Remarks
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
May 13, 2009


AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: It’s nice to see you, first of all. I know I’ve talked to some of you many times and some of you a few times, but I’ve always felt that your presence here in Washington, your reports from Washington were really important and that they’re looked at that way back home and out in the region. I think this is a real quality group of journalists we have here, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And I apologize for not having done it all the time and about all the topics, but I tried to be out when I could.

Second of all, as friends, some of you have asked me personally where I’m headed from here, and the answer in our system is I don’t quite know for sure yet. I have a couple opportunities that haven’t quite settled yet, so I’m going to see how those work out. But it’s time for me to move on. My successor’s been nominated. He’ll have his hearings tomorrow. I can’t assume anything about our Senate, but I trust that Bob Blake is the kind of person that they also want to see in this job. And I’m sure he’ll do a great job if he’s confirmed by the Senate – that’s something we can all look forward to.

QUESTION: Richard, quickly – but you’ll remain in government?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I expect I’ll remain in the Foreign Service, and I’m just waiting to hear what the next assignment might be.

And then finally, a couple remarks about the region since I am finishing up three years of working in this part of the world. I know we deal just day after day after day with the difficulties and the challenges and the bombs and earthquakes and the cyclones. Sometimes you can be overwhelmed by the number of tough things there are to deal with. I think it’s often really important just to keep the big picture in mind and not just to see the difficulties and the challenges of this region, but also to see the incredible potential. It is important to keep in mind that everything that we do as the United States, everything that we do with governments, is designed to create new opportunities, new opportunities for the individuals who live in this part of the world, opportunities to get education, opportunities to participate in their government through democracy, opportunities to start businesses or import and export goods, and that we’ve been able to do a lot of that.

We’ve had new democracies, new democratic elections in the region. We’ve overcome some difficult economic challenges together with the countries of the region. We’ve opened up new economic possibilities for people. We’ve expanded education. We’ve expanded the number of students coming here and the education opportunities in a place like Kyrgyzstan. And so that potential is there. And as much as we deal with the challenges, keeping in mind the enormous opportunity of this region and what we can all do to help people take advantage of that and countries take advantage of that is important.

And the last thing I’d want to say is that we spent a lot of our time talking about the bad guys, talking about the terrorists, talking about the people who want to challenge democracy, people who want to hold countries back. But I think it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people who want to move forward. It’s important to remember that we’re working with people who want to move forward; we’re working with people who are getting organized and taking action against terrorists, so we’ve been watching closely – Prime Minister Gillani, for example, in Pakistan. He’s worked out a political program to support military action against the terrorists. We’ve watched other parties join in that effort. We’ve seen people move forward through democratic transitions and try to build up election commissions or build up independent justice systems that will support democracy. We’ve seen people explore new economic routes for their own countries, and that’s why we’ve tried to open up reconstruction opportunity zones, assistance programs.

If we really think about this as people that are trying to drag the region down and drag it backwards, it’s also important to remember there are a lot of people who want to move forward. And the most inspiring thing, I think, in working in this region, is to see how many people there are who want to move – Muslim societies, big countries, small countries – in a positive direction.

And the satisfaction is that I’ve been able to work with them and hopefully the United States has been able to contribute to those opportunities. That’s enough for me.

QUESTION: Richard –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Questions about news of the day, big picture, whatever.

QUESTION: Richard, on Sri Lanka –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: In my 25 years of following South Asia-U.S. relations from Washington, you know, going back to the days when you were spokesman – you know, I can’t remember when the U.S. has been so tough with its statements on the actions of the Sri Lankan Government. You know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yesterday there were these two statements by the British foreign secretary and the Secretary once again. And you know, after the strong call from the Secretary – you know the external ministry in Sri Lanka puts out a statement that, you know, it was to laud them about how they are going after terrorists, et cetera. You know, the Sri Lankans don’t seem to give a hoot about what the U.S. says anymore. Apparently, there doesn’t seem to be any leverage. And privately, some Sri Lankans have told me, you know, we are getting aid from China and Iran, et cetera, we don’t have to worry about the U.S., and who are the U.S. to tell us about collateral damage after what has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, et cetera?

What’s happened in terms of the U.S. leverage on Sri Lanka? Is there no leverage? And I know the U.S. is very concerned about it. And part two of it is that, you know, the fact that –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I thought one was big enough. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. But the fact that Indian elections have been on, has there been sort of – has it precluded you all from working together with India in terms of the Sri Lankan situation?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Let me take part two first.

