Press Conference by Ambassador Cameron Munter on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review (APAR)
December 17, 2010
Ambassador Munter: Thank you very much for coming today. I know it's a day off for all of you. This is very important to us, and we appreciate the fact that you're spending the time to come out and to that.
As you know, the U.S. government has been engaged in an annual review of the Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. This is called the APAR, the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review. We completed the review this week. I want to talk to you about a couple of the key findings from this review and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
Most important, the review reaffirms the importance to our policy of Americans' national interests. We had a reminder of this earlier this week with the death of Richard Holbrooke. I'll depart from my notes here to talk a minute about Richard Holbrooke. Those of you who knew Richard Holbrooke knew that he was a force of nature. He was a diplomat who was much more than a diplomat. Much more of a personality than anyone else I've ever met in our diplomatic corps. The fact that he was so passionately committed to the cause of helping American and Pakistan interests is something that we should appreciate, I think, in retrospect and something we'll very much miss.
He was extraordinarily energetic, extraordinarily capable, extraordinarily broad in his interests, in his ability to bring together those people who cared about Pakistan, whether they were from Asia, Europe, from the American business community. And that ability he had to reach out to all kinds of people is something that we'll really have to work hard to catch up with and to make sure that it continues. Such organizations as the Friends of Democratic Pakistan had his imprint and his energy.
So I think when you see what we found in the review, I hope that you will, as a measure of your understanding, of your appreciation of this see the hand and the effort and the heart of Richard Holbrooke, because I think a lot of what has been achieved over these last couple of years is because of his extraordinary efforts, and we'll miss him very much.
The review concluded that while our strategy is working in key areas, adjustments are necessary to make our gains durable and sustainable. We have the core goals that President Obama outlined with regard to Pakistan. We seek a comprehensive partnership with the people and government of Pakistan based on comprehensive and common interests and mutual respect. And we remain committed to working with our Afghan and Pakistani partners to counter the threat to our common security, by disrupting, dismantling and eventually defeating al-Qaida, and to prevent its return either to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
President Obama has received regular updates on the progress of this relationship and so earlier this fall it was decided to put this into a formal finding which is the document that we have put together for this review.
In Afghanistan the focus later in the fall came at the Lisbon summit of NATO. Lisbon, which gave us a new framework towards meeting the goals of the Afghan forces, that they would take the lead for security of the country by the end of 2014.
Early 2011 will mark the beginning of that process. The NATO/Afghan Partnership Declaration at Lisbon has given us a framework beyond 2014, and an enduring commitment to Afghanistan.
What I would add is that our vision is that Afghanistan's success and Pakistan's success are linked. Both countries must be stable. Both countries must succeed in their democratic endeavors. Both countries must find prosperity. And most of all, both countries with American support must find solutions to the attacks from the insurgents and terrorists who threaten Pakistanis, who threaten Afghans, who threaten Americans, and in fact threaten the globe.
We found for the first time that ISAF in Afghanistan has [restored] resources in Afghanistan and we have a civilian/military approach partnering with the Afghan government. Civilian development assistance in Afghanistan has been critical to many gains. That is not only a question of American help but of 49 other nations in the coalition in Afghanistan. And we're working to build, again as I mentioned, the Afghan led security and governance in those countries.
With regard to Pakistan, we're pleased to see how our bilateral relationship has improved over the past year. Three meetings of the Strategic Dialogue have allowed for more candid exchange on strategic issues between our countries and helped us broaden our partnership. We were proud to stand by the Pakistani people in their hour of need during the floods which demonstrated that we're not only looking at our long-term commitments but that when short-term challenges arise we'll be there. We were here as quickly as we could be with airlift support and relief supplies and we have a long-term commitment to assist with recovery and reconstruction efforts.
We've increased the security cooperation between our militaries. We've increased training, more support for the Pakistan military operations, and greater border coordination. And I'm pleased to say that we have built in Pakistan the largest U.S. government sponsored culture program of cultural and educational exchanges anywhere in the world. This manifests our sincere intent to build mutual understanding and cooperation in all areas.
So let me make clear. We have the largest educational exchange program between America and Pakistan that we have in the entire world, and this is not only a commitment for now, this is building for scholars and young people for many many years to come.
With these positive elements we realize there is much to do. There is much that we need to do to help address the key problems that Pakistan faces following the lead of the civilian government here which we hope to support, making sure that all democratic institutions here have our strong support. We don't pretend that this is not a fragile set of developments. We have much to do. We don't want to insist that our task is done. We simply want to emphasize that we think we're going in the right direction and with added effort and better coordination we can come a long way.
We have to continue to make progress in eliminating sanctuaries for the extremist networks and with our Pakistani partners we have to make strides against al-Qaida and some other militant groups as we have over the past year. We have to eliminate those safe havens to groups so that they don't plan attacks against Afghan, Pakistani and American interests.
Pakistan, as Afghanistan's neighbor, has a vested interest in Afghanistan's stability and security. We hope to support constructive relations between the two countries and between Pakistan and its other neighbors in the region. We'll consolidate and build in the progress we made in 2010.
So we'll focus in the months to come on what we can do better to adjust the things that don't work as well as they should, and to make sure that we move ahead. So that is the outline of the review. I think it is a positive one, but we hope clear-eyed and realistic about the challenges we face in the future.
What I'd like to do after that brief introduction is take questions from you about the review and about the relationships in the region.
Press: Ambassador, are you disappointed how this review has been reported in the United States press and also European press?
Ambassador Munter: The question is whether I'm disappointed how it's been reported? Not at all. I think the reporting has been factual and accurate. The idea is that what we have done is taken a good look at what we have set out to do over the last year since the President's speech in December of 2009, and we found those areas that we need to work on, but I think it accurately reflects the progress we've made. So I'm satisfied.
Press: Before my question I want to share my deep condolence for the sad demise of Richard Holbrooke, because I met him many times here at this podium, elsewhere in the presidency. Indeed, he has done a lot for strengthening the cooperation between the two countries.
My question is basically two aspects. One is the report talked about strengthening democratic endeavors in Pakistan. A latest development, the major coalition partner of this government they left and they even announced for a strike later this month. Do you think this is any way worrisome for the United States because United States always talked about the stability in Pakistan?
The other aspect is that when you talk of sanctuaries and eliminating the sanctuaries inside Pakistan, then if I recall the statement by Admiral Mullen, North Waziristan question is very much there being debated between the two countries. How this report is addressing the question of cooperation in North Waziristan, and what the Pakistani interlocutors there are talking about this? Thank you.
Ambassador Munter: Thank you very much for the question.
Let me begin with your second question first, the question about elimination of sanctuaries and the question of North Waziristan. As Admiral Mullen has said in his talks here, we are talking closely with the Pakistani military about this issue. We're emphasizing that the issue of terrorist sanctuaries is something of great importance to America, to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to the allies and the coalition. Everyone agrees that.
The Pakistani military has said that it is important or crucial that they extend the writ, that they extend the power of Pakistan over all of sovereign Pakistan and they are committed to do so. It's not a question of if they will do so, it is a question of when they will do so. And they will do so at their pace. This is something that we are pleased to see because we know that ultimately the armed forces of Pakistan must gain control over this area which is an important sanctuary that we've all identified.
On the question you raised about the government stability, this is a big debate in your country. This is a major political debate about the question of how you are going to widen the tax base in the country. In that sense it's a very important and welcome debate. We are glad to see your parliament will take up these kinds of issues and address them.
The stability of the government is a question that is up to the government to deal with. We are confident that all elements in Pakistan are committed to the strength of democratic institutions and we're convinced that this kind of question, the differences of opinion that different parties and coalitions have, is one that must be worked out among the people in leadership in a democratic way, in a constitutional way, and we're confident that will happen.
What the result will be, it will be like in any other country. It will have to do with the arrangements they make and the agreements they come to, but from the point of view of the American political and business community, we are pleased to see that there's a strong debate about enhancing the revenue base in this country as Secretary called earlier this year, it's a very important issue that the revenue base be expanded and that the internally generated revenues show the broad-based Pakistani commitment to financial and fiscal reform so that we can go back to our taxpayers and say that we're all partners in the effort to assist Pakistan that very much needs this assistance. The Pakistanis are pulling their weight; the other donors are pulling theirs.
So on the stability of the government, we think it's a topic that's very important for them to debate and we are confident that within the democratic boundaries and constitutional boundaries, that the decisions on how the government works and how it addresses these questions will be met. Thank you.
