QUESTION: Pakistan being a front-line state in war against terror has often been described by the U.S. policymakers an important ally of Washington. However, recent reaction in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill has suggested that there’s a wide gap between how the things are being understood in Washington and how the efforts are being interpreted in Islamabad.
Today, we have with us U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is about to embark on a journey to Pakistan, which many believe will be perhaps one of the most important trips since she assumed the office of Secretary of State.
Madame Secretary, thank you very much for being with us today, and before we start, I would like to say Happy Birthday to you and coming to the point, tell us – this is not your first trip to Pakistan, but as a Secretary of State, is it the first trip. How are you feeling and what you will be focusing during this trip?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Sami, and of course, it is my birthday. Pakistan and I are the same age. (Laughter.) And so I am very much looking forward to my visit. It will be my fifth trip – one trip as First Lady, three trips as a senator, and now my first trip as Secretary of State. And I am very much looking forward to it.
I think it’s important for our two countries to be consulting closely together. It is my hope to turn the page to start a new era in relationships between Pakistan and the United States. And of course, personally, it is such a pleasure for me. I have many Pakistani friends, Pakistani American friends, and I’m looking forward to returning.
QUESTION: Before your trip, there was announcements by Ambassador Holbrooke and there was also a task force to set up U.S. assistance to overcome energy crisis in Pakistan. Would you tell us, will there be any announcements in this regard? Or another thing which Pakistan needs these days is the investment.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you are right on both counts, and that’s why I’m talking about turning the page on our relationship, because we want to work with the people and Government of Pakistan to help realize some of the desires and needs that the people of Pakistan have told us about. And at the top of that list, of course, are things like energy, particularly electricity that is reliable for not only residential use, but commercial use – things like jobs, improving the economy and the investment environment.
It is our very strong hope that we can be a partner with Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan must chart its own future. It must have its sovereignty respected. But it is, I hope, a way for us to work with the people and government to say what the people of Pakistan want is what people everywhere want – a good job, a good education for children, healthcare, energy needs met. And that’s what I’m coming to offer.
QUESTION: Coming to the Kerry-Lugar bill, it was meant, as U.S. officials say, to give support to the people of Pakistan, but the way things have laid out, there is skepticism in Pakistan, and in many Pakistanis believe that perhaps still the position of conditions in the bill reflect that U.S. does not trust Pakistani security forces and does not believe that Pakistan is a trustworthy partner in war on terror.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me respond, and I appreciate you raising it, because there has been some misinformation that I hope to remedy. First, the sacrifices that the people of Pakistan are making in the struggle against violent extremism are extraordinary – the courage of your military, the very determined effort that is going on as we speak to root out those extremists who threaten the lives and the livelihood and the property and the future of Pakistan. And I am extremely impressed and admiring of this effort.
Secondly, what we intended with Kerry-Lugar was to offer more help than has ever been offered to Pakistan on the civilian side, so that some of these very legitimate needs that people have spoken to me about for quite some time, about how to make sure that Pakistan fulfills its own destiny, is what really is behind what we are attempting to do with Kerry-Lugar. And I appreciate the effort that’s been made to clarify that information.
And thirdly, there are no conditions on Pakistan. There are conditions that we place on ourselves. There are really questions that we ask in most of the aid programs that we provide over many years, so that we are sure that we have the best partnership and that we are providing the assistance that is most usable.
So I think if we can clarify what we are attempting to do, which is really in response to what the people in Pakistan have told us over many years and this government has told us, I believe that there can be no doubt that we are not in any way attempting to dictate to the Pakistani Government or military, that we are not in any way infringing on territorial sovereignty, that we are trying to move our relationship into the same category that we have with other countries so that we can be of assistance to the people of Pakistan as you chart your own future.
QUESTION: Well, there were certain reports, comments on the Kerry-Lugar bill, and one comment was that with this bill, perhaps the U.S. is making an effort to halt Pakistan’s nuclear program, and specifically they mentioned one clause which says that – the information or access to those who are in the process of acquiring nuclear material. Now, people in Pakistan say that acquiring the nuclear material does not fall in proliferation. But still, that was mentioned in the bill, and they believe that that clause was not aimed at stopping proliferation, but perhaps to halt the nuclear program of Pakistan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is not at all what is intended or what had been assumed in the process of this legislation. First, let me say that we have confidence in the Pakistani Government, in the military, in their efforts to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. We have absolutely no reason to doubt the very strong measures that Pakistan has taken.