QUESTION: Okay.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: No. We’ve been working very closely with India. The Secretary’s had consultation with Indian counterparts. We’ve had visits of Indian diplomats. We’ve been able to confer closely with India. I myself have had phone calls just to keep in touch as we always do after we’ve done Co-Chairs’ discussions. We’ve always informed India and conferred with India. And so we’re very much working with India on the Sri Lankan situation, and it hasn’t held them back as far as I can tell.

Second of all, in terms of the United States and Sri Lanka, I know Sri Lanka gets assistance from different parts of the world, and sometimes they get business and investment from other parts of the world. But to have a prosperous economy, you need to be able to have business and investments with the entire world. I think the United States still plays a very important role on those issues. We play an important role on issues of democracy and international relations. And I do think we’re still listened to.

We’ve always seen Sri Lanka as a democracy. It has been a democracy. We’ve supported democracy in Sri Lanka and we’ve also expected Sri Lanka’s leaders to live up to democratic values and standards. We have no grief whatsoever for the Tamil Tigers. We’ve condemned their terrorism. We’ve condemned the way they’ve been holding civilians, and we’ve made very clear they need to release the civilians and lay down their arms to a neutral third party if necessary. It’s time for them to stop fighting.

At the same time, we expect the government to meet the standards that one expects of a democracy. And in fact, we expect them to meet the standards that they’ve set themselves. When they say no heavy weapons, when they say no fire zone, when they say no aerial bombardments, when they say no major combat operations, we believe them. And frankly, it’s a very strong disappointment to see that they haven’t lived up to those things. They have failed to meet their own commitment. And so that’s where, I think, a lot of our concern is.

We do think it’s important to go about this, the end of the conflict, the end of the terrorism, in a manner that doesn’t sow any seeds of future conflict and in a manner that actually opens the door to future political arrangements on the island, where everybody on the island can live with peace and with some degree of autonomy – the kind of things that have been discussed in the past.

We’re certainly not holding them to any different standards. We’re just expecting them to act like a democracy, to meet their own commitments, and to take a view that this has to be solved in a manner that opens up a political door to a stable set of political arrangements on the island.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the question about the elections in India, will this really come to an end? And U.S. Embassy officials have met with leaders of the BJP and that’s led to some speculation in India. Now, would the U.S. admit that it would be comfortable – uncomfortable with a new government in India which might have allies that are not friendly with the U.S.?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’re – as you say, the election is not quite over yet, and therefore, I can beg off one more time – (laughter) – and say I’m not going to comment on an election that’s still underway. We look forward to dealing with whatever government the Indian people choose and that --

QUESTION: And what kind of relation do you think the U.S. and India would have under the –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think – you know, we’ve had an extremely fast pace of growth of U.S.-India relations over the last 10, 12 years. It’s happened under two different administrations, of two different parties, in two different countries. We’ve had Republicans and Democrats in the United States. We’ve had BJP and Congress-led governments in India that have carried this momentum forward, and I expect that to continue.

I know certainly this Administration, the United States, wants to continue to work with India as a global partner, to work with India in ways that are meaningful to the Indian people. We look forward to having a new government in India that we can work with. And whoever the Indian people pick, it’s going to be fine with us.

QUESTION: But has the election put through to the Obama Administration, you know, setting up its relationship with India?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think, you know, there’s a little bit of a timing difference. We don’t expect people to have elections on our timetable, and we don’t have elections on their timetables. So the fact is that, you know, when you look back next year, you’ll see a new administration in Washington and a new administration in New Delhi taking over in the same period and looking, I think, together at how – how they can govern for the next couple of years, how they can work together for the next couple years. The horizon now for the U.S. and the Indian Governments is measured in years and gives us opportunities to really think big, and I hope both sides will think big.

QUESTION: Even if the left comes to power?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’ll see who gets into the government and what they want to think of, what they want to do.

Yes.

QUESTION: Obama Administration, what are the issues that the new Administration would like to take up with the new Indian Government (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, there are some that’s sort of come about naturally. If we look at the Obama’s Administration’s agenda and then you look at the fact that we all see India as a global partner, how do we work with India on global financial issues? And the President and the Prime Minister met in London at the G-20 meeting. How do we work with India on climate change? How do we work with India on international security and assistance issues? How do we work with India on Afghanistan, a priority for us, but also a priority for India?

And then there are the issues where the United States and the Indian people are heavily involved with each other and where governments need to help out: education, families, visas, all those sorts of things. So there’s a lot of that.

And there’s “what’s our agenda”, how do we set our own agenda, where can we really expand? And I think that’s just the start with those things. You end up with two areas. One is the global issues where the United States and India deserve to be global partners in a lot of things, and the second is the grassroots issues where both the Indian Government and the United States Government want to make sure that we’re doing things that are meaningful to the broad mass of the Indian people, and maybe agriculture, technology, energy issues. There are a lot of areas that we can cooperate on.

QUESTION: But the Obama – with elections, if I can continue?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: But the Obama Administration doesn’t seem to be on the same level as the Bush Administration was with relations with India. In Pakistan, for example, we’ve gone in a few months where President Obama on the campaign trail said that he would bump Pakistan to now Congress perhaps debating about getting more aid without any conditions.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Oh, I think you’re judging something after a couple months that deserves to be judged after a couple years. Just because we have been respectful of India during its period of elections, we haven’t tried to set out on the same kind of agenda. But the fact that the President and Prime Minister Singh have already met, that we’ve already been very actively working with India on current issues and starting to look toward the future, I think is a good sign.

QUESTION: Okay, sir. (Inaudible) to the border region, Pakistan-Afghanistan border region (inaudible). And I’ve got two questions. How do you see the American Government and the Obama Administration this time the Pakistan army is serious, particularly in the backdrop of the trilateral meetings and the strategy in place to take on militancy and terrorism in the region? And secondly, the tribesmen of Federally Administered Tribal Areas people, they don’t trust Islamabad, and somehow the army, too. So how this is reflected in the U.S. strategy towards that region?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I think you can look at it from the top and you can look at it from the bottom. From the top, I think we’ve seen a real strong commitment. We heard from President Zardari, as we heard from President Karzai, really strong commitments to go after terrorism in all its forms and to stop these people from killing Pakistanis and harming the country.

We’ve also seen this week not only stronger military operations than before, but we’ve seen a coalescing of political support. And Prime Minister Gillani and some of the other party leaders have come together and said, you know, we’re going to fight together. We’re going to work with the military. We’re going to fight together to clear Swat Valley and other areas of these militants, and we’re going to go forward with the necessary assistance to people to take care of the people displaced by the fighting and start the rebuilding process. And the United States has announced another $5 million for the displaced people, that’s added to $57 million that we had already. We are constantly out there and I think we’ll be even more out there trying to help displaced people as the fighting continues. That’s the second level, you’ve got Prime Minister Gillani and the military really seriously taking on the fight and pulling together the political support in Pakistan.

But I think also when you look at it at the sort of popular level, the individuals – over the last couple years I’ve seen dozens and dozens, hundreds of local Maliks and local leaders stand up and say, we want to be free of this menace. People in the Northwest Frontier stand up and say, “We want economic opportunity, we want schools, we want healthcare.” And I think it’s up to us to help them get it and to free them from this – the terror of the Taliban. I mean, these – Taliban goes into shuras of local Maliks and kills people. You know, anybody who stands up and says, “I want a different life for my family,” is subject to coercion, if not death.

We owe it to those people to try to help them, and that’s why we go after this not only with big military operations, but we have economic assistance, road-building, education, trying to open up the reconstruction zones, give them economic opportunity. I work with the local government on things like police and maintaining order.

Finally, as we look at military transformation, it’s not just the army; it’s the frontier corps, the frontier constabulary and the police. It’s the local people who have local knowledge who can provide, in the long run, the best security. And we want to build their capabilities as well.

QUESTION: Would you first – how do you grade the operation in Swat? How do you rate its effectiveness?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I don’t grade operations.

QUESTION: The second thing is how do you think this is (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I – first of all, it’s too early for anybody to do that. Second of all, I’m not really the person to try to judge military operations.

QUESTION: Yes. And just to follow up to that --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- there was a marked difference in tone and language of the Administration about the Zardari government before his visit and after the visit. Why was that? What is your --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I’ve been working – we’ve been working with this government since last year when they came on board. We’ve helped them. They have faced some very difficult crises. Remember last year at this time, we were dealing with food shortages and fuel prices. And the food situation has eased quite a bit. The United States was able to help. Energy problems seem to be partially overcome by the drop in prices, but also showing some prospect of getting new energy sources.

