Q Good evening, and welcome to Express' special edition of an interview with the Secretary of Defense from the United States, Mr. Robert Gates. Mr. Gates, thank you so much for joining us here on Express, and of course, you have -- let's start with your current meetings. I'm told that you met with the Defense Minister today and the Pakistan military high command. Have you been able to reach any kind of agreement or, like you said, meeting ground on issues that have been troubling -- (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: Actually, we've been cooperating very well and I took the occasion of the meetings in particular to congratulate the defense leadership here on the great successes of the Pakistani military and their operations in recent months and also to express our condolences to them and, through them, to the families of Pakistan soldiers who have been killed in these operations. I think that the cooperative relationship, partnership, seems to be going quite well and so we're really more focused on the way ahead.
Q All right. Well, there have been some -- you've come from India, of course, and there were some meetings that you had over there, some eyebrows were raised here in Pakistan. I want to quickly touch on two things, the bilateral logistic support agreement -- which we don't have clarity on that here in Pakistan -- and the fact that the United States is going to be -- or U.S. companies are going to be supplying military equipment to India, including C-17 transport aircraft -- (inaudible) -- so forth. Do we need to further rearm both countries at this point?
SEC. GATES: No, I don't think so and I don't think, honestly, what we're talking about is rearmament. The military sales that we have to India at this point are principally transport aircraft, C-130s, and they have expressed an interest in C-17s. Again, both cargo aircraft.
Q And about the logistic support agreement that you tried to reach. Basically, in Pakistan, we are wondering if that means that you're going to be using Indian bases for military ops. How is that going to affect us?
SEC. GATES: No, not at all. What it means is that if our ships, for example, are working together in an exercise or if they are engaged in a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief mission, that we will provide supplies for one another. It has nothing to do with bases. It has nothing insidious whatsoever to do with anything. It's really --
Q Nothing to ring warning bells here in Islamabad.
SEC. GATES: No, no. Nothing that should be of concern. It's purely a supply logistics sharing agreement for when we're engaged in joint activities.
Q All right. I'm going to stay a little bit with that context but there's been a newspaper report out of England that London and Washington are considering asking India to train the Afghan National Police, and we were wondering if there is any credibility to that and, if so, have you discussed that with Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, I told the Indians that we were appreciative of their development programs in Afghanistan, their economic and humanitarian programs in Afghanistan. And I indicated to them that I thought those were the kinds of programs at this point that did the most good.
Q So the Afghan National Police training the Afghan National Army by the Indians is not on the -- (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: I did not discuss that with them at all.
Q That did not come up. And, of course, Pakistan has been disturbed by the activities of what Pakistan says is (inaudible) activities of the Asian consulates in Afghanistan. Pakistan is nervous about that. Was that issue discussed with the Indian leadership?
SEC. GATES: I raised directly concerns that Pakistan has with potential Indian activities that might be contrary to Pakistani interests when I was in New Delhi, and I was assured that their programs are limited to these economic development programs, and Prime Minister Singh was very explicit to me in saying that either in Afghanistan or, more generally, that Pakistan has nothing to fear from India.
Q All right. And here's the disturbing thing. Of course, when you were in India you talked about al Qaeda being in Pakistan's northern area and the fact that another Mumbai-style attack on India could be really, really dangerous for the whole region, I think we all agree on that. But what I'm wondering is, was there a sense in India -- did you sense that they are also aware that any attack coming on India now would be an attack on India, Pakistan, everybody because we have a common enemy? Is there a sense in India that they do understand that?
SEC. GATES: Well, this was a theme that I basically sounded while I was in India, that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India all share a common enemy, as do we in the United States. And it is this that we call a syndicate of terrorist groups on both sides of the border -- the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Taliban here in Pakistan, al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network, all of these, so you can't say one's good and one's not good.
SEC. GATES: They're all insidious and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated.
Q And obviously it suits them to have India and Pakistan go at each other's throats again and to have their armies on Pakistan's eastern border. Is India aware that this would be playing into their hands? I mean, did you get a sense of that?
SEC. GATES: Well, I have a sense of a shared -- I came away with a view that there is a shared sense of threat, that in fact all of these countries share an enemy in common, and it is terrorism.
Q And of course India, Pakistan -- (inaudible) -- dialogue has been stalled. I know you have spoken about that. Will India at all accept third party assistance? I'm not using the word mediation -- assistance -- in helping restart that -- (inaudible) -- dialogue and would that third party be the United States?
SEC. GATES: Well, I've been involved with both of these countries for a very long time at this point, and I think one thing that has been consistent throughout the past several decades is that both Pakistan and India would prefer to deal with their bilateral problems bilaterally. I -- in my visit, as has every American probably for the last several decades -- said that if we could be of help to either side or both sides in any way, we would be willing to do that, and understand that they would prefer it to happen bilaterally.
