MS. CHAUDHRY: Good evening viewers. I'm Maureen Chaudhry, and I'm bringing you a special interview set against the backdrop of Pak-U.S. relations. Our guest today is visiting U.S. Defense Secretary, Mr. Robert Gates.
Now, Mr. Robert Gates is one of those individuals who was selected at his post with bipartisan consensus -- which is a rare occurrence -- and in an even rarer instance, he was asked to stay on his job after the administration changed. Now, that's a testament to his experience and his expertise at his job.
So, Mr. Gates, pleasure to have you in Pakistan.
SEC. GATES: Thank you.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Well, it's an opportunity to have you here because we'd like to start by some questions on Afghanistan. Firstly, I would like to ask you, how do you see the development shaping up on the Afghan horizon, with the troop surge on one hand and then you also have some very bold attacks coming from the Taliban this month as a sort of retaliation?
SEC. GATES: Well, there was never any question in our minds that as the fight got tougher, that the Taliban would react. They are adaptive, they're clever, and these kinds of spectacular suicide attempts that we've seen are tragic, but not unanticipated. And as we have warned, as we take the fight to the Taliban, our own casualties are likely to increase as well.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Do you think their response is coming very quickly though?
SEC. GATES: No, they have known for quite some time, after all the president put an additional 20-some-thousand troops into Afghanistan last year, they've been there since last July. So the notion that increased U.S. forces and allied forces, I would say, were coming has not exactly been a surprise.
MS. CHAUDHRY: So how would you describe it? What is your assessment of the Taliban capabilities at this juncture?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think they are a very tough adversary. I think General McChrystal would characterize the situation as serious. By the same token, we are convinced that we have an outstanding strategy on the part of the president, that General McChrystal has an outstanding campaign plan, and that we have the right leader and the right troops soon to be in place to be successful in this conflict.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. Now while we speak of Afghanistan, I'm going to quote you. You said recently that reconciliation has to be a part of the ultimate conclusion here, just as it was in Iraq. And our question is, while we speak of reconciliation in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been insisting for a long time that the Pashtun population should be given adequate political representation in any Afghan set up. And that's been a consistent demand, but 10 years down the line we don't really see the Pashtun population being given a valid political space in the Afghan set up. What do you say about that?
SEC. GATES: Well, I would say, first of all, that the president of Afghanistan is Pashtun.
MS. CHAUDHRY: I knew you would say that. (Laughter.) But that doesn't make up for it, does it?
SEC. GATES: And in fact, there are a number of Pashtuns in the government.
MS. CHAUDHRY: It's not really representative of the entire population, though.
SEC. GATES: No, it's hard for one person to be representative, but he is the elected president, so he is as representative as anybody in the country, let's put it that way.
But reconciliation and reintegration are really two different things. Reintegration is really focused at the lower-level Taliban, many of whom fight for money or to protect their families. And if we can offer them a job, if we can offer security for their families, we believe that a number of these fighters can be reintegrated.
Reconciliation tends to apply to the senior-most members of the Taliban. I think that for some of them to consider reconciliation on Afghan government terms, they will have to see that the momentum of the conflict has changed against them.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Well, I'll ask about the Pashtun population, not just the Taliban leadership or the lower-grade workers or the inductees, because Pakistan feels that unless the Pashtuns are given adequate political representation, the Pashtun belt on both sides of the border is going to mean an upheaval. So, what moves should be made on that front?
SEC. GATES: I don't think that you can have stability in Afghanistan long term unless all of the elements of the Pakistani population feel fairly represented, and that includes the Pashtun.
MS. CHAUDHRY: All right. Now, we know that fresh efforts have been made by the United States to consult Pakistan more on the war on terror and also to cement the relationship which already exists between Pakistan and the United States, and mostly these gestures are being viewed to be genuine.
But at the same time, there's a lot of puzzlement in Pakistani quarters at the encouragement that the United States is giving to India on its role in Afghanistan. And there's a lot of discomfort on the Pakistani side because they don't feel very comfortable with a country with which they have had a very hostile relationship to be given such a strong stake in Afghanistan.