I think they’ve already dealt with a lot of issues. We’ll continue to support the government, work with the government. It’s an ongoing thing. We’ve heard a very strong commitment from them to fight terrorism, and we’ve supported that.

QUESTION: Would you still characterize it as fragile, the government?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Any government – you know, every government’s got to try to extend itself. There are certainly areas of the country where this government finds it hard to operate, and that’s where we need to build their capability so that the government is more capable in a lot of areas where it doesn’t operate fully now, and so that the government is more capable of delivering effective support and services to the population at large.

Sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, you have been engaged deeply with Pakistan on this issue (inaudible) last few years.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Would you like to tell us what is (inaudible) any potential problem, this relationship?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think – well, I know the United States benefits from having a friend in Pakistan, from having not only a country that has fought more terrorists, stopped more al-Qaida, and, unfortunately, lost more people doing it than any other in the world. I think we also hold the vision that the Pakistani people have of a modern, open country with a prosperous economy. And we see that as a key factor, a long-term factor in stability; Pakistan’s modernization and prosperity as a long-term factor in stability for the whole region. I think that’s part of our commitment. It’s not just to fight the terrorists, but to help work with Pakistan over the long term.

And how does Pakistan benefit? I think Pakistan, first of all, benefits from ridding itself of this menace of terrorism. As you know, the first people to get killed have been Pakistanis. We’ve seen bombings in Pakistan. We’ve seen attacks in Pakistan. We’ve seen the fighting in Pakistan. The expansion of Taliban control, well, it affects the women and children, the girls who want to go to school, the people who want to live a normal life. Those are the people we’re trying to help, the people that do have a different sense of the future.

As Pakistan faces this threat, our job is to support them. And I think it’s good to see that Pakistanis are facing the threat.

QUESTION: Richard.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I know that you are preoccupied with all the countries. I don’t know whether you have enough time to observe Bangladesh. I hope you do. Anyway, you said in your opening remarks that the United States helped countries in the region to be on the path of democracy, and as you are aware, that Bangladesh recently had an election and (inaudible) democratic government in place.

But in the last few months since this new administration took over, things have really begun to fall apart again. I mean, the – all the thugs and criminals masquerading as politicians, they are back, you know, out of jail. And one of them is the prime minister’s own first cousin. You know, he’s now a member of parliament, and he was convicted for corruption for (inaudible) sentence. And there is another alleged murderer, you know, who fled the country and now come – came back and had a picture taken with the army chief of staff, you know, (inaudible).

So these kind of things have really upset many people and they’re worried about the future of democracy in Bangladesh. What do you think – in what way you helped, you know, the democracy to flourish?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: First of all, everybody recognizes that this was a better election in Bangladesh than anyone had seen in a long time. And everybody recognizes that the progress that was made during the caretaker government in rooting out corruption, improving elections, improving the judicial system, improving the civil service – that kind of progress needs to be maintained and continued.

I don’t think anybody thinks Bangladesh is perfect yet. None of us are perfect. But the kind of progress that we’ve seen in Bangladesh, I think everybody is committed to continuing working and to helping. We certainly do pay a lot of attention to Bangladesh. You see it in our aid numbers. You see it in the meetings we’ve had. I’ve been out to Bangladesh myself several times, including after the election. I met with the leader, Sheikh Hasina, several times, both in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

I think the United States really does care about the evolution, the development of Bangladesh. We’re big donors. We try to help improve the economy and healthcare systems and education systems. But we also try to see if we can help them improve the democracy and take steps that will improve the quality and stability of democracy in the long term. And that’s where our real commitment is.

QUESTION: What should people – excuse me, people really want from the United States in some way you can help so that the rule of law is established.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Absolutely true. I mean, that’s very important to us.

QUESTION: Because that’s the only way that democracy can flourish.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: As we look around this region, in any of these countries, the best guarantors of democracy are the judiciary and independent election commissions and independent anti-corruption commissions, the pieces that really help protect democracy from abuses. And in every country, and particularly in Bangladesh, we work very closely with those institutions to try to help them become the long-term guarantors of democracy.

QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, during the course of your trilateral meetings, did you receive any assurances from the Pakistani Government about shifting their focus – the troops focus towards their western border? And are you satisfied with these assurances?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think what we heard from President Zardari, as from President Karzai, during the course of the meetings and the public events – you heard it as well – was a very strong commitment to stop the terrorists, to go after the groups that have been afflicting Pakistan, and to really deal with this problem in a resolute manner. What that means in terms of military moves, we’ll have to see. But I think the commitment is there, and I think the action we’re seeing on the ground supports that commitment.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say you’re still concerned that they don’t see – they see India as an existential threat as opposed to –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think it’s fair to say that we see the enormous threat, the urgency of the threat from the terrorist groups, and that they see it as well. Our commitment is to cooperate with them as they take on this threat. And we see them doing that.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. One on bilateral. Did Kashmir came up during the trilateral or the bilateral between the U.S. and –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I wasn’t in all the meetings, but this was a Pakistan-Afghanistan meeting, not devoted to anything else.

QUESTION: Pakistan and U.S. meeting?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, Pakistan-Afghanistan-U.S. These meetings, they were devoted to the border issues and the terrorist problems.

QUESTION: Okay. About Nepal, the present condition in Nepal, what’s the assessment of the U.S., and do you think the monarchy was better off, or this is – how do you see the crisis to be resolved there?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, no, we don’t think it was better off with a monarchy. We think we’re better off having these different points of view worked out through a political process, and that it’s important for Nepal to try to get – reform a government and get on with the big tasks. Remember, this is a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. There are big issues out there that we hope the maximum number of parties, maximum number of people, can get together and agree upon. This is not just simply governing from day to day. This is setting a foundation for the future course of the nation. And the more parties that can get together in that kind of structure, that can get together in a government or an assembly and work on those issues, the better it’s going to be.

We are out there now as we meet with the parties, sort of trying to encourage everybody to form a government and get on with the big work ahead. But it’s much better – we’re all better off now that this is playing itself out through the political process and not through some violent confrontations either between the monarchists and the rest of the parties or between the Maoists and the others.

QUESTION: Excuse me.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We can come back.

QUESTION: Yeah. First, thank you for doing this, for talking to us and, obviously, best of luck in whatever the future holds for you. A few things: for the Russians, I guess, the biggest problem that concerns them in Eurasia is the flow of drug from – the flow of drugs from Afghanistan. So can we expect that this problem will finally start being tackled seriously with a new military leadership that the Americans are about to install in Afghanistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The problem of narcotics in Afghanistan is a problem for all of us. The drugs flow north, the drugs flow south, the drugs flow south and then across into Iran and Turkey. So it’s a problem for the whole region. It’s a problem for Afghanistan.

There has been progress. Last year we saw a 19 percent drop in the number of hectares. This year will probably see another 20 or 30 percent drop in the number of hectares. We’ve seen in Afghanistan that more and more has – where there are areas under government control, there’s less and less poppy, and so it’s more and more concentrated. Where you have insurgency, you have poppy. The Taliban and the drug smugglers feed off each other. That’s dangerous and still results in a horribly high crop.

We work with all the countries of the region. We work with the Central Asians on drug control, border control. We work with the Russians in the region. We support the UN Information Center in Almaty. This takes an effort in Afghanistan and it takes a cooperative effort with the countries of the region. That, I am sure, is going to continue with all the new people in all the different spots in the --

QUESTION: No, but specifically for the American military –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The American military have already adopted new rules of engagement related to poppy. Because there’s this nexus, there’s this intersection between poppy and Taliban, the military has to deal with both. But I think we also understand the fundamental way to get at this problem is to establish good governance and good government control around Afghanistan, that we’ve done that and it’s worked, and we’re going to continue to do that.

Okay?

QUESTION: Secondly, if I may –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: The Central Asian part of Eurasia, would you say that you are leaving to your successor better relations with the ‘Stans?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think we are. As I go around the region, as I think about what we’ve been able to do in the region, the United States has very positive relations with the countries of the region. We have worked very well with Kazakhstan all along, but we’ve expanded into more economic areas. We’ve seen a certain amount of political reform. We go into the OSCE year for Kazakhstan. We have a good and expanding relationship now with Turkmenistan. We’re making progress with Uzbekistan, and I think looking for a lot of sort of ways we can move forward in a balanced way. I was just in Tajikistan not long ago. We think we’ve been helpful there, and we’ll try to continue to support both humanitarian needs but also the process of reform. And of course, Kyrgyzstan is one of our partners in many, many ways, from education to other things.

I think we have good relationships there. I think we can offer these countries a sense of opportunity and help the people of these countries find new outlets for their education, for their ideas, for their trade. And that’s something that the United States brings to the region. I think it helps --

QUESTION: Will you be leaving Manas?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We still have contacts and discussions, so I can’t say at this point.

