Marc Grossman, the U.S. senior representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently sat down at the State Department in Washington with Voice of America's Lina Rozbih to discuss a wide range of regional issues, from the future of Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network to India-Pakistan relations and the recent instability in Afghanistan as the United States begins to draw down its troops.
VOA: Where were you on 9/11, and what went through your mind when it became clear that this was a terrorist attack?
Being here at the State Department is, of course, a reminder of that day. I was here at the State Department. I was undersecretary of state for political affairs. We were having a meeting in then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s office. Someone came in and said that an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, and people thought, “What a terrible accident; what an awful thing.” Then some minutes later, when they said that the second airplane had hit the World Trade Center, Richard stood up and said, “This is terrorism. America is under attack.”
He told us all to go back to our offices and prepare for the bad day and few months that we were likely to have. I went back to my office, and from my window I could see the Pentagon. We saw the airplane hit the Pentagon. There was a huge amount of smoke, and my window shook from the impact of that aircraft. At that moment, we knew the United States was under attack.
VOA: Is it accurate to say that in Afghanistan, the U.S. has successfully removed Al-Qaeda’s old base of support?
The threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan toward the United States, friends, and allies is much, much diminished.
The job President [Barack] Obama has given us is to deter, deny, and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I think we’re well on the way to doing that. I believe the efforts of the Afghan people, Afghan national security forces, the great efforts of the United States and friends and allies that have worked very hard these last 10 years to defeat extremism in Afghanistan and certainly to deny, deter, and defeat Al-Qaeda are well on the way to success.
There’s more work to do. Work against extremism will take a very long time. But if you look back to where we were 10 years ago and where we are today, I think the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan toward the United States, friends, and allies is much, much diminished. We can now finish this job.
VOA: Michael Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in an interview that Al-Qaeda in Pakistan "remains a huge problem" but is "on the ropes." Do you agree?
My analysis is that the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad gives us the opportunity to now finish Al-Qaeda. What’s that going to take? It’s going to take a huge amount of cooperation from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from countries all around the world. This is really our opportunity now to defeat this organization.
VOA; Do you think [Pakistan] President [Asif Ali] Zardari’s decision to legalize political parties for the first time in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] could decrease the influence of militants there?
Obviously, the way Pakistan organizes its own government is its business. As far as I’m concerned, I think that the increased amount of democracy in Pakistan, more political parties, more integration of that part of Pakistan into the rest of that society has got to be a positive thing.
We’ve supported the civilian government there and the efforts they’re making politically, economically, democratically to move Pakistan forward. That decision is really for Pakistanis to make. But I think every time you can increase the influence of democracy, you decrease the influence of extremism.
VOA: The announcement that the U.S. market was now open to Pakistani mangoes was welcomed as “sweet news,” but there have been several recent developments that indicate how very tense relations have become between the two countries. Is there any real progress?
Let me divide my answer into two. First, I think your point about market access is an extremely important one -- not just for Pakistan but for Afghanistan as well. One of the things that we would like to work on more over the next few months and years is to increase the amount of trade and investment in the whole region.
One of the things you'll notice that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton talked about in her speech in India the other day was this concept of a new "Silk Road," of an economic region integrated from Central Asia all the way to New Delhi -- maybe even to Bangladesh. Who is at the center of that? The center is Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We see a day when goods will move back and forth from Central Asia to India, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan.
We see a day when goods will move back and forth from Central Asia to India, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan. What will that do? It will increase jobs, it will increase the capacity of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make choices about their own lives in the economic sphere. I think that's extremely important. So the point you make about market access, more goods, more investment, more jobs -- these are things that are extremely important to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On the issue of U.S.-Pakistan relations, Pakistan and the United States have had a relationship for a long time. Like in all relationships, sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse. But our job now is to see if we can't get back to basic principles between Pakistan and the United States. When I was there a few weeks ago, it seemed to me that the foundation for Pakistani-American relations is that Pakistanis and Americans can find shared interests, and then act on them jointly. I think that if we can follow that philosophy, we'll do ourselves some good.
