Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Islamabad, Pakistan
October 30, 2009


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for doing this interview. You arrived in Pakistan trying to turn the page, and the same day you arrived, the horrific bombing in Peshawar, the worst in two years, how does that make you feel about the possibility of changing the dialogue here from just security and terrorism?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, it was horrific, and it was such a tragic event, the loss of life, particularly targeting women and children. It was a women’s market that the terrorists decided to blow up. And on the one hand, it is a stark and terrible reminder of what the people of Pakistan are up against and the common enemy that we face. Yet I think it’s also a spur to greater cooperation and partnership, which is what I am seeking and offering.

So out of this tragedy, even though security and terrorism are obviously a high priority because of the reality of what the people of Pakistan face every day and what we are fighting against, we don’t want that to define our whole relationship, because we actually believe that there’s so much more we can do to really bolster the economy, to give hope to people, to support this democratic government. And so we don’t want to lose the full dialogue and the comprehensive agenda that goes along with the emphasis we place on terrorism.

QUESTION: But when you went and talked to the university students, you went and you came across a wall of resistance and suspicion, low-grade anger. They were not disrespectful, but they challenged you. They said, you know, “Why should we trust you? America has betrayed us in the past.” How do you deal with that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, one of the reasons I’ve done this trip in the way that I have, so that I’m not just talking to government officials, but I’m out there in university settings and with other groups that we’ve seen over the last three days, is because we know that that is the feeling harbored by many people in Pakistan. But rather than just ignore it or paper over it, I invited that. I knew very well that these questions would be asked by the Pakistani press and the people that I am interacting with.

I wanted to get that out on the table because the Pakistanis have talked about a trust deficit, and it’s a two-way street. We have questions, they have questions, we need to be responding, and we need to be as open as possible. So I thought it was actually very healthy that there was no false politeness, that there wasn’t any holding back. I mean, as you say, everybody was very respectful and personally very supportive, but they had questions about our government’s policy. And I feel like I have a responsibility to try to answer them.

QUESTION: But everywhere else you’ve traveled in the world, you’ve come across skepticism and some tough questions. But your star power, your personality, your passion, your commitment, all of that has won people over. That audience was silent. There was no applause.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But think about it, Andrea. Think about what they have experienced about their perception and about the fear that they’re now living with. I have many people who I’ve seen on this trip that I’ve seen on my prior four trips. And they’ve all said to me, “You can’t imagine what it’s like now. It’s so different. And we’re scared. We’re scared to go places. We’re scared to go to some of the most beautiful parts of our country any longer.”

So when you’re living with that level of anxiety and insecurity – and there is, to be fair, a history of us coming in and going out, even though we’ve been a partner and an ally ever since Pakistan’s inception, we haven’t always had a consistent relationship. And I think if I were sitting where those young students are – and remember, young students are more likely to say the things that other people are thinking – I would have had some of the same tough questions. In fact, I was thinking back, there was one young woman who was standing up and she was very, very kind about me personally and all the kinds of things that people say.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then she lets you have it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And then she came with a zinger and I thought, oh my gosh, “There but for accident of birth go I 40 years ago,” because it is to the young people that we’re trying to reach out – I announced, as you know, yesterday, a new service that we are partnering with Pakistani telecom companies so that we get young people cooperating and talking about what’s on their minds. We try to increase civil society.

Because it’s not only the fear that is now unfortunately part of their daily lives, because of the attacks that they are suffering, but for eight years, they feel as though they lost their democracy. So there’s all this pent-up desire to be out there talking, and I think it’s a healthy sign. So for me, it was exactly what I expected.

QUESTION: Well, you said, “I’m not going to dance around the issues.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.

QUESTION: And you were blunt. And then you basically laid out the suspicions that Americans and the American Government have long had that the Pakistani Government missed opportunities, did not go after al-Qaida aggressively enough, provided, as you describe, a safe haven for al-Qaida since 2002. People are really angry about that in the government and outside of the government. Were you too blunt?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t think so, because I believe that the responses that I’ve gotten and from reading the Pakistani press coverage, they understand that if we’re talking about the kind of partnership that I believe we should be, that it is not just a one-way street. I am more than happy to both take responsibility for some of the past problems that have existed, offer a new way forward, but I think it’s important if this is going to be the open and cooperative relationship that I believe is in both of our interests, that we express some of our concerns as well. I would not be representing my country if I were not to be as forthcoming with them as they have been with me.

QUESTION: What if your visit makes things worse, increases the --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t think so.

QUESTION: -- distrust, suspicion?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think so. That is not at all my impression or what we’re finding as we look at all the reaction across the country. Now, is it uncomfortable to hear what I’m hearing from them and maybe what they’re hearing from me? Well, it may be, but I think that’s part of us beginning to sort out these differences. It’s a fact that even after President Obama’s election and his personal popularity around the world, the attitude in Pakistan toward the United States has been very negative.