QUESTION: It’s an ongoing situation. And one last thing.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to come back to the first question here. The question was really not about your holding other countries to the same standards, but holding yourselves to the same standards, about – let me ask you this way: What is the acceptable level of collateral damage?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Zero.

QUESTION: And how does –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: And that applies to us as well. And that’s why when something happens, like some of the incidents in Afghanistan, we understand that people are very upset. We understand the hardship that this creates for people, and we try to deal with it in as good a manner as we can.

QUESTION: Yeah, but still at the same time, you keep saying –

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I --

QUESTION: -- but we still retain the right to launch the rockets, to do the strikes, to do whatever we need to. How – its principle is one thing, but practice is different. Is that the situation?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: No, I don’t think that’s the situation. I think that the situation is that as we conduct military operations, we’re conducting them against an enemy that intentionally puts civilians in harm’s way. We’re conducting them against an enemy that goes into villages and shoots people just to establish their control. We’re not going to be like that. But we’re going to have to fight that enemy. We’re going to have to stop them from doing that. As we conduct operations, unfortunately, sometimes civilians get caught in the middle. Sometimes we make mistakes. We make every possible effort in every possible instance to avoid civilian casualties. And when they do occur, as sometimes they do, we now have new ways of working with the Afghans to try to take care of the victims and their families. We try to get the facts and we try to learn the lessons of every incident so that we can do better in the future.

QUESTION: But in the process of --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes, it’s --

QUESTION: Ambassador Boucher, about economic assistance to Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: The Administration has been urging Congress not to enforce strict conditions to the state. A provision in the House bill actually asked the Pakistani Government to ensure – government, military and ISI to ensure that groups that conduct terror strikes against India are not supported. Now the Senate bill does not include the same provision. Is the Administration looking at this as a strict condition?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The House and the Senate versions of this bill, I don’t know how they’ll be worked out. We’ve testified to some extent on the Hill about it. We accept that we and the Congress, and actually the Pakistani Government, have very similar goals, and we want to be able to report to them on progress towards meeting those goals. But we don’t want restrictions to make it impossible to achieve the goals that we all share.

QUESTION: But isn’t that part of the --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: But on the fundamental – the substantive question that you ask, is it important for Pakistan to stop the groups that carry out terrorism in India? Absolutely. And there’s never been any question in our mind that the threat to Pakistan from terrorism comes not just from groups that are fighting in Afghanistan or groups that are up in the tribal areas, but from the groups that attack India, that that presents a danger to Pakistan as well, and that they have been more and more carrying out attacks that endanger Pakistan domestically and in terms of its relationship. There’s no differentiation. All the terrorists are bad and they all need to be stopped and eliminated.

QUESTION: What about the provisions? Is there a strict provision?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The provision – well, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how the legislation works out. It’s dangerous to try to comment on provisions that haven’t been enacted at this point. Okay.

QUESTION: On Pakistan?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: So what makes the Obama Administration so confident that its new Pak policy will work, given Pakistan’s record? Is it confidence? Or is it just, you know, let’s try it, what do we have to lose and new government here, new government there?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I think we’re more confident in a couple ways. The first is that we have a government, indeed, a political structure in Pakistan that is trying to stop the terrorists, trying to eliminate terrorism, and trying to move the country forward. And we – as I said, we’ve heard that from President Zardari. We’ve seen it in Prime Minister Gillani’s statements, but also in the support that other parties, including PML-N, have given to the effort. We’ve seen that in the effort that’s actually being undertaken on the ground right now, not only a political one, but the military one.

We have a serious effort going on and we agree with it. We’re there to support it. We’re there to support it and not only militarily, but also in economic and other ways that allow it to achieve its objectives. It’s a tough fight. This problem was decades in the making. It’s going to take a long time to get rid of it. But I think the fact is there are people that are very concerned and very dedicated to fighting it inside Pakistan, and we’re going to support them.

QUESTION: So – may I continue?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: President Zardari seemed to – when he was here, he said, Pakistan needs (inaudible), it needs more aid. Does this mean – was there a request made that the U.S. should ask India to pull back troops in its border with Pakistan in return for their support?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: How do you go from one to the other?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The questions – the issues discussed were Pakistan and Afghanistan issues during a set of meetings. This was not a meeting about India.

QUESTION: So this was not discussed at all?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: This was not a meeting about India.

