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Clinton: Many Pakistanis Have ‘Reflex of Skepticism’ over U.S. Efforts

December 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to Margaret Warner about the surge in Afghanistan, NATO's help with the war and securing a withdrawal date for U.S. forces.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Foreign ministers from 25 NATO nations pledged in Brussels today to contribute a total of 7,000 more troops to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. That’s about 2,000 more than initial estimates. Details of who in NATO will contribute what are still to be worked out.

But at the alliance headquarters, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, members backed up words with deeds.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The strongest message in the ministerial room today was solidarity.

JEFFREY BROWN: That solidarity had been in some doubt. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Brussels to cajole allies.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: That’s excellent.

JEFFREY BROWN: The NATO pledge would increase the number of non-U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 45,000. They join nearly 100,000 Americans there by next summer, including at least 30,000 being deployed in the new surge.

Some allies voiced concern over President Obama’s timetable for beginning withdrawal. It calls for Afghan forces to begin taking over security in July 2011.

But Rasmussen said it was all part of a larger plan.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: This meeting launched a new phase in this mission, with the intention to transfer lead security responsibility to Afghan forces as soon as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some of those allied-trained Afghan forces joined 1,000 U.S. Marines today in a new offensive in Helmand Province, the first since President Obama’s announcement.

SOLDIER: The operation has been ongoing for about eight hours. Everything is going right on track, actually.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, also today, militants staged their own strike across the border in Pakistan. Gunmen attacked a mosque frequented by military officers in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. At least 35 worshipers were killed.

Since October, Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have killed more than 400 people in a wave of attacks in northern Pakistan. The insurgents are based in the lawless frontier lands that straddle the Afghan border.

Today’s New York Times reported the Obama White House has now authorized a stepped-up campaign of drone attacks on militants there. The strikes could start in Balochistan in southern Pakistan, where much of the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to currently find safe haven.

JIM LEHRER: And now to Secretary of State Clinton on Afghanistan.

Margaret Warner spoke to the secretary after the NATO meeting in Brussels earlier today.

MARGARET WARNER: Madam Secretary, thanks for doing this.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Was this a hard sell, to get the NATO allies to pony up more troops?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: It wasn’t a hard sell once the hard part was over, namely, getting the strategy, feeling that we had done everything we knew to do to make the very best assessment, to give the president our best advice, and the decision that he then announced on Tuesday night.

Once he announced that decision, it was extraordinary, the kind of support that we were getting from our friends and allies around the world.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you said yesterday on the plane that you acknowledged there had been some misunderstanding about what the July 2011 date really meant. Did you find the same misunderstanding here?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I really didn’t.

Maybe it is because it all got explained over the last 48 hours, and the president’s point in the speech that we needed a responsible withdrawal based on conditions, that we weren’t talking about jumping off a cliff, but, you know, having a transition.

By the time I got here and the reports that I had heard from others is, people understood what we were talking about and actually appreciated it, because they thought it helped to focus everybody’s mind and attention.

I think it helped in some of the countries that we were asking for additional help, because they could go in and say, look, we have a new strategy. The United States is committed to this strategy. We think we will be able to start making transitions in 2011.

I think it all added up to a strong argument for being part of it.

MARGARET WARNER: So, it was reassuring to some of these partners that President Obama was saying, this isn’t just an endless open-ended commitment?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes, it was very reassuring.

And when President Karzai said yesterday in an interview that he saw it as an impetus, that is exactly what we were hoping for, that it was the opportunity for us to show both resolve and urgency. And I think we have succeeded in doing that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, I have to ask you about the 7,000 additional troops, which the secretary-general announced this morning to us and everybody put on their Web sites. But how many of those are really new troops, vs. troops that, say, came in for the election, and now are going to — going to stay on?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, Margaret, they are all new, in the sense that they will all be in Afghanistan in 2010.

The troops that came in for the election were expected to have left by the end of this year. They have decided, pursuant to the new strategy, that they are going to be staying. And we have thousands of new commitments from countries that have made a real stretch, like — small countries like Georgia and Slovakia, big countries like Italy and Poland and the United Kingdom, and others who will be making their announcements over the next days and weeks.

You know, this was actually not supposed to be a pledging conference. This was supposed to be a rallying conference, in the sense of people getting behind the policy with public statements, and then there will be a fourth determination conference this week.

