Interview With Massoud Qiam of Afghanistan's TOLO TVR. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
September 9, 2005
QUESTION: My first question is how is the strategy agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan? In other words, how it (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. Well, it's a pleasure to be with you. The United States and Afghanistan have a very close friendship and the United States is committed to the security of Afghanistan. We're trying to help give the Afghan people time to rebuild their country after decades of many problems and challenges. And our military forces are there at the request of the Afghan Government to be of help -- we have great faith in the Afghan leadership. We have a strategic agreement that we should continue together to try to have the international community’s support of Afghanistan economically, as well as militarily and, of course, to support development of Afghan democracy. And elections that are coming up, the parliamentary elections, are very important step in that process.
QUESTION: How do you see Afghanistan and the U.S. ties into next year?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I think that the ties between Afghanistan and the United States, we believe, are very strong. There's a real commitment in the United States to help the Afghan people. You should know, Afghanistan is a very popular country in the United States. People have sympathy for, you know, the wars -- civil wars -- the deprivation that went on during the rule of the Taliban. And people want to make sure that…here in America…that we can help as best we can, knowing that theAfghan people are in charge, they are sovereign. It is your country. We are just there to be your friends in all this.
QUESTION: Thank you. Amb. Khalilzad has his own unique style of being the ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many have criticized his style for being too involved and interfering. Do you agree?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I think Ambassador Khalilzad was a very effective ambassador. Of course, it's not everyday you have an ambassador who was born in the country in which he is serving and who speaks the language and knows the country. We were fortunate to have him in Afghanistan. And I know that he made a great contribution there. We now have Ambassador Ron Neumann, whose father was ambassador 45 years ago in Afghanistan. He has, I think, made a very, very fast beginning. He's a very effective man. He has a great deal of support from Washington and we respect him very much. So, we think ambassadors have different styles, but the commitment behind each of these two American ambassadors is very strong.
QUESTION: Thank you. How will the new ambassador, Ambassador Neumann, conduct himself in the policies in Afghanistan?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: How will he conduct himself?
QUESTION: How will he conduct himself in the policies in Afghanistan?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, he -- Ambassador Neumann has the confidence of our President and of our Secretary of State. And I know that he is hoping to be helpful to the Afghan people and continuing development, in continuing the improvements in infrastructure, in roads, in school construction. I know that he wants to be helpful in trying to curtail the problem of poppy production and drug trafficking, narcotics trafficking which has been a particular problem in Afghanistan. And of course, he wants to join with the rest of our government in making sure there are good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has taken many steps in that direction. So we have great faith in Ambassador Neumann. We are very pleased that he's there.
QUESTION: How concerned is the U.S. (inaudible) over the possibility of the (inaudible) coalition security force in our parliamentary elections?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, you know, the great thing about elections is that they represent the will of the people. And the last thing the United States would do would be to interfere in the elections. We want them to be free. We want them to be fair and we want them to be, obviously, the result to represent the will of the Afghan people. So it wouldn't be appropriate for me to say anything that would interfere in that process. This is an Afghan process. And we -- it is a very important step for the development of democracy in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: How much does the U.S. think President Karzai was wrong for not pursuing the establishment of political parties?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I mean, I wouldn't want to -- I certainly would never criticize President Karzai -- a man whom we greatly respect. And it really is up to Afghans to talk about these questions of development and political parties. It's not so much for the United States to be involved in that. This is an Afghan matter. And I could be (inaudible.)
QUESTION: What (inaudible) Afghans ask now is for how long will the international community tolerate Pakistan’s hypercritical Afghan policy?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, as you know, the United States is a friend of Pakistan, as we are also a friend to Afghanistan. And we hope very much that the relations between the two countries can improve and we hope that Pakistan will continue to take efforts, make efforts to try to keep the border as peaceful as it can be. Now we know that there are problems with the borders. We know that there are foreign fighters, al-Qaida and Taliban who come across the border. But the Pakistani Government is making efforts to try to be helpful. And so we are a friend to both countries and we wish there to be an improvement in this very important relationship.
QUESTION: With the exception of (inaudible), every (inaudible) countries in the region are criticizing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Why? Why there?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I can imagine why the Iranians might criticize it. The United States and Iran do not have friendly relations. But India's been very supportive, Pakistan has been very supportive of the American presence in Afghanistan. And we hope that the Afghan people themselves believe that our contribution can be positive towards them (inaudible). And think that the most important countries, of course, understand why the United States is there. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also have supported the fact that the United States and the European countries have troops in Afghanistan. We are there are the request of the Afghan Government. We are there not because we have imposed ourselves, but because -- we are there because the government believes that the presence of American and European and other forces can be helpful. We think they can be. They've been helpful in restoring order and providing security and protection for much of the development assistance that was brought in the country. And as you know, there are still attacks, as you know very well by the Taliban. And of course, the Afghan people need help in response to those attacks. So we're convinced that our military is playing a very useful role in your country.
QUESTION: How do you see Afghanistan's (inaudible) and how does respect and what U.S.-India position?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we are very much in support of India taking steps to try to help Afghanistan economically, through private investment, through good political relations between India and the Afghan Government. And so we favor that kind of involvement by India in Afghanistan. For our part, we have recently begun a new strategic relationship between India and the United States and it's very important to us on a global basis and the Indian Government had been very receptive to this. And I think that the India-American relationship is going to expand very dramatically in the years ahead. And at the same time, the United States is trying hard to maintain -- and succeeding in maintaining good ties with (inaudible) Pakistan. So our goal is to be friendly to the major countries of the area: Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
QUESTION: Personal question. When did you first know about Afghanistan?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, of course, I've known about Afghanistan and I have studied Afghanistan for many, many years, going back to late 1970s, when I was a student in university. And I had a chance to visit your country as recently as last year. I was in both Kabul and Kandahar. I went outside the city of Kandahar into the rural areas -- was able to see some of the development projects that have taken place, as well as the activities of some of the American military forces. I was very impressed by what I saw and very struck by the fact that Afghans have made a significant recovery over the last four years. We're pleased to see that. We wish Afghans well.
And we hope very much that Afghans will exercise their democratic rights to vote in the elections that are coming up, and that they might be free elections and fair elections and that there'd be no outside pressure -- certainly not the kind of activities that some might imagine to make the voting possible. So we think it'll be a successful election. We think people will -- we hope people will vote in great numbers. And we look forward to working with an ever-more democratic Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you for joining TOLO-TV.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Released on September 13, 2005