Press: Secretary Clinton last night was talking about the need to deepen trust and cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. Where specifically right now is that deficit in trust, and what has caused it in your opinion?
Ambassador Munter: A very deep question that is quite broad. In the sense that the trust deficit is a term that's been used for many years. My understanding of the narrative that most Pakistanis understand is that over the many many decades there have been instances where according to the way Pakistan has seen this, there's been insufficient understanding on the American side of what Pakistan is. And we can talk about whether this is true or a perception, but it is definitely a deep perception among the people in Pakistan.
The example that most of them use is how America turned its back on this part of the world after 1989. And as Secretary Clinton has said, we realize that was a mistake and we're not going to make that mistake again. That is why we're committed to long term economic growth -- a five year Kerry/Lugar/Berman program. That's why we're committed to long-term military assistance. That's why we have the largest educational program in the world. That's why we're the people building the roads in South Waziristan. That's why we're moving along to make sure through the Strategic Dialogue that we are the people who are understood by the Pakistani people as those who have learned that we need to see a strong and democratic Pakistan and that we're committed to that.
So that trust deficit, I believe, comes from a history that rightly or wrongly judges that America has not always understood Pakistan. It is still there. I meet it all the time. But where I'm encouraged is that as Pakistanis realize that the American commitment is strong and durable and long term, that they will judge us on our deeds and that they will decide that yes, this deficit, while it may have been a tradition that many people have talked about, is something that can be overcome by the observation of how we've committed ourselves to Pakistan's success.
Press: With regards to America's trust in Pakistan, we know this to be an ongoing issue. The feeling we get from talking to everybody, particularly back in the United States, is there isn't that much trust in Pakistan. You talked about having confidence that the politicians here are committed to the democratic process, but that's very different from actually having confidence in the fact they have the capacity to keep that going. What's your view?
Ambassador Munter: Capacity is a very important issue, and I think most of the leadership of this country will admit that the capacity to afford good governance is one of their greatest tasks. That's why we're committed to our assistance program. We're working with the government here not only to help them give basic services, but also to help in the training of the government which many people are skeptical about the competence in Pakistan and the United States. If they're skeptical, it's up to us and it's up to the leadership of this country to work together to work on this competence, to build on the trust that people can actually deliver what the government says it wants to deliver. But this is one of those questions in the area of we have much to do.
There's a great amount that we have to do in our assistance; there's a great amount that the government itself has to do to build the trust of the Pakistani people and the friends who want Pakistan to succeed to make sure that that competence is clear and demonstrated.
Press: But do you trust --
Ambassador Munter: Can we have someone else?
Press: Mr. Ambassador, my question is could you compare the success of Pakistani forces against this terrorism fight in Pakistan and the NATO forces in Afghanistan. What is the comparison in this review?
And second question is about the drone attack. In this interview could you elaborate that drone attacks will be continued in the future in the area of, will be increased or there will be no drone attacks in the review? Thank you very much.
Ambassador Munter: Thank you for the question. On the question of the competence or at least the achievements of the militaries on both sides, we have a great respect for what the Pakistani military has achieved in the last two years. There are 140,000 troops in the northwest of this country. That's more troops than America has in Afghanistan. Those troops have taken serious casualties, thousands of casualties, many killed and many wounded, not to mention what Pakistan's civilians have paid in the price against terror. This is a serious, serious effort and we are very appreciative of this because we understand this is a question of Pakistan's national interest and Pakistan's contribution to the global fight against terror.
What we have seen in South Waziristan, what we have seen in the other northern agencies, certainly what we saw in Swat was a determined effort by the Pakistani military to root out the terrorists. That effort is not finished, but it is very significant and you can count on, when General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen come here and visit, they're very appreciative of the sacrifice that the Pakistanis have made.
On the other side of the border, we believe that a lot of progress has been made not only in the southern part of the country, in Kandahar, Helmand province, in that area, but also moving into what they refer to as the east, directly to the west of Pakistan. I think what we will see with the surge led by General Petraeus and the NATO forces, working closely with a very very improved Afghan National Army, is that we will be able as much as we can, and we will have the capacity much more than in the past, to coordinate closely with the Pakistani military so that on both sides of the border we're making every effort to capture or kill the terrorists who are attacking both sides.
So I think it's an optimistic story on both sides, but there is so much left to be done. While we've made great progress in the south in Afghanistan, while we've made great progress in the east of Afghanistan, while the city of Kabul is expanding its footprint, if you will, of security, and while we've seen those elements that I mentioned to you about what the Pakistani army has done, there are still terrorists there, there are still terrorists who are a danger to Pakistan, to America, to Afghanistan and to the world, and I think both sides are committed to fight it until it's finished.
You asked me to comment on the drones, and I'm not going to comment about drones.
Press: Thank you very much. Sir, definitely U.S. has been repeatedly saying that it is entrusted to build Pakistani institutions and it is in favor of welfare of Pakistani people. Sir, U.S. has some reservations about the deal that was done between Pakistan and China about civil nuclear. How would you see since it was in the interest of Pakistan and Pakistani government went for it? Do you think that your reservations which have been expressed by Secretary Hillary Clinton have been addressed, or still they are there? Thank you.
Ambassador Munter: On the question of nuclear cooperation, we're making sure that on this very important issue that the Nuclear Suppliers Group is the group that decides and judges internationally how that cooperation should run, and we want to make sure that China and other members of the Suppliers Group are following the commitments that they've made in that international forum.
On the question of whether there is room for America and Pakistan to talk, of course there is room for America and Pakistan to talk and we do talk. But let's be clear. The arrangement that we have with India was an arrangement that took many many years and was very very difficult. We'll talk with Pakistan and we'll see how it goes, but this is not something that can develop overnight.
Press: I believe the document that was made public yesterday, if I remember correctly, refers to the need to improve border coordination. I believe those were the words used. Can you specify exactly what that means? What are the problems when it comes to border coordination? What are you going to do to change them?
Ambassador Munter: It's a very broad category and it covers more than simply a military or a civilian issue, but let me give you two examples of how I can illustrate that. I can't really be comprehensive because there are many things having to do with border crossing regimes, commerce, et cetera. But on the border coordination in the military sense, what we talk about is making sure that there is the best tactical cooperation between the militaries of both sides. That is that the Pakistan military is able to coordinate about its fight against the terrorists in the border regions with NATO and that NATO can do the same with Pakistan.
The reason for that is quite simple. If there is a cordoning operation and the people who are being trapped are able to flee across the border, how effective is that?
What we're finding and we have found over the last 24 months, especially over this last year, is that there is improved coordination. Improved intelligence sharing, improved contact between the NATO forces and the Pakistani forces, so that both sides know better, it's not perfect, but both sides know better which operations are happening on both sides so they can make sure they can capture or kill the insurgents rather than see them use the border as some sort of sanctuary. There's far to go, but we've made progress in that. That's one element of border coordination. It's tactical.
The other one that I would mention has to do with our broader cooperation for the long-term relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As you know, the Transit Trade Agreement that was recently signed by the two countries and is being ratified now, is a possibility to build the kind of links between the two countries that we think belong between two democratic, stable countries that we see as friends. The more that we can actually put together the pieces that will allow the Transit Trade Agreement to work, such as customs cooperation, such as making sure that the right kind of smoothing of paperwork for truckers going across the border is available. The more we can do that the more we're going to build the kind of prosperity and the ties between the two countries. So that kind of border coordination is less a military issue than it is an embassy to embassy issue.
I was in Kabul last week speaking with Ambassador Eikenberry and his team, and we're determined to work closely to try to aid our Afghan and our Pakistani friends to improve border crossings, improve the regime that helps people get across these borders, and ultimately to support them in building the ties between the two countries.
So those are just two illustrations of border coordination. There are probably more, but this is the kind of thing we do, both in the military and between embassies.
Press: When you talk about U.S. and other coalition partners' withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, and if by that time you are unable to catch or kill Osama bin Laden, what will be your strategy?
Secondly, to what extent you are involving Taliban in the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan? Thank you, sir.
Ambassador Munter: On the first question, we are not saying that we will withdraw. What we are saying is that by 2014 the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Police will be in the position to lead the security of the country.
The face of American and NATO commitment may change, much as what we have seen in Iraq where the military element of what we do has become less and the civil element has become greater, more economics, more advisors, more things of that sort. This may change, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The reason I emphasize that is that it seems that people choose to say kind of a black and white, the Americans are either here or they're not here. Our commitment is ongoing, both to Afghanistan and to Pakistan. So that in 2014 when as we judge the security forces of Afghanistan have come to the point where they can actually take care of themselves, we will continue to go into a supporting role, but we'll stay economically linked, culturally linked, politically linked, just as we will stay linked to Pakistan over that time and into the future.