QUESTION: Ambassador, what was your most memorable personality or event to deal with during – I mean, I just want to – like, on a different track, would you want to --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- share with us your (inaudible).

QUESTION: Go down memory lane. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Look, we’ve done a lot of things, a lot of --

QUESTION: The most challenging or --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’ve done a lot of things with a lot of countries --

QUESTION: -- the worst challenge.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: -- and people over these years. But I think in some ways, the most memorable person was Benazir Bhutto. And the worst challenge was when she was assassinated. I think that was a challenge for all of us in the region, not just in Pakistan, which suffered from this horrible, horrible crime. But it affected the destiny of the region, could have affected the destiny of the region in very terrible ways. And I think in the end, people pulled together, they worked together, Pakistan moved back to democracy. We got governments and military cooperating against terrorism in a new way, in a stronger way than ever before. And as horrible as the event was, people didn’t let it destroy the future, and that was – that was good.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

QUESTION: Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: At the time that the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review was completed, the Administration had talked about reaching out to more moderate elements in the Taliban. Is that something that you still believe is a viable option? Are there more moderate elements in the Taliban? Is this an active policy that will be pursued?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We didn’t quite put it that way. We said we want to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, and – important for a number of reasons. One, it’s Afghan-led. And two, it is reconciliation, which means people come back and join up with the government, accept a new order, accept the government structure.

I think we’ve always seen this operating on a couple levels. You’ve got to let, you know, young men who might have gone to fight for – because of the paycheck who will want to come back and live in the village and farm. We’ve got to give them an opportunity to come back. Groups and tribes that were mad at the government for one reason or the other, they need a chance to come back. And even some groups and fighters who may want to come back. You find that, I think, everywhere, and we want those people to be reconciled.

But there’s going to be – I mean, let’s face it, there’s going to be a hard core of ideologues who are trying to take power and turn the country back to the stone age, and we’re going to probably have to fight those people and that’s why we’re out there with troops to do that.

QUESTION: And do you feel the Saudis could play a role (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The Saudis can maybe play a helpful role. They have offered. We haven’t seen any serious intentions from the other side. But we’ll see. I think what’s more important is that sort of lower level work has to go on. People have to be – the government has to extend itself and has to bring people in to support it.

QUESTION: This is more of a general question, not only for South Asia but for the rest of the world – the rise of extremism everywhere is partly responsible for the failure of the mainstream traditional parties to deliver for their own people. And this paves the way for the indoctrination of all these kids who have no opportunities, you know, who suffer deprivation and that kind of thing.

And you have been saying – I mean, not you, but the United States has been saying we have to take care of that, we have to focus on that. And to what extent do you think – and you are the people who actually formulate the policies, the politicians come and go. And you are there, you are there more or less permanently.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’re here to serve. We are public servants.

QUESTION: Right, right. But --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’re not --

QUESTION: No, I’m really being serious about this.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes, I know you’re being serious about this.

QUESTION: Right.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: And I – and basically, I agree with you.

QUESTION: And now, again, when --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- things have begun to fall apart in Pakistan, you said, oh, we have to give $500 million more to the Pakistan military, you know. And also you are saying that we have to also take care of their economic problems. But those things don’t really come up, you know, and people really get angry. The United States get more alienated from the – why this is – I mean, you are an intelligent man. I mean, everybody – I mean, you don’t have be a Harvard Ph.D. to understand this thing. And my country is also headed --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- inexorably towards this kind of crisis, because of the same problem.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Okay. I agreed with you more at the beginning than I do now. (Laughter.) Look, you point out a very fundamental fact, that most people experience government in their day-to-day lives. They experience it in policemen, they experience it in local elections and local administration, they experience it in schools, in the healthcare system, and in economic basics, like, is there a road, is there electricity, is there some chance I can get a job? Okay?

Government has to deliver, democracy has to deliver at that level to people to get real stability and for people to firmly reject extremism. The extremists offer some backward vision, but where government doesn’t deliver, and there’s extremist appeal and there’s coercion, people may go to the wrong side.

How do you make sure government can deliver? Well, a lot of our programs are exactly focused at that level. We’re putting more and more money in Afghanistan into provincial and local governance. We’re building roads, putting in small projects for electricity around the country. In Bangladesh, we’re supporting the healthcare system. We’re supporting local governance systems and grassroots democracy in a lot of places.