Q All right. And I want to switch now to some domestic issues regarding Pakistan, and one of the main issues between Pakistan and the United States has, of course, been the drone program. And now I am told that the drone program entails buying new Reaper drones, the Reaper and Predator expansion program until 2013. Has there been any discomfort conveyed to you on the continuing drone program of the United States in Pakistan's tribal areas?
SEC. GATES: Well, I won't discuss operations. I will say that these unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They have a lot of capability. I have put a lot of money into the budget for them, but at the same time we are in partnership with the Pakistani military and we are working to make available to them their own intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles, both aircraft and drones.
Q So you are actually considering giving drones to the Pakistan military?
SEC. GATES: There are some tactical UAVs that we are considering, yes.
Q Is there encouraged cooperation between the Pakistan government and the U.S. government because Senator Carl Levin just a couple of weeks ago was very, very upset that he felt that the U.S. was being unfairly blamed by the Pakistani people when the program itself was under some kind of tacit acceptance by the Pakistan government.
SEC. GATES: Well, again, I'm not going to get into operations.
Q (Laughs.) All right. One, of course, important point that you told a congressional hearing last month that Islamabad retained its links with the militants because it doubted America's will to remain in the country long enough to win the war. Could you elaborate on that? What kind of links do you think Islamabad has with the militants?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that it's not exactly a secret in part because I was here as a part of that program 25 years ago that, frankly, we all had links with various groups that are now a problem for us today, and some have maintained those links longer than others. I think that -- I think what's important is the partnership that we have with Pakistan. I met with General Kayani. I met with the military leadership of the country today, and I'm very comfortable with the partnership that we have going forward in dealing with this common extremist threat.
Q But last month when you said Islamabad had links with militants, whom in Islambad -- were you referring to the government or to private or to the military? I mean, it's --
SEC. GATES: Well, I -- since we're obviously talking about intelligence sources, I'd rather not be specific.
Q Okay. But do you still believe that?
SEC. GATES: I think I would just like to leave it that I have confidence that the Pakistani government understands our concerns and understands that we face a common threat.
Q All right. Pakistan's military operation, of course, which I mentioned right at the very beginning going on right now in Pakistan's tribal areas, one of the concerns that I think we as civilians and as journalists have is that there continues to be movement for militants who are escaping the Pakistan army's operation and going into Afghanistan and Afghan militants who cross over especially from the Afghan's Kunar province and that is an area where NATO withdrew its check posts a while ago. Now is there any plan to beef up security on the Afghan side of the border, especially when you have another 30,000 troops coming in there?
SEC. GATES: Well, we certainly are interested in the porousness of that border and the movement in both directions. The reality is we have closed some of those forward posts because they were very poorly situated and tactically in a very disadvantageous position, where we were perhaps down in a valley and the Taliban held all of the high ground, and so that put our troops at risk. It doesn't mean any lessening of concern with the border situation and with the cross border traffic by these terrorists.
Q Is there any way to track the movement of these people who are moving back and forth across the border because there's two-way traffic?
SEC. GATES: Well, that's part of the role of the surveillance vehicles we've just been talking about and that we're putting more of into Afghanistan.
Q Okay. Let's talk a little bit about the relationship or what is sometimes referred to as a trust deficit between the U.S. and Pakistan which seems to be growing, and part of that is, of course, directly linked to the drone program. And there are other issues that have become contentious between the two countries in terms of the screening, for example, the electronic screening of people at American airports and so forth. Now is there a sense in the Department or administration that this is creating a lot of hostility within Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: I think there is not the feeling that this is a current or contemporary development, but rather is an outgrowth of decisions that the United States made in 1989 and in the early 1990s, in the first instance to turn our backs on Afghanistan after the Soviet troops withdrew and neglect the situation there during the 1990s and also the cut-off of military-to-military relationships because of the Pressler Amendment in the early 1990s.
I think that it is -- our perception is that if there is a trust deficit it is more a function of Pakistan's concern whether the United States is actually a long-term ally and partner for Pakistan. And one of the reasons for my visit here, as somebody who started coming here 25 years ago, is to say we know we made a mistake in 1989 and in the early 1990s and we are determined to be a reliable, long-term partner and ally for Pakistan.
Q (Off mike) -- let's say between again Pakistan and the United States. You want the Haqqani network taken out – Pakistan feels that’s not a priority. Has there been any moving closer on that issue?
SEC. GATES: We didn't discuss that. I think the positions of both sides are quite clear.
Q Okay. (Laughs.) And I do want us to talk about the fact that when you talk about Afghanistan and the Afghan -- government conference coming up in London regarding Afghanistan, Afghanistan's internal stability still seems very, very fragile at this point and President Obama's outright plan for Afghanistan, his deadlines which many fear will just make the militants to lying low and then start again once American troops leave.
SEC. GATES: Well, if I could get the Taliban to lie low for the next 18 months I think that would be a terrific victory because it would give the Afghan government and the UN and NATO and our partners the opportunity to carry out economic development, to provide security for the Afghan people. I think, frankly, it would enhance the security, but let's be clear. The timeline that the president gave was the beginning of a process, not its end.
