The Duck of Minerva

Gates Grilled at Pakistan’s National Defense University

12 February 2010

[Crossposted from my Notebook]

The Defense Department has pulled from its website the transcript of the Q and A session last month between Secretary of Defense Gates and Pakistani military officers.  The frank talk was apparently a bit heated. At one point, one of the Pakistani military officers asked Secretary Gates point blank: “Are you with us or against us?”

The transcript reveals a deep level of distrust between the US and the Pakistani military.  It also shows that some junior officers of the Pakistani military do not take ownership of their government’s current offensives against militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Comments on the transcript have made their rounds in the press and the blogosphere, and are still circulating in Pakistan, but many have not had access to the original document.  I think the transcript is quite important for those trying to understand the anger against the United States not just among ordinary Pakistani citizens but within the Pakistani military establishment.

I am posting the original transcript for the benefit of other researchers:

January 22, 2010 Friday



Q (Inaudible) — from Nigerian Navy. So what you did in Iraq is working because Iraq has the resources to sustain the armed forces. What is the strategy for sustaining — (inaudible) — in Afghanistan when, not if, you — (inaudible).

SEC. GATES: I think that’s a very legitimate question, and I would say that, clearly, one of the advantages that Iraq had and has is that it’s a very wealthy country. But the reality is that before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, during the period, for example, from about 1934 until about 1974 or so, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful place as well. It exported agricultural products and it was by no means a rich country, but it offered a decent economy and a decent living for its people.

What has happened in Afghanistan is that 30 years of war have largely destroyed the economy of Afghanistan. And so a big part of our strategy actually is to provide a little agriculture in Afghanistan, as well as industries. There are huge opportunities in mining in Afghanistan. There are a lot of mineral resources in Afghanistan that have never really been exploited.

So central to this process is reviving the economy of Afghanistan. Obviously, it requires a secure environment for that to happen and that’s part of the international strategy.

I would say that one of the advantages that Afghanistan has at this point is that there are now dozens and dozens of countries, as well as non-governmental organizations, all committed to trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.

And so this is a broad international effort under the auspices of the United Nations. And I think there’s great promise. Afghanistan had the largest wheat crop last year than it has had in several decades, and, in fact, the wheat crop was so good and the demand was so high that the price of wheat was almost as high as the price of poppies.

So the way to get rid of the narcotics problem or reduce it and the way to rebuild the economy starts with the agricultural economy, but also the international community figuring out how to help Afghanistan take advantage of the natural resources that it has for extraction.
The Chinese are very interested in these opportunities; in fact, they’ve cited a copper mine that they’re interested in and clearly are prepared to mine once the security environment is satisfactory.

So the economic component of this is every bit as important as the political component, and we fully understand that. And one of the benefits that we have is many nations and many organizations who are all working to the same end in this respect.

Q (Inaudible). You gave a statement with regard to some future terrorist threat or action that may take place over there. And you said that India may run out patience. The Pakistan army’s resolve against terrorism — (inaudible).

You have predisposed Pakistan as perhaps siding with the terrorists. So could you please tell us with regard to fighting against terrorism are you with us or against us? Thank you. (Applause.)

SEC. GATES: We’re very much with you. What I was trying to identify in India was the fact that there are a number of terrorist groups that have the common objective of destabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and trying to destabilize the entire region. And the point I was trying to make is that you have al Qaeda, you have the Taliban in Afghanistan. You have the Taliban in Pakistan. You have the Haqqani Network. You have the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

All of these are terrorist groups and they are all working together. They are not commonly operated from one command post, but they share objectives. They share planning. And we know, for example, that al Qaeda is working with Taliban in Pakistan in planning the attacks that have taken place here in Pakistan.

So these groups have a common objective and that is destabilizing all of the countries in this region. And the message I was trying to make in India was that the nations, those nations all have to work together to avoid having these terrorists be able to make them their pawns in the terror struggle.

There has to be a level of cooperation in countering the terrorist threat in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and others to prevent the terrorists from doing exactly what their objective is. Believe me, there should be no mistake; these terrorists want to destabilize Pakistan. They would like to see Pakistan become an extremist state and that is their objective. And if they think they can provoke a conflict with India, that’s what they will try to do.
And all I was saying when I was in India was we all have to work together to prevent that kind of an outcome. We all have a common enemy. We all have a common purpose.

I know there are long time historic issues between Pakistan and India, but in this case, there is a common enemy that we all have to work together against it.

Q (Inaudible) — political and military relationships. The sense which I got from your remarks is that you are again conducting the same kind of relationship with the future. With the thought of that particular relationship the last two years, and we have seen — (inaudible) — $7.5 billion, what other steps or measures you are — (inaudible) — to increase this particular relationship because this relationship between military and military has not fared well in the past. And I just want — (inaudible). Thanks.

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I actually do believe that the military-to-military relationship will continue and it will grow. As I indicated in my remarks, I think the United States has made a couple of strategic mistakes of real consequence in our relationship.

The first was when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviets left and we also left Pakistan, if you will, holding the bag as Afghanistan descended into civil war.

The second strategic mistake was when the Pressler Amendment required us to break off our military-to-military relationships, and I think that was a serious mistake.
The truth of the matter is many of your more senior officers, those who have worked with Americans in the past, those that have gone to American service schools, those who have worked with Americans here in Pakistan had a different view of the United States and of our military than younger officers who have not had that kind of exposure to us.

So the first thing we have to do is communicate our conviction and our intention that going forward, this is a reliable relationship and that we are — will be a reliable partner for Pakistan for years and years to come. We will not make — we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I think that the willingness to look beyond the military-to- military relationship is evidenced in the legislation that was passed by our Congress that provides over $1.5 billion worth of economic assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period. The dollar figure is one thing, but the fact that it’s a five-year-long commitment is indicative of the United States’ desire to have a longstanding relationship with Pakistan far into the future.

The United States was a principal sponsor of the Tokyo Summit where a number of nations came together to raise money to help Pakistan in its economic circumstances.

So I think there are a number of efforts underway internationally and bilaterally to try and build relationships with Pakistan and to build those relationships in arenas outside the military or I would say in addition to the military.

That said, relationships between our professional militaries is not a bad foundation, but it clearly is not enough, and the relationship needs to expand to these other areas. And I think that the legislation and the assistance that’s been passed to programs that are being put in place are all intended to do that.

Yes, sir, in the back. Way in the back.

Q I am Rear Admiral — (inaudible) — National Security Workshop. Sir, there’s a large section of the Pakistani population who feel that the present mess that Pakistan finds itself today in, in large part, is due to the United States. The war on our Western borders in which not only the army but the whole country is embroiled in, and there’s no end in sight, initially was not our war but now it has become our war. So what is your message to these people, sir?

SEC. GATES: My message is as long as al Qaeda found safe haven on either the Afghan or the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistan was ultimately going to become a target.

The Taliban, as long as they hosted al Qaeda, created a nest. And from that nest only dangerous things could happen for the entire region. So as long as the Taliban was in power, perhaps there was peace on that border, but the fact is that with the nature of the regime that the Taliban represented, I believe that it was an unstable situation and one that could not last.

The reality is these violent extremists do not want to see a democratic government in Pakistan. They do not want to see a secular government in Pakistan. They want to see a violent overthrow of the legitimate institutions of this country and putting in place an extremist group of people. You don’t want that. Nobody in the region wants it. We certainly don’t want it.

So I would say to you that their attack on us from that safe haven in September 2011 (sic\2001) — remember, it wasn’t the first time they attacked us from that safe haven. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. They attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1995 (sic\1998). They attacked our warship, the Cole in 2000. These guys declared war on us within four years after the Soviets left Afghanistan. And that war was never going to be limited just to us in terms of their ambition. And if you read their writings and you read what they say and their desire to form a caliphate, it is clear that their ambitions are not limited just to creating — putting the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, their ambition is to extend to Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as well.

So the war may have come to you later, but it would have come, in my view, inevitably.

I think we have time for one more question. Yes sir.

Q Sir, this is — (inaudible). Since you are taking questions — (inaudible).

Sir, it’s an established fact that the — (inaudible) — party always seeks — (inaudible) — investment where — (background noise). And I’m referring to, again, Pakistan.

So during the run to the elections, Mr. Obama — in other statements, he mentioned that there was an understanding now that — (inaudible) — problem, India and Pakistan, particularly, their — (inaudible) — connection with extremism and also from — (inaudible) — Afghanistan.

Now after — (off mike) — same old thing. The United States is refusing to mediate between India and Pakistan since the war — (inaudible). And India was even taken out of — (off mike). My question with this — (inaudible) — first, is the United States administration unable to see how hollow is the Indian argument that the India-Pakistan problem can be resolved only through dialogue — (inaudible). Secondly, is the U.S. policy of India subject — (inaudible). And third is is the U.S. unable to see that its policy of propping up India — (inaudible) — especially with reference to Aghanistan because if there’s one sure guaranteed way of ensuring the eastern region of Afghanistan — (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I would tell you that the United States clearly has not or has ever propped up India. India has not needed us for that purpose and, in fact, those familiar with the history would know that our relationship with India was fairly strained until not too many years ago.

The reality is I have some experience with this. The first President Bush sent me to Islamabad and to New Delhi in the spring of 1990 when there was great concern about rising tensions between the two powers and the risk of war. We at that time, worked with the sides not only since then, but from before. But it has been made clear to us by both sides that they prefer to deal with this matter bilaterally. But I was clear to the Indians and I’ll be clear today — if we can be of help and if the two parties want us to be of help, we will do what we can. We are prepared to play a constructive role, but only if both parties want us to be involved.
The final thing I would say is that the other message that I had in India, both privately and publicly, was to describe to them your suspicions of their activities in Afghanistan, and they clearly described to me their suspicions of what you were doing in Afghanistan, to which I responded the best way to deal with those suspicions is, as part of the back channel discussions between the two countries, to have a complete transparency about what both sides are doing. Because the truth of the matter is, stability in Afghanistan is in both India and Pakistan’s interests. And having an open and candid and completely transparent dialogue about that seems to be the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

Thank you all very much for your courtesy and for your time.

Q Thank you very much for being — (inaudible) — to this discussion, which — (inaudible) — of the commitments of the — (inaudible). So we would like to thank you very much for being here with us this morning and for — (off mike). (Applause.)