In Central Asia – I was just out in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – we’re supporting water cooperatives, we’re supporting local associations. I think a lot of what we do has to be committed to helping democracies deliver, and that’s where people really find stability and they find their opportunities.

MODERATOR: And this will be the last question.

QUESTION: What is trade and transit agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which (inaudible) signing that agreement (inaudible)? What – how do you think that will be useful in linking South Asia and Central Asia (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The first I ever heard about this potential link was really from political leaders in Pakistan, political leaders in Afghanistan, and political leaders in Central Asia. They’ve always seen the potential. And we’ve tried to work over the last few years on roads, this little – this bridge that we opened between Afghanistan, Tajikistan. It connects to, you know, the Ring Road, it connects to Pakistan, and it connects to a Japanese road and a Chinese road and an Asian Development Bank road. There’s a road taking shape from Almaty to Karachi. There are electricity lines being linked up between Central Asia and Afghanistan and eventually Pakistan-South Asia. This is a real opportunity for people. Even as we’ve been fighting in this region, we’ve also been trying to create new economic opportunities like that for people.

And transit trade is another thing. The problem now with getting fruit and goods and ideas from the Gulf to Central Asia is not so much the roads, it’s the ability of trucks to cross borders, it’s the ability of cargos to move day and night. It’s the problems of corruption at customs posts. And we’ve tried with various instruments that we have to work with countries on those things. And if Pakistan and Afghanistan can produce a new – a modernized transit trade agreement, then they can open up more opportunities for themselves and for each other and for all the countries from India to Kazakhstan.

And that’s what we hope will happen. We’re very pleased that they agreed to do that at their meetings in Washington. I think today at the regional economic conference in Islamabad, they were going to actually start their negotiations or have another session of discussions on that. I haven’t gotten the report yet, but it’s something that’s very important, I think, not only for the two countries that benefit, but for everybody else in the region.

QUESTION: Pakistan has been (inaudible) into the idea of using Pakistan for transit of goods from India into Afghanistan and vice versa. Do you think that will be coming up as part of the (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Well, I haven’t studied this particular text very much, but I think they need to think about, in the long term, what are the benefits to Pakistan of being able to have the transit of goods from India to Central Asia, of being the hub, of being the middleman, the seller, the whatever, that there are real economic benefits for Pakistan of taking on that role. And you don’t want to push that trade somewhere else. You don’t want to push that trade to other routes. You want to try to dominate that trade.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) After the Obama Administration came in, they had a few issues which has been bothering India, and then people (inaudible). One is the H-1B visas. A lot of people are going back from here. And the other one is also the same issues. The new tax laws that this Administration has proposed will force U.S. companies that are based in India, give a lot of employment to call centers, other things, they have to come back. Do you think --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: I don’t think it’s quite that drastic, and some of this will be worked out as we go through the legislative process. Again, you’ve got people reacting not just to the new Administration’s policies and proposals, but they’re reacting really as perhaps even more to the fundamental economic situation where, you know, India is still growing at, what, 5 to 6 percent. The United States is contracting for the moment. There are people going back to India, they get better jobs. It’s understandable. It’ll flow back and forth. The modern age, get on an airplane and, you know, you can get a job on the other side of the world.

I don’t think I would say that a lot of this movement right now is because of the legislation or the policy. I think more it’s based on economic factors.

QUESTION: One final thought on the --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) change in Afghanistan.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: How is it going to affect the overall situation? Can it --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: The President and the White House, the Secretary of Defense, and others have spoken to this. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the commitment to policy is there by all the people who are going to be charged with carrying it out. And that applies to new people coming into the State Department as well as it applies to new people coming into the military commands.

QUESTION: And as you wrap up, how hopeful are you about the whole region?

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: You know, I see one problem after another, and I realize that each of these problems is very, very difficult to deal with. But I, by character and knowledge, I guess – I mean, what I know of the region, I’m still optimistic, fundamentally optimistic, because I think the people in the region are committed, and they’re committed to making things better every day.

And if we can make things better every day, then I’m hopeful in the long run we can really see the kind of region emerge that we’re looking for, which is a, you know, modern, stable, prosperous, open, trading set of societies that can work with each other and work with us.

QUESTION: But as the saying goes --

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: We’ll get there someday.

QUESTION: -- in the long run, we are all dead.

AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Yes, but the saying also goes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So let’s make sure we take one every day.

Okay, thank you.

[This is a mobile copy of Press Roundtable With South Asian Media]