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Rediff Interview/US Deputy Sec. of State Armitage

The Rediff Interview/US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
Hamid Mir | Islamabad | July 17, 2004

Rediff   It was United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s first visit to India and Pakistan since the change of government in New Delhi.

The Rediff Interview/US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage

It was United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s first visit to India and Pakistan since the change of government in New Delhi.

On July 14, before leaving for Islamabad, Armitage took a tough stand and told the media in New Delhi that the terrorist infrastructure still exists in Pakistan and stressed that infiltration into India from across the border must end.

After getting “an appreciation of the new Indian government”, he landed in Islamabad.

In Pakistan, Iraq dominated his agenda in view of the appointment of Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as the United Nations secretary general’s special representative in Iraq. The Pakistani media saw Armitage’s visit as an important one because they believe that under the cloak of Qazi’s appointment, the US will push Pakistan to deploy its troops in Iraq.

But Armitage denied any such pressure. In an exclusive interview with Hamid Mir, Islamabad bureau chief of GEO Television, Armitage said his visit was to share “America’s views on Iraq and Afghanistan.’

Tell us about the agenda for your visit to Pakistan.

Well, I wanted to discuss, first of all, our views of the situation in Iraq. Second of all, to discuss Afghanistan. And third of all, because I travelled to Delhi prior to coming to Islamabad, I wanted to get an appreciation of the new Indian government and their views about the possibility of progress on the question of Jammu-Kashmir.

How many Pakistani troops do you need in Iraq?

I didn’t ask for any Pakistani troops. I didn’t ask the government. I simply explained to the government our view of what’s going on, and our views of the situation there. Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq has requested some assistance in a letter to the Government of Pakistan, so these are decisions that the Government of Pakistan is going to have to make.

How can the Pakistani government help you in Iraq?

It runs the gamut. First of all, it’s not so much helping the United States. It’s helping the people of Iraq. It runs the gamut from political support, to reconstruction support, to trading, to — if the government of Pakistan were to decide — providing troops, perhaps, for the protection of the UN as we move toward elections in December.

So, you want Pakistani troops in Iraq for the protection of the UN?

No, I didn’t ask for any troops. You asked me what the government of Pakistan could do, and I listed a sort of an increasing order of things that the government of Pakistan could possibly do.

According to an American magazine, the US government is putting pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture at least one high-value target before the presidential election in the United States. What is the truth?

We are not putting pressure on Pakistan regarding any domestic political issue or campaign issue in the United States. We have steadily worked with the government of Pakistan to try to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, Dr (Ayman al-) Zawahiri and other members. And in that regard, I would note that the government of Pakistan has been quite rigorous in their military actions in Waziristan, to try to root out foreign fighters and Al Qaeda.

The US ambassador in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is continuously saying negative things about Pakistan. So who is the real face of American foreign policy? Is it Mr Colin Powell or Mr Khalilzad?

Aw, that’s an unfair question. It’s Mr Colin Powell. And he has spoken consistently about our views of the government of Pakistan’s assistance in the war on terror.

Ambassador Khalilzad, of course, is in Kabul where things are a little bit hotter, so, longer-term animosities that have existed in the past (surface), and I think these reflect themselves occasionally in his statements. But Khalilzad is doing an excellent job for the United States, and I think an excellent job for Afghanistan, and we value his services.

If he is doing an excellent job, it means he is reflecting the views of the American administration.

No, I have reflected here in Pakistan our views. I say he’s reflecting, I think, the views of some in Afghanistan. But the American view of what is going on is as I have stated.

So, why is the presidential election in Afghanistan delayed again? Who is responsible?

My understanding is that the UN has made the decision that there needs (to be) a slight delay till the ninth of October for the presidential election. And this delay was deemed acceptable, particularly when you note the great number of Afghan citizens who are registering to vote. We are up well over six and a half million now. And the interesting thing is, the registering of women is at about 39 percent. And even more interesting to me is women in the countryside have registered at a higher percentage than women in the cities. So, I think it’s a good thing.

So why have the coalition forces failed to kill or catch any high-value target inside Afghanistan? A recent Newsweek report says that Osama bin Laden is present in some of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

I don’t know where Osama bin Laden is. I don’t think anybody does. There is a lot of speculation. We have fought and
defeated the Taliban. We, to some extent, kicked Al Qaeda out when we moved in after the 9/11 attacks. And I think the people of Afghanistan have a view that the coalition forces have aided greatly in bringing their lives back to a more pleasant situation.

A very close associate of bin Laden, Khalid al-Harbi, surrendered to the Saudi authorities recently. Do you want his extradition to the United States?

I think that is something that we would have to talk to the Saudis about. He was a known associate of Osama bin Laden. He’s been seen in photographs with him. He appears quite infirm from the pictures I have seen. I think we are mostly interested in his information.

What do you say about his presence in Iran?

We have long stated that Iran has had present in their country Al Qaeda elements, so I find nothing surprising about this.

Also Read: Al Qaeda and the Iranian Connection

Do you plan to send some fresh troops to Afghanistan for maintaining law and order?

We would certainly like continued NATO participation in the provincial reconstruction teams. We have got 14 of them up and running now and I think there are three more scheduled to come. And that will aid in bringing about peace and stability as we approach the October 9 date for presidential elections.

You said something about the cross-border terrorism in India. Does it means that fencing the Line of Control is useless?

Fencing the Line of ? Well, you know there is a statement that good fences make good neighbours, but I think good fences can also interfere in an eventual solution to the question.

I am talking about the iron fence on the Line of Control. Is it useless?

I don’t know that it’s useless or not. It seems to me, and I think that many in India agree, that infiltration is down a bit. But the fact is that there is a lot of violence. Some of it indigenous; some of it across border. And whenever there is violence, things could spread out of control. So, we always urge both sides to think carefully through the consequences of their actions.

The Indian foreign office is silent on cross-border terrorism. But you spoke on this issue. What is the reason?

Why the Indian foreign office is silent?

*The Indian foreign office is silent, but you mentioned something about cross-border terrorism. So, if they are silent and you are speaking on the issue, what is the reason?

I was asked a question. And just as you are asking me questions, I try to answer them. So I was asked a question in Delhi at a press conference and I gave an answer.

So, how do you see the future of the India-Pakistan talks?

I found the situation this time, both in Islamabad and in India, much more relaxed. I think that now that there is a process underway, there is some confidence being developed, and I think that confidence, if it continues to be developed, will eventually lead to a situation where the two sides can discuss the very important and the core issues.

Can the US play the role of a mediator or a facilitator between India and Pakistan?

Well, this is not the role we see for ourselves. We are a friend of both sides. We certainly want the resolution that is agreeable to both sides, and to the people of Kashmir. After all, their equities are very much at stake. But, as a mediator or facilitator, no.

And what do you think about the recent increase in the Indian defence budget?

I hadn’t even focused on it, to tell the truth. I haven’t looked at it.

Do you think the increase in the Indian defence budget can create some problems for this region?

No, before I could answer that, I would have to look at it and see not only what it was but where it was applied. But I found
no hostile intent while I was in Delhi. I found, as I say, a very calm atmosphere.

Both India and Pakistan are testing their nuclear missiles. Would you like to comment on this trend?

We have commented time after time. The testing of the missiles, et cetera, can be a provocative action. Now I think that both sides are taking pains to inform each other of upcoming activities so as to lower the possibility that something might be misunderstood. But the real key is to develop a better set of relations between Pakistan and India so that we don’t have to have questions like this at future press conferences.

So, the last, would you like to tell us how many Pakistanis will be released from the Guantanamo Bay prison?

I don’t have the figure with me. We are intent, as I said earlier today, in trying to reduce to an absolute necessary minimum the number of people held at Guantanamo Bay. And we are trying to arrange, make arrangements with various countries, whose nationals are in Guantanamo, but I don’t have at my fingertips the figures for Pakistanis.

1 comment to Rediff Interview/US Deputy Sec. of State Armitage

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    Text of Richard Armitage’s interview

    Following is a transcript of an interview the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, gave to PTV on Tuesday.

    Question: Just starting off straight with what’s been happening in the United States, with the re-election of President George Bush for a second term. Looking back on his four years, what would you say were the defining moments of success and possibly any areas where you feel you didn’t do enough?

    Richard Armitage: I’ll tell you one of the key areas of success was the re-establishing of a relationship with Pakistan, and look how far we’ve come in four years. Beyond that I think you have to look at your neighbour in Afghanistan. What we all witnessed in the election on October 9 was a tribute to the men and women of Afghanistan. In fact it is a tribute to Pakistan, who was so helpful in bringing about that election.

    Q: One of the campaign issues was the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and that hasn’t happened. So looking at that now, are you going to be devoting more resources towards that? Are we going to see any particular efforts stepped up to find him at this point?

    RA: I think the efforts have continued unabated since 9/11. We have thousands and thousands of US soldiers, we have Afghan national army soldiers, and certainly Pakistani soldiers looking for Osama Bin Laden. Sooner or later, we’ll get him. So I don’t think it is a lack of resources; he’s just got a lot of holes in which he hides, and eventually we’ll poke our heads into the right one.

    Question: And, of course, in terms of policy towards Pakistan, can we expect any changes in American foreign policy toward Pakistan in the second term?

    RA: I was just speaking with our colleagues today in the Foreign Ministry, and I expressed the hope to them that any changes we see are changes of acceleration. We want to have a relationship with Pakistan that’s political, that’s economic. That’s lagging a bit, I think, and we need to get some foreign direct investment in here. We certainly want to continue our excellent cooperation with the military, and we want to develop more of a cultural exchange with Pakistan.

    Q: Regarding the situation between Pakistan and India, recently President Musharraf asked for people to suggest options to resolve the continuing problem with Kashmir. Would there be any kind of situation you would see where the US would facilitate such a dialogue or even offer options of its own?

    RA: I don’t think it’s appropriate for the United States to get in the middle of a question that exists between Pakistan and India. We’ll certainly, where appropriate, make suggestions to the two sides. We have in the past, I think, been helpful in calming things down. But this is, at heart, a question for Pakistan and India to resolve. I was very interested in the proposals that President Musharraf made. It looked to me that he .vas being very forward thinking. And I think he has caused a great deal of thinking, both in India and here in Pakistan about the way forward.

    Q: What about the role of the Kashmiris? There continues to be a lot of debate. What role would the United States like to see the Kashmiri people have in this process?

    RA: The Kashimiri people are the ones that ultimately suffer the most, and their voice has to be heard, whether it is on either side of the Line of Control. The Kashmiris have to be able to speak their minds and to feel that they are being heard and that they are being listened to.

    Q: Switching to Afghanistan, as you mentioned earlier, with President Hamid Karzai’s re-election, one of the things he keeps talking about is the fact that he hasn’t received the kind of financial support that his government needs to fight the drug problem, the warlordism, and the various other issues. Will the United States be coming forward with some initiative to either restart the Bonn process, kick-start into Tokyo, anything? We don’t see it happening.

    RA: We’ve put in excess of a billion dollars in, and we’ll be continuing that. The Kabul-Kandahar road, for instance, which has enormously aided commerce, is a function of US assistance. I understand the frustration on the narcotics area because the growth of poppy has continued unabated. We have to do a better job to assist the government of Afghanistan, and our friends the British, who are the lead country in the counter narcotics area, have to do a better job.

    Q: Moving on to the Middle East and the situation in Iraq. The situation is getting worse everyday in terms of the security problem, and now Prime Minister Alawi has announced a 60-day state of emergency. Does that worry you that this had to be done?

    RA: No, I was speaking to the Prime Minister. I came from a 36-hour visit in Iraq. He feels that he has to change the equation. He no longer could stand to have insurgents basically own a town and prevent the government from extending its influence there, and he’s made a decision to route the insurgents out. You’re correct about the 60-day emergency law, but it’s only applied to certain areas, for instance the Syrian border, the al Anwar province, things of that nature. It’s not nationwide.

    Q: And the situation in Fallujah, the United States has now started what was the anticipated assault on Fallujah. There has been severe criticism of the United States for not insuring enough precautions to make sure that civilian casualties can be minimised. Any efforts in that regard to minimise civilian casualties or even eradicate them?

    RA: First of all, there are over 3,000 Iraqi soldiers who are leading the activities, and we are certainly supporting them. This was called for by the government of Iraq. There is about 25 percent of the Fallujah population left in the town, about 60,000 people. The rest have fled and are awaiting the results of the battle. We’ll be as careful as we possibly can. The government of Iraq has made every precaution to have medical supplies; equipment, blood, should it be needed, pre-positioned around Fallujah so that they can immediately take care of any civilian casualties.

    Q: There have been suggestions that the elections in Iraq scheduled for January could be held in only a few provinces or may even be postponed all together. If they are held in only a few provinces and not all of Iraq, what kind of legitimacy would that government have?

    RA: None. These elections have to be held so that all Iraqis can take part in them, and that’s what the government wants. They don’t want to have an election that disenfranchises some citizens, no more than we in the United States would like to have an election that disenfranchises, say, California.

    Q: Of course, in the Middle East, critics of the previous administration, President Bush’s first term, say that he didn’t do enough on the Middle East peace process, that there was no actual work done during that time. Now that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is in critical condition, whom is the United States looking to talk to now?

    RA: We’re waiting for the Palestinians to come up with new leadership. Of course, we don’t wish anyone ill, and we’re sorry for the ill health of Chairman Arafat. But should he pass, the Palestinians have 60 days to come up with a new leadership, and that will give the Israelis someone with whom to deal, as well as the United States. By the way, it was only George Bush among American presidents who spoke for the first time about a two-state vision – Palestine and Israel – living side-by-side. And it was only George Bush who laid out a roadmap for peace, and that roadmap is still the only map in town.

    Q: Let’s talk about that roadmap, because we haven’t seen it implemented. Are we going to see further work being done on that roadmap?

    RA: It has obviously, in recent months, been in abeyance, as it were. It’s been stopped. The Israeli government has just pushed through their Knesset a disengagement from Gaza plan. We’re very keen on this. We want the Israelis to disengage from Gaza and the Palestinians reoccupy this territory. We want them to see that it is possible for Israel to peacefully give back land, and hopefully that would be a good primer, if you will, as we move forward to the question of the West Bank.

    Q: On the question of Iran and Syria, let’s quickly talk about Iran. Relations have been tense between the United States and Tehran recently. In this administration, what are we likely to see on that front?

    RA: We’re likely to see a continuation of the struggle over the nuclear question, though it looks, temporarily at least, as though the EU has been able to broker some sort of suspension of the nuclear programme, which is a good thing. We don’t wish Iran ill in the long term, but we also don’t like to see Iran trying to undermine activities in Iraq. We don’t like to see Iran, which has certain Al Qaeda folks in Tehran, under surveillance, I believe, but we can’t get any information from them. So there are a lot of stumbling blocks between ourselves and Iran.

    Q: The situation between what is now perceived as the war between terrorism, is often perceived as a war between Islam and the West. Even President Musharraf has talked about an “iron curtain” descending between the West and Islamic countries. What efforts will you be making in this new administration about trying to ameliorate this perception?

    RA: First of all, I think it’s more than a question of “war” between Islam and the West. There is a struggle going on in Islam, between those who love this great religion and want to practise it as it was meant to and those who want to misuse it for secular aims or for extremist aims. That’s a war that’s going on inside of the Islamic community, inside the Muslim community. From our point of view, we are going out of our way to make sure all of our Muslim citizens and all Muslims around the world realise how much we respect the religion, that Islam is one of the great religions of the world, and we look to increase our own understanding of Islam as a way to move forward.

    Q: Any changes likely in the State Department, Cabinet in this new term?

    RA: Yes.

    Q: Are you going to tell us which ones?

    RA: (Laughs) I don’t know which ones yet. I’ve been travelling since the election, but, sure, inevitably there will be changes, we just don’t know who will go where.

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