But we are concerned about proliferation, and I believe Pakistan should be concerned about proliferation. What would happen if some terrorist went off to somewhere else in the world and acquired material to detonate a bomb that had nuclear material in it? It would be devastating, whether it happened in Pakistan, Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in Europe, the United States. I think all people who know the importance of making sure that this material is not proliferated into the wrong hands should agree with us, but that has nothing to do with our confidence in the Pakistani program.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about war on terror. Right now, Pakistan forces, they have started operation in Waziristan. But there was a concern in Pakistan that when they started this operation (inaudible), they abolished their check post by Afghan borders. Was there any specific reasons for that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, not at all. I’m not aware of that, but I know for my information, that we are very impressed with the actions being taken by the Pakistani military. This appears to be at a very well planned and implemented effort to try to go after those who threaten Pakistan.
I think your question is part of a broader concern; how do we try to prevent the movement back and forth across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan so that we are not threatening the people of Pakistan, because people in northern Pakistan take refuge on the Afghan side of the border, or vice versa, so that people don’t take refuge inside Pakistan. So I think that that is – that remains a very high priority. I don’t know about specific military decisions, but I do know that the Obama Administration is committed in the effort against the Afghan Taliban, just as we see Pakistan going after elements of the Pakistani Taliban that threaten Pakistan.
QUESTION: Well, you weren’t the first one who said very openly that it is time that the U.S. must engage in conversation with those groups of Taliban who are willing to disassociate themself from al-Qaida. Tell us, is there any progress on that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do believe that as part of a broad strategy of engagement with the people in Afghanistan, there has to be an effort to determine who that calls himself a Taliban is willing to engage in the political process instead of engage in terrorism and violence. Because it’s our information that there are people on both sides of the border who get caught up in the intimidation and the press by the hard core extremists, and that they’re not committed ideologically. They feel compelled to participate.
What we want to do is separate those out, and we’re going to engage in that, and we look to the Government of Pakistan – particularly the military and the intelligence services – to help guide us in that.
QUESTION: Well, does it apply on the Pakistani Taliban also?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s up to the Pakistanis. I mean, that is something that the Government of Pakistan has to determine.
QUESTION: The biggest problem which seems at the moment is the deficit of trust between the two governments. And until so far, what has been done apparently doesn’t look like it’s working because the recent area report suggested that the majority of Pakistanis don’t trust Americans; in the same way, majority of American people doesn’t trust Pakistan.
Is there any new strategy you are working on? What do you think? What should be done to achieve that goal?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think both President Obama and I are committed to broadening and deepening our relationship with Pakistan. And we see it as not only a government-to-government relationship, or a military-to-military, intelligence-to-intelligence, but a people-to-people relationship.
I think with President Obama and myself, you have two people who are very fond of the Pakistani culture, like to eat Pakistani food, have enjoyed, in my case, in wearing shalwar kameezs, who have friends, longstanding friends going back to college in both the case of the President and myself. And we deeply regret that there is misunderstanding and that there may not be the kind of relationship that we would like to see, which is why I am very consciously trying to turn the page.
Now it doesn’t happen overnight; it is something that has to be earned and built on. But I believe in the last nine months, we have seen an improvement. It may not yet have spread across the entire population of either of our countries, but I know that in our working with your government, we are developing personal relationships in every aspect – the civilian, military, intelligence side. I think we’re having a level of candor and openness that may not have ever been present before.
I’m looking forward to restarting the strategic dialogue between the United States and Pakistan because it’s not just about fighting terrorism. Of course we both care about that. When I see these horrible bombs and attacks in Islamabad or Lahore, it just makes me sick. It just hurts me. And so, yes, we do have a joint common interest in preventing those who would rather destroy than construct a better future.
But it’s not just about that. It is about energy and business and investment and education and healthcare, things that are very close to my heart. So I hope through this trip, not only in my formal meetings but in getting out in the country, meeting with the people, answering direct questions from the Pakistani press and the Pakistani people, we can begin to build a stronger relationship.