SEC. GATES: What I have welcomed and what most nations welcome is the economic and development assistance that India has provided to Afghanistan. I think what's important is that over the long term both India and Pakistan have a strong relationship with Afghanistan.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Well, why is it important for India also to have such a strong stake in Afghanistan, because it's Pakistan that shares a border with Afghanistan? Now clearly, the Pakistani state doesn't share the conviction that India is going to be neutral in Afghanistan, and history tells us that India in fact has not been neutral, it's been supporting certain cliques and factions in Afghanistan, which have been hostile towards Pakistan.
SEC. GATES: Well, again, I think if they're providing development assistance -- you have 44 nations in Afghanistan working right now. You have -- shortly will have 100,000 American troops. I think at this stage to worry about India having predominant influence is exaggerated, as far as I'm concerned.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Respectfully, if Pakistan is an ally and the United States is seeking a closer relationship with Pakistan, then shouldn't such reservations on the part of the Pakistani state be given more importance?
SEC. GATES: We very much pay attention to Pakistan's reservations, and when I was in India I did not ask them for military trainers and military units.
MS. CHAUDHRY: But did you talk about expanding the contact we've been having -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan --
SEC. GATES: Our focus was principally on economic development.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. Now, I'm going to quote you again. While in India, you said that it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited in case of another attack. And I'm going to ask you why you think that it wouldn't be unreasonable if such a response from India comes or such retaliation comes in the form of an attack on Pakistani soil.
And the reason I ask you that is because the region is already under attack. Pakistan has daily attacks going on in this country. And you yourself have said that al Qaeda is planning an attack in the region to trigger hostilities between India and Pakistan. So why would you say that it would not be an unreasonable response on the part of the Indians?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I believe that after the tragic attack on Mumbai that India was restrained in its response. But no country, including the United States, is going to stand idly by if it's being attacked by somebody.
I think the key thing, though, is to focus on India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and others working together to make sure that no such attack ever takes place.
MS. CHAUDHRY: But tell me, Mr. Gates, if India is seeking to involve itself more in Afghanistan, be it in a peaceful capacity, doesn't that open it up more to possibilities of such attacks? Because as we have seen, anybody who has a stake in Afghanistan or anybody who's playing a larger role in Afghanistan ultimately faces a lashback.
SEC. GATES: Well, the reality is, there are countries and organizations active in Afghanistan that have not been attacked.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Their role was probably minimal then.
SEC. GATES: Well, that depends. I think that -- I think, again, the focus just needs to be on all of the countries here in the region, working together to make sure that the opportunity for such attacks doesn't take place.
MS. CHAUDHRY: All right. So let's just suppose that such an unfortunate attack does take place in India, and it's not very clear who the trigger was, whether it was al Qaeda or whether it was some kind of non-state actor. What do you see happening in that eventuality?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't want to talk about a hypothetical. I think the key is to make sure that no such attack takes place.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. Do you think Pakistan faces legitimate security concerns on its eastern borders?
SEC. GATES: I think that Pakistan has legitimate security concerns. I think that we are interested in listening to those and working with Pakistan to deal with those. Our primary concern, though, is that issues between states, especially here in this region, be settled peacefully and politically.
MS. CHAUDHRY: So the Indian general has recently issued some statements which were very provocative towards Pakistan. He talked of starting a war simultaneously against Pakistan and China, finishing it off in 96 hours. There was no talk of any trigger or any provocation for that war. So in view of such explicit statements coming out and in the view of the history where we see two recent mobilizations by the Indian army against the Pakistani border, how can Pakistan commit itself for a greater role on its western borders?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think, first of all, because it faces, in its own way, a existential threat on its western border.
MS. CHAUDHRY: But not on its eastern border?
