SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, everyone. Well, since we are talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan today, and I just came from a long briefing at the White House with Secretary Gates and General Cartwright, along with the President and the Vice President, I wanted to come here and say a few words about our team here at the State Department who have worked so hard on this review and who have worked so hard from the beginning of this Administration. Acting Special Representative Frank Ruggiero is here with us, along with his entire staff and the desk officers for Afghanistan and Pakistan in SCA.
Now, obviously, this has been a very difficult week for all of us. And to these men and women who spend their days and often their sleepless nights working to make this crucial mission a success, Richard Holbrooke was a friend, a mentor, and a boss. He was a leader who always pushed each and every one of them to reach farther, see better, and think deeper. He took enormous pride in his team, and with good reason.
SRAP, as we call it, is an absolutely world-class staff and it is a model for the kind of integrated civilian effort envisioned by the QDDR that we released yesterday. Experts not only from throughout our own government but even representatives from other governments are all working together. And Richard was relentless in finding the best people and the best ideas wherever they came from. I’ve heard a lot of those stories in the last week, and we are collecting them because people have shouts of recognition. “He did that to you too?” (Laughter.)
Just two quick examples. He recruited Vali Nasr, who has contributed so much to our work, with a midnight text message. He found Rina Amiri, a top expert on Afghanistan, on the shuttle. (Laughter.) One and all, they are the best of the best, and I’m certainly fortunate to have them in the State Department, but I think our country is fortunate to have all of them working on our behalf.
As we move forward and continue Richard’s work and our shared mission, I have complete confidence in this SRAP team. Frank, who you will hear from in a minute, has, in his characteristic way, hit the ground running and it is a credit to all of these extraordinary men and women that even during these last difficult days they have stayed focused on the job at hand. Richard would be very pleased. He would expect no less. And this may be, of course, the biggest compliment that I can pay them.
I’m looking forward to continuing to have the benefit of their insight and their suggestions in the weeks and months ahead, and I am personally very grateful to each and every one of them. And now let me turn it over to, first, I guess, P.J. – or to Frank.
MR. CROWLEY: Frank.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me turn it over to Frank.
MR. RUGGIERO: Thank you, Madam Secretary, and I appreciate the vote of confidence in naming me the acting SRAP. As many people have said over the past days, we are deeply saddened by the passing of Ambassador Holbrooke. But as evidenced by this team here, Ambassador Holbrooke has put together the very best and brightest to be part of this SRAP team and we’ll continue his mission, which is what he would want us to do.
This team has been actively involved in the December review process from the very beginning. We were part of the interagency team that went to Afghanistan. This team has been actively involved in drafting the current policy that’s being implemented now.
What I’ll do, because the statement has been released, the findings have been released, is I’ll just make a couple of opening comments about the findings themselves in the December review, and then I will just open it up to questions. And please, the whole team here could take any questions that you might have. (Laughter.) I have a lot of backing today. This is very comforting being up here.
MR. CROWLEY: This could be strength in numbers that’s unprecedented. (Laughter.)
MR. RUGGIERO: That’s right. I, in particular, have Alex Thier here from USAID, who is one of our great counterparts over there, so he could help with any USAID questions.
The first point I would make is that the overall assessment, I think, shows that the Administration, implementing the President’s policies decided on in December of 2009, have made progress over the past 12 months in implementing and achieving our core objectives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have been clear-eyed and realistic in this assessment, and I think we recognize that this is a very difficult, tough foreign policy challenge. But we have tried to – again, we’ve tried to make this a clear-eyed, realistic assessment.
In the core objectives in Afghanistan – or in Pakistan, the primary objective was to prevent the core al-Qaida from being a threat to the United States homeland. I think there’s been significant progress in taking out the command and control apparatus of core al-Qaida in Pakistan. There has been significant activity on the part of the Pakistani military in terms of going after the sanctuaries that are used by al-Qaida and related extremists groups in the FATA and the North-West Frontier Provinces. And in Afghanistan, I think we’ve made significant progress in stemming the momentum of the Taliban, which was one of the core objectives of the President’s strategy, and in some areas, arresting that – or reversing that momentum.
