AND SAEED AASI
LAHORE – As drone attacks intensify in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the acting ambassador and charge d’affaires, Richard Hoagland, remains reluctant to say anything on the subject responsible for most damage to the goodwill of the US among Pakistanis.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt, Mr Richard Hoagland told Ashraf Mumtaz and Saeed Aasi in a comprehensive dialogue at the residence of Lahore Consul General Nina Fite on Tuesday that Pakistan and Afghanistan are neighbours and brothers and there is no way to separate the two.
He said the US understood Pakistan’s sensitivities about India’s role in Afghanistan.
He said the Haqqani network is being targeted by the US because it is responsible for the most highly visible attacks in Kabul.
He was reticent while predicting the kind of situation that would emerge after the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-ravaged country, saying nobody has a crystal ball to know that, but did refer to Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s vision of a “New Silk Route” for the region.
About the state of relations between the two countries, Mr Hoagland said both sides have come to the point where they feel the need to define this relationship clearly and stabilise the strategic relationship. “We need to identify real common interests where we can really work together and move forward.”
He said it is misperception that the US has not encouraged Pakistan to use the F-16s against militants. However, he said, he would not say more on the subject.
Answering a question about the US assistance to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar Bill, he said the Congress has approved about one billion dollars rather than 1.5 billion dollars.
In his opinion, it is actually a responsible thing to do because so much money was being pumped into the pipeline that is was hard to use responsibly.
“So what this is going to do is extend the period for a little bit. But it’s not a cut”.
Asked about reports of the US diplomats transgressing diplomatic protocol and travelling to various areas without clearance, Mr Hoagland said he has seen such reports but some of them are not correct.”If there is an isolated act of indiscipline, we take care of that internally”.
In response to a question about the unjustified detention of Dr Aafia Siddiqui on the charge of pointing a gun at a US soldier, he said if the US courts have made a judgment, then probably she is not a poor innocent weak woman. There must be something to it.
He said it is an unfounded allegation that she has been badly treated in prison or that she has not received medical help in prison.
According to him, under Vienna Convention Pakistani diplomats have the right and responsibility to visit her in prison on a regular basis. And they have done so and seen that she is held in normal, respectful conditions. If she has a minor health problem, it is taken care of.
Asked about the huge US embassy building in Islamabad and people’s suspicions, he said it is a normal building. He said the best thing we can do is bring in those who are unhappy, whether they are officials or journalists and give them a tour of the building site.
The following is the text of the interview:
N: Regarding drones, protests are lodged, demarches handed over, senior US diplomats summoned and given lectures over sovereignty. What happens upon your return to the embassy? What happens when the protest is lodged? Does the demarche just end up on another paper pile? Or is there anything done about it? RH: What a good question, because it’s a question of process and how diplomacy works. We take the demarche back to the embassy and we immediately turn it into a diplomatic cable, and send it to Washington so that there is a record of this exchange between the two governments.
N: And that’s it…
RH: Well, where do you expect it to go after that?
N: Whoever it is sent to, what do they do? Are there any steps taken over it? Does it matter?
RH: Well, it does matter, because it’s an expression of the government of Pakistan. So, what that does is feed into long term thinking, how we come to the point that we have a stable, strategic, well-defined and productive relationship.
N: Is the drone programme run with the assistance of the Pakistani intelligence?
RH: I simply cannot comment on anything that has to do with intelligence.
N: Do US and Pakistani intelligence and military circles share information about drone attacks in the planning stages?
RH: I am not going to say anything about drone attacks, but let me say something about the broader relationship. It is very, very important that the strategic partners in a very difficult part of the world work together. We were very pleased when Gen Zahir (DG ISI) visited Washington recently, because what that did, was gave the opportunity for both sides to sit behind closed doors and be totally frank and totally open with each other. And that’s very positive step.
N: There is a sort of grudging acquiescence of the technical accuracy of the drones as a weapon. However, there is conflict in the understanding between the two sides is in the selection of targets. Do you think the Pakistani side could be involved in the selection of targets in the future, more than it is at the moment?
RH: Once again, I simply am not going to comment on anything that has to do with intelligence matters. That’s the kind of thing that to be useful has to be absolutely behind closed doors.
N: Does the hugely negative public opinion to drones in Pakistan bother you?
RH: Does it bother me? Well, yes, of course, it bothers me, because it’s an expression of public opinion and throughout my entire career as a diplomat I paid very close attention to public opinion, because, in various countries public opinions play a very big role. What I have seen in Pakistan, over the last decade probably, with explosion of media, new television stations, more freedom for print journalists, public opinion does play a very important role. It really does.
N: According to reports, refusal to launch an operation in NWA was seen as one reason why President Obama increased drone attacks in 2009. Now that there are reports of an operation being considered in North Waziristan, now that it’s mostly a question of how and when- why then have drone attacks suddenly increased in frequency, instead of rolling back?
RH: I would love to talk about military cooperation, but I am not going to talk about drones.
N: Why was there no encouragement for the idea that PAF F-16s target militant hideouts?
RH: I think that’s a misperception. But I am not going to go further than that.
N: Would you trust Pakistan to take necessary action against the militants which drones target, if that was an option?
RH: Let me say, in general, that I think Pakistan has taken remarkable responsibility against terrorists and other miscreants within its own territory. Those who have been attacking Pakistan, those who have been killing Pakistani citizens, those who have killed Pakistani soldiers and their officers, I think Pakistan has made enormous sacrifice on that front.
N: There were newspapers reports about the US requesting the US to provide videos of drone attacks. Will there be anything done about that? What would the US response to that be? RH: I am not privy to any discussion about that, at this point, so I simply can’t answer that. However, especially in this administration, President Obama, has made very, very clear of the great respect by the US for the Unites Nations. We are working with the United Nations, and through the United Nations, on a number of hotspots around the world, in ways that we haven’t done for, maybe, a decade.
N: There are many, many groups which undertake attacks against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Why the specific focus on the Haqqanis?
RH: You are exactly right. I have seen statistics which say that it is relatively small number of attacks that can be attributed directly to the Haqqani network. But, the reason that there’s real emphasis on them is that they’re especially brutal and especially effective. There have been attacks in Kabul on the American Embassy, on other embassies, on hotels, on government buildings in Kabul. There have been attacks against military bases, Afghanistan military bases, American military bases that have been spectacular, that can be traced directly back to the Haqqanis. So, maybe part of the fact that they are so effective brings so much attention on them.
N: There are reports of US officials starting talks with the Haqqanis to hand over control of certain provinces. The efficacy of these discussions has not been verified and there were also reports that the discussions did not work out. Would you suggest Pakistan follow the same strategy (of talks) with the Haqqanis?
RH: Well, I think I have to back up. I know exactly which report you are talking about. It was in an English language newspaper in Pakistan. And as soon as that report came out, we categorically denied that it was accurate. There were bits and pieces that were accurate; I don’t want to disrespect the reporter. But, the idea that we might decide to hand over three provinces of Afghanistan to one group or another, that’s absurd. Afghanistan has to make that decision, we can’t do that.
N: Do you feel General Kayani’s August 14 speech was a departure from the usual approach of the Armed Forces to the North Waziristan operation? And were you disappointed when a few days later the indications, which it seemed they were making, to seek public support for it, were reversed by denials?
RH: I did read Gen Kayani’s Independence Day speech. I think it was the speech of a real patriot, a real Pakistani patriot. I don’t think it was really a departure from Pakistani national policy and from Pakistani military policy. When the army perceives that there is a real threat to the nation, it will take action.
N: Do you think you could help create political acceptance and space for the NWA operation in Pakistan by agreeing to allow talks with the Haqqanis or by actively pursuing some sort of programme to bring them to the table?
RH: Part of President Obama’s policy for Afghanistan - which involves withdrawing the vast majority of the combat troops by 2014 - has also included a very strong emphasis on political reconciliation. And so rather than talk about how one group might be treated, or another group might be pulled into this process, we have to work very carefully, in a very complex situation behind the scenes, with the government of Afghanistan and with the government of Pakistan to find ways that will lead to a relatively stable, peaceful and eventually prosperous Afghanistan. And if there is relatively peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, there will be a peaceful and stable Pakistan and the entire region.
N: How do you envision the American occupation of Afghanistan ending?
What do you wish to leave behind and what will you actually leave behind?
RH: Well, there’s no way to know what will develop. No one has a crystal ball that can say in June 2014 or July 2020. Here’s what will happen; President Obama and his administration have been working very hard to make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. And those mistakes included our military occupation force in the past pulling out, washing its hands and turning its back. This administration in Washington has been working very hard to build a diplomatic network of support around the world. Economic support, development support, so that once there is a transition in Afghanistan, there will be reasonable hope for the country to continue to build into a stable and more prosperous nation.
N: How do you see post-2014 Afghanistan in the context of regional stability? Will it be an irritant?
RH: Again, I think there is no way to know what is really going to happen. We are working hard to make sure that there will be stability. I know that Pakistan wants stability, in Afghanistan. In the best of all possible worlds, this idea of a new Silk Route will take hold, so that if there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be access, market access there will be business development. It will open up Central Asia; it will make Pakistan more prosperous.
N: What role do you seen Pakistan playing or able to play in Afghanistan, post-2014?
RH: Pakistan is a neighbour and a brother of Afghanistan. There is no way, ever, to separate the two. You cannot build a fence along the entire border and say no one will ever cross it. I have no doubt that Pakistan, of course, wants a stable, friendly and eventually prosperous Afghanistan. And I know from what officials have said, whether it is military officials or civilian officials, that is where Pakistan is looking for the future. Pakistan has to pay attention to itself and its own people. It can’t be fomenting adventures someplace else.
N: What is it about India that makes its involvement in Afghanistan so necessary or so beneficial in the eyes of the US?
RH: Well, I don’t think it’s so absolutely necessary, but India is part of the region. India has a huge and growing economy. India can play a positive role in helping rebuild the infrastructure of Afghanistan. It can play a positive role in business development. But, look, we also understand Pakistan’s sensitivities because of the 65 year history between India and Pakistan. So when Pakistan says no boots on the ground, no Indian boots, no military presence, no military training, we can understand that.
N: There are 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, so far. How would you advise the Pakistani government to cope post-2014, when the numbers are likely to rise?
RH: Again, if things work out well, if there is stability in the region, many of those refuges will return to their homeland. Refugees, even who have been gone for 10, 20 years, dream of going back to their homes. They want to be on their own soil; so, if there is relative, peace, prosperity and stability in Afghanistan, many would go home. But you know at the same time, many won’t because they have become integrated into the economy, because they have married into the families. And so, there are standard international procedures overseen by the UN to take care of that situation, too.
N: Turning to the stalled Qatar process and the reintegration of the Taliban. What progress do you see that making, if any? And are you hopeful about the talks with the Taliban. Would you encourage Pakistan to also talk to the Pakistani Taliban?
RH: I don’t think as a guest in your country, as a diplomat, I should be giving Pakistan advice about what to do about their own Taliban. I think Pakistan is very, very much aware of the danger that that poses. And, as I said, there are many patriotic leaders in this country, both military and civilian, who know when it’s the proper time to take action.
N: Cross border attacks have become increasingly frequent. What can US and NATO forces do to ensure that Afghan militants cannot attack Pakistani territory so freely and dissolve back into Afghanistan?
RH: What they can do is continue to talk, continue to work together, to build new border procedures, which we are doing. They can build trust so that on the Afghan side the Afghan army and the NATO forces can say ‘Pakistani army can you help us on your side’. At the same time, the Pakistani military can say the same thing to the Afghan military and to the NATO forces. And we’re seeing that happen. With the strike, for example, that that killed one of the leaders of the TTP, Mullah Dadullah.
N: Do you think intelligence sharing between Pakistan and the US is back to pre-Raymond Davis levels?
RH: I’m not going to talk about anything that has to do with intelligence, but I will say that part of reducing the trust deficit, rebuilding trust, is talking to each other. If you don’t talk to each other, you can’t rebuild trust. You can’t have a productive relationship. So, the fact there is an increasing high level conversation between our militaries is positive. The fact that Gen Zahir made a visit to Washington – that’s positive. Does that mean everything is back to normal? No. But, it’s part of a process. And if you don’t talk, you can’t get anywhere.
N: How do you contrast the relationship now between US and Pakistani intelligence after General Pasha’s retirement and General Zahir taking over the reins? You mentioned his visit to Washington was positive?
RH: That fact that he visited Washington was positive. The fact that both sides were able to sit down behind closed doors and speak very honestly, very frankly was positive. But, again, I think it would be a little bit irresponsible to comment on personalities. You know, whether a former ISI director had one kind of personality that led to certain developments - and the new one has a different one - that’s not what diplomacy is about.
N: Do you agree with former Ambassador Haqqani’s somewhat extreme view that Pakistan and the US should “divorce” as allies?
RH: I was very intrigued by ambassador Haqqani’s speech in Washington. And in fact, he did say maybe it’s time for divorce, but he was much more subtle than that. Because what he said is if you have a long term dysfunctional relationship, then maybe it is just better to divorce, step back and then you can find new ways to communicate with each other. He didn’t call for an absolute cut and never have anything to do with each other again.
N: Do you agree with the strategy he suggested?
RH: I think it was very intriguing. We have - as two nations, two strategic partners - gone through a very difficult period. I think both sides have stepped back and have realized that all right we’ve got to begin to rebuild and get this right. Would I advocate for a divorce right now, well I am not a divorce lawyer, so, I don’t know.
N: Is there a recovery plan to get back to a more trusting relationship? Or is it just play along and see how it goes? Is there enough time and energy for that?
RH: There’s always time and I hope there’s always enough energy. Obviously, we have a reengagement plan. You have seen some of our senior generals visiting, you have seen senior officials visiting. That had stopped for a number of months. The fact that there are exchanges and high level visits for different interests, that’s very important. We know there are going to be some high level visits from Pakistan to Washington coming up. Your president is going to the UN General Assembly. There are all kinds of opportunities for engagement. And we are not going to let those slip away.
N: Over a billion dollars of the CSF was received shortly after the GLOCs reopened. What else is in the pipeline? Is the Kerry Lugar Bill dead or is there any life left in that?
RH: No, the Kerry Lugar Bill isn’t dead at all. In fact, the money for our fiscal year 2012 was just approved by our Congress. There is slight reduction in it. It’s close to one billion dollars rather than 1.5 billion dollars. Well, that’s actually a responsible thing to do. Because so much money was being pumped into the pipeline that is was hard to use responsibly. So what this is going to do is extend the period for a little bit. But it’s not a cut.
N: Special Envoy Grossman’s role has been very different from Ambassador Holbrooke’s?
RH: They’re different personalities.
N: Well, I’d like to ask, is this an indication of a change in the nature of the portfolio? Has the role itself changed in the way it is being defined in policymaking circles in Washington?
RH: Most fundamentally they are different personalities. And over time portfolios always change, they’re constantly adjusted. So the region is a different place right now than it was in December 2010 when Ambassador Holbrooke passed away. So of course there have had to be some adjustments made.
N: Construction of the new US embassy in Islamabad keeps surfacing as a cause of concern. How would you address the disquiet caused by the physical expansion of the embassy premises?
RH: I think the best thing we can do is bring in those who are unhappy, whether they are officials or, journalists and give them a tour of the building site. Why not do that? And you will see that it is a normal building. It’s rather a big building, but that’s because we’re a rather big embassy. Look, my view is the more transparency the better.
N: Would you press India to give Kashmiri people their right to self-determination?
RH: I think the experience of the United States over many decades is that when we become deeply involved or too openly involved in very difficult historic issues like that (Kashmir) it is counterproductive. Now should we have conversations behind the scenes with all the different players? Yes, of course. But it’s not very useful, not very helpful for us to publicly press for one position or another.
N: The Pakistan US relationship…How would you characterize it at the moment? What would you see as areas where improvement is possible?
RH: We have gone through a difficult period. Then we had a pause for a number of months. I think that both sides have come to the point where we say, okay, we need to define this relationship clearly, we need to stabilise the strategic relationship. We need to identify real common interests where we can really work together and move forward.
N: There have been reports about US diplomats transgressing diplomatic protocol, carrying unlicensed weapons, not cooperating with the police, driving to areas without due clearance…how would you comment on that? Is that a violation of discipline?
RH: I have seen some of those reports. Some of the reports are not correct. If there is an isolated act of indiscipline, we take care of that internally.
N: Our information minister last night in a television talk shows, said Pakistan was considering stopping the NATO supply again, if drone attacks do not end.
RH: I am not going to speculate on our future reaction. I didn’t see the report. I would have to study it.
N: On the Aafia Siddiqui case, a poor, innocent woman has been jailed for 86 years on the charge of merely pointing a snatched gun at a US soldier. Even a former attorney general of the US has now come out against the conviction and called it shameful. Your comments…
RH: I understand this is a very emotional issue. I understand it’s a complicated issue. If our courts in the United States have made a judgment, I would generally say she probably is not a poor innocent weak woman. There must be something to it. What I object to in this case is the unfounded allegation in Pakistan is that she has been badly treated in prison or that she has not received medical help in prison. And that is absolutely not true. Because according to Vienna Convention your diplomats have the right and responsibility to visit her in prison on a regular basis. And they done so and seen that she is held in normal, respectful conditions. If she has a minor health problem, it is taken care of. So, we have given full consular access to Dr Siddiqui for your diplomats. I just wish that sometimes we could have better consular access here to our citizens who are held in Pakistani jails and prisons.