Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New Delhi, India
February 19, 2013

ETV: What would be the fate of Afghanistan post 2014 as the U.S. troops withdraw from the war-torn country? We have with us the Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, who is in New Delhi to attend a trilateral meeting on Afghanistan.

First of all, I would like to welcome you on the show, sir.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.

ETV: First of all, please tell us what’s your plan for 2014? And, do you think that it is the right time to withdraw forces from Afghanistan?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all, let me clarify that the President announced during the State of the Union that we will be roughly halving the number of troops that we have in Afghanistan, so we’re reducing by 34,000 the troops by sometime this next year, in February. Then from there he will have to make a decision about how many troops will remain after the end of 2014. That decision has not yet been made.

But I do want to stress what the President said which is that the United States and I think other countries have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. So I want to disabuse your viewers of any notion that the United States is cutting and running, and that we certainly do not intend to repeat the mistakes of 1989.

ETV: You have been talking with the Taliban, but the groups you have been talking to are desperate to come into power in Afghanistan. Do you think you’ll be able to reform Taliban or make them shed their anti-West ideology? And also, do you think that even after coming to power in Afghanistan, will they still pose a threat to Afghanistan as well as the entire region?

Assistant Secretary Blake: It’s hard for me to make judgments about things like that, but we’re doing everything we can now to try to create conditions for a dialogue to take place between Afghans, between the High Peace Council of Afghanistan and between whatever elements of the Taliban choose to have a dialogue.

ETV: Do you think if Taliban comes to power the situation, the scenario in this region will still be grim? There will be security concerns all over in the region?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, I don’t want to speculate. Part of the conditions that they have to meet is they have to agree to be part of the peace process. They have to agree to abide by the Afghan constitution, renounce violence. You’re familiar with the conditions that have been established. And so we’ll just have to see.

ETV: Talking about the fight against terror. India has expressed its displeasure over the amount of punishment awarded to 26/11 Mumbai attack plotter David Coleman Hadley. Do you think that justice has been served in this case? And also will you entertain India’s request to extradite him?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all I think justice certainly has been served in the United States. He’s going to serve a very long prison term that will put him in prison for really the rest of his life in the United States. It’s an appropriate decision given the role that he had in helping to plan the terrible attacks of 26/11.

ETV: And about India’s request, about India’s plea to extradite him here?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, we don’t talk publicly about extradition requests.

ETV: One last question. India is terminating a multi-billion dollar VIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland. Do you think that this is an opportune time for U.S. companies to get into fray if a new fresh global tender is floated by India?

Assistant Secretary Blake: That will be a decision for our companies to make. But let me just say that we’re very pleased with the progress in our defense cooperation with India, and particularly on the defense sales side which have gone from virtually nothing to more than $9 billion now. And more importantly, we have a strategic effort underway now to look at how we can perhaps engage in things like co-production and co-development of systems.

So we’re very excited about the prospects to do more in the Indian market and I know our companies are very excited.

ETV: Thanks for talking to ETV News Network, sir.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you.