So on those two core objectives, we have made progress over the past year, and we’ve done it in both cases in a civ-mil cooperative fashion with the Department of Defense, specifically in Afghanistan, where over 1,100 American civilians are now deployed to work hand-in-hand at the most basic level in Afghanistan with our military counterparts. And in Pakistan, we’ve done this through really an enhanced strategic partnership that every member of this team has been actively involved in. We’ve done three of them this year, but that has really moved the relationship with Pakistan from one that was transactional in nature to one that is strategic in nature that allows us to achieve greater cooperation with the Government of Pakistan on our shared common strategic objectives.
So with that, I’ll just open it up to questions. Please.
MR. CROWLEY: Elise.
QUESTION: I’d like to talk about the idea that without the Afghan Government really standing up and able to transfer to them the – particularly your piece, the civilian efforts that you’re trying to get together – how much of this is really not going to be able to be sustained over the long term? And a follow-up to that is that some people seem to think that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai isn’t necessarily interested in the whole governance piece or the whole civilian – that that’s just like a lot of – clearing up corruption, delivering services, that’s just a lot of effort. And what he’d really like to do is just cut a deal with the Taliban so that U.S. forces can get out of the country.
And I was wondering if you can respond to both of those.
MR. RUGGIERO: Sure. I think you make a very valid point, and it’s one of the primary findings of the review, is that the issue of governance remains a challenge. And it’s a very important question in terms of the transition to Afghan lead in the areas that we have cleared militarily over the past 12 to 18 months.
I think the Afghan Government has – we have worked with them to try to build capacity so that they can go into areas that we have cleared, but you have to put this in context. The – this is a society that has been shattered by 30 years of war. This is a very poor country. So what we’re attempting to do here is a long-term effort to work with the Afghan Government to get them to be able to take over or to help with the transition of security. What we need at the most basic level is some very – I would – we are not in the nation-building business in terms of governance.
So we need to provide some very basic capabilities so that we can transition our military forces. So the Afghan National Security Forces have to be built up to a degree that they could take the security picture, and there has to be either a local shura or there has to be some level of local governance that can do a dispute adjudication, that can provide some very basic level of services that allows for the transition.
Now, of course, part of this is also what President Karzai has done on the reconciliation front, because underpinning all of this is a conflict. So I think it’s notable what the Afghans – there are doing with the High Peace Council and what they’re attempting to do to solve the underlying political issues.
QUESTION: But – if I could just do a quick follow-up – but do you fear that this reconciliation effort is almost kind of a short – in the eyes of Afghan President Karzai, is almost kind of a shortcut or a substitute to the hard work of building and sustaining a government that’s going to deliver those services?
MR. RUGGIERO: No, I don’t. I don’t see it that way. I think reconciliation is part of – as Secretary Clinton has said, these type of conflicts come to a conclusion through a resolution, a political resolution. And so that is an absolute, fundamental part of how you end this conflict. And I think the – we have to give credit to the acting government doing that.
QUESTION: The Secretary in her comments at the White House mentioned that one priority was closing the gap between Islamabad and Kabul. I was wondering if you could tell us what your assessment is of the reasons behind that gap, why it still exists, and how, if it does exist in the way that clearly, the Secretary believes it does, how that complicates your work and the mission going forward.
And secondly, you talked about the objectives in Pakistan that was to degrade the al-Qaida – core al-Qaida threat to the United States. But it seems that recently, the threat assessments are now moving and it’s not necessarily what we have traditionally thought of as al-Qaida, but perhaps Pakistan Taliban, LET Pakistan-based groups. Is your judgment of where the threat is in Pakistan toward U.S. core interests changing at all?
MR. RUGGIERO: To the first question, I would say that we have had, actually, pretty good success in terms of narrowing the gap between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So there have been a series of engagements.
We will hold – we’ve been holding a range of meetings. Last year, we did a trilateral between the three countries. We have done a series of bilateral engagements. We’ve encouraged the Government of Afghanistan to meet with the Government of Pakistan, and there have been a range of meetings – President Karzai going to Islamabad, Prime Minister Gilani just went to Kabul about a week ago. So we continue to push that. One of the key deliverables that we’ve achieved in terms of that is the transit trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I think this team here – is Mary Beth here – was very active in – was fundamentally really involved in getting that done.
In terms of is the threat from Pakistan changing, I think we’ve always looked at it as there are sanctuaries in Pakistan that extremist groups can operate from. I think it’s a neat determination to say that they are unique – that they are distinct. I think there’s a lot of interplay between them. Our strategy has been to have the – work with the Pakistani Government to try to dry up those sanctuaries. And if you looked back two years ago and thought, well, how many forces would Pakistan have in the FATA or the North-West Frontier Province doing this and you would have guessed 140,000, that would have seemed unreasonable. But in fact, that’s what the Pakistani Government has done.
MR. CROWLEY: Kirit.
QUESTION: I was curious if you could give us a sense of where the civilian component is going to go forward, especially post-July, if that’s going to change at all at that point. And then one thing that I remember coming up a lot last year was the certification of Afghan ministries. And I know that there were a lot of delays in that process and some trouble in getting a lot of them certified. I was curious if that’s still a priority and if you could give us – bring us up to speed on where that is.
MR. RUGGIERO: Sure. I’m going to ask Rina to come up and help me with some of this.
MS. AMIRI: It is absolutely a priority and one of the points that we have noted to the Afghan Government, which is very much supported by all of the ministries, is that we need to get the Afghan – we need to transfer our support, our resources through the Afghan Government. But the process that we are undertaking is making sure that all of the mechanisms are there so that we can – so that there can be effective monitoring and transparency. And we are making progress in that regard.
QUESTION: Right. My understanding, I guess, is that as of June last year, there were only maybe about three that had been certified and there was a plan to certify an additional three or four by this time. And I think that that had been delayed. I don’t know if there was anything more on that.
MR. THIER: Hi, Alex Thier from USAID. The process of ministry certification is complex. It’s not a binary switch that a ministry is certified or not certified. We work with individual ministries to ensure that they have the capabilities to implement specific programs.
So an example of that is the ministry of public health, where we have worked with them to establish a competency to implement a program that delivers basic health services to something like 800,000 Afghans every month. And our funding, along with other international donors, goes into that ministry, but it goes into a specific program. It’s not as though the ministry magically becomes certified one day. And we undertake that process with a number of different ministries.
At the moment, we have funding mechanisms with six different Afghan ministries that allow us to provide direct funding through the Afghan Government for specific purposes. And we continue to work on that. This year, we’ve added programs with the ministry of education and the ministry of agriculture that didn’t previously exist, and that – undertaking that process is an intensive examination whether they have the resources to manage the funds, to do it accountably, and to implement the programs that we’ve agreed on.
QUESTION: Great. I was curious if you could just kind of speak broadly about whether there’s a concern that’s that – the process is going a little slower than you’d like it to.
MR. THIER: No, in fact, I think it’s accelerated on the pace that we expect it to. Last year, we had only about 13 percent of our budget going through Afghan Government sources. This year, we’ve doubled it to 27.5 percent and we continue on pace to reach some of the targets that we outlined at the Kabul conference last summer in July.
So I think that we’re confident that the process is going well. But I will add that everything that we do is done with a very strict measure of accountability, and we have no interest in rushing that at the expense of accountability.
QUESTION: Great. And then just my other question about the – where the civilian component’s going to go.
MR. RUGGIERO: I think we’ll look at the conditions on the ground and we’ll listen to Ambassador Eikenberry’s recommendations on where he thinks the civilian component needs to be as we move into a transition phase beginning in 2011.
QUESTION: Okay. So just my last question. Do you envision that changing in July? Is that kind of a review point for you, especially on the civilian side as well, or is that only on the military side?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think the review of the transition on the civilian side is probably more closely linked to 2014, because what the civilians are doing is much more of a long-term effort. So we’re out there building governance, trying to do development work. And I don’t think in most instances that’s a – would be linked necessarily to the 24-month time clock that the military has to clear, hold, build, transfer.
QUESTION: Sure, right.
MR. THIER: In fact, I would just make the point that one of the clear findings of this process and of the last year has been the success that the civilians have had in bringing resources into the field, doubling the number of staff that we have in country, tripling the number of staff that we have out in the field, and truly partnering with the military so that our effects are truly joint effects on the ground. That is really – if you look at the numbers – a dramatic improvement in the last year, and I think that the review underscores that.
MR. RUGGIERO: Yeah. That is one of the accomplishments that’s listed by the review is that the civ-mil coordination, really all the way down to the district level, has been quite impressive.
QUESTION: Along the lines of Kirit’s question – and forgive me because I haven’t really been paying attention closely enough to this so there may have been some movement on it. But what’s the latest on the opening of consulates?
MR. RUGGIERO: There are two consulates in the process of being opened, so in Mazar-e Sharif and Herat, and I think that we’re looking at plans in terms of what will be our long-term structure in the country. So – but at this point, there are just two planned.
QUESTION: Right. How far along – when will they open?
MS. ARZT: (Off-mike.)
MR. RUGGIERO: The staff is there, but the facility is not open yet. But I can get you the time.
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
MR. RUGGIERO: I can get you the time.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, in terms of facilities, I remember there was some plan to get a hotel or something in one of those cities and that ran into some problems.
MR. RUGGIERO: Well, we have a large civilian presence in Mazar-e Sharif and we have a large civilian presence in Herat. What you don’t have at this point is the final building, the infrastructure for them to move in and call it a consulate. So they’re doing --
QUESTION: But technically it is?
MR. RUGGIERO: What’s that?
QUESTION: But technically it is a consulate?
MS. ARZT: Yes.
MR. RUGGIERO: Yes, technically it is a consulate.
MR. CROWLEY: But the facility itself will open in early 2011, (inaudible).
MS. ARZT: That’s right.
QUESTION: The review highlights the need to deny al-Qaida’s leadership or senior leadership safe haven in the tribal region, and also the importance of the strategic partnership with Afghan – with Pakistan, I’m sorry, which led the Pakistanis to send 140,000 troops to that region. Are there any – since the U.S. always insists on the fact that the war in Afghanistan has a military solution and also a diplomatic and political solution, is there any – how do you plan to deal with the local tribal leaders to convince them or encourage them to deny al-Qaida’s leadership safe haven in their region?
MR. RUGGIERO: On the Afghan side of the border we have worked with the Afghan Government. Reconciliation – we view it as an Afghan-led process. We’re there to support President Karzai in terms of his efforts on Afghan reconciliation, so I think that would be the answer.
MR. THIER: Maybe I’ll just add that one of the things that we’ve done, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, particularly in the last year, is to dramatically increase our stabilization efforts in the tribal areas. And so what you see is a pretty significant increase in the number of community-based development programs, both in the FATA -- every agency of the FATA as well as along the Pakistan border in Afghanistan. And of course, part of our effort is to ensure that people see that the future that lies with the government is a positive one and that that comes with benefits, development, and so on. And we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year in bringing resources -- not just military resources, but civilian resources, stabilization resources -- into those communities.
MR. RUBIN: I think your question was – Barnett Rubin – was mainly directed at the tribal agencies in Pakistan if I’m not mistaken.
