Interview
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
With Dawn Newspaper of Pakistan
Washington, DC
May 13, 2009


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: (In progress) – a little more than three years. And certainly we’ve all faced an enormous number of challenges, especially with people in Pakistan who have been subject to attacks and economic crisis and crisis of democratic transition, and who are still facing some real challenges.

The two things I’d like to say – one is we’re going to face up to these challenges together, and the best role for the United States is to support Pakistani efforts to stop the terrorism and build a better, more prosperous country. And the second is all the people – all the people of vision, all the people that want to build a modern nation need to come together. And that is why we’re working with the Friends of Pakistan. We’re reaching out to parties and people throughout the country. You know, we welcome the chance to move together in tripartite meetings with Afghans, but just to bring together all of those who are looking for a better life.

And I’m convinced we can get there. I see the news and, we’re dealing with the challenge of refugees and displaced people who were displaced by the fighting, and the United States is stepping up to the plate with Pakistan. We’ve just recently announced another $5 million on top of $57 million already, which was on top of money that we’ve spent for – to take care of refugees from fighting in the tribal areas.

QUESTION: These are for the internally displaced?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: For the internally displaced. We have – our ambassador has just made what’s called a disaster declaration, which is a way of mobilizing other bureaucratic resources in the United States to help the displaced people. And actually, I think we can look forward to more assistance in coming days.

So we’re going to try to help the people that are affected by these things. But I’d also say --

QUESTION: There was a meeting at the State Department – at the White House, I think, yesterday on –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes. There was one at the White House yesterday. There is another at State Department today. I mean, this is a major issue for all of us right now. And Ambassador Holbrooke talked about it a bit in his testimony. He and his team are working very hard on this one as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, that – I did a story on that. So do you have any idea what they decided --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I --

QUESTION: -- on what sort of vehicle –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I’ve given you some of the outlines there, but as far as what comes next, I’ll let other people announce it when it’s ready.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I just think we’re setting ourselves up for that.

QUESTION: That we should be – are we talking about a major U.S. effort to help these people?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think you’re seeing a major U.S. effort already, and that will continue and probably expand in the coming days. But the other thing that’s worth noting is to see Prime Minister Gillani’s announcements in Pakistan for the coming together of political parties around the need to fight the terrorists, and the commitment that we heard from President Zardari and President Karzai.

And I think we’ve all been concerned that the terrorists have been coming together, but I think that people who see a better future, the people who want to fight back, are also coming together. That’s important because the work has to go on not just in a military fashion, but also with the economy and with the politics coming together. And so I think there are positive trends as well in Pakistan.

QUESTION: There is a change in the last three or four days in (inaudible), not just in official circles but also in other places towards Pakistan. There’s more encouraging, more welcoming and all. Is it because of the action in Swat, and do you think that Pakistan is sincere now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it’s a number of things. I think there’s the action in Swat. There’s President Zardari’s visit and Prime Minister Gillani’s efforts to bring the political process together. And then there is moving ourselves forward on things that were underway. The Kerry-Lugar legislation, I think, is a good example. That’s been going on for some time, not just related to the present crisis, but that’s finally come forward to the forefront moving.

So I think what we’re doing is we’re bringing together – we’re bringing together a lot of the positive trends right now. And then I’m convinced that that is a powerful force and a powerful force that can fight the terrorists, but also that can achieve a vision for Pakistan.

QUESTION: So you are convinced that Pakistan can actually win this battle in Swat?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah, absolutely. But you know, it’s going to require a lot of effort, in some ways a lot different effort than before. We’ve seen – Pakistan has a very capable military. They always need to improve. You know, we want to help them with the transformation into better counterinsurgency tactics. But they’ve been capable of clearing these areas before.

The problem is to establish the kind of security presence, police presence, government presence, and economic opportunity for people there that cements these areas firmly on the side of the government. And that’s where – that’s the kind of across-the-board attention that people need to give the problems.

QUESTION: And would you want – and do you think – I mean, of course you want that, but do you think Pakistanis are capable of doing this thing in the tribal areas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think Pakistanis are capable of doing this in tribal areas. Tribal areas, of course, have the additional political complications, so they not only have to address the military aspects and the economic aspects, but Pakistanis have to start addressing the political issues that arise in tribal areas. How are they going to be involved politically in the country? We’ve seen some of the parties --

QUESTION: Particularly in Afghanistan, they didn’t want Pakistan to (inaudible) that area.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, first of all, Pakistanis have to decide Pakistan’s policy. And I’m not really sure I’ve seen Afghanistan take a position on this. But in any case, I think you’ve seen some discussion among the parties already about how to work politically with the tribal areas, and that’s --

QUESTION: You mean Pakistani parties?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Pakistani political parties. So, you know, that’s really where you need to see – they need to figure this one out. And I think that’s a discussion that needs to go forward.

