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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Dawn Newpaper and TV


Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
August 7, 2009

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QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Blake. Thank you very much for this interview.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you for inviting me.

QUESTION: You are the new Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and this is probably your first interview with the Pakistani media, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First as assistant secretary, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Let’s start with what happened today, Baitullah Mehsud, his death. Without going into controversy, who did it and how and what, do you think it is a big achievement in the war against terror?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, I can’t confirm whether he’s dead or not. That will be up to Pakistani authorities to do. But certainly, if the reports prove true, that’s a major step forward. Baitullah Mehsud is considered one of the most dangerous and odious terrorists in Pakistan, and that would be a very important step.

QUESTION: And that, obviously, brings us back to the controversy. I know you would not like to confirm that Americans are using drones to attack targets in inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, but do you feel that his death, if confirmed, would lessen opposition to such attacks in Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I can’t really comment on support for that. All I will say is that I think we’ve been encouraged by, first of all, the steps that the Pakistani Government has taken to confront the terrorist threat in Pakistan, particularly in Swat. And those steps have enjoyed the support of the Pakistani people. And we hope that that support will provide the basis for continued action against such militants.

QUESTION: But do you see the support for U.S. security assistance to Pakistan increasing, the popular support?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I hope so. Let me put it this way: The United States is very committed to helping Pakistan to address many of its problems; not just security problems, but also working with the IDPs, working on some of the economic challenges – for example, implementing its IMF program, and so forth. So we see ourselves as friends of Pakistan and working to help the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Well, some people in this country, including some lawmakers, define Pakistan as the most dangerous country on earth, the most dangerous place on earth. Do you agree with this assessment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think I’d just go back to what I just said, which is that Pakistan faces a number of challenges. But the President has repeatedly said and Senator Kerry has also said in Congress that we are committed on a long-term basis to supporting Pakistan, to supporting the development of civilian institutions. This is supporting the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: See, when – in America, when you said it was a dangerous place, you come from a different perspective – al Qaida, Taliban, the war against terror.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.

QUESTION: But in that region, when people say that, they have a different perspective, because of India-Pakistan relations. And both countries have nuclear weapons, and they (inaudible) fear that if this tension go out of hand, they can actually leap to nuclear conflict or nuclear war between the two countries. Do you – what do you say about that assessment, that this India-Pakistan conflict makes that region very dangerous?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly it does, but I think both sides are also aware of that risk. And I think that one of the reasons that both sides began to talk to each other beginning in 2004, was that they realized that diplomacy was probably the best way forward in that particular case, and that the acquisition of nuclear weapons had raised the stakes and that therefore it was better to pursue diplomacy. And indeed, both countries made great progress in the composite dialogue and the backchannel during that period from 2004 to 2007.

QUESTION: This policy of de-hyphenating India from Pakistan – is it working?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think it is. We see them as different challenges and different opportunities, but both are very, very important to the United States. So if there’s one – I don’t want to try to say that one is more important than the other. We have been working extremely hard with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President has made clear that this is probably his highest foreign policy priority. But at the same time, I think the message from Secretary Clinton’s recent visit to India was that we also are going to place a great deal of importance on our relationship with India, that that is not going to take a backseat to what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And indeed, India, as you said, has an important role to play in helping to stabilize the situation.

QUESTION: There is a lot of overlapping when you deal with India and Pakistan. You can’t just say that we will deal with each totally separately. For example, the issue of Kashmir, and that is one issue that has caused three wars between the two countries. And it concerns also any country that is allied with both the countries (inaudible) to this conflict.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: So what’s your question?

QUESTION: So the question is that how much can you actually separate one from the other without touching on these issues?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right. Certainly, there’s a number of interconnections between the two countries. Let me just say, on the question of Kashmir, obviously, that is something for the two countries to resolve. But right now, I think we, and indeed the two countries, are focused principally on the issue of counterterrorism, bringing the five Mumbai suspects to justice and prosecuting those, and taking steps to ensure that the territory of Pakistan is not used by militant groups to threaten either the United States or India or any other country.