VOA: There has been a lot of fighting in Paktika Province, a haven for the Haqqani network. Is the U.S. stepping up the pressure on the network?
I think as Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense [Leon] Panetta have said recently, the Haqqani network remains for us a real matter of concern. We’ve talked about it with the Pakistanis and when Secretary Clinton talks about the need for Pakistani cooperation to end the safe havens and enablers of people who go into Afghanistan to attack American forces, Afghan forces, Afghan civilians. The Haqqani network is very much on our minds there.
The designation [of Haqqani commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran as a terrorist] is something that we do from time to time, when it’s possible to identify somebody from a group like that who has connections to terrorism. I think it’s well within our rights and really our responsibility to designate them, as Secretary Clinton did.
VOA: There are reports that the kidnapping of American aid expert Warren Weinstein was a “sophisticated operation”, and that the FBI might join Pakistani authorities in the search for him. Would you like to comment?
First of all, our hearts go out to Mr. Weinstein and his family...The idea that anyone would come and kidnap him I think is just outrageous. We have not heard anybody claim responsibility for this. Perhaps they’re too ashamed to do so. I don’t know what kind of operation it was. But what I can tell you is that the FBI in Pakistan and in Washington is in charge for the U.S. government of helping in this investigation, and we have received excellent cooperation from the Pakistani authorities, and especially the authorities in the Punjab. This is a case where they should just release this gentleman.
VOA: In Afghanistan, there have recently been a series of assassinations and other attacks on key officials, just as the transition to Afghan authority has now begun. Is this reversing or threatening gains in governance and security?
These are people who use 8-year-old girls as suicide bombers. People who send people to funerals with bombs in their turbans.
I don’t think so. I hope that the response of the Afghan people will be to see that these assassinations show the insurgents for what they are. These are people who use 8-year-old girls as suicide bombers. People who send people to funerals with bombs in their turbans. At some point, I think the Afghan people will see that [the insurgents] are showing their real face here.
We’re interested in Afghan-led reconciliation. We’re interested in the transition. We’re interested in all of these things. But at some point, enough is enough. Suicide bombing, attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals. These are the kinds of things that I think shouldn’t take place in any country.
Will this undermine the transition? I think it’ll make people worry more about it, but the transition will go forward. We believe that the military surge has been successful. One of the reasons you see these assassinations is that the Taliban has chosen this tactic to try and strike back because they have been damaged militarily.
VOA: What are the specific outcomes that the U.S. is looking for from the Bonn II conference, including with Pakistan and India? Would you like to see the Taliban participate?
Let's step back for a moment. The Bonn conference is an extremely important thing, but there is an international meeting before then that's also extremely important, and that's the meeting in Istanbul that the Turkish government will host early in November.
If you think of Istanbul and Bonn as a pair, you can see what is possible to be achieved in the region. For example, one can imagine that in Istanbul the neighbors and near neighbors of Afghanistan would come together and really show support for Afghanistan, and say the kinds of things that would be so important to the Afghan people: noninterference, promoting Afghan sovereignty, promoting the success of Afghanistan, talking about a secure, stable, and peaceful Afghanistan, inside a secure, stable, and peaceful region, for example. I think that would be an excellent, excellent outcome of Istanbul. And we'd like to do all we can as the United States to support Turkey and Afghanistan to reach that kind of an outcome.
If you move on a month later to Bonn, this is also a very important conference, and that conference is hosted by the German government and -- very importantly -- chaired
by the government of Afghanistan.
I also think it's very important...to try to find a way to use some of the savings that [nations] are making as they reduce their military presence in Afghanistan, and to reinvest that in the Afghan economy.
