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July 17th, 2003
The Rock Star and the Mullahs
Interview: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca

Christina Rocca discusses Pakistan with Mishal Husain.

Mishal Husain: Madame Assistant Secretary, one of the things we saw in that film was the tremendous number of contrasts in modern Pakistan. Why would you say that this is a country that matters to the United States?

Christina Rocca: Pakistan matters to the United States for a large number of reasons. First of all, it is a critical partner in the war on terror. It has been an ally in Operation Enduring Freedom in the war in Afghanistan. It’s been critical for that. It also is a country with whom we have a long history — one that we’re hoping to put back on track and to move forward with — and to put on a long-term basis.

Mishal Husain: One of the goals is democracy in Pakistan. How does the U.S. deal with the fact that the return to democracy has led to the rise of the religious parties that we saw in that film?

Christina Rocca: Well, we’re going in the right direction in democracy. President Musharraf set up a road map. He stuck to the road map so far. We’re moving towards democracy. There are obviously voices who are wanting to be heard. And I think that as we move towards a fuller democracy, it’ll be a place where all voices will be heard from all sides of the spectrum. That’s what we hope for.

Mishal Husain: It’s an uncomfortable reality for the United States, isn’t it, that now you have religious parties that, for the first time, are a political force in Pakistan’s Parliament and they are deeply anti-American.

Christina Rocca: Well, the anti-American aspect of it is something that we clearly need to work on. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of putting out the message of the fact that the United States is tolerant, and in no way anti-Islam. On the contrary. And so we need to do a better job of getting this message heard. It’s a long-term project, however.

Mishal Husain: How does Pakistan compare to the United States’ vision for the rest of the Muslim world? It does have a democracy today. On the other hand, it’s presided over by President Musharraf, who didn’t come to power through anything resembling democratic means. Far from it.

Christina Rocca: Well, Pakistan is a country of enormous potential. It’s 140 million people. President Musharraf has laid out a vision for Pakistan as a stable Muslim moderate democracy, and this is a vision that Pakistan can achieve with some work and some assistance from the international community. And that’s the vision that the U.S. would like to support.

Mishal Husain: But clearly the vision of the religious parties is quite different. And their message has a resonance with the voters of Pakistan.

Christina Rocca: There’s no doubt about it. It certainly is a portion of the population. And it’s one that will be represented. But it is our view is that the majority of the nation of Pakistan wants to move forward towards a prosperous economically viable modern nation.

Mishal Husain: President Musharraf has said that he doesn’t think Pakistan’s ready for a fully-fledged democracy. What President Bush says about the need for democracy in the Western world is something quite different.

Christina Rocca: Pakistan has had various democracy through its history. This is a country that is basically, we believe, democratic. And as democracy unfolds, and as they move towards a fuller democracy, I think all voices will be heard on all sides of the spectrum. And it won’t just offer the opportunity for one view to dominate.

Mishal Husain: So, you would hope for more balancing of parties like religious parties?

Christina Rocca: I’d hope for more balancing across the spectrum, absolutely.

Mishal Husain: Let’s talk for a moment about the changes in U.S. policy towards Pakistan since September the 11th. That was a day on which everything changed for Pakistan. Its relationship with the United States completely changed.

Christina Rocca: Absolutely. Prior to 9/11, Pakistan had been under a raft of sanctions, which the U.S. had already been trying to lift.

The legislation was in place to lift them. So, we were already in the process of doing it, because we’d understood that we couldn’t continue like this. And we wanted to move this relationship forward on a better footing. After 9/11, it was a lot easier. Because then, all the sanctions were able to be waived. And we were able to move forward with Pakistan across the board.

Mishal Husain: Those were the sanctions imposed after the nuclear test. Did that mean that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, its weapons of mass destruction, suddenly weren’t such a problem for the United States?

Christina Rocca: Actually, those weren’t the sanctions in question. The 1998 sanctions were put in place because of the nuclear tests on both India and Pakistan. And they were the ones that were being lifted. There were sanctions in place prior to that, for acquisition of nuclear technology and things like that, which needed to be moved, as well as the democracy sanctions.

Mishal Husain: We don’t hear much, though, about U.S. opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program anymore.

Christina Rocca: Well, I think we have accepted the fact that these countries have nuclear weapons. What we hope to do is to convince them to adhere to international norms, limit the numbers, and hopefully start to disarm as time goes by.

Mishal Husain: Isn’t the reality of Pakistan today though, in some ways, the United States’ worst nightmare? This is a country that has weapons of mass destruction and an active nuclear weapons program. It’s also a country where an extremist Islamic movement is becoming increasingly popular.

Christina Rocca: I’d say at this point we still believe that the government of Pakistan is in control of its nuclear assets. That it knows how to control it, and that nuclear security is a major component of their policy. This is a country that has a lot of potential. There’s a lot of people there, and it’s got the ability to move in the right direction. This is one of the reasons that we’ve put forward the enormous multi-year package that we’ve just presented to Pakistan– which, by the way, is something that is not done with very many countries. It is intended to signal a long-term commitment to the country, and also to help move this vision of Pakistan forward.

Mishal Husain: What would you say to the accusation that this $3 billion aid package the United States just gave to Pakistan — half of which will go to the military — increases the standoff with India, and increases the ways in which this is such a dangerous part of the world?

Christina Rocca: Our calculation is different. Our analysis is different. Our view of it is that Pakistan needs conventional weapons. And we’d like to help them acquire them. We don’t believe that this will destabilize the current balance that exists in the subcontinent. We’re very careful in that respect. We watch very carefully.

Mishal Husain: But that’s a policy that the Indians, for instance, would have grave reservations about.

Christina Rocca: The Indians understand what we’re trying to do, and certainly have expressed that to us.

Mishal Husain: Is the war on terror now the primary policy imperative behind everything to do with Pakistan? Is cooperation on the war on terror so important to the United States that other issues are put in its shadow for now?

Christina Rocca: No. The war on terror was the focus of the relationship over the last two years. The government of Pakistan has arrested over 500 members of al-Qaeda, which is very significant. They’re a critical partner in the war on terror.

But the fact is that we want to move forward on a much broader-based relationship with Pakistan, and with the people of Pakistan. So it’s not just a security relationship. It’s also one where we want be of assistance in the area of health, in the area of education, in the area of democratization. The whole idea of the multi-year package is specifically to underlie that policy. Very few countries get a multi-year [package]. The signal there is that we want put our relationship on a different footing. We want to put it on a footing where it’s long-term and not dependent on security situations in the world.

Mishal Husain: And yet President Musharraf is someone who has a lot of problems at home for just that close relationship with the United States.

Christina Rocca: With certain elements of his country, there’s no doubt. But our hope is that we can help as Pakistan moves forward towards becoming more prosperous. And as the benefits are seen by the common man, by the man on the street in Pakistan, this will change.

Mishal Husain: What does the United States want to get out of the relationship?

Christina Rocca: What we need out of this relationship is a better relationship with the government and the people of Pakistan. So we want to have a closer relationship with the people of Pakistan. We look for regional stability. We look for assistance on the security issues. We have a number of economic areas where we could be moving forward as well. And obviously we want to be able to help them in the area of education and help them move towards that vision that I mentioned earlier.

Mishal Husain: How do those goals compare to the fact that there’s an increasingly anti-American sentiment being heard in Pakistan?

Christina Rocca: Well, as I said, the fact is that we clearly need to be doing a better job of getting out our message. The United States has a long history and is proud of the fact that it is such a tolerant country that tolerates all religions and is certainly in no way anti-Islam, on the contrary. And this is the message that we need to get out to those elements in Pakistan who believe the contrary.

Mishal Husain: Give me your thoughts on some of the things we saw in the film about the reality of how life in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan has changed. The reality of what Sharia law means, and what you think of that.

Christina Rocca: Well, this is a part of the country that I’ve traveled to and it is clearly more traditional than the rest of the country. There’s no doubt about it. But I think there’s also a need in that part of the country, as there is throughout Pakistan, for a better education system. This is something that’s been recognized by the government of Pakistan, and certainly something we have committed a fair amount of dollars to. Part of this multi-year package is going to also further the education system in Pakistan. One of the keys to moving the country in the right direction, we believe, is education.

Mishal Husain: But how do you actually do that? Do you give money for new schools, or do you try and change the curriculum?

Christina Rocca: We do this in a number of ways. We work with a number of NGOs that work directly in the areas involved. We also work directly with the government and with the education minister who has an entire project to help revitalize the school system, and to provide children with an opportunity and an alternative to the madrassah system.

Mishal Husain: It’s a very difficult thing to do, isn’t it? Because the last thing you want to be seen to be doing is imposing some kind of American value educational system on this part of the world.

Christina Rocca: That’s not at all what we’re trying to do. On the contrary. What we’d like to do is present more opportunities to children and to poor people to have something when they get out of school. If you broaden the curriculum, their job opportunities will expand exponentially, obviously. There is a lack of education — of good and proper education — in Pakistan as a whole. This is something that the government of Pakistan is working to try to change. And we want to help them to do that. Because the key to moving and becoming a prosperous nation really is education.

