Interview
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
With India Abroad
Washington, DC
January 30, 2009


QUESTION: I wanted to start out with a couple of questions on Mumbai. You know, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks Condi Rice got out there, then you followed. You did a couple of trips out there and there was all this tough talk that Pakistan has got to bring these perpetrators to justice. But now there seems to be this concern, especially in Delhi, that in the midst of the change of administration that Pakistan has been stalling. In fact today once again India came out with a strong statement saying that Pakistan is giving confusing signals, et cetera.

Has the U.S. administration and the new administration that has come in, has there been a desertation of interests in terms of the whole Mumbai attack and that Pakistan really should do something about this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Oh, not at all. I was there, what, two weeks ago. I was --

QUESTION: Both Islamabad and Delhi.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Islamabad and Delhi. That week I visited the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Monday and I visited the Taj Palace on Friday in Mumbai. We all know terrorism is a terrible problem that afflicts the region and the only way to stop it is to get rid of the people who do it, to get rid of the groups who do it.

I think the Pakistanis have been quite clear that they intend to investigate and take action. We’ve been supportive, we’ve been encouraging them, we’ve been pressing them. All three. To make sure that we continue down that road. Because that’s the only way that Pakistan is going to be safe, India is going to be safe, and the rest of us are all going to be safe.

I think we’re all in this together. We’ve got to get rid of the terrorist groups and the terrorist problem, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

QUESTION: But there is this concern in India that initially and also you all made the tough statements about you can’t make this excuse of non-state actors, et cetera, that they did go after some of the Lashkar e-Tayyiba types. They arrested some of these people. But there seems to be, once again, a quiet release of these people and they really haven’t shut down any camps, et cetera.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I don’t think that’s true at all. I think they’ve shut down camps, they’ve taken over Jamaat ud-Daawa and its assets by and large, they’ve shut down web sites, they’ve got people in custody, they’ve got people under arrest. The next step is to move them into prosecution.

They’re doing an investigation. I think the Pakistanis deserve some credit for what they’ve done so far. They continue to operate, they continue to take action. But obviously it has to result in outcomes, it has to result in prosecutions and disbanding of groups.

QUESTION: Not to belabor this point, just one more on Mumbai. There is this concern, you know that what the Indians and Indian-Americans feel is a sort of double standard when it comes to fighting terrorism, that the United States perhaps has gone back to its old global war on terror, now that they seem relieved that the Pakistanis -- initially there was this tension and there was a fear of conflict that the Pakistanis really haven’t moved any of their troops from the western border.

Is this fair to make such insinuations, allegations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think first, we need to give credit for the Pakistanis for what they have done, even as we say it’s an ongoing process and it needs to be completed.

Second, we need both sides to recognize that the only way to solve this is to cooperate against terrorism. And third, we need both sides to avoid any kind of military moves that can be misinterpreted. That’s been a very consistent message from the United States from the beginning and we want to make sure that nobody does anything that will inflame the tensions. We want to make sure that there’s cooperation to stop these terrorists.

QUESTION: Richard, Dick Holbrooke [Ambassador Richard Holbrooke] is now getting out to the region next week as the new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. There were, of course, rumors at the beginning that there is going to be a South Asia Envoy and that led to concern that a South Asia Envoy would try to discuss Kashmir. Indian’s go ballistic when they hear of a South Asia Envoy because they think that the South Asia Envoy comes to discuss Kashmir, et cetera.

Now that has been put to rest, you know, the spokesman clearly said that it’s going to be Afghanistan, Pakistan, no discussion of Kashmir. But will Dick Holbrooke engage in discussions with India? Or is that quite out of his portfolio?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I think there are a lot of interested parties. His assignment, his job, is to work on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Period. No India, no South Asia. That’s it. But let’s remember, there’s a lot of people interested in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He’s going to coordinate with the Europeans, he’s going to coordinate with the Chinese, he’s going to coordinate with other interested countries.

India is a major donor in Afghanistan and it has a major interest in terrorism in the region, so India is an interested party. I expect him to coordinate with India as well.

QUESTION: Will he be going to Delhi this time around?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’ll have to see. Nothing to announce at this point.

QUESTION: Richard, true, India is – [Admiral] Mike Mullen was over, an interested party in the region. But there seems to be, you know, Zardari had a piece in the newspaper the other day, once again pulling in the Kashmir thing and saying oh, we are glad he is coming and maybe we can get a discussion on Kashmir going. Is that being sort of presumptuous?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Frankly, I saw that and said okay, that’s always been the Pakistani position. The Indian position has always been different. The United States position has always been to support and encourage progress that the two countries can make themselves. That remains our position. But for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, that’s not in his portfolio to do that. I’m sure the United States, the Secretary, the President and other American diplomats will continue to encourage progress between Pakistan and India. Any reduction in tension is good.

But frankly, if you look at the situation right now, the best way to ease the tensions is to deal with the Mumbai and the terrorism problem. I think if these countries can find that they can trust each other a little more because they are both dealing with the terrorism problem, that trust can be the basis for going forward with India - Pakistan relations. So I think our focus right now is to rebuild that trust based on action against terrorism.

QUESTION: And in that context, Pakistan would really have to make some credible, good faith efforts to alleviate some of the sort of suspicion that India has that these guys are stalling. Is that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Look. I think we should recognize what Pakistan is doing, and that we means not just the United States, but everybody should recognize what Pakistan is doing. Even as we encourage them and work with them to complete the process.

QUESTION: Richard, in terms of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s portfolio, any engagement that he has with India would be in the context of the Afghanistan/Pakistan situation, is it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: And just on the Kashmir issue, in the new Obama administration will the U.S. policy towards Kashmir remain the same vis-à-vis we hope you guys resolve it under similar accords, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t have a rote paragraph to recite for you from the new administration. But there’s not a new one at this point.

I guess what I’d tell you is the United States, the President and the Secretary have both made it very clear we remain strongly interested in South Asia. We remain strongly interested in relations with India and developing that as much as we can, as well as developing stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To the extent that we had encouraged progress in relaxing tensions between India and Pakistan, I’m sure we’re going to continue to encourage that. But I don’t have any new sort of specifics on how we might do that.

As I said, I think the situation we’re facing at present, the best way to improve relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan is for us to work with the Pakistanis, for all of us to work with the Pakistanis, so that they can eliminate the terrorism problem. Because only when you get rid of the terrorism problem can the two countries really start to trust each other.

QUESTION: Why I asked this question on Kashmir and in terms of whether there would be a nuanced change in policy or whether the old policy would remain the same is because, as you know, President-Elect Obama, Senator Obama while he was campaigning, said that it’s about time we got this Kashmir issue resolved, and implied that there has to be some assertive U.S. diplomacy on that score.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think we’ll just have to see how it evolves. End state is always hoped for, looked for, the countries themselves to carry this process forward, but we’ve also hoped that they could do so. We’ve seen, I think over the last couple of years we saw fairly remarkable progress. We’d like to see that progress continue. But as I said, I think rebuilding the trust between the countries is an important part of getting back to that.

QUESTION: And the bottom line being rebuilding that trust by quickly trying to alleviate the tensions that arose over Mumbai and then getting the composite dialogue back on track?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Exactly how they do it is up to them. But I think that fundamental basis of saying we’re going to work together to stop the terrorists, that’s a good basis for saying we’re going to work together to provide opportunity.

We all know the opportunities of trade and economic development between the countries, people to people things, there’s a lot that Pakistan and India could do together if they start working against terrorism together. That’s good for all of us.

QUESTION: Richard, Admiral Mike Mullen was out at the Foreign Press Center two days ago and applauded the role, the involvement of India in Afghanistan. He said that obviously India, as much as Iran and the others, have a role to play in terms of a regional approach that President Obama himself had spoken about.

Pakistan gets really paranoid about India’s involvement in Afghanistan. They think there are 25 consulates there. Indians are sort of getting involved in a lot of military involvement, et cetera, et cetera. But in this regional approach isn’t it indispensable that India be a player?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure, and we have very much welcomed the role that India has played.

India has kept that role a non-military one. We think that’s important. We want this to reassure people in the region, not to raise suspicion. But what India has done in terms of civil service training and scholarships is terrific. A whole lot of projects that they’ve contributed a lot of money and they’ve done a good job at. We want that to continue.

India’s interest in stabilizing Afghanistan is very very clear, and we’re glad they’re acting on that interest.

