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Interview: Former U.S. Envoy Says Pakistan Stance Toward Afghanistan Is 'A Problem'

Former U.S. Ambassador To The UN Zalmay Khalilzad

Former U.S. Ambassador To The UN Zalmay Khalilzad

Former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad believes the U.S. relationship with Pakistan "has entered a very sensitive period" in recent months over the issue of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad is currently a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has also served as the United States Ambassador to Iraq, and the United Nations. Khalilzad recently discussed the United States' relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan in an exclusive interview in Dari with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Zarif Nazar.

RFE/RL: Many ordinary Afghans believe the Unites States does not talk openly to Pakistan when it comes to issues related to Afghanistan's peace and stability.

Zalmay Khalilzad: There were indeed certain problems in U.S. policy toward Pakistan but that policy is now changing. I have complained about it in the past. On the one hand, the U.S. needs Pakistan's cooperation in providing supply routes for its troops [in Afghanistan] and also in the fight against Al-Qaeda, as many leaders and high-ranking elements of Al-Qaeda have been in Pakistan. Concerns about Pakistan's own future were also among the reasons for U.S. and Pakistani cooperation.

However, at the same time, there were disagreements between the U.S. and Pakistan over the issue of Afghanistan. The U.S. has put pressure on Pakistan in this regard. Nonetheless, the policy of "friendship and pressure" did not work. Pakistan has been both friend and foe to the United States.

Relations between the two countries are getting increasingly complicated. The top commander of the U.S. forces [Admiral Mike Mullen] recently accused Pakistan's security services of being involved in [the September 13] attacks by the Haqqani network on the U.S. Embassy and NATO buildings [in Kabul]. This has opened a new and very sensitive period in U.S.-Pakistani relations.

I think U.S. pressure on Pakistan will increase in the future. Pakistan's stance toward Afghanistan has always been a problem in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan -- this policy has never been successful in overcoming this issue.

RFE/RL: How far will U.S. pressure on Pakistan go? Some experts in the region predict large-scale military and security operations by U.S. forces against militants inside Pakistani territory, at the very least.

Khalilzad: I think there will be economic pressures, such as reducing financial aid or providing aid with preconditions, demanding that Pakistan should demonstrate its willingness to cooperate before getting any assistance.

The more the Afghan government demonstrates its willingness to work for progress and improvement, the more the international community would want to continue its commitment to Afghanistan.
There are ongoing debates [in the U.S.] about it. Some politicians suggest the U.S. should put preconditions on all its aid to Pakistan. Others say it should set preconditions only on military aid to the country, while continuing to provide humanitarian and civilian aid because civilians do not have any role in military and security decisions.

As for military operations, I believe there will be more such operations. Pakistan has said it does not accept U.S. troops entering its territory. However, the U.S. can use its military planes and unmanned planes to attack those centers that prepare militants attacks on Afghanistan.

If Pakistan doesn't change its policy, relations between the U.S. and Pakistan will be increasingly difficult and complicated.

RFE/RL: The security situation has been worsening in Afghanistan in recent months. Several major attacks and suicide bombings have taken place in Kabul and elsewhere. What should Afghan leaders do to strengthen security in the country?

Khalilzad: With these attacks, the Taliban wanted to create chaos in Afghanistan and they intended to show to the Afghan people and the world that the Afghan government doesn't even have the capacity to defend its important leaders.

It is very important for the Afghan government to demonstrate that it is capable of doing its job and improving its performance.

Providing security throughout the country is directly related to ensuring the rule of law in the country. This has yet to be achieved. The Afghan government should work toward implementing the rule of law, fighting corruption and providing security. With today's realities on the ground, it might take some time.

RFE/RL: Since U.S. President Barack Obama first mentioned the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, many Afghans are worried that their war-torn and poverty-stricken country will once again be abandoned by the international community.

Khalilzad: This issue is very complicated. One the one hand, the international community, and the U.S. in particular, understand that it was a mistake to abandon Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Afghanistan was left to deal with its problems alone, and this paved the way for Al-Qaeda to find a safe haven in the country. The international community doesn't want that mistake to be repeated.

On the other hand, the U.S. and other countries are facing growing domestic pressure demanding the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan.

The economy is not in great shape in the U.S. and the financial cost of the troops in Afghanistan is being highlighted during election campaigns. It costs billions of dollars and many believe it cannot continue for another five or ten years.

The situation inside Afghanistan has a direct impact on this. The more the Afghan government demonstrates its willingness to work for progress and improvement, the more the international community would want to continue its commitment to Afghanistan.

They want to see that the Afghan government is fighting corruption and ensuring the rule of law. Otherwise, there is a real risk that the international community will be disappointed.

In the future, it is possible that the Afghan government and the U.S. could reach an agreement whereby the U.S. would maintain a small military presence in Afghanistan and provide assistance when necessary so that the situation doesn't spiral out of control. In such a scenario, the financial burden would not be so high that the U.S. wouldn't be able to accept it.

translated from Dari by Farangis Najibullah

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