Mishal Husain: But 50 percent of the package that you just gave to Pakistan is for the military.

Christina Rocca: Fifty percent. But that still leaves $1.5 billion over the next five years. Not to mention the amount that we’ve already been providing and that we’ll continue to provide in the areas of education and other development assistance like health and democratization. This is an area which will directly affect, we hope, the average Pakistani, including in those areas you’ve been showing on your film.

Mishal Husain: Tell me about your experience of traveling to Pakistan. You’ve been to Pakistan numerous times. How do you find it when you go there?

Christina Rocca: Pakistan is a country that’s filled with vitality. There are people with great ideas and with hope for the future. This is something that really buoys you up when you talk to them. It has a boisterous democratic and boisterous political dynamic. It’s a country with enormous potential. It’s something that you can feel when you’re there, in all parts of the country.

Mishal Husain: Did you sense anti-Americanism?

Christina Rocca: Absolutely. But they’re not shy about telling you.

Mishal Husain: That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Christina Rocca: That’s part of the dialogue. You can enter a dialogue. The minds weren’t all closed, by any means.

Mishal Husain: It’s also a country of tremendous faith. It strikes me as being a very difficult thing for the United States to try and combat the rise of extremist Islam. Because this is never going to be a secular nation.

Christina Rocca: No one is looking for it to become a secular nation. It’s an Islamic republic, and the United States is a country that has many faithful of many different religions. What we would like to see is tolerance. What we’d like to see expanded is tolerance throughout the country, so that no one is imposing any particular brand of religion on anyone else.

Mishal Husain: Given what we’ve seen in the film though, your goals are, in a sense, swimming against the tide; swimming against the reality of what’s happening in the northwest frontier.

Christina Rocca: Well, what’s happening in the northwest frontier is something that we’re watching very closely. But so is the central government. And there are issues of constitutionality and legality, which will be dealt with by the people of Pakistan. That’s not our position to judge or to get involved in that.

However, there is no doubt that this is a more traditional part of the country. No one is trying to take away their rights to practice their faith. We’d like to be able to expand the tolerance.

Mishal Husain: Many people in Pakistan, when asked about the relationship with the United States, say that we’re just useful to the United States at certain points in time, like in the war on terror. And when this urgent need is over, they’ll forget about us. What do you think about that?

Christina Rocca: We’ve heard that. When I go on my trips, I hear that from everybody across the spectrum. And I meet with many people. It’s an unfortunate perception. It is not the intention of this administration for this to be a short-term relationship. That’s why we took the extraordinary step of going for a multi-year package, which the Congress will have to help us with. But Congress, hopefully, will back us on this.

Mishal Husain: Is it because of Pakistan’s strategic location, because of its use on the war on terror, that you are so interested in Pakistan today?

Christina Rocca: Well, regional stability is critical. And for Pakistan, the world needs a stable Pakistan, and a Pakistan that is prosperous and successful. And so, that’s what we’re hoping for.

Mishal Husain: What do you make of one of the things we saw in the film, the direct claim that a part of Islam is that women should stay in the home?

Christina Rocca: Well, I’m not in a position to interpret Islam by any means. So, I wouldn’t even think to do that. But clearly this is not a position taken by the vast majority of Muslim countries around the world. And we’ve seen what happens under those circumstances. We saw that under the Taliban. And that is something that obviously, especially as a woman, we really would like to discourage.

Mishal Husain: Do you think that these parties are the Taliban of Pakistan?

Christina Rocca: I’m not sure that the exact thing can carry from one country to the other. Every country has its own peculiarities. But certainly, a situation where women are kept from working, kept from school, and kept in the home is something that we would like to not see happen to Pakistan.

Mishal Husain: Give us your sense of how you view where President Musharraf is at this particular time in terms of the pressures on his job.

Christina Rocca: Well, President Musharraf clearly has a very difficult job. He has a regional situation that is not yet calm. However, we hope that he will be a force for stability in the region. We certainly count on that. He has a domestic situation which he’s working on. We hope to see this current situation resolved constitutionally and democratically. These are very heavy pressures. There’s a lot for him to balance. But he’s doing a great job. And he’s a very courageous man.

Mishal Husain: But it’s a country at a tremendously difficult point in its history.

Christina Rocca: It is. But it’s not insurmountable. And we have full faith that it’s moving in the right direction, and will continue to do so.

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