QUESTION: Richard, two days ago there was a huge community delegation that came from all parts of the country, you know, reminiscent of sort of the lobbying they did in terms of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. This time it was to meet with almost 100 congressmen, senators, and express their outrage over the Mumbai attack, and asked for some sort of conditionality that U.S. aid to Pakistan would be conditioned on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and that none of that is siphoned off vis-à-vis the ISI, vis-à-vis the military to terrorists, et cetera. And the argument was that whenever there is this kind of push that the U.S., maybe the Pentagon, maybe the CIA says look here, it’s sort of a big, democratic government, a new government in Islamabad, let’s not push them too much. And they say this is a cop out. What would you say to all this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I’d say that we all want to see Pakistan be able to act against terrorism and be able to deal with its territory, but to be able to do that they’re going to have to have a military that’s capable of doing it. You have to be careful not to cut off your nose to spite your face. You’re not saying we won’t help you until you’ve done this, but we won’t, recognizing at the same time you don’t have the capability of doing it right now. So you get into a circle.

I think the important point is just to say the United States has worked with Pakistan over the years and we will continue to work with Pakistan. The goal of working with Pakistan is so, like any other country, they can control their territory. And like any other country they can stop terrorists from using their territory in any way. And we will work with them to make sure that’s effective. I think that involves both support and expectations. How exactly those get expressed, I don’t know. We’ll see in each budget cycle, in each thing. Each time we go through the Congress.

The point is to have effective assistance to Pakistan so that Pakistan can deal with its problems.

QUESTION: And in this respect vis-à-vis [head], I know you strongly endorsed Biden-Lugar legislation last year. Do you all still feel that is an effective catalyst in getting it through?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: Because some of --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It’s now called Kerry-Lugar legislation. But we have generally – very much supported that. We think that, you might say, the modernization of Pakistan. The modernization of institutions. The modernization of education. The modernization of the economy. The modernization of military forces. That those are all very important parts of building a long term, stable modern Pakistan.

QUESTION: Just as sort of a housekeeping question in terms of the portfolio that Ambassador Richard Holbrooke carries, does that mean that the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs gets marginalized and now deals with just Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You mean the other billion people? [Laughter].

I think the answer is no. I’m trying to think about what’s the best way to do it. Think of us and Ambassador Holbrooke as twins. He may be the bigger brother, but we’re part of his operation and he’s part of our policy effort. It’s going to be a well-coordinated policy effort that involves this part of State, and his office as well.

QUESTION: In terms of the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal, are there still a couple of details that have to be ironed out?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes, but there’s an India delegation in Vienna right now that’s working on some of that. We welcome that. That’s a very positive development. We look forward to seeing what they achieve during that visit. And there will be a few other pieces that we have to work on. I think both sides are committed to finishing it up and we see that’s going on right now.

QUESTION: And these are in terms of protocol?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: All the things we agreed on right from the start, that they would finish up the Safeguards Agreement, that they would negotiate an additional protocol, and there are other pieces that we’ve already been interested in that they know of. So we’ll finish it all up.

QUESTION: Senator Obama, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here on the 23rd of September, I believe, issued a wonderful flowery letter talking about how he wants to carry the relationship forward, have a strategic relationship, et cetera, et cetera. But he ended up by saying that Prime Minister, I would like you to work with me to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It was a flowery letter that one would have thought the Indian government would have released to everybody else. They just kept it under wraps. I got a copy of it. We put it on page one as an exclusive for India Abroad, and it was a well known secret that the reason the Indian government didn’t release it, because of the little mention of ratifying the CTBT.

Do you think this is going to cause some tension between U.S. and India? Obviously the new President, and going back to the old Clinton administration policy where CTBT was a major foreign policy initiative which got battered down by the Republican controlled Senate, is going to be a priority again. So will this create some kind of hiccups, friction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t see why it should. The new administration, as far as I know, has not declared itself on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

QUESTION: But clearly in that letter it calls for ratification --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay, I didn’t read India Abroad that week, I have to say, so I’m not completely familiar with the letter. But I think the new administration will be looking again at all these policies and deciding where they want to come out and how they want to pursue things.

Every indication I have is there is very strong intent to work to continue to improve the U.S.-India relationship, recognizing that we’ve come a long way based on breakthroughs that were made by both parties on both sides. As the new administration takes over in Washington and India goes through an election and elects a new government, we’ll be poised in the summertime to take off on a new trajectory. I think there’s a strong desire on both sides to say we want to move this to the next level again. We have another opportunity to work with India to take our relationship to a new place.

QUESTION: Two final quickies. One on Sri Lanka. The government seems to be on a huge drive, taken Mullaitivu taken a lot of the LTTE strongholds, but at the same time a lot of civilians being killed, a lot of Tamil civilians being displaced, et cetera. Then there was a brutal killing of Sri Lankan journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was a personal friend of mine.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Did you know him?