SEC. GATES: I said we understood Pakistan's legitimate concerns. It also has an existential threat on its western border, and that is the more immediate threat. That is the threat where people have put suicide bombers in Pakistan cities, have killed Pakistani military officers and their families. This is the threat that faces Pakistan most immediately, and that's the reason why I think, very intelligently, Pakistani leadership has taken action to prevent those kind of attacks from happening.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Now undoubtedly, the Pakistani army is engaged on its western borders because, as you say, Pakistan is facing an existential threat from that side. And it's acting against the militants, but it's acting in a certain place which suits itself. Is the United States seeking an escalation on the current pace of operations that are going on?
SEC. GATES: First of all, we admire what the Pakistani army has done. And it has moved, I think importantly, to deal with the threats that it faces in the west. The United States is prepared to help if we can, but it's clear that the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government, being sovereign, will make their own decision about the pacing and the timing of what they do.
In that context, we are prepared to provide whatever help they want that will make them more effective.
MS. CHAUDHRY: All right. And if the Pakistani army has reservations about escalating its operations on the western side because of recent border skirmishes that are taking place on its eastern border with India in which a Pakistani soldier just got killed, wouldn't you say that that's an inopportune time for such activities to be taking place on the Pakistan border with India and that such provocation should be held back in view of the conflict that the whole region is facing?
SEC. GATES: Well, in terms of the deployment of Pakistani soldiers, I leave that to the judgment of the Pakistani leadership.
MS. CHAUDHRY: So what guarantees would be there for Pakistan in case it faces a two-way threat that a lot of analysts are talking about and which undermines its participation in the whole war on terror that it's essentially facing -- (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: I have seen no evidence that events at this point on the eastern border undermine or threaten Pakistan's operations on the western border.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Even the current skirmishes that have been taking place on the Pakistani border?
SEC. GATES: I think they pale by comparison with what's going on in the west.
MS. CHAUDHRY: All right. Now, a bit about the United States. It's been one year to President Obama's term. And we would like to ask you what you see his world vision as shaping up for the rest of his presidency.
SEC. GATES: Well, his strategy is clear with respect to Afghanistan. He is prepared to put significant additional U.S. forces in. Our allies, following his lead, are prepared to add even more forces. There is a significant additional civilian component that is coming in in terms of governance and development. And it's clearly the president's intent that beginning in July of 2011 that Afghanistan would begin to take responsibility for more of its own country in terms of security. They already are responsible for security in the Kabul area.
MS. CHAUDHRY: But what type of --
SEC. GATES: And so we believe -- the president believes that over a period of time, beginning in 2011, that the Afghans will have the capability to do this. But where it takes place and the pace at which it takes place will depend on the conditions on the ground.
MS. CHAUDHRY: And do you see a timeline on how this thing plays up? How soon do you think the Afghans will be able to take control, take reins of their own governance?
SEC. GATES: I think, based on what we've already seen, as I say, they already have responsibility for security in the Kabul area, and we're talking about individual districts, individual provinces. And I think certainly not later than July of 2011, they will begin to be in a position to assume security control in other areas.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. And now speaking of July 2011, every war has a political timeline. And with the surge policy, an exit was already announced, which would start in 2011. If the political restraints on the domestic politics in the United States build up, what kind of a constrain would that put on the timeline which has been followed in Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: I see no reason that the beginning of the process that the president outlined could not take place as he decided and that a responsible drawdown after that time, again based on conditions on the ground, could not take place.
MS. CHAUDHRY: So the domestic agenda in the United States you feel would not affect the international effort on the war in Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: I think that there is broad bipartisan support for the effort, in the United States, for the effort the president is making in Afghanistan.
MS. CHAUDHRY: What about the population of the United States?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that's the basis of the bipartisan support.
MS. CHAUDHRY: What about the calls that are coming in one year through because there was a seat that was being contested in Massachusetts, and it's traditionally favoring the -- (inaudible) -- but apparently the whole race up to that has been very cutthroat, and some people say that's indicting of current policy.
SEC. GATES: I haven't watched very carefully, but I don't think Afghanistan was ever an issue in that race.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. All right. Another question on the Pakistani side is, because there have been a lot of attacks in Pakistan, and the militants are getting their arms and their funding from somewhere. Now obviously, that's not from the Pakistani -- (inaudible) -- because the Pakistani government would not be arming militants to attack itself. Where do you think this funding is coming from? And where do you think this chain of arms supplies is being tied to?
