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Press Roundtable with Secretary Gates and Pakistani Print Press

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
January 22, 2010

                 STAFF:  So let's have Connie (sp) come in and make sure they have a chance to ask some questions, and then if time permits, we have a couple from our traveling press, if you all would indulge us.  Okay?  So let's get to it. 


                Q     Great.  So maybe you can just speak about your meetings that you have had so far.  And a follow-up to that will be some detailed response to what you said for Pakistan television yesterday about thinking of giving Pakistan more technology. 


                SEC. GATES:  I met with the minister of Defense, with General Kayani and his staff.  The chief of the general staff -- joint staff -- hosted a lunch with the head of the Navy and the Air Force as well as General Kayani.  And then met with the prime minister and then met with President Zardari and had a very nice dinner. 


                We are trying to do everything we can to assist Pakistan in the fight in the west.  One of the things that our Congress has done is pass a Pakistan counterinsurgency fund, that is about a billion dollars, that gives us the flexibility to spend money quickly in support of training or equipment that the Pakistani army and armed services need to deal with the extremists that they're fighting. 


                Part of what we have been working with the Pakistani military on for more than a year is enhancing their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. 


                We share a lot of information that we acquire on the Afghan side of the border, and from our satellites, but we also are trying to help the Pakistanis build their own capability.  And to this end, we have provided things like King Air 350 aircraft, and we have agreed to provide the tactical UAV we call the Shadow to Pakistan.  We also will provide the equipment and the training that allows them to coordinate these different platforms and be able to get the maximum possible value out of it.   


                Q     Sir, I know you spoke about the Coalition Support Fund.  Pakistan is, you know, still expecting some $2 billion of Coalition Support Fund -- (off mike).  So what are you doing to expedite  -- (off mike)?   


                SEC. GATES:  Well, it will come as no surprise that we discussed that yesterday.  We are currently reviewing about $500 million in deferred reimbursements.  The -- and we -- and we still have others from 2009 to review. 


                Part of the -- part of what has happened here is that in 2008, there was a report by our General Accounting Office -- which is sort of the congressional watchdog on how money gets spent -- criticizing the procedures and the lack of documentation in making Coalition Support Fund reimbursements.  So what we've been trying to do is work with our Pakistani friends in terms of the documentation, in terms of making sure it's consistent, in terms of making sure it's complete, because that then will cut down on the time that it takes to evaluate the request for reimbursement, and will, frankly, provide us with the documentation that we require in order to show the Congress that the money was spent for the intended purpose.   


                The -- so we're working on it.  Frankly, some of the people that we are adding -- seeking to add to the embassy staff are those who will help in the training of the Pakistanis in this arena, and also in the processing. 


                Q     (Off mike) -- he is concerned of new screening policy of U.S.  Did you assure Pakistani government -- (off mike)? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I -- this is really more -- this is not in my area of responsibility.  And I -- my impression is that I think the secretary of Homeland Security is going to be visiting Pakistan in the not-too-distant future.  And, as you know, we continue to deal with -- and she would be better able to answer those questions than I am. 


                I will say this, though:  Pakistan certainly has not been singled out.  There are a number of countries that are getting extra screening.  And frankly, it is because we have encountered individuals coming to the United States such as the person on Christmas Day who tried to blow up an airliner that was about ready to land in Detroit. And tracing the travels of these individuals has led our security officials to say, when these people are coming from one or another of these countries, we just need to take a closer look at them. 


                Everybody understands it's an -- it's an inconvenience for all of the 99.9 percent of completely innocent people who have nothing on their minds but visiting or doing business.  But until we can work out better procedures, I think this is the approach that my colleagues have chosen to take. 


                Q     Did you discuss the issue of Pakistan-India relations?  And have you succeeded to reduce some of Pakistan's concerns about India in Afghanistan?  And any good news about the resumption of Pak-India dialogue? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I simply reported, particularly in my -- in my meetings yesterday, that I had talked about the mutual concerns on the part of both India and Pakistan with the activities of each in Afghanistan.  I welcome the significant development dollars that India is providing.  I said that Pakistan obviously has suspicions of what is going on in -- that -- what India is doing in Afghanistan.   


                The Indians clearly have suspicions with respect to what Pakistan is doing.   


                And I simply suggested that I thought the best remedy for this was, in their back channel discussions, for there to be a complete transparency on the part of both countries, in terms of what they're doing.   


                I didn't -- I didn't ask the Indians to provide trainers or military people or anything.  I simply complimented them on the effectiveness of their development programs.   


                (Cross talk.)   


                Q     You said, you know, before coming here that a new world between Pakistan and India can’t start if there’s another Mumbai-like attack.  And you're fearing another one.   


                So sir, don't you think that by linking terrorism to this problem of -- by linking -- (inaudible) -- resumption of peace dialogue to terrorism, India is holding -- is giving an encouragement to the terrorists?   


                (Inaudible) you highlighted that.   


                SEC. GATES:  I think -- I think that the last thing the Indians would do would be to invite an attack on themselves.   


                I think that what I was -- what I was trying to explain was that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the United States all have a common enemy.  And that common enemy's primary objective is to destabilize this region.  And there are a number of avenues they can pursue.   


                One of them that they have pursued aggressively over the past year or so is to try and destabilize Pakistan itself with attacks on your military, on mosques, on innocent children and innocent citizens.  


                So what I was simply trying to underscore is, we have a regional problem here.  We have -- it's going to take a regional level of cooperation to be able to deal with that threat, so that -- so that al Qaeda and the others don't try and take advantage of opportunities to destabilize.   


                (Cross talk.)   


                Q     We already have a problem with India.  We both have a problem on that.  And that keeps us -- (inaudible) -- on our eastern borders.  Now this Afghanistan issue has come up, where Pakistan and India are having a problem inside Afghanistan.   


                So how do you view Pakistan's concentration on this war against militancy -- as you said, it's also affecting us -- when new issues are cropping up and the old ones haven't been put aside as yet? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I had some long experience with this.  The first President Bush, George H.W. Bush, sent me to Islamabad and to New Delhi in the spring of 1990 because of our concerns about growing tensions between the two countries.  We made some suggestions for mutual confidence-building measures.  But ever since that time and before, both parties have made clear that they don't want outside intervention and that they wish to deal with this issue on a bilateral basis. 


                We are comfortable with that.  And I simply have told both sides, if there is a constructive role the United States can play along in here, that both sides would welcome, we are clearly prepared to do that.  But we also defer to the wishes of the parties that they wish to deal with these issues bilaterally. 


                Q     But do you recognize that when you speak of militants planning attack on India -- don't you realize that the core issue, the root cause, that is Kashmir, that still has to be resolved?  And since both countries, if they are not agreeing, can the U.S. play a role and insist that it is resolved? 


                SEC. GATES:  I don't think that -- first of all, there are many agendas at work here.  And I don't think al Qaeda cares about Kashmir. What al Qaeda cares about is creating problems and provoking conflict.  


                So I think that to the degree Kashmir is an issue, again, that is an issue for the two sides, for India and Pakistan to address.  But they need to know that there are people out there that contemplate taking advantage of their tensions to create greater tensions in the region, and that's what we all have to work together to fight against. 


                Q     Pakistan has made clear that it will take at least one year to launch any fresh attack.  Do you think that it would affect somewhat seriously the overall efforts against the war on terror? 


                SEC. GATES:  First of all, let me just say that the United States has been deeply impressed with the military operations by the Pakistani military in the west, the level of activity, the focus on avoiding civilian casualties, but the effectiveness at clearing some of these areas, from Buner to Swat, South Waziristan and so on has -- has been very impressive. 


                I think that we have to -- Pakistan is a sovereign state, and they will -- Pakistani leadership will make its own decisions about what the best timing for their military operations is, about when they are ready to do something or whether they are going to do it at all.   


                And given the level of their performance over the past year, which has been so extraordinary -- the way I like to express it is, we're in this car together, but the Pakistanis are in the driver's seat and have their foot on the accelerator.  And that's just fine with me; that's the way it probably should be.  And if we can be helpful, we are prepared to be helpful. 


                And I -- and I -- one other thing that I mentioned in all of my meetings yesterday was simply to express condolences to Pakistan and to the families of the nearly 3,000 Pakistani soldiers who have been killed in this conflict.  General Kayani gave me a very impressive, very detailed briefing on the level of activity of the Pakistani military over the course of the current campaign, and not only the achievements, but the losses as well. 


                Q     Also, you spoke about this regional cooperation to solve this problem between India and Pakistan, and overall the terrorism issue.  So do you foresee a formal role for India in Afghanistan, General (inaudible) suggested that -- India has proposed to be included in a -- in some regional council that is being set up as an outcome of London conference? 


                SEC. GATES:  I'm not aware of that, but you know, India has a fairly significant development program.  They're building roads.  I think they're buying large numbers of schoolchildren lunches.  I think these are the kinds of activities everyone should welcome.  But in terms of what comes out of the London conference, frankly, I haven't seen anything. 


                Q     Are you confident that within 18 months, the time period set by the president, you would be able to achieve your objective in Afghanistan? 


                And if you're unable to achieve, (inaudible), you would continue to stay in Afghanistan? 


                SEC. GATES:  I think that the most important thing to understand is that July 2011 is the beginning of a process.  It is similar to the process that we used in Iraq, where we would turn over a given province or district to provincial Iraqi control when their forces had reached a level of capability to be able to deal with that, and also when the threat had been reduced significantly.  That is the same process we will use in Afghanistan.   


                And what the president has said is, he expects that we will be in a position to begin turning over certain districts and provinces in Afghanistan to provincial or district Afghan control beginning in July of 2011.  There is no end date on that.  And the -- and the turnover of control to the Afghans will be based on conditions on the ground.   


                And so we don't -- we don't want to have to refight for territory we've already had to fight for once.  And so we want to make sure, when it's turned over to the Afghans, it stays in Afghan hands. 


                But this is a gradual process, and there will soon be 100,000 American troops and 50,000 troops from 43 other countries around the world in Afghanistan.  No one should expect to see them all start to head for the exits on -- in July of 2011.  There will be a substantial presence, in my view, well beyond that period of time. 


                Q     Mr. --  


                Q     Okay. 


                Q     -- Excellency, Pakistan military has -- (inaudible) -- new Afghan policy of U.S. and additional 30,000 troops you are adding in Afghanistan, and Pakistan military has a point of view that, if you will, that these troops, the militants came across, and they have come from Pakistan, especially the -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan military regiments going on.  (Inaudible) -- comment? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, this simply, I think, puts a premium on continued and enhanced cooperation between General McChrystal and the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] command and the Pakistani military, who are fighting on the other side of the border. 


                They have a common interest in not allowing these extremists to be able to squeeze through either one of their lines.   


                So I think that it is -- there has been a good start in terms of coordination.  And I think that that kind of coordination can and should improve in the future.  It will help mitigate this problem.   


                Q     (Inaudible) -- currently in Afghanistan and they're fomenting problems in Pakistan, in Baluchistan province.   


                Have you discussed with General Kayani and other military officers and leaders about taking some action against or expelling them from Afghanistan, so that the problem in Baluchistan -- (inaudible)?   


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the key here is coordination between the two sides and understanding that dividing these different extremist groups into individual pockets, if you will, in my view, is a mistaken way to look at the challenge we all face.   


                Al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network -- this is a syndicate of terrorists that work together.  And when one succeeds, they all benefit.  And they share ideas.   


                They share planning.  They're not -- they don't operationally coordinate their activities, as best I can tell.  But they are in very close contact.  They take inspiration from one another.  They take ideas from one another.  And they have to be dealt with as a group.   


                And there is no such thing as some of those extremist groups being good and some of those extremist groups being bad.  They're all bad.  They all represent a cancer that eats at the stability of this region.  And that's why we have to work together, to take them all down.   


                (Cross talk.)   


                Q     (Inaudible) -- conditions attached -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan?  And exactly if you can, give us -- (inaudible) -- how deeply they can penetrate inside Pakistan.  (Inaudible.)   


                SEC. GATES:  Well --  


                Q     Because you're giving it now to a government.  (Inaudible.) But are there fears that when there's a military government -- (inaudible) -- establishment.   


                Are there any conditions of how they'd be used, or not? 


                And number two, on the drones, if you could also update us that there is, you know -- (inaudible) -- that Pakistan does not want these drone attacks to go on and they are going on.  So are there any assurance given they will stop in the future? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I'm not going to talk about operations.  And I would have to tell you that in telling you that we have decided to provide the Shadows, that I have just told you everything I know about it.  And so in terms of what specific conditions or terms, frankly, I don't know.  And it may be that the folks here at the embassy or in the Pakistani military could describe those for you.  I just don't know. 


                Q     Do you consider Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single theater of war against terror? 


                SEC. GATES:  I think we have to see that these groups operate interchangeably across the border.  And I know that there are sensitivities in terms of characterizing both countries as a single theater of war. 


                I would say -- I guess the way I would frame it is that I believe each country faces its own challenges with these extremists, and we're all better off the better we can cooperate in dealing with that challenge. 


                Q     Do you think the present political government is capable to deal with all its  (inaudible)? 


                SEC. GATES:  We certainly -- when I look at the operations that have taken place over the past year or so, we have to be comfortable, we have to have confidence in the capabilities of the government and the Pakistani military simply because of the effectiveness of the operations that have taken place. 


                Q     So just a while ago you said that -- 


                SEC. GATES:  He hasn't had a question yet. 


                Q     Okay. 


                Q     (Inaudible) -- about the conditions attached with the Kerry-Lugar.  Did General Kayani discuss it to you? 


                SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry, I didn't get hear that. 


                Q     (Off mike) -- expressed his concern about the Kerry- Lugar -- conditions in the Kerry-Lugar bill.  Did General Kayani discuss it with you? 


                SEC. GATES:  No one discussed that with me.  No one discussed Kerry -- 


                Q     No one? 


                SEC. GATES:  No -- discussed Kerry-Lugar-Berman with me. 


                Q     Yeah, you just -- (inaudible) -- you spoke about -- said -- you said that India -- Pakistan-India -- (inaudible) -- need to be transparent so that the suspicions would be addressed.  Are there any back-channel -- (inaudible) -- between India and Pakistan -- (inaudible)?  Because there are no formal talks going on between the two countries.  They hardly have -- (chuckles) -- diplomatic presence -- 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, if there were -- if there -- if there were -- if there were back-channel discussions going on -- 


                Q     Well, you -- 


                SEC. GATES:  -- that -- I probably wouldn't know about it.  What I said was that, if there are back-channel discussions, one useful subject would be to have a transparent exchange of information on what each country is doing in Afghanistan. 


                Q     Politically, on the -- 


                Q     So -- (inaudible) -- most of the problems in Afghanistan are because of -- (inaudible) -- the demography, the demography in Afghanistan.  How much is it true?  (Questions ?) are being ignored and -- 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think -- I think the principal problem in Afghanistan is 30 years of war, after -- the period in Afghanistan from roughly 1934 until the mid-1970s was a relatively peaceful and prosperous period for Afghanistan.  It exported agricultural goods. There was a relationship between the king and Kabul and provincial leaders and warlords.  And it was when, frankly, the Soviet Union began to meddle in the affairs of Afghanistan, worried that their surrogate was about to lose power or throw it away, and then invaded Afghanistan, I think that was the start of, at least in modern times, Afghanistan's troubles.  It was the result of outside interference and 120,000 Soviet soldiers. 


                People say, well, what's different now?  What's different is, the International Security Assistance Force first of all has a U.N. mandate. 


                It has a mandate from the NATO alliance.  It's there at the invitation of the Afghan government.  It has not killed a million Afghan citizens, as the Soviets did.  It has not made refugees of 5 million Afghan citizens.  And you have dozens and dozens of nations and nongovernmental organizations all working to try and help Afghanistan.  


                So after 10 years of occupation by the Soviets, 10 years of internal conflict and civil war in which the Taliban came out on top and imposed draconian measures on their own people, you now have an Afghanistan that has had two presidential elections and has a broad range of international support in trying to put them on their feet, to protect them against al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban, and to give the Afghan people a life.   


                And the statistics in terms of children going to school, in terms of improvement in the health care, improvement of paved roads and so on, there's a long way to go in Afghanistan, but much has been achieved since 2002.  We still have significant challenges in front of us, but I think that's how we got to where we are in Afghanistan, and I think any stable Afghanistan clearly is going to have -- where -- have each of the ethnic and tribal groups feel that it is fairly represented in the government. 


                Q     So can you explain the level of cooperation between the two countries in the drone strikes? 


                SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry? 


                Q     The level of cooperation that -- Pakistan, United States in the drone strikes that are inside -- 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I said I wasn't going to talk about operations.  I would just say that we are very mindful of Pakistani sovereignty, and we look forward to continuing to build on our cooperative relationship with the Pakistani military. 


                Q     The civilian government is quite rocky at this time -- (inaudible) -- Islamabad.  How do you see the future when we are in the midst of this fight against militancy?  Will it have an effect on that? 


                Q     Do you consider -- do you think that -- 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I should be asking you that question.   


                Q     No, but you've talked to the prime minister, the president, General Kayani, so what -- (inaudible)? 


                SEC. GATES:  We clearly -- we -- in none of my discussions did we talk about internal Pakistani political matters.   


                Q     But how do you -- how do you view that?  I mean, you have a view, an official view? 


                SEC. GATES:  We have a -- we have a constitutional government -- a constitutional, democratic government in Pakistan.  That's what we think we need -- Pakistan continues to need: a constitutional, legitimate government.   


                Q     Excellency, do you have some specific information, intelligence information, regarding Osama bin Laden?  (Inaudible.)   


                SEC. GATES:  I wish I had that information.  (Laughter.)   


                Q     There were reports that U.S. -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan's nuclear weapons, if there is some problem.  (Inaudible.)   


                SEC. GATES:  I spoke last night on television.  I've spoken with General Kayani.  And I've spoken with the political leadership.  There are many wild rumors out there about the United States.  There is no truth to any of them.   


                We have no desire to take control of any of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.  We are comfortable with the level of security of those weapons.  We do not covet a single inch of Pakistani territory.  We are not bringing in 1,000 Marines to try and take over one thing or another.  We are not trying to divide Pakistan.   


                All of these things are complete and utter nonsense.   


                Q     The how come, Mr. Gates, these stories come every week from Washington?  We don't create them in Pakistan.  It's from the American media that we pick up most of the stories.   


                SEC. GATES:  Well --  


                Q     (Inaudible.)  We have great respect for the American media. (Inaudible.)  Every week, there's a new story.   


                (Cross talk, laughter.)   


                SEC. GATES:  And I probably contributed yesterday.   


                All I can tell you is, I don't follow every contractor the Department of Defense has around the world.  I can tell you subsequent to the question I got last night, the Department of Defense does not use Blackwater in Pakistan.   


                We have no connection with Blackwater here in Pakistan.  I don't know where these stories come from.  (Laughter.)  I mean, the fiction writers are working overtime.   


                Q     Okay.   


                Q     Sir, before embarking on this regional trip, you said the reconciliation of the Taliban was unlikely.  (Inaudible.)   


                So can we assume that U.S. won't support any reconciliation efforts?   


                SEC. GATES:  No, not at all.  And, in fact, the Afghan government is in the process, as I understand it, of developing their own reconciliation plan.   


                We divide -- we divide this process into two categories: reintegration and reconciliation.  Reintegration is really about lower-level Taliban coming back into their communities, accepting the sovereignty of the government and working within their communities. In many instances, we believe that Taliban footsoldiers fight for the Taliban for money or because their families have been intimidated. And there have been instances where those who have tried to reintegrate, to go back to their families, their families have been killed. 


                I believe that, as economic development proceeds and as we are able to provide greater security in various areas of Afghanistan, that more and more of the Taliban footsoldiers will, in fact, reintegrate and come back over to the government's side.  There clearly have to be improvements in governance at every level.  But I think these are the things that -- and if we create economic opportunity for them, so they can feed their families.  I think this will bring over perhaps a substantial number of the footsoldiers. 


                When we talk about reconciliation, we're really talking about the senior leaders of the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and, frankly, those that are hiding in Pakistan.  My view is, that until those more senior people see the momentum of the fight changing, and they begin to see that they will not win, that reconciliation will come slowly.  But I think once they do see that change, you will begin to see that.  You will begin to see it, I suspect, on the part of commanders, local commanders and others in Afghanistan itself, first. 


                Q     So do you have any information about the Quetta shura?  And did you discuss it with the Pakistani leaders? 


                SEC. GATES:  Only that it's a source of great concern for us. 


                Q     There were reports that U.S. may expand its drone attacks into Afghanistan and to -- 


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                Q     -- or Baluchistan, sorry.  Yeah. 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, again, I'm not going to discuss operations. 


                Q     Pakistan has been engaged in the war on terror for the last nine years, and we have lost a lot.  What -- (inaudible) -- international community in this war? Is it enough? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that -- I think that a lot of countries have made significant commitments in an effort to support Pakistan.  The Tokyo conference a few months ago resulted in raising substantial commitments -- financial commitments for Pakistan.  I think that there is great interest in doing more.  The economic challenges that Pakistan faces are obviously considerable.  But I think that based on everything I see, there is a broad range of countries and institutions around the world that are prepared to be helpful to Pakistan. 


                Q     (Inaudible) -- been there for now maybe eight years, and what we see today as we sit together is Taliban going from strength to strength.  I mean, look at the manner that -- (inaudible) -- at the CIA quarters in Kabul.  So, talks are going to be the ultimate solution?  Because you cannot go on fighting -- you cannot go on fighting forever.  (Inaudible) -- talks with the Taliban.  And we do have reports of some members of NATO who (Inaudible) that there are bilateral talks.   


                So can you tell us an update of your government?  I mean, are you in touch with them?  Are you talking through Pakistan or through South Asia, or other country?  Because ultimately, as we see it in Pakistan, Taliban are the next government in Kabul and -- (inaudible). 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I will -- I will wager a good deal that the Taliban will not be the next government in Kabul.  I think that the reconciliation and reintegration process has to be done in the terms set by the Afghan government.  Those will include an adherence to the Afghan constitution, an acknowledgement of the Afghan government as the sole legitimate source of military power within the country. 


                No one wants a return to warlords. 


                I think that this will be a -- I -- we have said all along, in Iraq as in Afghanistan, political reconciliation ultimately has to be a part of settling the conflict.  What it takes to get to the point where our adversaries are willing to reconcile, are willing to reintegrate, is part of the reason that we and our -- and our many allies are increasing our capabilities in Afghanistan to try and change the momentum and bring the Taliban, those elements of the Taliban that are willing to reconcile, into the government. 


                The Taliban -- as Secretary Clinton and I testified on Capitol Hill, the Taliban, we recognize, are a part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point.  The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participate in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families and opposing education of children and so on.   


                The question is, what do the Taliban want to make out of Afghanistan?  When they tried before, we saw what they wanted to make, and it was a desert, culturally and every other way.  So the question is whether the Taliban, at some point in this process, are rather -- are ready to help build a 21st-century Afghanistan, or whether they still just want to kill people. 


                Q     So what type of logistics support and military bases that you are using in Pakistan? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, we clearly -- as is -- as is well known, a good deal of the supplies that we have in Afghanistan come through -- come through Pakistan.  And we're very grateful to the support of the Pakistani government and military for helping us do that.  The Department of Defense has no bases as such in Pakistan. 


                Q     There are reports that Taliban -- sorry -- al Qaeda are shifting to other places like Yemen and Somalia.  Does it mean that there are no more safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas? 


                SEC. GATES:  No, we believe that -- the way I would put it is that we believe this cancer has metastasized, that the core of it remains in the Afghan-Pakistani border area.  It is the source of information, it is the -- and inspiration.  It is -- it is, if you will, the home historically of the group that destroyed the World Trade Towers, and so it has a special place -- this geographic area has a special place in the mythology of al Qaeda and what it represents. 


                By the same token, they are able to have what I would call franchises that are developing in North Africa, in the Horn of Africa and in the Arabian Peninsula.  The difference is that in those countries -- and particularly, in Yemen and in North Africa -- you have governments that are committed to trying to eradicate this threat.  The problem in Somalia is that fundamentally there is very little government. 


                And so we and our allies will deal with this as they come along, but there is -- I think it is the view of virtually all of our experts that none of these other places can ever take the place of the headquarters, if you will, of al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistan border. 


                The other reason that it's so important is that it's not just where they launched the attack against the United States.  It's seen as the place where they defeated a superpower.  It is a place where they believe they forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  And that's why this area has a unique role and a unique history for them, and why I think it will remain the core area of where al Qaeda is operating. 


                Q     Are you winning against al Qaeda? 


                SEC. GATES:  I think that -- I think that we are making significant progress.  The reality is that, compared with the 1990s and through 2000 and even the middle-2000s, we don't see the same kind of complex attacks that they were able to mount before. 


                We think that their leadership in many cases has been killed and replaced by people who are less experienced. 


                So I would say we feel like we are making progress against al Qaeda, have had some significant successes.  But we're still in a fight that will last for some period. 


                Q     (Off mike) -- 


                Q     Who in the U.S. government would give us answers on the drones if state -- secretary of Defense does not do it?  After all, the drones are used in Pakistan.  There must be bases in Pakistan. How can you fly them if Pakistan didn't give you bases?  And you just said you don't have any bases in Pakistan. 


                SEC. GATES:  I'm not going to talk about our operations. 


                Q     (Inaudible.)  (Laughs.) 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I hope you don't find anybody ? 


                Q     Because you -- 


                Q     (Off mike.)  (Laughter.) 


                Q     -- have bases to fly.  I mean, if you're -- 


                STAFF:  If I may, sir, we are running out of time.  If you guys would indulge us for a moment, they've traveled a long way with us, if you wouldn't mind allowing them to ask a couple of questions, and if we have time I'll come back to the table. 


                Q     You repeatedly made an argument Pakistanis focus on the militant threat.  But it was, you know, made clear in the interviews last night that U.S. arms sales to India, which may go beyond transport aircraft, seemed to undercut that goal.  Why wouldn't it be a wiser policy just to avoid any arms sales to either country that could be used in a conventional fight? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that we have to judge each request on its own.  After all, we have a good relationship with Pakistan.  We sell Pakistan F-16s and other kinds of weapons.  And we have a good relationship with India.  As you pointed out, the latest sales for India are all transport aircraft, C-130s; C-17s, if that comes to pass.   


                I think we have to -- I think we have to make these decisions judiciously.  But we also don't want simply to turn over the -- these military relationships to other countries that don't have as many scruples as we do in terms of making those decisions. 


                STAFF:  Yeah, go. 


                Q     (Off mike) -- emphasis on -- (off mike) -- what do you say to the claim that these are shared or indulged in the government or in parts -- in parts of the government -- in parts of -- (inaudible)? 


                SEC. GATES:  I have no idea.   


                My hope is that everyone will take at face value my comments about them.   


                I worked with someone a long time ago.  And speaking of conspiracy theories and so on, he said that paper will put up with anything written on it.  There needs to be, I think, a little more intolerance for some of the things put on paper that bear no resemblance to the truth.   


                Q     Do you agree about the trust deficit that the two countries have?   


                SEC. GATES:  I do.  And I think that it is -- there is responsibility on both sides.   


                But I would say from the American side, it is our turning away from Afghanistan in 1989, after the Soviets left, whether -- had we remained active in Afghanistan, had we remained engaged, I'm not sure we could have made a difference in the developments of the 1990s.  But we didn't even try.   


                And then the other thing that I think hurt our relationship in a strategic way was the invocation of the Pressler Amendment that for all practical purposes, in the early-1990s -- that for all practical purposes ended military-to-military conversations between and relationships between our two countries.   


                Prior to that time, we had a lot of interaction between senior military officers on -- from Pakistan and the United States.  They became friends.  They trusted each other.  They did -- they worked together in many areas.   


                We then went for a period of about 12 years where no such contacts existed.  And so I think that one of the things we have to do -- you can't rebuild trust through a speech or through rhetoric.  You have to rebuild that trust through proving yourself to be a reliable ally that shares the strategic interests of your partner.   


                I think it's incumbent on both sides to continue working at that.  


                STAFF:  One more (Inaudible).   


                Q     Mr. Secretary, is it appropriate for U.S. military aid to Pakistan to be directed primarily or exclusively to counterinsurgency by the Pakistani military?  Or should that aid be given largely with no strings attached to Pakistan, to use as it sees fit, even if that means not using it for counterinsurgency?   


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, we have -- I think that there are -- there are several vehicles that provide considerable flexibility.   


                For example, as you look ahead, foreign military sales, foreign military funding create the opportunity, I think, for longer-range investments on the part of Pakistan in military equipment that can -- that can be of value outside of purely counterinsurgency.   


                By the same token, with the creation by Congress of the Pakistan counterinsurgency fund, this is a billion dollars that is really allocated almost exclusively for helping equip and train units on the frontier, the Frontier Corps, the 11th Corps and various others.  We also have the coalition support funds, which, once reimbursed, can be spent on essentially anything that the Pakistanis want to spend them on.   


                So I think that across those four different categories, there's considerable flexibility.  But I think the Pakistanis themselves see, as we do, see the need for balance and the desirability of building capabilities in each of these areas, conventional as well as counterinsurgency. 


                STAFF:  Thank you, sir.  Appreciate it.  


                Thank you all for coming.










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