QUESTION: Yeah, absolutely. He was a friend of mine. And mind you his wife Rain, and myself we worked at the newspaper before I came over to the United States 25 years ago. All of them had gotten residency in Australia, but he didn’t go.

What’s happening here? I know you all issued a strong statement on delegate, but the whole, on one hand there seems to be this drive and the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] seems to be having this back to the wall battle, but on the other hand --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Here’s the way I’d put it. We’ve always supported the effort against the Tamil Tigers. We’ve seen them as terrorists. They’ve blown up buses, blown up people in markets, carried out all kinds of attacks.

QUESTION: And you labeled them an FTO, yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: They are a terrorist organization and the government was right to fight them.

But we’ve also been very, very, clear with the government that the purpose of fighting terrorism is so you can bring the benefits of democratic government to the people in the area. I would say they worked to fight the terrorists but they haven’t worked hard enough to bring that democratic government to the people of the area, and frankly, to the Tamil community as a whole in Sri Lanka.

We welcome the progress that they’re making, incredible progress they’re making against the terrorist group, but they have to pay just as much attention to the welfare of the citizens who are caught in the middle. We’re glad to see they’ve declared a 48 hour ceasefire that will hopefully let some of those people get out of the way of the fighting. They have to be very careful. And sometimes that means not shooting back lest you catch civilians in the crossfire. You have to be attentive to the civilians in the middle, make sure they get the deliveries from the UN and other things they need to take care of them.

And second, you have to make sure that democracy is being upheld in the island. That means bringing the benefits of democracy to the new areas, but also the Tamils generally, and above all, especially it means respecting the rights of journalists and the free press. There have been a number of items that are raising a lot of concern here. One was the killing of Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sunday Leader editor. There have been threats against some journalists by people in the government. And you can’t have a functioning democracy without respect for the media.

On the one hand people ought to be saying great victory by a democratic government, but they’re not because it’s tarnished by all these other things that arouse even greater concerns. So I just think the government needs to really work and pay attention to those things just as much as they’re working on achieving military victory.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. role here beyond the tough statements, beyond the condemnations of the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and people? The joke is that in Sri Lanka, these guys are an endangered species. It’s like pest control, you know, get rid of --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Let us hope not.

First, the U.S. role: we’ve been very close to a lot of journalists; staying in touch with people to call attention to their difficulties; and to protest the threats.

Second of all, I think the United States has tried to support development in new areas, and we’ve had some projects in the east to bring some of the benefits of living in a democracy to the people out there. The major bridge in the east is one such project. And we’ll obviously look at what we can do for the people of these areas that are brought into government control.

The third thing has been strong support of the humanitarian effort so that people caught in the fighting get the assistance that they need.

QUESTION: A final question, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was out in Colombo the other day and he also expressed concern over, made the same statements. Engage the LTTE, the LTTE is a terrorist organization, et cetera. Well and good that you guys are going after them. But at the same time, make sure that the Tamils are taken care of, humanitarian aid et cetera.

Do you all appreciate this role that India is playing vis-à-vis Sri Lanka?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure. I think we have very similar attitudes and interests on this. We do talk from time to time to our Indian counterparts about policy in the region including Sri Lanka.

But frankly, it’s not just the United States and India. It’s co-chairs, countries like Japan, the Europeans. I think all countries that are interested in fighting terrorism and supporting democracy are looking at this situation in Sri Lanka with both support and anguish because as a democratic government achieves a victory against terrorism it should also be putting as much effort into achieving better democracy.

QUESTION: And when you said co-chairs, Japan and others, co-chairs of the Sri Lanka aid group, working group?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes. Japan, Norway, European Union, and the United States. We’ve always discussed these things, we’ve always felt very clearly that the humanitarian situation needs to be dealt with, the spate of killings -- It’s not the first time we’ve had attacks against journalists. When I went up to Jafna more than a year ago that was one of the major issues that I raised up there. So it’s been an ongoing problem, and frankly, the government needs to do something to deal with it and make sure it stops.

QUESTION: To the extent of killing of journalists by the LTTE when you went up to Jaffna.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: There had been reports of all kinds of different people killing journalists up there, frankly. There were accusations back and forth about who did it, but it wasn’t clearly one side.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. It’s always a delight.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It’s good to see you.