Interview With National Public RadioRichard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
February 27, 2008
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Welcome Assistant Secretary Boucher from (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Hey, how are you?
QUESTION: Fine, thanks. Thank you for joining us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thanks, good to be with you.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Well, let me begin with this question really focusing on Pakistan. The successful election in Pakistan has reached quite a note of euphoria among the people there, even though the two parties who have won most seats are old rivals, and at times they’ve been enemies. What influence does the U.S. have now that there are several centers of political power after years of dealing with just one, and that would be President Musharraf?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think, simply put, we have to work with everybody and we need to work with all the leaders in Pakistan: the president, the prime minister, the political parties, civil society, business, army. And we’ve really – that’s what we’ve been looking for. Starting last year we looked for a democratic transition, a new government, and a chance to work in sort of a more stable, moderate center against terrorism and extremism.
QUESTION: There are some in Pakistan who believe that the United States is working right now behind the scenes to urge the winners of the parliamentary elections to cooperate with Musharraf and not to, effectively, push him out. And there’s been some talk of that. Is that true or not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, what we’ve been doing, what our ambassador’s been doing, is meeting with all the major parties and the political leaders and talking to them about cooperating with each other, with all the leaders in society, not to focus on any individual person, but rather to say it’s a moment for all the leaders of the country to come together and try to move forward.
QUESTION: But are you denying, then, that there’s any push to keep President Musharraf in a position of some power?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: He’s the president of Pakistan. He’s in a position that has a defined constitutional role. The people that are forming the coalition say he’ll probably stay in that position. So they’re going to have to work out whatever division of responsibilities has to be done. Our job, I think, is to include...is to encourage everybody to work together with everybody else.
QUESTION: When these two opposition parties won, immediately afterwards the leaders of both those parties, particularly one of them, was talking about impeachment. Is that still on the table, as far as you know?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: They’re talking a little differently in the last couple days, but where they finally come out, that remains to be seen. They have to have their political negotiations and see what they want to do politically and whether it’s possible or not.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. support bringing back the judges that Musharraf fired, and this would include the former or fired chief justice?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We have supported strongly an independent judiciary in Pakistan, and made that very clear to everybody all along. We have not endorsed a restoration of the particular judges because that has been itself a political issue and frankly that remains a political issue between the People’s Party and Nawaz’s party in their negotiations. They’ve said now it needs to be discussed in parliament. Frankly, that’s kind of what we’ve been saying. It needs to be taken...independent judiciary needs to be decided by political leaders after the election and that seems to be where they’re headed.
QUESTION: And Nawaz, you mean Nawaz Sharif?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: So – but am I right you’re saying that you...it’s not the United States’ role to weigh in on this, or is it that the United States doesn’t have a position on whether or not the justices, the judges...
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Our role is to weigh in on the independence of the judiciary and point out to everybody that an independent judiciary is a key to maintaining a stable democracy. And there are things we can do to help with that. But no, our role is not to pick the political position that one party or another party happens to have on this issue.
QUESTION: One of the issues there could have pretty big implications for the leadership of Pakistan and that’s that one of the arguments that the opposition made when the chief justice was fired was that he was fired as the supreme court of Pakistan was on the verge of declaring President Musharraf’s reelection last fall invalid.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Again, the parties in Pakistan don’t agree on this, on the restoration of the chief justice. It’s not for us to side with one party or another in this case. It’s for us to encourage them to work on settling down and getting an independent judiciary in Pakistan that everybody can trust.
QUESTION: President Musharraf was also head of the army until recently. The army is an important institution in Pakistan and a very powerful one. Have you, or the U.S. Government, the Administration, been in contact with the new chief – army chief of staff, that’s General Ashfaq Kayani?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’ve had ongoing relationships with the army, including with the new chief. And I think those kind of relations will continue. We – as I said, we’re trying to work with all the leaders in the society and get them to cooperate together for the sake of stability in the fight against terrorism. And that remains a fundamental interest for the army, but also of the political leaders.
QUESTION: General Kayani, though, the new chief of staff of the army, (inaudible) himself as the chief of the army, from (inaudible) Pakistan in the short time he’s been there. Is that your impression?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think if you look back over the last year or so, one of the reasons why the transition occurred in Pakistan was because the army itself in a variety of ways was signaling that they...it was time for them to get out of politics. They didn’t want to be blamed for the price of sugar or the availability of electricity anymore, and that the soldiers want to go back to soldiering. And that’s something that we’ve tried to work with and obviously, you know, as that...now that we’ve had the election we were looking for and a new group of leaders are emerging it provides opportunity for people to work together in a different way. That’s what we’re going to try to encourage.
QUESTION: The leaders of both of the largest parties now in Parliament -- Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif -- they have expressed a (inaudible) negotiating with the Taliban and other militants in the tribal areas along the Pakistan border with Afghanistan. What’s your reaction to that idea?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, our reaction is that has been tried before and hasn’t really worked. I mean, in the end whether you’re negotiating or you’re using force, the goal is to end the threat to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of this that emanates from those areas. And you have to judge it by its outcome and negotiations haven’t produced an end to plotting, an end to the planning, an end to the bombs, an end to the cross-border infiltration. So, I think, you know, one can negotiate, but you have to judge every action by its outcome, and unfortunately that path hasn’t produced much of an outcome before.
QUESTION: Well, here’s the argument that the opposition has made, and let me just ask you what you think of this argument...it’s argued that a popularly elected government could make more progress along the borders, that they have more sway among people there against radicals in their midst. And in a sense they would say it’s been strengthened by the fact that in this election the religious parties that did have seats in Parliament and had some political power there have actually...actually did very badly, and the moderates did very well in those various – so the argument is it’s a change in political landscape.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I can’t – you know, you can try it. But I think we’ve always found that a negotiation that’s not backed by a certain amount of force can’t really force out the bad guys who are up there and need to be taken care of. And ultimately it’s the outcome that matters. Is Al Qaeda still up there and operating? Are they sending suicide bombers into Pakistan and Afghanistan? Are they trying to thwart the will of the government? And ultimately you can negotiate but you also have to back it by force, I think.
You know, we’ll see where people end up as they go forward, but dealing with the problems is very, very important to us.
QUESTION: What would this change in policy for their government – how much sway does the U.S. have at this point in time, and are you actively making that argument right now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’re actively talking to everybody about the need to pursue a broad effort against extremism, not just a military one but, you know, modernizing the education system, giving people in the region jobs and economic benefits that they can take up and become more part of the world and the world economy.
So yeah, we are talking to all the parties about things that can be done and move the society as a whole away from extremism.
QUESTION: But that wouldn’t...(inaudible) talking about the whole question of military attacks, military might here...the U.S. has reportedly been allowed to use unmanned drones to launch strikes against identified terrorist targets inside Pakistan along the border. Is that still an option at this point?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think we’re all determined to cooperate and do everything we can against terrorism, but I can’t go into any more detail than that.
QUESTION: There, of course, has long been a ban on the part of Pakistan on actually moving troops across the border. Is that rule still in effect?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As I’ve always said, we treat Pakistan as a partner in the war on terror. We work with them in a variety of ways. But it doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to go into any more detail in public discussion.
QUESTION: Just one last question, getting back to what you just mentioned which has to do with development in Pakistan. There is a proposal from Senator Joseph Biden, who was there as an observer in this recent election, to triple the non-military aid to Pakistan that leads to roads, healthcare, just what you just spoke of. You know, there are hundreds of millions of dollars going into Pakistan. Some estimates have it as up to something like $2 billion a year. Is that something the administration would embrace: hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan for development?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the first thing is to make clear we already spend a lot of money on, you know, education, health care, economic reform. We spend over $100 million a year on education in Pakistan. So we’re already deeply engaged in the whole question of modernizing the economy and the education system and moving them away from extremism.
I think Senator Biden’s programs are interesting and important. They represent a desire to take advantage of the opportunity that democracy brings. We’re going to have to sit down and look more thoroughly at it, look at the kind of programs we have and the kind of programs we could do in the new environment that would really help the place stabilize and move forward.
QUESTION: What does – briefly, could you give an example of the sort of things that you would consider seriously in terms of moving forward in terms of development or education, roads?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I’ll tell you what we just started. We just started this year a $150 million a year program that adds to a $100 million that the Pakistanis are putting in to modernize the economy in the tribal areas, to do sort of administrative reform up there, to put in infrastructure so that they can attract investment and factories, to do vocational training, schools, roads, everything that it takes to make these areas an opportunity for investment so that kids can get jobs instead of guns. And a lot is going to go in there in the next five years in that regard. And these programs are already starting, contracts are being signed and things are moving forward already.
QUESTION: And there...the security is sufficiently good for these programs to actually to get going, to get underway and...
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Not everywhere. That’s...I think that’s one of the keys, frankly, because it goes along with the security plan for that region. And the fact is that if the people who live there actually do take hold of their security and settle things down, they can get a benefit from that. And I think that’s part of the calculus, is that people will want to create a security environment where roads and schools and hospitals can go forward. And we’ll be trying to do both in parallel or in tandem with each other.
QUESTION: Richard Boucher is an Assistant Secretary of State. Thank you for joining us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you very much. Good to talk to you.
QUESTION: Take care, bye-bye.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Bye-bye.