And what he said was that he would begin the process, we would begin the process in July of 2011 of turning individual provinces or districts over to Afghans for Afghan security control. This is essentially the same process we used in Iraq, where we gradually turned over parts of the country to the national government.
There is no deadline on that, and the president has been quite clear that the pace of any U.S. withdrawals would be based on the conditions on the ground, so the notion that the United States has only 18 months to make this work or that we will only have troops in Afghanistan for 18 months is mistaken. It is the beginning of a process of drawing down that could take some period of time.
Q Has there been any discussion regarding -- with the military to aid Pakistan a repeated concern that comes up that American troops could enter Pakistani territory in hot pursuit -- boots on the ground. Key concerns of the Pakistani people. Is that likely to happen?
SEC. GATES: I think it's a legitimate concern on the part of the Pakistani people, and all I will say is that the United States is very, very mindful of Pakistan's sovereignty.
Q Okay. And talk a little bit about the domestic politics. How concerned is the U.S. administration about the domestic problems embroiling the government right now? Senator John McCain, of course, talked about the fact that President Zardari's on shaky ground after the verdict issued by the Supreme Court. Is that an issue that concerns or worries your administration?
SEC. GATES: What we support is constitutional government here in Pakistan. President Zardari is president. We have a good working relationship in the military arena with the military leadership. We certainly want to see continued adherence to constitutional processes and democracy here in Pakistan.
Q Is this something that you're likely to raise in your meetings with the political leadership? Is that of concern right now?
SEC. GATES: No. Frankly, I consider it an internal matter for Pakistan.
Q All right. And I want to talk, of course, about another issue that has come up and again -- (inaudible) -- about the foreign security companies that have been operating in Iraq, in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. Xe International, formerly known as Blackwater or Dyn Corp. Under what rules are they operating here in Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, they're operating as individual companies here in Pakistan. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, because they are theaters of war involving the United States, there are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they're contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.
Q Which were, of course, set aside by the government in Iraq.
SEC. GATES: Well, that was a long time ago.
Q Okay. But is there a separate set of rules in place right now?
SEC. GATES: I would say they are very stringent rules.
Q The Pakistan National Assembly has moved a bill trying to bring the activities of foreign security companies under scrutiny and under legislation with very strict guidelines as to what they want. (Inaudible) -- If the National Assembly passes that resolution that they're likely to then do you think that you will comply?
SEC. GATES: Of course we'll comply.
Q You will comply with those rules?
SEC. GATES: If it's Pakistani law, we will absolutely comply.
Q All right. So where do you think this whole problem that keeps coming up about repeated denials and repeated problems that come up with the American government and the Pakistani government and creates a lot of confusion on the ground. How can that be cleared up?
SEC. GATES: Are you speaking with respect to contractors?
Q I'm talking about the contractors; I'm talking about the various conspiracy theories that actually take on the hue or the coloring of being real because we don't get a formal statement in this regard from the American government.
SEC. GATES: Well, we hear some of these rumors and I'll address them directly. We have no intention or desire to take over any of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. We have no desire to occupy any part of Pakistan or split up any part of Pakistan. We have no intent to split the Islamic world, and I can keep going because we're aware of these conspiracy theories as much as anyone. And they're all nonsense.
Q About the reports -- we keep hearing about a special Delta force or a special military force that has been deployed and that it almost came into the -- (inaudible) -- and American journalists wrote this report that was coming in to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons and were recalled at the last minute. Now, when these kind of press reports come out from very well known American journalists -- and obviously -- (inaudible) -- here on the ground.
SEC. GATES: Well, you know, we sometimes have journalistic reports in the United States that aren't terribly accurate either. You can't respond to all of them. I think that one was not true.
Q Any contingency plans on securing Pakistan's nuclear weapons in case of emergency?
SEC. GATES: We are very comfortable with the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Q And you're confident about the command and control of the entire system in that regard? And talking about intelligence sharing, Pakistan has been, of course, concerned that actionable intelligence is not shared as quickly as it could be, according to the Pakistani government. Is there any effort to improve intelligence sharing?
SEC. GATES: Yes. There are a number of measures underway, in fact, to improve intelligence sharing and to make it more timely.
Q All right. And again, I'm going to scoot back to that original issue which is that the fears that Pakistan still has links with the militants, which was a question I asked you earlier. How does that impact on intelligence sharing? I mean, I know that that becomes a big gray area. How do you get around that?
SEC. GATES: Well, the intelligence sharing that is going on principally is focused on helping the Pakistani troops in their efforts in South Waziristan, in Swat in their combat efforts. The United States military is primarily involved in the sharing of military information with the Pakistani army.
Q Where do you believe Osama bin Laden is?
SEC. GATES: I have no idea. If I knew where he was, he wouldn't be there any longer.
Q (Laughs.) Well, Mr. Gates, Mr. Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, thank you so much for joining us.
SEC. GATES: You're welcome.