QUESTION: And this is something they will discuss during Mr. Zardari’s visit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know, frankly. I don’t know to what extent – I know Ambassador Holbrooke’s been thinking about it and he talked about it a little bit on the Hill. But it’s really a question for Pakistanis to address and to resolve, is how to work – how to integrate the tribal areas politically into the nation. They need – from a security point of view, they need to be under national control. From an economic point of view, they need to be offered economic opportunity, and that’s where some of our assistance programs and our reconstruction zones will help to bring those areas economically into the nation. But they also need to be brought politically into the nation, and that’s something that political parties need to address in Pakistan.

QUESTION: And do you agree with the Pakistani assessment that to deal with them they need better weapons?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The Frontier Corps certainly needs a lot of transformation. We’ve put these in major requests up to our Congress, $400 million this year and $700 million for next year, to help the transformation of the Pakistani military.

QUESTION: Now, is this 400 million this year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: This year, and $700 million for next year to help the transformation of the Pakistani military, because they have to be able to take on --

QUESTION: This is for the military or the FC?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, that’s the thing. Military in general. So some of that would go to the army, a lot of that would go to the Frontier Corps, and some of that would go to other groups. We’re looking at support for the police, frontier constabulary, the other people who have responsibility for security. We see the need and we want to help, and I think that the Pakistani military leaders see the need, and civilian, to transform the military.

QUESTION: Well, what about Zardari’s claim that they need the drones?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I really don’t think it’s worth me trying to talk about a specific military aspect or program. I’ll let the military guys do that.

QUESTION: So during your three years, what was your most worrying moment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It was probably when Benazir Bhutto was killed. At that point, it was hard to predict how Pakistan would go forward, what the effect would be on the political system, on the political parties, on the leadership, or whether the democratic transition that we all hoped for was going to take place.

And I think, you know, it’s a sign that both personally and as a system, the Pakistanis have been capable of facing great adversity and have been able to overcome great adversity. And I know that’s true of a lot of my friends, a lot of people I know, and it’s also true of the system in Pakistan. So I have to say (inaudible), as horrible as those moments were.

QUESTION: And the most destabilizing factor, when you talk about the Pakistani system, it is the military?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I wouldn’t say that. I think what we see is that there are people throughout the society, in the military, in the government, in local government, provincial government, and in civil society who want to build a more modern Pakistan that’s capable of holding its own and capable of, as I say, controlling its own territory and participating in the modern world. And those – the fact that there is that broad group of people – and I’ve gotten to know a lot of those people – that’s probably the most heartening thing.

QUESTION: When you started, Musharraf was very much in command.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you ever feel that he will actually have to go the way he did?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think we felt all along, and had multiple conversations with him, that there was a time for democratic transition in Pakistan, and that one of his responsibilities as leader was to lead Pakistan back to democracy. And obviously, we had a lot of very intense conversations with him along the way. But in the end, that goal was accomplished.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I wouldn’t put it that way. I think he understood the strategic need for transformation back – for transition back to democracy. How he went about it along the way resulted in a lot of very difficult discussions. But in the end, he accomplished that. He understood that goal and he accomplished that goal.

QUESTION: He did it, or he was forced to do it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: A combination. Democratic forces also did a lot of pushing. It was time for everybody.

QUESTION: Why, when the movement for the restoration of chief justice was initially started, why the Americans were so reluctant to (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think because the movement was always very political, and while we were obvious – we wanted to embrace the idea of an independent judiciary, and we did. But we didn’t want to embrace any particular political aspect of this, political party or point of view. I think we made our view clear and we kept that view really throughout on into the whole, you know, process, even back to the – down to the restoration of the chief justice in recent months.

QUESTION: You did play --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Our view was that there needs to be an independent judiciary in Pakistan and that we would work to support that.

QUESTION: And you did play an actual role in making that happen at the end.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Again, we were in close touch with a lot of people, but the decisions were made by the individuals themselves and the political leaders.

QUESTION: Who did you feel the most comfortable in dealing with Pakistani leaders?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That’s not a question I’d ever answer. I’m not sure it’s a question I think about. You know, our desire is not to pick a leader for Pakistan. Our desire is to let the Pakistanis pick their leaders. Our job is to work with everybody we can. And I have – as I said, I think the future of Pakistan rests not with any single individual; it rests with this broad group of people throughout society who are interested in a more modern Pakistan. And they’re the ones who are going to modernize education and modernize the economy and modernize the political system and modernize the military. It’s being able to work with broad groups of people that are moving forward. That’s, I think, again, the most positive thing I’ve seen in Pakistan.

I have very good relations with a lot of individual people and leaders. And you know, I think this government in particular has a lot to say for what it’s accomplished in the last year. They face enormous challenges that will take years to conquer, but if you think about it, you know, we have a more stable democracy and we have a more stable economy, we have more direct action against terrorism, we have more direct action to help people affected by the terrorism, we have more new economic opportunities coming up. So hopefully we’ve been able to support that.

QUESTION: Now, you might have seen the statement of some particularly religious parties saying that once the fighting and the Taliban is over, the Americans will go for Pakistan nukes, they’ll demand that those be surrendered. What do you think of that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it’s silly. Nobody has any basis to make predictions like that. The fact is that we’re interested in the long term for – to work with a stable Pakistan, a capable Pakistan, a Pakistan that can represent something in the world, represent a modern Muslim democracy.

QUESTION: And you agree – agree with the – the suspended Pakistanis capable of defending their weapons?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes, I think we’ve heard from a lot of Pakistani leaders that they have the nuclear weapons in safety, and I think we’re confident that’s a good judgment that the weapons are safe.

QUESTION: Where do you see Pakistan heading now? Another military takeover or democracy strengthening (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I see – as I said, I see in the recent efforts by the government and the recent efforts by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani and the work and – to form a coalition government of Punjab, and the coming together of the civilian and military leaders, I think Pakistan is headed into a very difficult struggle, but also one in which the more modern forces, the forces of vision, are coming together. And I think Pakistan is quite capable of taking on that struggle and building the kind of nation we all want to see.

QUESTION: You say they’re headed towards very difficult (inaudible). Can you explain a little bit, what do you see?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: First of all, Pakistan is still dealing with the after-effects of the economic crisis. Pakistan is still dealing with the task of building a stable democracy, a long-term, stable democracy. But it’s also got to take on the terrorists, and I have to say the terrorists of all kinds who threaten Pakistan. It’s the – you know, the Taliban types, it’s the al-Qaida presence, it’s groups like Lashkar e-Tayyiba who threaten Pakistan both from within and by creating events like the Mumbai attacks.

They really have to root out these phenomenon from Pakistan that’s taken root over decades for a lot of historic reasons, some of which, you know, we were involved in. So to clean the society of those elements who are trying to cause violence and disrupt people’s lives, it’s going to be hard. But at the same time, I think people are coming together to build a better Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you believe that they will be able to put together the economy, or they’re going to collapse?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I think the economy is actually showing signs that it’s coming together. It’s certainly weathered some of the worst problems of last year. Remember, last year we were talking about energy and food shortages. Now we see the food situation’s gotten a lot better, and it looks like the energy situation has eased quite a bit. You know, it’s not over. You still have the effects of global crisis and energy shortages and things like that, but there are new opportunities there.

So hopefully Pakistan’s economy is getting more stable, Pakistan’s democracy is getting more stable, and I hope the Pakistan security situation will get more stable.

QUESTION: Did you ever feel that it was actually possible for the Taliban to take Islamabad?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: No?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the worry is that these people who are trying to cause violence everywhere will expand their ability to operate and will expand their ability to carry out attacks. And they’ve been able to carry out attacks in Islamabad. In many cases, the government’s been able to stop them, but not every single time. And so it’s not so much take over. It’s are these people going to expand to the point where they can operate anywhere at any time, threaten everybody, threaten everybody’s daily life. And you can’t let them do that.

QUESTION: What was your best moment in the three years dealing with Pakistan? You said the worry – what is the best, other than watching a cricket match? (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You know, I guess some of the best moments were actually – I mean, first of all, there have been a lot of great people that I’ve met. But some of the people I most appreciated talking to were tribal leaders in the tribal areas. It was meeting people at Landi Kotal and other parts of the tribal areas or in Peshawar who could talk about what they wanted for their own families and their own tribes, who wanted to change this historic situation, who wanted to become – to have economic advantages in hospitals and education.

So this idea that – somehow, that Pakistan or the West are at war with the tribes, I don’t think that’s true. I think people in the tribes, they want the same things we all want. They want education for their kids and they want job opportunities and they want to be able to participate in the life of the nation. And just hearing that directly from them, I think was really important and good for me. And I think a lot of us have to understand that these people are – they’re facing a threat from the Taliban as well. And so it’s not the tribes against the government. It’s people of vision of all kinds against the Taliban.

QUESTION: Did you ever feel that this was – gone into a Pashtum nationalist war? Did you see any signs of tribes wanting independence from Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think, you know, one always has to worry about that. But that’s why, you know, meeting people in the tribes, meeting Pashtuns in all parts of Pakistan who want to see opportunity for their families, opportunity for their tribes and opportunity for their nation, I think that’s a good thing to remember.

QUESTION: So you don’t see this turning into a Pashtun nationalist movement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Because I think, as I said, you know, most Pashtuns want a chance to get ahead. They want a chance --

QUESTION: Within Pakistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Within Pakistan. They want a chance for their kids to live free and get educated and get jobs. And that’s going to happen within Pakistan, within a modern Pakistan. People want to move forward, and there are people who want to hold them back. And I think we’re going to side with the people who want to move the nation forward. And that includes a lot of Pashtuns as well.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Richard.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you very much. Been good talking to you, good to know you, and I hope we stay in touch.

QUESTION: We should – yeah, we should, especially if you become a professor. (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’ll see about that.

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