SEC. GATES: Well, this goes back to my earlier comments with respect to both al Qaeda and the Taliban on both sides of the border. We think that the Taliban gets some of their money from illegal narcotics. We think they get some of their money from stealing and from kidnappings. And they also get some money from the Middle East.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Who do you think is supplying the Pakistani Taliban with such a huge cache of arms?
SEC. GATES: Well, my impression from 25 years ago is that there's no shortage of arms in the border area.
MS. CHAUDHRY: And you think that it is relatively new, or you would say it's still --
SEC. GATES: Again, it may be taken from dead soldiers. I don't know.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. All right. Now, you've also talked about you've supported the Afghan reconciliation project that the Karzai government is starting, which would be supporting lower-level Taliban inductees to come back to a regular mainstream life where they would be supporting them on education and income. I'd like to ask you, how permanent do you think the results of this reconciliation project would be unless the underlying grievances, which caused these people to become inductees in the first place, are not resolved?
SEC. GATES: There is no question that without political reconciliation, without different tribes and ethnic groups being given their fair share of representation and power in the country, and without economic development, that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan will be difficult to achieve. Those are clearly the goals that everyone associated with this effort have in common.
MS. CHAUDHRY: What do you see is the underlying cause of so many grievances? What do you see is the primary cause why the Taliban had such success in recruiting from the Afghan population?
SEC. GATES: Well, for one thing, this is a country that's been at war for 30 years. And I think that you had conflicts between the warlords. You had a population that fundamentally has been at war and has had no economic development and so on for a long time. And so I think that it's not surprising that, in their desperation, some people would turn to the Taliban. I think that there are concerns about corruption, there are concerns about, in the past, a lack of democracy. I think those issues are being addressed, as is economic development.
And as I said, we think a fair number of the Taliban fighters fight simply for a paycheck or because they're intimidated into doing so for fear that their families will be killed.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Now, Mr. Gates, again, I would like to ask you, once the Soviets left Afghanistan, there was a decade-long warfare which ensued between different tribes and ethnicities, and that really didn't have much to do with the fact that, you know, they were being funded by certain organizations or not. It was because a political balance in Afghanistan was not achieved.
In view of the exit announcement which has been given for July 2011, do you see such a political balance forming by then?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that we certainly are seeing progress toward that. We've now had two successful presidential elections in Afghanistan. There will be parliamentary elections. I think people are beginning to see a political process work.
But by the same token, the international community is not going to leave Afghanistan in July 2011. There will still be many soldiers there. There will still be many civilian workers trying to help the Afghans develop their economy, develop governance and deal with the problems that they have.
I think one of the lessons that was learned after the Soviets left Afghanistan, on the part of the international community, was that it was a mistake to neglect Afghanistan. I don't think that will happen again.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Speaking of neglect, one of the festering issues in South Asia is Kashmir. And a lot of analysts feel that if Kashmir was resolved or if some move was made to resolve Kashmir in a very serious manner, that would help take down tensions in this region a lot.
Why is there no international mediation on that front? And why is no concerted movement made to placate at least one big source of discontent in this region?
SEC. GATES: My impression is, going back quite some time, that both of the parties involved would rather deal with the issue on their own and not have outside interventions.
MS. CHAUDHRY: Okay. Would you say the Pakistani government does not want intervention on the Kashmiri cause?
SEC. GATES: I think both sides would like to handle the issue bilaterally.
MS. CHAUDHRY: All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Gates. It was great talking to you. And yet tons more questions, but we are short of time.
Thank you for watching, viewers. Mr. Gates in his article today mentioned that Pakistan and the United States are not merely allies and partners, but they are friends. So this was an effort to garner further clarity and understanding between two nations which are friends at the end of the day.
With that, we hope some of the questions that were on your mind were answered today. We bid you goodbye, enjoy your evening and have a great weekend.
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