Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Kabul
Kabul, Afghanistan
November 19, 2009


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you’ve just attended the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai for his second term. Now, you and your allies, including the British, have made very clear that you didn’t want to see cronies, you didn’t want to see warlords in the government, and yet, there they were sitting in the front row.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think what was significant about today is the speech that President Karzai gave outlining the way forward for his government and for his people. It was both visionary in the sense that it painted a picture of what he’d like to see in Afghanistan by the end of his second term, and it was very specific about how he was going to tackle corruption, how they were going to build up their military forces and begin to defend their own country. I thought it was a very positive, comprehensive path forward. And I think the ministers who I have been meeting with over the last day are very impressive.

I’ve had briefings from the ministers of agriculture and education and finance and intelligence. And the picture in Afghanistan is much more positive than we often give it credit for. A lot of good things are happening. Seven million children, including 40 percent girls, are in school. When President Karzai took office, there were a million and they were all boys. So there’s a lot that has been accomplished. Are there still problems, challenges? As in any society, particularly one that went through 30 years of such dreadful warfare, of course. But I think that today was a very positive transition moment, and there’s a window of opportunity for the Karzai administration.

QUESTION: You mentioned a few ministers who impressed you. Are you suggesting that perhaps your approach could be to work with the ministers that you like and try to ignore those that you have a problem with?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there are a lot of ministers who are very professional and have a clear set of objectives that they are attempting to achieve. They’re the majority; they are the ones that we do work with mostly. We will continue to do so. We are working with our international allies to build up those ministries that we think have the most direct impact on both the security and the well-being of the people of Afghanistan. And there are a lot of opportunities here for us to pursue. So I am coming away from my meetings yesterday, the events today, more meetings, and the inaugural speech, encouraged, very realistic about the challenges ahead, but nevertheless, I think that we have an opportunity here to work well together.

QUESTION: You have made clear to Hamid Karzai and his government that they need to, in essence, clean up their act. But what if they don’t? I mean, is it a you should do this or else? I mean, what sort of leverage do you have? I mean, he knows that American troops aren’t simply going to pack up and leave because you and President Barack Obama have said the fight that American soldiers are fighting here are in America’s national interest.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I think that we are going to work hard to make progress together. There’s always consequences. We know that. They know that. We have impressed that upon them. But given the attitude of the people in the government with whom I met, the resolution and determination that they exhibited, let’s try to make progress together. And I don’t want to predict anything not succeeding. I’d rather work as hard as I can, along with others, to make it to succeed.

QUESTION: Well, what sort of consequences would those be? You’ve mentioned for the first time a few days ago that aid would not continue to flow to Afghanistan if there wasn’t an accountable government. Is that a realistic approach? I mean, withholding aid would undermine your dual strategy here, civilian and military.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we hope it never comes to that. But from the beginning of this Administration, I worked with our Special Representative Ambassador Holbrooke to do two things: create a certification process where we could certify those agencies of the government that we thought were functioning well and could do even better with the appropriate support and resources; and over time, to begin increasing our financial aid for them, so that we are really empowering and creating the capacity that the government needs to deliver services. And we’ve made real progress there. We’ve gone from 10 percent of the aid being directed to the agencies of government to 20 percent. We’re on a path to 40 percent, something that President Karzai mentioned in his speech. But it’s through a very rigorous analysis of who we can really count on to spend that money the way we intend it to be spent.

QUESTION: There’s some suggestion that you would consider working more with partners at the local level in districts, provincial governors, to make sure that the cash doesn’t flow into the hands of corrupt ministers, for example. Is that something that you are considering?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in fact, I discussed that with President Karzai last night, that we believe that in a country such as Afghanistan, power does need to be decentralized, that much of what happens in people’s daily lives happens not from the central government in Kabul, but from their local district leader, their local tribal elder or chief. So yes, we are going to work with our allies, with the Karzai government, to try to increase the capacity of local governance as well.

But we think that’s a reinforcing strategy. Because just as we have decentralized power in the United States, where certain responsibilities are expected from the local government compared to the national government, when President Karzai talked about the emphasis that will be placed on building up the national security force, both the military and the police, that is a responsibility here in Kabul. But when the agriculture minister spoke to me yesterday about enhancing agricultural productivity, that’s going to be carried out at the local level. So I think it’s that kind of analysis that will lead us to better direct the aid that we send.

QUESTION: I know you don’t want to discuss troop numbers, but I think one thing that everybody can agree on is that there will be more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you feel comfortable after the conversations you’ve had here over the last two days, your meetings with President Karzai, do you feel comfortable sending more American troops to Afghanistan? Do you think it’s worth it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t want to preempt the President and what he will announce when he announces his decision. But I do believe that, as I said before, we have a national security interest in going after the syndicate of terror that al-Qaida has helped to pull together, which includes elements of the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban. It is a direct threat to the United States, to our allies, our interests, our values. And we are determined to defeat al-Qaida.