So what we are seeing with the democratically elected government, with the courage of the Pakistani military going after the Taliban in Waziristan after their successful campaign in Swat, shows a resolve to dealing with the threats that they face internally that we welcome. But it’s not just that we want to see them go after those who are directly attacking them. What we’re explaining is that we see a syndicate of terror. Al-Qaida is clearly directing and training and funding many of the very same people who are attacking targets here in Pakistan.

QUESTION: And you suggested that people in the government could get these al-Qaida figures if they wanted to.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I said I didn’t know, but I think it’s a fair question to raise because clearly, we want to get as much cooperation as possible. The Pakistanis, the people, and the government certainly want to cooperate with us on economic development, on security assistance, and we are more than happy to come forward because we think it’s in our interest as well as in the interest of Pakistan.

But we do have a continuing commitment to get the people who attacked us, and you know I feel very strongly about this, because I was a senator from New York on 9/11. I lived with the consequences of that horrific attack on my country. And I want the people of Pakistan to know how strongly we feel about making sure we get a chance to see the capture or the killing of the masterminds of that 9/11 attack. And it is also in Pakistan’s interests, so that is the case I’m making.

QUESTION: This has been the worst, the deadliest month in Afghanistan now.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It has been.

QUESTION: A terrible toll. The President took the unusual step of going in the middle of the night to Dover for that very solemn ceremony. What would – what do you think that signifies, and what would you say if you had the opportunity, as you have in the past, to the families of those 18 soldiers who made this ultimate sacrifice?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I really am grateful that the President went, because he did it not only in his – out of his personal concern, but because he does represent our country and the people of our country who are deeply saddened by the loss of the lives of our young men and women who are serving in Afghanistan.

I would say, as I have said on many occasions, both privately and publicly, that their sacrifice is in the great and honorable tradition of those who have gone before them, because they truly are the very best we have in our country. And they are committed to serving our nation in the most dangerous and difficult mission that we are now pursuing. But that their sacrifice is part of what we are trying to achieve. And so it is something that should be honored. It is something that every American should be grateful for.

That doesn’t in any way answer the loss and the pain and the grief that their loved ones and the rest of us feel about these losses. But I have no doubt in my mind that they are fighting for their country in a faraway place for very big stakes.

QUESTION: And are you persuaded, absolutely convinced that the mission is achievable, the mission that you and the President and the rest of your advisors and military experts – that you can come up with a solution out of these deliberations on Afghanistan that will have a definable, achievable mission of – no matter how many troops we send in?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I absolutely believe that, and after sitting through many hours of intense meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, I know that the President is resolved and committed. The strategy hasn’t changed. We know we have to defeat al-Qaida and their extremist allies. How we go about that, how we operationalize it, how we try to make up for, frankly, lost time over the last eight years in working with the Afghans themselves and trying to help train and deploy their own security forces so that they will be able to protect their own country, is what we are trying to determine the best way forward on. But I am absolutely convinced of their resolve.

QUESTION: And do you think that there is an end that – depending on the kinds of forces, the way they are put in and the mission that’s defined, is there a way out of Afghanistan for the American people?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I mean, this is not an open-ended, never-ending commitment. But it is one that we have to see through and do our very best to create the conditions inside Afghanistan. I’m not talking about nation-building. That is not at all what we are focused on, but to create a level of stability and security. We have our very best military minds who are looking at that. We have our very best civilian diplomats like Ambassador Holbrooke and others who are very experienced in this.

And I believe that we’re going to come up with an approach that will enable the people of Afghanistan who do not want the Taliban back. They totally reject the Taliban. There is a misconception, I think, in some quarters that somehow the momentum or the advances that the Taliban is making are because the people of Afghanistan reject the alternative. That is just not true. But the people deserve to have a government that can deliver services for them at the local level, a government at the national level that can help to create a security force that can be appropriately deployed to protect them. Those are very basic needs, but the people do not want the Taliban back.

QUESTION: And to those who say that Pakistan with nuclear weapons is a more urgent priority, should be, than Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Pakistan has a very professional military. They are very committed to this fight. They’re taking it to their enemies who also happen to be our enemies. I have confidence in their ability to secure their nuclear arsenal. So it’s a very different situation on both sides of the border. We have encouraged the Pakistani Government and people to take seriously this threat, which they are doing. We think that they have a struggle ahead of them, because unfortunately, it doesn’t take very many suicide bombers to cause havoc and destruction like we saw in Peshawar.

But they are in the fight and they know what is at stake. The president lost his wife to these terrorist assassins. So I have no doubt about the resolve and the commitment. There’s a way to go to make sure that in Afghanistan, they have the same capacity and the same resolve to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, and I don’t know how you timed this trip to miss the World Series with the Yankees playing.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ve been getting updates, and just before I came in, it’s 1-1. The Yankees won, so I was breathing a little easier.

QUESTION: All right. Well, get us on home in time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I will try.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.



PRN: 2009/T14-15

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC]