Council on Foreign Relations
New York, New York
MAHNAZ ISPAHANI: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. May we get started? On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, I'd like to welcome you here this afternoon for an update and a debriefing by the Independent Task Force on South Asia. I'm Mahnaz Ispahani, senior fellow here at the Council, and a co-director of the task force. I'd like to introduce first my colleagues here today: Ambassador Frank Wisner, who was one of the co-chairmen of the report and former ambassador to India. On my left, Ambassador Nicholas Platt, president of the Asia Society and former ambassador to Pakistan. And further along, Ambassador Dennis Kux, who was also co-director of the task force and a distinguished former ambassador and currently a policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Before we begin, I'd ask you to switch off any cell phones you might have and also let you know that this meeting today will be on the record. The object of today's session is really to bring us a little bit up to date since our report was issued, which was October 30th of last year. If I may say so, I think it was quite a prescient report, and despite the sort of hurtling events that have taken place since then, I think the report highlighted and gave indications of what the United States might— ways in which the United States might respond to some of these events that we have recently been hearing about and making headlines.
You well know that one of those is the recent confessions of Mr. [Abdul Qadeer] Khan, senior scientist in Pakistan [who confessed to supplying nuclear technology to other countries and] a metallurgist who has been the roots and branches of this very vast nuclear black market that we are only beginning to see unraveled. On the positive side: extraordinary peace moves between India and Pakistan, carefully developed and fostered recently. And in Afghanistan [there has been] a great deal of cause for concern and anxiety because of a very deteriorating security situation. So since we don't have a great deal of time, I'd like to turn to each of my colleagues to pick up one of these questions, take five or seven minutes, and then really leave a lot of time for questions and discussion.
Frank? Let me turn to Frank. India and Pakistan just announced a— in their language— a new road map for peace in the subcontinent. They have agreed to take on really a very wide agenda of issues, very difficult issues. It's a process that was firmed up in January at a SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] meeting in Islamabad. You testified recently in the [U.S.] Senate on this. Are you bullish? [Laughter.]
WISNER: [Laughs.] I think unqualified, I am bullish. I think this is terrific news for all of us, though, like everyone in this room who cares about and has followed events in South Asia. We're also sober enough to know that the road ahead is a road that's very complicated. Fifty years of animosity marked by war as well as terrorism is not a perfect setting for two nations to resolve the range of issues that they've settled upon.
But I really begin by saying to all of you, my view— and it came very clearly to Nick, myself, Dennis and Mahnaz during our recent trip to the region— that this is a bit different than past occasions. It's different inasmuch as the political clocks on the two sides are ticking on closer time than I think I've ever seen it. The two leaders are very much engaged. There is a constituency for peace on both sides. There is a very careful approach to the way the negotiations are being pursued. Both sides staying out of the press, staying out of the limelight, trying to avoid wrong footing the other side. [There is] a conscious attempt to make the issues of substance they've now agreed to— make those issues real by building confidence-building measures alongside to give a quality of momentum to the engagement.
And therefore, since April of last year and through this present moment, real breakthroughs— again, restoration of air links, rail links, moving into areas they've never— the two nations have never been in before in trade, cease-fires, cease-fires that reach up to the Siachen Glacier [India-Pakistan border area] that had not existed before— in other words, giving a context of confidence to a political engagement. And then fundamentally to accept the fact that this engagement has got to be composite; no issues are off the table.
So I guess when I picked up my newspaper yesterday, day before yesterday, to see the outcomes of the talks in Islamabad, I wasn't surprised. I was pleased because there are elements in the composite dialogue that we certainly felt were vital, but I, for the life of me, didn't think were going to be there in the first round, including the nuclear issue. That nuclear confidence-building measures, in addition to measures of trade, of water, of maritime frontiers, all of these questions are on the table, and specifically the question of [the disputed territory of] Kashmir is there and it is part of the discussion. So the bases of the discussions are realistic.
Now, to see this succeed is also— it's going to take more of the same, a lot more of the same. It's going to take further momentum, further building of confidence. It's going to take a capacity of the two sides to engage one another and not try to set each other off, to appear to be in a stronger position, public position. It's going to take close supervision by the two leaders. But I think, as well, it's going to take, to succeed and continue to advance, the introduction of other constituencies. And here I have particularly in mind how important it will be for India to reach out and engage, as she's begun to, the Kashmiris. There can be in the end no stable outcome unless the Kashmiris are involved, unless the Kashmiris see their interests being addressed and accommodated.
Finally, Mahnaz, as I have thought, as you have and we did, Nick and Dennis and I in the paper, and actually so many of you in the room— I look around, I see many, many members who labored over the two years with us in our task force, and to whom I'm grateful, with a reflection on what role the United States should play. And here I continue to be absolutely persuaded that we can, we have been very helpful. The administration got it right in engaging and speaking quietly to both sides, to following the events very closely. That's exactly where we ought to be.
But I think it goes beyond simply a quiet, sustaining dialogue. It is a constant ability to resist the American temptation of coming up with solutions to the problems that vex these two parties. For, in the end, they have to find the will to engage. But to feed ideas in, and questions and observations quietly, the role of real diplomacy lies before us.
And finally, I think it's so very important that we attend to the construction of strong relationships both with India and with Pakistan. The Indian path is quite clear, and it's articulated in the task force report. Pakistan is more complicated. Look at the onset of bedeviling events that we've all faced in recent weeks. But I think all of us came to the conclusion, and we hold to it, that we must have a stable relationship with Pakistan, one that's not on the rollercoaster of history— a relationship that is under-girded with practical gestures, including foreign assistance. We might like to see it weighted in a bit different manner than the administration's present request [for aid to Pakistan], but a three billion [dollars] foreign assistance program for Pakistan deserves all of our support. It's got to be done in a manner that gives incentives. At the same time, it's got to be stable. So make sure the underlying American relationships with the parties is key, play your diplomatic cards carefully, and we can make a contribution to what, I believe, is by no means a foregone conclusion, but probably the most exciting undertaking in South Asian diplomacy in our lifetime.
