Remarks to the PressRichard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks at the U.S. Mission to NATO
September 17, 2008
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: As many of you know, I come here fairly frequently to consult with friends at NATO and the European Union. I was down at the [European] Commission this morning -- about mostly Afghanistan and Pakistan, some broader issues of South Asia when it’s downtown [at the Commission]. But one of the most important things for us is coordination with NATO and NATO partners on Afghanistan, and even Pakistan issues because they’re so important to the overall success of the effort that we’re making there.
I think in 2008 we’ve been able to continue to build. We’ve done a lot of things successfully in 2008. We’re seeing more and more capable ministries in the Afghan government, ministries that are able to run schools, provide health care to the population, do projects and roads throughout the country, things like that. We’re seeing more capable provincial and local governors, and many of these governors have achieved successes with their provincial development plans. Also if you look at the UN report on the narcotics picture, the decline in narcotics this year is by and large due to the governors’ efforts and the way the governors have been able to achieve reductions in parts of the country, parts of the country that are still insecure. It’s been hard to make the narcotics program work, and unfortunately in the south, where the insurgency and the narcotics are feeding off each other, there’s a horribly high level of drug production still. But, we have seen programs that work, largely led by strong and good governors at lower levels.
There are more and more policemen. I’m struck -- having worked on budgets in 2006, 2007 -- I was struck this year in all my visits to Afghanistan, you see the policemen in new uniforms with green trucks and radios out on patrol, managing intersections, all over the country, different parts of the country. So we’ve got more policemen out there. Roads, of course, have been extended. I think one of the successes of this year is going to be the electricity grid. We’ve got agreements and some supplies starting this year and next from countries to the north: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan. We’ve got more power generation in Kabul. With the help of military operations we’re getting equipment into the Kajaki Dam to get the three generator sets there up and running in the course of the next year. So I think this year, this winter, there will be more power, and next year we’ll see more power. So I think we’re doing pretty well on the electricity front.
So as I said, we’ve continued to build a more capable Afghanistan, you might say, in terms of the army, the police, the government, electricity, all these different things.
At the same time the Taliban have beenble to create more insecurity and instability. They’ve moved more and more to pure terror tactics of bombings, one-off attacks like the ones on the Serena Hotel and Victory parade, the prison in Kandahar. I think we have to understand that that’s not a strategic threat to the government, but that bombs make people feel unsafe. There are bombs, so ordinary people don’t know whether to go to the market or whether to send their kids to school, because you never know what might happen. It’s our job and the government’s job, the whole community’s job, to try to get to a point where Afghans feel safe in their daily lives, where the government is providing security.
So we’re going to keep doing that. The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board has just made a decision to increase the size of the Afghan army, to go from what was a target of about 80,000 to a target of about 134,000. We’re gearing up with the international community to train and equip and then sustain that larger force. We’re working better and more on police training and providing police to districts and localities around Afghanistan so that ordinary people have the beneficial government presence of police in their lives.
We’re working, I think, more on strengthening the provincial government and the ability of provincial governors to carry out projects for the benefit of the populations. We’re working to improve and strengthen our PRTs, putting more personnel into the PRT system to provide them with proper support and more authority so that they can do projects and support the governing institutions at the provincial level.
In all these things we work very closely with the Afghan government. I have to say we appreciate the very consistent support from friends and allies. I think Bucharest and Paris earlier this year were signs of the continuing commitment, both in terms of forces and in terms of money. I think we’ve seen an effort by the Afghan government to live up to the expectations of the international community.
There’s an awful lot of work to do. There are enormous challenges still on governance and narcotics and Taliban, but I do think it’s a continuing effort, it’s a strong effort, and that we have the right strategy to try to provide security to the people of Afghanistan, which is what’s going to make the difference in the long term.
President Karzai is going to be in New York next week and have a chance to meet with a lot of our leaders, so I’m sure we’ll hear from him, continue to work very closely with him, as we go forward.
Assistant Secretary Boucher: -- for the increase, no. We’re working, now that we’ve set a new target we’ve got to work on the money and the trainers and the [Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams or OMLTs] and all that, plan to not only continue the training that we’re doing now but to extend that training into the future. That will require more trainers and more OMLTs to get it done right over the course of the next several years.
The decision on the increasing size was done by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board about a week ago in Kabul and will be discussed further with all the allies here and through the course of the meetings, I’m sure.
As far as what’s going on in Pakistan, I’m not in a position to comment on any particular military operations or activities. What I will say is we understand very clearly that, to gain real security in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, governments need to have control on both sides of the border, meaning the Afghan government has to be extended to its side of the border and the Pakistani government has to get control on its side of the border. We’re working a variety of ways to help the Pakistani government build its capabilities not only on the military side but on the economic side, as well -- doing a lot of projects with them, supporting their effort to integrate these parts of the country into their nation, into their economy. We want to work with the Pakistanis because we know that long-term stability and security is only going to come from them.
In addition we’re trying to work with them, and the Afghans, so that there is a common effort on both sides of the border, a coordinated effort on both sides of the border. We know the border is porous; people go back and forth both ways. Fighters can attack Afghans and attack Pakistanis and, in fact, they do. So you’ve seen, I think, in the visit of Admiral Mullen to Pakistan, a real attempt to -- and some other things we’re doing right now -- a real attempt to work with the Pakistanis so that between us and the Afghans and the Pakistanis, we can all push in on these militants, on the Taliban and the extremists that are hanging out in the border areas and using them against both of us, and not allow them just to sit there and push out in both directions.
QUESTION: What confidence do you have in President Zardari’s either ability or willingness to crack down on the sanctuaries?
SSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I will see President Zardari in New York next week again and have a chance to talk to him. We did have a good visit by [Prime Minister Gilani] in Washington at the end of July. What we’ve heard both from President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani has been a very strong determination to tackle the terrorism problem for Pakistan’s sake. They say very clearly: “this is our war.”
Their vision of Pakistan as a modern, moderate Islamic democracy is threatened by the extremists and they want to establish that kind of future for Pakistan. So they’re taking this on for their own sake, and we need to help them. We need to help them across the board, everything from education to democratic institutions, to economic integration of the tribal areas, to improving, modernizing the military forces to deal with the threat. That’s what we’re committed to do. But I think, at least in terms of their policies, they’re very determined. They have to figure out -- this new government, it’s been in office six months, gone through a lot of political back and forth -- they’ve got to work out how to make those things happen, how to do those things themselves. But we do know from them they’re determined to do it for their own sake.