QUESTION: So Kashmir goes on the backburner?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, that’s up for the two countries to decide. I think that that’s a pretty sensitive issue, and I imagine that they will not be prepared to take that up at this particular stage.

QUESTION: But – and so you – what you are suggesting is that there is an understanding between the two not to take that up at this stage?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them directly.

QUESTION: Okay. Yes, you said it is for them to decide, but so far they have not been very successful. And so for a country like the United States with your high profile and your stature and everything, don’t you think that you should play a mediatory role?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, no, I don’t think we should play a mediatory role. I think it’s – again, up to them to decide. But I’d like to stress that both countries did make a lot of progress, as I said earlier, between 2004 and 2007. So there’s already a basis from which to work. But I think the Indians have made very clear that the first step in this sequencing process will have to be progress on the bilateral terrorism issues. And if there is such progress, that, in turn will, I think, open up space for both countries to cooperate on elements of building confidence, such as were previously discussed in the composite dialogue.

Let me just mention one that’s a very obvious one that could make a big difference, and that’s trade. Right now, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and India is roughly $2 billion. There’s a great deal more that goes from India to Dubai through places like Dubai to Pakistan. But nonetheless, the amount of bilateral trade is really very small between the two countries. So there are significant opportunities to be seized that would increase employment and increase economic opportunities for companies and the people on both sides of the border.

And if you look at, for example, let’s say, China and Indonesia, the volume of their trade, even though they’re not neighbors, is about 15 times that of what now takes place between India and Pakistan. So that’s one indicator, I think, of the great opportunities that exist and that can be seized if the two countries can make progress on this counterterrorism issue.

QUESTION: So you support Indian position that other issues come first before Kashmir?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I mean, again, it’s not for me to say. This is – this is a bilateral negotiation between the two countries, and that’s their position. And our position – I think we all feel that for the first time in many, many years, the United States, India, and Pakistan have common objectives, which is to address the militant threat and to make sure that they – that threat does not pose a threat to any of our countries.

QUESTION: India is already much stronger than Pakistan in conventional weapon, and during this visit, the Secretary’s visit, the two countries discussed possibility of sending U.S. weapons to India. So a stronger India actually makes Pakistan more vulnerable and forces it to depend on non-conventional weapons. That is how the argument is made in Pakistan. Do you agree with this argument?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, let me correct you slightly and say that the issue of weapons sales was not discussed during the Secretary’s recent visit. What was discussed was the narrow issue of end-use monitoring, which is a kind of agreement that we have with more than 80 countries around the world. And we achieved agreement on basically language that would go into letters of offer and letters of acceptance for potential future sales, but such sales were not discussed. And I don’t want to imply that that was some significant part of what was discussed. It wasn’t. It didn’t even come up in our discussions.

What was discussed was to establish this strategic framework between the United States and India and –

QUESTION: But it will lead to future sales, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Potentially. I mean, we’ve already had sales, but we have a lot of defense cooperation with Pakistan, too. So I don’t want to imply that there’s –

QUESTION: But it is not further increasing the disbalance (ph)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, that’s not what it’s aimed at. It’s aimed at supporting the legitimate defense needs of India, just as we want to support the legitimate defense needs of Pakistan. But we also, I’d say in Pakistan’s case, want to put a particular priority now on bolstering the counterinsurgency capabilities of the Pakistani forces. So that’s where I think our primary focus in Pakistan is.

QUESTION: And they require more helicopters. Are – do you have anything in the pipeline? Are you giving them more helicopters for that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I wouldn’t just say it’s a question of helicopters. It’s a whole range of different equipment and training and new tactics and so forth. And –

QUESTION: And you’re providing them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And we will be working with our friends in the Pakistani armed forces to provide those.

QUESTION: Nuclear agreement with India – of course, America is not going to offer a similar agreement to Pakistan. President Bush was very clear on that when I interviewed him and other – and the Obama Administration has the same policy. But if Pakistan made a similar arrangement, say, with China, what would be your reaction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think our experience with India showed that this is – it’s not simply a bilateral agreement. This kind of agreement must go through the Nuclear Suppliers Group, for example. So there’s got to be a multilateral understanding. So, similarly, any kind of an agreement between Pakistan and another country would have to be subject to review by the IAEA, by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, so this is not simply an American issue.

QUESTION: And how would you react to such a move?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I don’t want to engage in speculation. We’d have to see what kind of agreement you’re talking about.

QUESTION: Pakistan’s energy needs – you know, huge energy crisis, (inaudible) that go on for 11, 12 hours a day.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.

QUESTION: If Pakistan tried to build more nuclear power reactors for producing electricity, will you support that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, I think that’s something that would – that has to be discussed. Nuclear power is – you have to find investment and people who are going to put the money into it. Otherwise, it’s an extremely expensive alternative for providing energy. I think what is needed now is really a good discussion of how to meet the immediate electricity needs of Pakistan. As you say, this is probably the most important internal problem on the economic side that Pakistan faces.

QUESTION: So have you made any suggestions for meeting --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We haven’t. I think Ambassador Holbrooke, during his recent visit to Pakistan, underlined the seriousness of the crisis and the challenges that are being faced, and he said that the United States is looking at ways that we might be able to help Pakistan to address this. But we don’t have anything to announce yet.

QUESTION: And are you – of course, publicly, U.S. officials have made no comment on that. But are you quietly encouraging India and Pakistan to talk to each other? Has there been any formal move to encourage them to resume the dialogue that broke down after the Mumbai attacks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, this is really between the two countries to take forward. And I must say, I think they’ve done a good job. There’s been already extensive contacts at the foreign secretary level, at the foreign minister level, and the two prime ministers, as well. But (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And – yes, and then as well (inaudible).

QUESTION: Was there an American support to these moves? Did you help them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No. I mean, we support them, but these were arranged by the two countries themselves. We did not have a hand in arranging them.

QUESTION: Are you doing any encouragement now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, as I say, we welcome those kind of contacts, but we are not behind the contacts. Again, the two countries themselves are the ones that are setting these up and setting the agenda and so forth.

QUESTION: U.S. presence in – sorry, Indian presence in Afghanistan has been a cause of concern in Pakistan. They understand that the Indians are involved in Baluchistan. And I remember Ambassador Holbrooke said that they discussed it with him as well. So what do you say to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we welcome what India’s doing in Afghanistan. India is playing a very important role in terms of providing development assistance, building roads and infrastructure, and many other things. And as you say, Ambassador Holbrooke has addressed the issues of Baluchistan and so forth. And again, that really is something that should be discussed between the two countries, if they believe that –

QUESTION: But you have (inaudible) with India’s involvement in Baluchistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t want to really get into the details of that, but let me just leave it at what I said. I think this is really something for the two countries to talk about themselves and try to resolve. Prime Minister Singh has denied that there’s any kind of involvement in Baluchistan, and if Pakistan believes that there is such involvement, then he’s encouraged them to provide that information.

QUESTION: Moving Pakistan’s focus away from the Indian border to –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sorry, let me just add on that. I think India understands that it is not in its interests to try to destabilize or undermine Pakistan’s security at this very sensitive time.

MODERATOR: Last one.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving away Pakistan’s focus from the eastern border to the western border, moving troops from India to – Indian border to the Afghan border, Pakistan has done that to some extent, but it is not possible to do it in a larger way without reducing tensions between India and Pakistan. What role can you play in reducing those tensions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, this is really for the two countries to resolve and to figure out the proper sequencing of this. But I think the first part of that sequencing will be for Pakistan to take action against these five Mumbai suspects, to prosecute them, and then for the two sides to agree on ways that India can be sure and Pakistan can be sure that Pakistan territory is not being used by these militant groups to threaten either India, Afghanistan, or the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, sir.



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