a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. That would be very bad for us.

We are working with them to find the strategic overlap between our interests, which involve the defense of the homeland and elimination of people like al-Qaida, Pakistani interests, and Afghan interests. It is a very complicated equation, but the Pakistanis are not being cut out. And we’re making progress.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Holbrooke, thank you so much. Thanks for coming.