I think at that session, you could see a welcoming of the Istanbul declaration of the kinds of assurances that Afghanistan has been given. Second, I hope, as Secretary Clinton said in India, that you might also see a highlighting of this idea of a "New Silk Road," the economic integration of the region so that people can start to have jobs and sustainable economic development, investment, and a real economic future. Third, I also think it's very important -- for us, anyway, and we'll see what others think -- to try to find a way to use some of the savings that [nations] are making as they reduce their military presence in Afghanistan, and to reinvest that in the Afghan economy. Maybe that's connected to the Silk Road, maybe it's a separate item, but those are the kinds of things we'd like to see come out of Bonn.
As to your question about who participates in Bonn, I think [Afghan] Foreign Minister [Zalmay] Rasoul has made it absolutely clear in Afghanistan that the Afghans will choose who is on their delegation. And I say, that's completely up to them.
There's one other important aspect of Istanbul and Bonn; that is the relationship between those two conferences and Pakistan, and also the relationship between Pakistan and India. In both places, we hope that Pakistan will continue to be in support of Afghan reconciliation. One of the most interesting developments over the past few months has been the point that the Pakistan government has made to support Afghan reconciliation.
You'll recall when the Pakistani government visited Kabul on April 16, they supported Afghan reconciliation, and they also proposed a core group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S. to meet together and talk about reconciliation.
We've met four times. I hope we'll meet here in New York over the next few weeks again. So both in Istanbul and in Bonn, I hope the Pakistan government will continue its support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation.
Another important part here, especially if my vision, my dream of a new Silk Road comes true, is the relationship between India and Pakistan, because clearly, as goods and services and people move up and down this Silk Road, they also need to move successfully between India and Pakistan.
So the work that the Indian and Pakistani commerce ministers have done together -- very positive. Some of the other ministers, including the foreign ministers who have met -- if we can continue to see that kind of progress between India and Pakistan, it will also be a foundation for this vision, this idea of economic integration running from Central Asia to India, or even actually to Bangladesh.
VOA: Secretary Clinton said that there must be an “active political process” to elect [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai’s successor in 2014. What should that process look like and when should it start?
That’s a question for the Afghan people. No, seriously -- I thought the statement that President Karzai made the other day that he didn’t think he would be right to be president after 2014, that it was democratic, that it was part of the constitution. We admire that.
In terms of the campaign, the campaign can start when Afghans want it to start. I would say that it should be open and transparent and democratic. Who Afghans choose to be their president is a matter for Afghans, not for Americans.
VOA: There has been months of controversy and parliamentary stalemate over fraud in the 2010 elections and the authority of the Independent Election Commission. How would the U.S. like to see this very sensitive issue resolved?
The idea of the strategic partnership document is to define the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States after 2014.
We’d like to see it resolved in an Afghan way by Afghans. Again, the statement that was made the other day by [Karzai] that the Independent Election Commission was in charge of this, that they would make these decisions, seemed to us a step forward. But the Afghan parliament is a matter for Afghans.
What we’re interested in is democracy, institutions, transparency – those are the principles. But the statement made empowering the IEC was a positive development.
VOA: Looking to the future, what progress is there on a strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and what guarantees will it contain for any insurgents who plan to wait out the Americans?
That's a very good question. We would like to complete the strategic partnership document as soon as possible. We've had two rounds of negotiations; my negotiators tell me we're about 85 percent of the way there. I hope that at a senior level we will be able to come together with Afghans in the very near future so we can finish the last issues that are involved.
The idea of the strategic partnership document is to define the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States after 2014, so it goes precisely to the point that you make. It's a sign not just to the insurgents but to the people of Afghanistan, and the neighbors and the near neighbors of Afghanistan, that we've learned the lesson of 1989 and 1990. We are not going to just disappear from the area and the region. So we want the strategic partnership document to speak to the future about economics, about politics.
There are certain things that will not be in that strategic partnership document. For example, the United States of America does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan, and I think that's a very important point for the Afghan people, and also for the neighbors and near neighbors of Afghanistan. But we don't want to put anyone in a position -- and, most prominently, the Afghan people -- of thinking that in 2014, everyone is just going to take off.
That's the reason for the strategic partnership document, and I hope we will find a reasonable way and a rapid way to complete the negotiation of that document.