But I was thrilled that we got these kind of commitments out there today.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s take the British, for example. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister Brown, announced 500 new troops. That’s what the conventional wisdom has been. But the Brits are saying, oh, no, you have to count our level from back before the election. We are 1,200 troops.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: And that true.

I mean, we all put in more troops for the election. And that was the rationale. It wasn’t part of a new strategy. It was just to try to provide enough security, so that we could get people to the polls.

But it was very clear from many of our friends. They said, OK, fine, we’re going to do this, but our — our — our people are against this. Our governments are not happy with this. So, you have to understand we’re putting them in and we’re taking them out.

And now they’re saying, hey, wait a minute, we have reconsidered. We’re going to stay.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about the French? President Sarkozy said, no additional French troops.

Is he saying anything different privately?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I’m with the secretary-general, who was at an event with me earlier today and was asked exactly that question. And he — he — he smiled and he said, well, actually I think there is a little, you know, potential room here for some additional help.

I don’t know that, other than to look to the strong verbal support that the French have given us, both the foreign minister to me, the — the president to President Obama. And, you know, they do have significant numbers there now. But we hope that they will come forward.

MARGARET WARNER: The other major contributor currently, the number-three contributor, is the Germans. Are you perfectly comfortable with them saying they’re not going to make any decision until after the late January Afghan conference?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I am, and for this reason. First, they have just stood up a new government. This is an entirely different coalition. And I know what it’s like when you are all in one party and, all of a sudden, you are in a new government.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: You know, you have to figure out who’s on first and then who is calling the shots. So, it doesn’t at all concern me.

They have to be sure that they know what they are doing going forward. And the conference at the end of January is very important to Chancellor Merkel. I believe that we’re going to be seeing more assistance from Germany. But, you know, they want to do it in accordance to their own political schedule.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me, finally, ask you about the response in the region. The stories today were that it was really not met, this Obama speech, with great enthusiasm in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Let me ask you about Pakistan first. There, there was just a lot of talk about, the United States was getting ready to walk out on Pakistan once again.

Are you surprised by this?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: No, not after the three days I just spent in Pakistan.

I think that there is just a reflex of skepticism and anxiety about American intentions. And it goes back into the history of this quite young country. It’s about the same age I am.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: And they look to these historical milestones and say, well, America wasn’t with us then, and America left us after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan.

So, as I said repeatedly when we were there, we have to rebuild trust. But I think, if you read those stories closely, and, certainly, the personal conversations I have had with Pakistani leaders in the last couple of days, there’s a sigh of relief. There’s a feeling that, OK, so the United States is committed, not only to Afghanistan and the fight against the Afghan Taliban, but you are committed to this partnership you keep talking about.

I think we’re making a little progress. I actually thought the press accounts were better than I would have anticipated.

MARGARET WARNER: Starting from a very low base.

MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, in Afghanistan and President Karzai, he gave an inaugural speech. He talked about improving governance.

Have you seen evidence that he’s making good on those pledges, particularly in the area of — of tamping down corruption?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We have seen some promising signs. It’s — I’m — it’s probably to early to draw some overall conclusions, but I am — I am encouraged.

I think he has said a lot of the right things, not only in the speech, but in some of his comments since then. There seems to be a real appreciation of the new strategy and the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States and our allies, and particularly the — the way that General McChrystal is going about implementing the strategy.

So, I am — I am, you know, really reassured that we may be on a new path.

MARGARET WARNER: But would you say he has quite a ways to go to create a record that, when this Afghan conference is held at the end of January, the Europeans are going to look and say, he is stepping up?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I think we all have a ways to go. You know, this is not just a one-way street. I think that some of the decisions we all have made have contributed to the very problems that we now wish to solve.

So, everybody is going to have to up their game. They’re all — we’re all going to have to learn the lessons of the past. We’re going to have to be better prepared to deal with the realities we confront in Afghanistan. I think they’re making an effort. We’re certainly, you know, redoubling ours.

And, so, I think we will — we will see progress.

MARGARET WARNER: Madam Secretary, thank you.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Margaret filed a behind-the-scenes report about her transatlantic flight on Secretary Clinton’s plane. And you can read that at newshour.pbs.org.