Yet at the same time, we know we will be more successful in that effort if we help to build up the capacity of the Afghan Government and people to defend themselves. So it’s a not an either/or, it is a both/and. We are in Afghanistan originally, and still today, because of our being attacked on 9/11. But we want to have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan that is not solely defined by our military commitment. Because the more democratic, more stable, more prosperous Afghanistan becomes, the less likely it would ever again be a haven for terrorism. So this is a complicated calculation, but I think it’s the right one to look at.

QUESTION: What does success look like in Afghanistan in your eyes?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the realization of the promise put forth in President Karzai’s speech today: a country able to defend itself; a country with economic opportunities where children are being educated, where the main industry in the country, namely agriculture, is more productive and creating greater incomes for people.

It was clear today in the speech that the president has a vision of where he wants to lead the country, and it was reassuring to people. It was exciting because it was such a statement of resolve. But the proof is in the pudding. Now we’ve got to work and make it happen. He knows that. His ministers know that. We’ve been meeting and talking with our counterparts from the other countries that supply troops and supply economic assistance of all kinds to say, look, how are we going to do a better job? It’s not just what we’re demanding of the Afghan Government and leadership. How do we better coordinate the donors? How do we really get everybody integrated into the military and defense and security strategy? How do we avoid duplication of efforts? There’s a lot of questions we have to be better at answering, and we’re going to take on that effort.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one of the grievances that is often aired both here in Afghanistan and in Pakistan is that the U.S. has not always been exactly the most reliable of allies.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as I said in Pakistan and I would repeat it here in Afghanistan, there is some truth to that concern that people have expressed to me in both countries. And I’m sure if I were in their shoes, I would feel the same way. That’s why I think it’s important that we define our relationship with Afghanistan on a long-term basis that is not primarily or exclusively military. Yes, we have a troop commitment. The President increased it last spring. He is looking at how he can best go forward now. And we want to make sure that any young man or woman from our country who we send to Afghanistan has the maximum chance of succeeding at the mission that we ask. But we’re also dramatically increasing our civilian presence. I just greeted some of the civilians who had lost their colleagues in a terrible incident about two weeks ago. And there are so many people who have come to Afghanistan as part of our civilian efforts in tripling the numbers this year.

So we want to have as clear an understanding of the civilian-military integrated strategy that we’re pursuing that we believe dovetails with the needs that the people and Government of Afghanistan have.

QUESTION: Karzai – President Karzai has been in and out of favor in Washington. He’s had stormy exchanges with some American officials. You seem to have a very good rapport with him. What has it been like to sit down with him over dinner? You had a very long conversation one-on-one with him as well. Are you appealing to him to think of his legacy? I mean, what are you discussing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re discussing the challenges that he faces as the president of Afghanistan. I’ve known him for about seven years, a little over seven years, I guess. I’ve met with him numerous times here in Afghanistan, in the United States, at international conferences. I’ve always tried to listen to him to hear what’s really on his mind, his concerns, the way he views the problems that he faces, and then to be responsive but also to offer a perspective that perhaps is useful.

I think it’s clear that he really has turned his attention in a very focused way to what his legacy will be. He and his family have given 300 years of service to Afghanistan. He comes from a position of honor within the Pashtun culture in Kandahar. And he’s a real patriot, and he wants to be the leader who has ushered Afghanistan into the modern age, into a secure, democratic future.

Sometimes it’s easier to say that than to do it, and I understand that. I’m sympathetic, maybe because I’ve been in politics. It doesn't look as easy as it might from the outside as an expert or an academic or a diplomat or a bureaucrat might see it. There are so many tradeoffs in politics. I mean, you – in order to get things done, you often have to make compromises that are not very pleasant. And yet, you keep in mind always the larger goal. And I think President Karzai has a very large vision indeed of what he wants to see happen in Afghanistan in the next five years, and the really strong foundation he wants to lay for the future.

QUESTION: I want to finish with just one more question about the regional approach to stabilizing Afghanistan, because it is – the solution here is regional, and it involves Pakistan and it involves India. And there’s been a lot of talk about Pakistan, but not so much anymore recently about India. Are you looking at tackling the Kashmir problem to try to help Pakistan really move its focus to the border with Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve encouraged both countries to resume a dialogue that they were engaged in which came to a halt and yet holds a lot of promise. They had made progress, I’m told, in sorting through some of the longstanding difficulties they face, and most particularly the status of Kashmir. But it’s clear that any solution has to come from the two countries themselves.

QUESTION: You’re not pushing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are encouraging them to get back into dialogue. We think that is important. But with respect to any resolution, that’s up to them.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Nice to talk to you, as always.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.




PRN: 2009/T15-24

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC]