(Wolfowitz Interview with Ahmed Rashid, London Daily Telegraph; Far Eastern Economic Review)
Rashid: Where are we at as far as a regime change in Iraq is concerned?
Wolfowitz: Oh, that's the wrong question. [Laughter] I'd rather just stay off that, rather than give you a whole series of evasions.
Rashid: Could we then just get straight on to Afghanistan?
There is a very strong feeling in Afghanistan; the international community is letting down the Afghans on reconstruction. Even, the money is not coming, Karzai is really hamstrung. Law and order is getting worse. What are you trying to do? What are the Americans trying to do to try to push this process forward? The money and the question of ISAF.
Wolfowitz: Look, there are some things that I'd like to see us doing better on there. I do think, though, it's important not to exaggerate the problem, not in the interest of protecting our reputation but because I think too much defeatist sort of talk has a way of I think having harmful effects in itself.
The fact is, I believe and all the evidence supports it, that the situation in Afghanistan is just vastly better than it was a year ago and it's not collapsing. There are problems here and there. Some things are perhaps getting worse, a lot of things are still improving. So I think it's important to keep some perspective.
Having said that, I would say my biggest single concern, I think our biggest single concern as a government is that the economic aid which was promised in the Tokyo Conference and which I think is crucial not only for economic purposes but for fundamental security and political purposes is just not coming through at the levels it was pledged. I don't know all the reasons why, but I don't see any reason why that should be the case.
The statistic I recall is barely 30 percent of what's been promised for this year has been delivered, and clearly there are major aspects of this that have implications not only for just the daily well-being of people but also the general security situation.
For example, I would like to see a much bigger effort made at rebuilding the infrastructure of transportation communications in the country because my understanding, and I don't claim to be an expert here, is that Afghanistan, all you really need to do is look at a map. You don't need to be an expert. Afghanistan can be a potentially enormously important trading route within the region, an outlook for Central Asia to Pakistan and India. Trading routes across Afghanistan from Iran to Pakistan and the other way. And that I think would bring enormous benefits to the prosperity of the people and give people who are fighting and feuding some incentives not to fight and feud because they'd see a benefit coming from stability. That's just one example, I think a very important one.
Rashid: Are you now in favor of, if there were countries willing to take on the responsibility of an expansion of ISAF outside Kabul?
Wolfowitz: We're looking very seriously at what might be done if we could get more contributions to ISAF. There are some suggestions that expanding ISAF in Kabul might be a good thing also. That's something that is being looked at.
The big obstacle remains that we're having difficulty finding someone to take over when the Turks leave at the end of their six-month period. So at the moment I would say the issue is sustaining ISAF first. Expanding it is valuable but it can't be the first priority. But I think there are some benefits that could come from using ISAF in ways outside of the capital, not necessarily as a permanent presence but as a way of providing some transitional security in places where it's needed.
Rashid: So one of the big commitments the U.S. has made is to build a new national army and you're putting a lot of money and effort into that, but one of the contradictions that I've been seeing and a lot of people have been seeing is at the same time that you're fighting a war against terrorism you are trying to raise a national army, but you're also at the moment still supporting and funding various warlords around the country who are helping the anti-al Qaeda effort. This seems to be to many Afghans a contradiction in terms.
It means that warlords are not taking this national task that you are doing seriously because they see you both -- They see the Americans are there, paying our salaries or helping us or whatever it is. And doesn't there need to be a more comprehensive strategy whereby as you raise the national army you have to play a role in reducing the power of the warlords? Demobilization, whatever.
Wolfowitz: I don't think in most parts of the country that the power of the warlords is a function of any support they get from us. Obviously there are places where we're working the local forces in pursuing our own tasks, and I assume they benefit, obviously they must benefit from that. But I think the real strength of the warlords comes from their local roots and their own regional bases. I think the keys to dealing with that are going to be on the one hand developing more strength through the Afghan National Army for the central government to control at least in limited ways what goes on. But the second thing I think has got to be over time to create the kind of economic incentives that says to warlords or regional leaders or whatever term you prefer to call them by, that if you want the benefits that come from economic assistance, then you have to cooperate in various ways, one of which probably is demobilization although it's not the only thing.
I had a rather direct conversation with [Dostam Mahakik] when I was in Mazar-e-Sharif emphasizing the importance of not fighting with other factions and the need for stability if economic assistance was going to come in. It wasn't explicitly put in terms of a deal. It's simply a fact that if the place is unstable and we aren't going to be able to liberate it I think it's a message that had a useful effect.
So there's no question in my mind that the whole country would be better off if there were fewer weapons around and less importance attached to people with armies and armed roles, but it's been 20-plus years of civil war that brought us to this condition and it's not something you can reverse by snapping your fingers, much as one would like to.
Rashid: [There is] talk about the change of U.S. strategy now in Afghanistan as far as the hunt for al Qaeda, etc., is concerned.
Can you just explain how you're seeing now the way your tactics have changed for the military, for the U.S. military.
Wolfowitz: Well you don't see any of the kinds of large concentrations of hostile forces any longer. It's small numbers here, small numbers there, although there continue to be small numbers in lots of places. I think the result is, on the military side, a matter of a lot of difficult work to root out those groups where we can find them, and clearly also those people are trying to figure out ways to kill Americans if they can by all kinds of means. So far largely unsuccessful, but we've got to continue to be careful about protecting our own forces.
I do think increasingly our focus is shifting to training the Afghan National Army, supporting ISAF, supporting reconstruction efforts, those kinds of things that contribute to long term stability, but I suspect we're going to find for some time to come people there, both some Afghans and more importantly non-Afghans who still regard us as the enemy.
Rashid: Are you concerned about al Qaeda regrouping in Pakistan and the problems that President Musharraf is faced with in Pakistan? With this new linkage that seems to be established between some of the Pakistani extremist groups and al Qaeda and the kind of safe houses and the stuff that they are giving them.
Wolfowitz: Clearly Pakistan has been one of the main places but by no means the only one, it's a long list of countries that al Qaeda elements have fled to. Pakistan is convenient in terms of those people who were in Afghanistan and also convenient because there are, unfortunately, some large numbers of extremists in Pakistan itself. So yes, we are concerned about that and we are concerned about the stability of that country over the long term. But I don't see any place, Pakistan or anywhere else, where al Qaeda has the freedom to operate that they used to have in Afghanistan and that's a big change for the better.
Rashid: There's a sense in Pakistan that the military is going to really carry out what is being called a pre-rigged election and there's going to be either possibly a crisis just before the election in October or just after in which most of the opposition is going to reject the basis of the election. Have you tried to send any messages to the military, to ensure that there is some kind of acceptable transfer of power to civilians and an acceptable election?
Many senior U.S. officials have been visiting Islamabad and I wondered if there was a kind of concern that the domestic instability in Pakistan may increase in the next few months if this election is considered to be unfair by many of the opposition, many of the political parties.
Wolfowitz: We have, as you understand very well, a very heavy agenda with Pakistan. Preventing war with India has been probably at the top of the list of the many visitors who have been going there. Deputy Secretary Armitage will be sitting there in a few days if he's not there already. Coordinating our activities in the war on terrorism is a second major priority.
Obviously we are in the long term, even the short term, have a huge stake in political stability in that country, and personally I believe that long term stability really does depend on democracy. When you try to frustrate the will of the people you have problems, but obviously also it's a situation where given the in-roads that the extremists have made in Pakistan over recent years, there's going to be a certain amount of political turbulence I think almost no matter what.
Rashid: Can I ask you a question on Indonesia -- Sorry, just one more.
We've seen U.S. damage control as far as IndoPak is concerned, Kashmir. What everyone is looking for, if there's going to be a serious U.S. commitment to, and sustained commitment towards actually moving beyond damage control to getting a dialogue going between the two countries.
You've got two very belligerent positions and two very belligerent sides at the moment. We've just seen this new speech by Musharraf and by Vajapayee on their independence days.
So are you committed to a sort of long term, helping these two countries get together?
Wolfowitz: I think we have to be but no one can underestimate the challenges of doing that. I've been in discussions of this issue between Indians and Pakistanis that sometimes make the Arab/Israeli arguments look tame by comparison. But that analogy also I think suggests that things can change over time.
I would submit if you look at the long term perspective there has been progress in dealing with that, those very difficult Arab/Israeli problems and I'm hopeful there will be further progress.
Fortunately I can say it's the State Department that really has the challenge here, and we're in a supporting role. But certainly I think our hope, the Administration is deeply aware of the significance and potential dangers in Indo-Pakistani tension in a way that probably we appreciated but not as fully before September 11th.
So we have developed interests and understanding of those interests in that whole part of the world that go beyond anything that was imagined on September 10th.
Rashid: There is a kind of perception that DoD is dominating policymaking on this, particularly on Afghanistan, on this part of the world.
Wolfowitz: Certainly that's not a perception here.
Rashid: There's a perception outside Washington and a lot of people inside Washington think that.
Wolfowitz: The perception I have is that the President is dominating policy. It's his policies and there's a lot of healthy debate that goes into formulating them, which he encourages.
But I think there's -- Even from the inside I have to tell you there's a great sense of cooperation with the State Department. I was just in Turkey accompanied by Marc Grossen the Under Secretary of State. We were constantly discussing what to do next. We were never in deep arguments. He was enormously helpful to me. That's, to me, the typical experience. But of course what makes for better journalism is when there's some degree of difference. But I would, certainly our view isn't that all those differences fall our way. I'll tell you that.
Rashid: Okay, fine.
Wolfowitz: Good. 21, 2002