U.S. Representative Dan Burton, a Republican lawmaker from the state of Indiana, has been visiting RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as a member of a subcommittee that deals with security, homeland defense, and foreign operations. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz spoke with Burton about Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab uprisings, and human rights in Iran.
RFE/RL: You've just visited RFE/RL's Afghan service and spoken with correspondents there about the fears of ordinary Afghans as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to pull out in 2014. Many Afghans say they are concerned the security situation will deteriorate without international forces, and could be worse than the early 1990s after Soviet troops withdrew and the anti-Soviet mujahedin factions turned on each other.
Dan Burton: I think any time you have a military conflict like in Afghanistan, you have to look at the short-term situation and the long term. I think we're making progress there. When the president starts talking about removing troops and setting a timetable, I think that's probably not the best thing because you give the Taliban and others a period of time within which to wait us out.
But assuming that we follow the timeline that the president has set forth, I think it is important that we have a residual force there in that region working with the Afghan military and the Afghan police forces to make sure that stability reigns. In my opinion, we can't let the radical elements once again take over and start exporting terrorism.
RFE/RL: There have been some recent reports by nongovernmental aid and rights groups who have documented how regional militia commanders have been pushing for the appointment of their own loyal militia fighters into the local police forces that are meant to take over from NATO and U.S. troops. There are complaints that many of these militia fighters, once they obtain a police uniform, are victimizing the communities they should be protecting. Are these concerns of ordinary Afghans being heard in Washington by U.S. congressional committee members?
Burton: Well, I'm on the Foreign Affairs Committee and I was the senior member of the Middle East Committee in the last Congress, and I'm sure that that occurs. I'm sure you have corruption. I think that's endemic to situations like this. You're always going to have somebody try to make money out of a tragic problem. But I think the United States under our leadership there, under General [David] Petraeus, is doing everything it possibly can to make sure that the people taking leadership positions -- along with [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai -- are going to be following the right path and not putting corrupt people in charge.
But after having said that, I'm sure that that is going to happen -- and it is going to have to be constantly policed to make sure that the right people are taking charge of the policing.
RFE/RL: Relations between the United States and Pakistan are critical to the war on terror, but those relations have been under stress since the U.S. Special Forces raid at the start of May that found and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. With calls from some U.S. lawmakers to cut aid to Pakistan, and with Islamabad increasingly reaching out to China, how can the strategic relationship between Washington and Islamabad move forward?
Burton: I think that we are in a Catch-22 situation. We believe that there are some people in Pakistan who have been protecting Osama bin Laden. We don't know how high up, exactly, the support went. I'm sure through our intelligence sources we could probably give you a pretty good idea. But at the same time, we have a government there that has worked with us to get some of the Taliban leaders and some of the terrorists that have been causing problems for us throughout the region. It's a situation where you are darned if you do and darned if you don't.
I think that we absolutely have to keep an engagement process going. How much foreign aid is going to be necessary, how much foreign aid we will have to give, is something that we will have to decide. But for us to abandon the issue of Pakistan right now I think would be tragic. They are a nuclear power. There are problems between Pakistan and India. They have been a conduit for us bringing equipment and forces through Pakistan into Afghanistan, and I think it is imperative that we continue to work with them and find ways to solve this problem.
Now obviously, we don't like what happened. We know that people knew Osama bin Laden was there. But we still have a war going on in Afghanistan. Our goal is to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And Pakistan, even though we have our disagreements and there have been some problems like Osama bin Laden, we still have the problem and we need to work with them, or find ways to work with them, to solve that problem.
RFE/RL: President Barack Obama has just outlined a new vision about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the Arab world. With the Arab uprisings that have been breaking out in the last six months, Obama has spoken about support for free-market economic reforms. What are your thoughts on the role of free market reforms as a way to alleviate some of the conditions and concerns that are a root cause of the Arab uprisings?
Burton: Obviously, I'm a free enterprise advocate, so I think that would be great, all things being considered. But the one thing we have to be aware of is there are radical elements in Libya. There are Al-Qaeda leaders there that were in Afghanistan killing Americans and fighting us. In Egypt, we have the Muslim Brotherhood. Everybody is saying that they've changed. Well, I've done a little study on the Muslim Brotherhood and I'm not so sure that they have changed. I think they are still a problem that we are going to have to deal with.
If you look in other parts of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf area, there is no question that you still have radical elements that we should be concerned about. So before we start putting money into a country to help build up the free-enterprise system, we need to make sure we know where the money is going -- first of all. Second, we need to know who is going to be in charge. I don't want any American taxpayers' dollars going to people who are going to be enemies of the United States and trying to undermine the security of the free world.
That means before one dollar will go through Congress, as far as my vote is concerned, we are going to make sure that it is not going to Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda sympathizers or people that are connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. The minute we send money, or the administration sends money or supports sending money into organizations or areas where there are radical elements in charge, the American people are going to go ballistic.
RFE/RL: What is your view about Iran's record on human rights, and what are lawmakers in Washington saying about how it compares with repressive regimes in North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East?
Burton: Iran's record on human rights is deplorable. The minute the people started demonstrating and wanting some positive change and freedom in their country, you saw what happened. Many of them were killed. Many of them were imprisoned. And that's the kind of radical regime that we'd like to see replaced.
Now we're talking about that in Libya. We are talking about that in Tunisia. We are talking about that in Egypt. We are talking about that in Syria. And so if we are talking about organizations that are repressive like the Iranian regime, we need to do everything we can to support the people in making those positive changes.