MR. RUBIN: Right. Of course, the United States does not have a presence on the ground in those agencies, and it’s up to the Government of Pakistan. But we note that during the time that we have had this engagement with Pakistan, President Zardari has extended the political parties act to the tribal agencies. It hasn’t been possible to implement that on the ground because of the military and political situation there, but the Government of Pakistan, as we understand it, is now developing a multiyear plan for the inter – for peacemaking and the integration of those tribal areas, and we’re looking forward to working with them and supporting that.
QUESTION: I have another question. Just if I could go back to the reconciliation issue, just because it was such a big sort of headline, especially coming out of the NATO meeting in Brussels, where Secretary Gates said – I believe it was him said (inaudible) would do everything in its power to try to promote this, recognizing it’s an Afghan-led process. But then in the subsequent months, it turned out that some of the things that the enthusiasm was based on weren’t true, or it wasn’t where it was – where we thought it was.
Could you give us our assessment of where you think the reconciliation process is right now? Is it – has it advanced at all from where we were in Brussels? Has it fallen back? Are you personally optimistic that this is going to happen at some stage?
MR. RUGGIERO: I would point to, again, what the Afghans are doing. I think the Afghans have made some important progress on the reconciliation front, in terms of standing up the High Peace Council and then the series of meetings that they had been doing around the country to try to get at some of the core issues that would lead to a reconciliation. So I think it has progressed, and I would point to what the – President Karzai and his administration are doing on reconciliation.
QUESTION: Can I follow on that real quick? To what extent – I mean, we’ve seen in the kind of initial stages that Pakistan wasn’t really included in that and there have been – there’s been a lot of – and I think especially Ambassador Holbrooke had said how critically important Pakistan was to reconciliation. Could you talk about how you see that going forward?
And then also, what about Ambassador Holbrooke’s assessment that there wasn’t some kind of Slobodan Milosevic, or – this came up at the White House briefing – that there aren’t, like, necessarily the kind of heavyweight players that could make these deals on behalf of their whole groups, because the groups are so diffuse? Do you see some kind of grand bargain where all the groups are able to be reconciled difficult in that way?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think it would be way too early to make a judgment on the final point. I think what Ambassador Holbrooke was getting at was the fractured nation – fractured nature of the Taliban. So just in the Taliban, as we understand it, you have the Quetta Shura, you have the Haqqani Network, you have the (inaudible) in Afghanistan itself. That breaks down into a range of different groups that the Taliban gets – may get guidance from Pakistan, oftentimes operating with relative autonomy in Afghanistan. So I think that’s what Ambassador Holbrooke was referring to, that – who, in the end, do you negotiate with. So I think, again, that’s why we’re following the Afghan lead on this.
QUESTION: And what about in terms of Pakistan’s role in reconciliation?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think that we would recognize that Pakistan has interests in its – in the border area. And I think at some point in time, you – there would be a discussion between the Government of Afghanistan and the Government of Pakistan on related issues.
QUESTION: Well, but – I’m sorry, if I could just follow. I mean, you say that they have interests, but this whole strategy was about bringing in Pakistan because it was such a critical country and because these groups have relative safe haven in Pakistan. Wouldn’t you see their involvement in reconciliation as a key component?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think they will play an important role in reconciliation, but I think the strategy itself – again, the core goals of the strategy were to go after al-Qaida and to diminish and disrupt and dismantle al-Qaida’s capabilities in Pakistan. That was the core goal. And so I think we’ve had good success with that. We’ve used the strategic dialogue, I think, in a manner that allows the Pakistani Government to have a – more confidence in a long-term relationship with us and allows them to take certain activities, military activities, to go after the sanctuaries that al-Qaida operates in in Pakistan.
QUESTION: So, thank you. OPM says you can all go home early. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Frank, that’s your first key management decision. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.
MR. RUGGIERO: All right. Thank you. Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: You’re all welcome to stay here and protect me. (Laughter.)