QUESTION: As you talk about stronger relationship and a level of trust, we see statements and also conversations which are in the newspapers that Pakistani security forces, they are wanted to do operation in Waziristan (inaudible), but there was shortage of supply of military equipment which was not being provided by the United States. And also, there was a complaint by the Pakistanis that the reimbursements under the CSF are very delayed and almost now $2 billion which are pending. And these things, according to Pakistani forces, are hampering the war on terror.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we inherited a system which we are working to change. With respect to the reimbursements, we are trying to expedite and streamline that process. We have an obligation to the American taxpayer, because in effect, we’re saying to people who live and work in Chicago or in Los Angeles, you have to help us to help Pakistan. And so we do have a reimbursement accountability schedule which we use with everyone around the world.
But I think under the circumstances of what the Pakistan military is attempting to do – and one of the examples that the Pakistani military has given to us is that when people in the military are out in Swat or Waziristan, they may go to a farmer and buy some sheep in order to slaughter them and eat them. Well, the farmer doesn’t have a receipt book. (Laughter.) And so when we get something for reimbursement to help the troops who are on the ground fighting the bad guys, as we call them, we just have to work this out.
But it is not in any way specifically about Pakistan or in any way meant to be misconstrued. And that’s what I want to get across to the people of Pakistan, is that we both have governments with bureaucracies. Heaven knows they’re not the easiest things to move and make do what they should do. But we are very committed to this relationship. And so when we hear things like that, we try to remedy them – maybe not as fast as we would like, but we do try to respond.
QUESTION: Another issue which is very important to the region is relations between India and Pakistan. President Obama, when he was campaigning as candidate, he discussed the (inaudible) Kashmir issue. But after his presidency, we haven’t seen anything on that front. And many in Pakistan believe unless you start on the Kashmir issue, a durable peace is not possible in the region and relations between India and Pakistan will not be normalized.
What is your take on that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me stress that our relationship to India is a separate relationship from our relationship to Pakistan. We want to have two solid bilateral relationships. We believe that we have very important interests with Pakistan and with India. Now it would be a very important step for both India and Pakistan to work to resolve their differences.
But we believe that the most durable possible outcomes of any kind of resolution or normalization can only come from the two countries themselves – developing more trust, more confidence-building measures, and working toward resolving. There was some very good work done in the last several years which we encouraged and we watched with admiration – the bus routes being open, for example.
So we are going to encourage and hope that we can see that occurring again, because at the end of the day, Sami, my view is that India and Pakistan have so much more to gain by working through their very difficult relationship. It will help improve trade and investment and it will create a better opportunity for Pakistan to prosper and progress, and that’s what I hope will happen.
QUESTION: In Sharm el-Sheikh, the prime minister of India and prime minister of Pakistan, they met and then a declaration came out in which both prime ministers said that there will be dialogue and they will be discussing issues, particularly it was mentioned about Balochistan, because many Pakistani believe that India is behind the insurgency over there.
Do you have any information or is there any information which your intelligence people are telling you about that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t discuss intelligence, but let me say that I think it’s very important to follow up on what happened in Sharm el-Sheikh. And we would encourage that because the air needs to be cleared and a very open understanding should exist.
QUESTION: And let me ask you this thing, that there’s a review going on in – about Afghan policy. Do you think – how much more time it will take before the new policy is announced?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I know that the President has undertaken a very thorough review, which I applaud, because I think it’s such an important decision. But of course, the Afghan election is a very critical milestone. So I would bet that it would be somewhere in the vicinity, but I don’t know when – after the Afghan election, before or after, somewhere in that area.
QUESTION: Many in Pakistan believe that the United States will be in Afghanistan for a very long time. So do you see an open-ended military escalation over there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think that open-ended is at all what the President is looking to. I think what he’s looking to is how do we define the mission and make progress so that we can provide more stability and security for the people of Afghanistan, prevent the spillover from Afghanistan into Pakistan, work jointly with Afghanistan and Pakistan together against the extremist threat which threatens all of us, and I think that’s how he’s looking at it.
And he’ll have more to say. I don’t want to preempt my President. He’ll have more to say when he makes the announcement.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for talking to us, and we wish you best of luck in your trip to Pakistan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m so much looking forward to it. Thank you very much.