On the second question about the Taliban, if there is going to be a reconciliation process it is going to be Afghan-led, and the Afghan government is spending a great amount of time thinking about this. How can this be done? But this is not something that's being done by us, and it's not something that we are even pressing. This has got to be an Afghan-led process.
Now in that process Pakistan has legitimate security interests and those should be recognized. We encourage our Afghan friends, just on common sense, if there is going to be a stable region and a stable border and a common fight against terrorism, Pakistani interests must be met and the Afghans have to lead this. This can't be brought in from the outside.
So whether or not they engage the Taliban, whether or not they engage other issues, other forces, this is going to be up to the Afghans.
Press: Sir, if you could just give me a bit more of a clear answer on something that I feel like we're getting some mixed messages on. The issue of North Waziristan. On the one hand you have people saying publicly that they need to do more here in Pakistan. That there has to be some sort of an operation. There's a pressure. On the other hand we hear in private conversations including some that were quoted in a Washington Post column the other day, U.S. officials saying well, we understand that the army here may be stretched thin and that they need to have the capacity. Then of course you remember that there's all these Pakistani troops on the Indian border. There are questions about whether they all need to be there or not.
I'd really like to know. Do you guys actually believe that they really are that overstretched and don't have the capacity right now to go into North Waziristan? Do you believe that? Or not? It would be really great to have a clear, direct answer on that.
Ambassador Munter: Yes, I believe that.
Press: Can you explain?
Ambassador Munter: I don't want to make it any less clear. [Laughter].
I believe that the efforts that have been made by the Pakistani military are very significant, and that is a lot of troops. Those troops who are there are covering a great amount of ground. And going in and clearing and holding and building and all the kind of mantras that you've heard from people about how counterinsurgency works is something that takes manpower. So I think there is yes, a great amount of capacity being used in holding the ground that the Pakistani army has won at great cost over the last say 20 months. And in that sense I think it would be incorrect to define the question about North Waziristan as a question simply of will rather than of capacity. I think it's wrong. I really want to be very very clear to you, because you want clarity, I think there is a capacity issue.
That said, this is a question of the sovereignty of the country. Both controlling the land that is Pakistan is something that Pakistani leaders have told us they are committed to, and that happens to dovetail, that is consistent with what we believe from the other side of the border, the NATO forces, is necessary to deny sanctuary to the terrorists who are in North Waziristan.
So when we hear that the government says it is not a question, the Pakistani military will say it's not a question of whether, but when, we are encouraged. We would like it to be soon because we see these people as our common enemy, but we understand that the decision has to be made by the leadership of the Pakistani military.
I think you'll find that even though this sounds like a contradiction, it's not. We would like them to move tomorrow. We would like them to take out these people tomorrow. But we understand they're telling us honestly about the capacity of their military and when they are able, we are convinced they'll move in.
I tried to keep it as clear as I could.
Press: My concern is, Mr. Ambassador, how do you see the role of China in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Munter: China has a legitimate and positive role as all of the neighbors to Afghanistan have. Afghanistan's future has to involve good relations with its neighbors, and especially a neighbor as dynamic and powerful as China. What we hope is that Chinese commitment to economic development will be consistent with all of our interests to see a prosperous Afghanistan. So yes, we think that China and all of Afghanistan's neighbors should play a positive role and especially they have shown an interest in a positive economic role, just as they've shown a positive economic role here in Pakistan. This is a good thing, to have trade with your neighbors, to build jobs, to invest. This is what a good neighbor does and we commend them for it.
What we hope is that everyone, all of the neighbors of this region, all of the interested people in this region, can commit themselves to a better security situation so that that investment, whether it's from China, whether it's from America, whether it's from Europe, is more stable and comes in greater areas. The potential for Afghanistan, the potential for Pakistanis enormous and we all want to see it reached. So yes, we see it as a positive thing.
I'd like to thank you all for taking the time. Thank you very much for your being here. And once again, I really appreciate the comment you made about Richard Holbrooke, and I know that those of you who knew him will carry him in your hearts at this Christmas season for us. It's something that's I think a very big development that we've had and something that we are going to -- We're going to miss him a lot for a long time.