Interview With Outlook MagazineRichard A. Boucher,
Assistant Secretary for Central Asian Affairs
January 14, 2009
QUESTION: Do you think Mumbai and its aftermath have reintroduced the hyphenation between India and Pakistan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think so. I think, first of all, what we found is that the U.S. and India have an enormous variety of shared interests. There are an incredible number of students and visas to come to the U.S., or the business relations that we have now, the civilian nuclear agreement and growing defense relations. One of those common interests is to end terrorism in the region, and Mumbai, for the both of us, really makes it very clear how much of a shared interest we have in stopping terrorism. That is just another cause to say we have our relationships with each country and we have to pursue this.
QUESTION: There have been calls in India to strike suspected terror sites in Pakistan. What is the Bush Administration's stand on this matter?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What we have said is: we want to see the source of this terror eliminated. We want to see the groups that helped organize this from Pakistani soil eliminated and stopped. The most effective way, in our mind, to see that happen is to work with the Pakistanis, get the Pakistanis to take forceful action. That is what we are trying to do. I think in the end the issue for all of us is: how do we stop this from happening again? And frankly cooperation in the region is the best way to do it.
QUESTION: Why is it okay for the U.S. to attack terrorist suspects in [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] but at the same time you advise calm diplomacy to India?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What is the most effective way of dealing with the problem? The most effective way, in our mind, is to work with the Pakistanis to eliminate these groups from their soil. That's what we are trying to do. We have seen some action on their part and we hope to see more.
QUESTION: There are high expectations in India that the U.S. will help bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. Do you think such expectations are justified?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think they are based on an understanding we all have that we need to find out who did it, how they did this and to stop them from ever doing it again. That is something the U.S. has made very clear we want to do. We have been working with the government in Pakistan and all the sectors in Pakistan and they say they want to do it to. So the point is to make sure it is done effectively. And where I do think the U.S. has an interest in a role I don't want to say that we are doing this for India, or Pakistan is doing it because of Indian pressure or Pakistan is doing is because of the United States. I think we all have a common interest -- it is working together on that common interest and making sure that we take effective action that is important for the United States.
QUESTION: India wants the perpetrators to be handed over to New Delhi or Washington. Will Washington place such demands on Pakistan, especially as six American citizens were killed in the carnage?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: First and foremost, we expect to deal with those kinds of legal questions in the appropriate legal framework and legal process -- which means the investigators will investigate. First, for all of us, we need to know who did it, how it happened and how we can stop them from doing it again. As the investigations proceed in Pakistan and India, and the United States working with the various parties, the legal authorities will decide how to bring these people to justice.
QUESTION: But have the Pakistani officials given the U.S. access to these terrorist suspects? Have you sought such access?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We have started working with the Pakistanis. They have got a lot of people in custody and detention, they have closed down a lot of offices of [Jamaat ud-Dawa]. We are working with them and have been able to help pass information back and forth. We are proceeding down the road on investigations in both places and expect to help both sides benefit from what is going on in the other country.
QUESTION: [Prime Minister] Gilani says he doesn't believe evidence in [the] Mumbai dossier is credible. Do you believe this evidence is credible?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think one shouldn't draw too many distinctions about this information. It is useful information. It is part of the investigative process. Each side needs to take it, needs to explore it, needs to build on it and there needs to be a flow of information back and forth for the investigation to be successful. That is what we are trying to promote. We are trying to make sure each side is working on information that they can develop and that they can develop with the help of others. That is the process we are trying to set up to maximize the benefits of the investigation.
QUESTION: National Security Adviser Durrani has been fired over his comments acknowledging the captured terrorist is a Pakistani. In light of the evidence gathered in the Mumbai probe, do you believe he should be reinstated?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That is an internal matter for the Pakistani government.
QUESTION: The Pakistani leadership has blamed non-state actors for these attacks. What sense did you get from your recent visit to Islamabad about their commitment to dealing with them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The sense I get from talking to the Pakistanis in politics, civil society and the military is that they understand that terrorists are a threat to Pakistan. They know they need to find a way to eliminate that threat from Pakistani soil.
QUESTION: The coalition in power in Delhi goes to polls in another four to five months. Do you think the current crisis is driven by the fact that the coalition government will have to tell the people what its response to Mumbai was? Do you think Delhi's behavior, response is justified?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think any government has a responsibility to its people. When I think back to what we went through after 9/11, there was a lot of soul searching and questioning about what we had done, what we could do and what we had to do. I am sure the elections could be a factor, but frankly this was a horrible attack. It was a horrible attack on Indians, it was a horrible attack on India's relations with the international community and I think every government has the responsibility to move and to do whatever they can, not only to find out how this attack occurred, but to move in the area of prevention.
When it comes down to it, it is not only a matter of law enforcement, it is also a matter of prevention. I think that is an area where the United States and India can cooperate and we can help make all of us safer.
QUESTION: You recently toured Pakistan and India. What's your sense of the maximum Pakistan is willing to give, and the minimum India is willing to settle for?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I see this one as a shared interest in eliminating terrorists. It's not a matter of negotiations. We are not in some kind of bazaar here. We all have to eliminate this threat. India has a right to be safe and Pakistan has a right to be safe. The only way we are all going to be safe is if we eliminate the terrorists. We need to reinforce each other's actions, we should share information, we should share expertise and we should all make sure we keep doing everything we can to stop this kind of threat.
QUESTION: There is now talk in India about rolling back ties with Pakistan. What is your reaction to that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: India has to decide what its outlook is on ties with Pakistan. Our view is that there has been tremendous progress in many of the government and economic relationships with Pakistan. It is in both sides' interests to continue that. I think it is important for both sides, obviously you can’t neglect the issue of terrorism, but if we can establish cooperation against terrorism we can add to the building of ties rather than have to subtract from it.
QUESTION: Do you think multiple power centers in Pakistan have complicated Pakistan's response?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Every country has different interests, different groups. It is particularly clear in a democracy with a history like Pakistan. Let’s face it, we all deal with multiple interest groups -- sometimes just political parties. Every democracy has to figure out how to bring people on board and how to pursue important policy goals.
What I heard in Pakistan from military and civilian leaders is that there is a growing understanding that terrorists are a threat to Pakistan -- all terrorists, whether the Taliban or Kashmiri groups, are a threat to Pakistan and they need to get rid of them. That is something we need to build on.
QUESTION: Do you feel the Pakistani government has done enough to de-link the ISI from these terrorist groups?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We will have to make sure that is done completely and effectively. At this point it is a work in progress.
QUESTION: But are you satisfied with what has been done so far?
ASSISTANT SECERTARY BOUCHER: They are off to a promising start. They have taken many good steps and I think we should recognize that. But we should also recognize, as they do, that there is lot more they have to do to finish with the threat.
QUESTION: Do you agree with India's claims that elements in the ISI engineered Mumbai?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We know there is an awful lot of history there but I am not aware of any particular information at this point. It is a matter that has to be left to the investigation to find out. The investigation needs to be followed wherever it leads.
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the U.S.-India relationship and the path it has traversed on your watch?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think it is a very broad, very profound relationship. One of the aspects is that it has been driven by the people: the students, their families, business ties, the technology ties. It has got a momentum to it that will continue.
In terms of what governments do there are two areas that we need to think about. One is: how do we continue to touch the people -- through education, agriculture, health and other programs like that. What are the areas we can cooperate in that are meaningful to Americans and ordinary Indians? The second thing is: to recognize that India is an increasingly global player -- a global player on finance, on trade, assistance to Africa, assistance to Afghanistan. There are a lot of areas where the United States and India will find ourselves working together on a global scale and that is a very positive thing that we can really reinforce in coming years.
QUESTION: Pakistan has been wary of India's involvement in Afghanistan. Do you get the sense that this is still the case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think they would be wary of India's military involvement. I do think that they understand the importance of India's assistance to Afghanistan. India has really done a lot in terms of training, infrastructure, working with Parliament, to help get institutions up and running. We recognize India has had a very positive and in some ways unique role because of its capabilities, so that is something we are very strong on and welcome it.
QUESTION: What is your assessment of U.S.-Pakistan relations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We have a very positive relationship with Pakistan. We are working with a government that is committed to democracy, committed to an open economy and is committed to stabilizing Pakistan by eliminating the terrorist groups. Not all the policies in those areas have been effective. They have gone through simultaneous crises on security, economics and finishing the democracy transition. Our commitment to be there and work with them on these things is quite clear.
QUESTION: The incoming Obama administration has made clear Pakistan and Afghanistan will be a key part of their foreign policy focus. What will this entail?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I can't speak for the new administration yet. The Secretary-designate, Mrs. Clinton, talked about “more for more.” We will do more in those areas and we will also expect more from the countries themselves and we will also expect more from our allies and friends. There is a lot to do and we have to make sure we are all doing it together.
QUESTION: There is talk that the Obama Administration will appoint a special envoy on South Asia. What role will such an envoy play?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I have no insider knowledge about that. I don't know if they are going to do that or not. Mrs. Clinton said it is still an open question. The talk I have seen is having somebody who will focus particularly on Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the related nature of some of their problems. But whether they do that with a special envoy or as just a focus of the administration is a decision they will make in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Kashmir elections?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Last year was a very interesting year in Kashmir. We had huge demonstrations and we had a huge voter turnout. These are important developments. We certainly would like to see the kind of progress made on Kashmir that was perhaps available earlier in the year. We look to India and Pakistan when they can and where they can to continue to develop their relationship and hopefully settle these tough questions.