ISPAHANI: Thank you, Frank. Nick, let me turn to you and ask you, based on your experiences and conversations during the trip, whether you have changed your mind or your thinking at all in regard to the conclusions and the concerns that the task force expressed in its report about the— particularly the security situation in Afghanistan. We asked, are we in danger of losing the peace? Are we in danger of losing the peace in Afghanistan? How problematic are the— in particular, the spread of narcotics production— half the gross domestic product of the country today, where two years ago there was virtually none. Elections on the verge of being postponed. Are we on the verge of losing the peace?
NICHOLAS PLATT: Well, we're not out of the woods yet, I'll tell you that. We came away with a number of very strong impressions. First of all, none of us had been to Afghanistan, and so being there is very important. I mean, you really can't get a sense of it until you've been there. It is a fragile, fragile situation. We were carried around the city of Kabul in vans with a private security company that was staffed by old Special Forces officers— very capable, knew exactly where to go, how to drive. We weren't armored or anything fancy like that, but it was nice to have these guys, who also had weapons, on our side— [laughter.] Kabul is supposed to be safe, but it isn't really. I mean, things go boom in the night and the Taliban and others are interested in destabilizing the body politic and the country as a whole.
We went worried about, you know, the U.S resolve, and on this particular score, I think we came away feeling somewhat better. [U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan] Zalmay Khalilzad had just arrived as ambassador at the time; he was taking hold. He and the American commander had actually agreed— and this is quite an important agreement— to move their offices next to each other in the embassy, rather than have, you know, joint commands at Bagram [an airbase in Afghanistan] and in Kabul; and had, you know— it was clear that they wanted to improve command and control as far as the American presence was concerned.
We were there just at the time that the loya jirga [Afghan tribal council convened in mid-December 2003 to debate a new Afghan constitution] was tuning up. In fact, people were beginning to— they were electing delegates, and we talked to some of them. And these were very, you know, craggy old gentlemen who looked at the sky— when we said, "What kind of a constitution do you think you should have?" they'd look to the sky and say, "Allah is our law, and the Koran is the only constitution we need." We didn't think that boded particularly well. The fact of the matter was, though, that they did get through the loya jirga, they did come up with a consensus document which covered a whole range of issues, including women's rights.
Now, just having a document doesn't make it so, and there's an awful lot of hard negotiations to come. The area of women's rights is OK on paper, but in actual fact it's still a very conservative place. We played that game we'd play on the way to Maine in the summer, you know, with your children, you count how many cows on one side of the road and how many horses on the other. Well, we counted how many [women wore] burqas on one side of the road and how many head scarves, and the burqas outnumbered the head scarves 10-to-one.
So there's a long way to go. But they did get through it and they came up with a consensus document. Now the question is how do you deal with the elections that are coming up? In our report we have said they should— they're never going to get registered— never going to get enough organization together to have the legislative elections; they should focus on the presidential ones. Well, even so, it's going to be tough to get it done, you know, by July .
Only 1 million out of 10 million [people] have been registered. Khalilzad has just criticized the U.N. for being too slow in this process. The U.N. has said security is so bad we really can't get into the provinces to set up the voting booths and do the registration as we should and as we planned. There is a plan to set up some 4,200 voting registration booths. People doubt that that will be done in time. But the loya jirga slipped for several months and it got done. These elections can slip, too. You just have to proceed with the security issue. The security issue is paramount. And while Kabul is OK, the rest of the country is less so, and particularly in the south— in the southeast, along the Pakistani border. And at the time we were there, there was a feeling in Afghanistan very clearly enunciated that the Pakistan government was playing a double game and being very, oh, how would I say, assiduous about al Qaeda, but not so assiduous about the Taliban, who were actually Pashtuns [ethnic group in Pakistan and Afghanistan] and therefore part of the Pakistan body politic.
Since that time, of course, there have been a couple of very serious assassination attempts on [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf's life, which I think have concentrated the minds of people on the Pakistani side. We talked about that when we got to Pakistan, but the whole security issue we thought was something that needed to be the subject of very high-level strategic conversations between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The engine for security in the provinces is supposed to be the provincial reconstruction team [PRT], which is a body of 150 people who are— both include troops, reconstruction people who can build schools, civil governance people who can help warlords balance their books. All of these are— there are about nine of them in place now. They have plans for a lot more.
We're going to try and get NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] to be the organizer for these PRT’s in the provinces, but they really need to get going on this. This is something that bothered Frank and me when we went through Brussels on our way home and we briefed the NATO Council on— the 46 different— you know, representatives of 46 different countries on our findings and talked to a lot of people, and they really were behind the curve in my view. And they have been working on it, but it's too slow in my view.
So all of these are inter-related: the politics, the U.S. resolve. The drug issue is very serious. There were plenty of drugs produced during the Taliban's time, but they did cut them off during their last year, partly because inventories were high. But there is a big contrast, and while the economy's doing a lot better and there's a lot of reconstruction going on, it's still problematic. The 50 percent— as Mahnaz said, 40 [percent] to 50 percent of the GDP [gross domestic product], which is now estimated at five billion [dollars], was— is from poppy, and the drug culture and the drug lords— and the warlords are, in many cases, drug lords— are wielding an influence in the country that the government themselves feel is perhaps the most threatening thing that's going on. And they feel it's much more threatening in a funny way than does the international community, which is quite divided as to how to deal with it.
You know, on the one hand you have people who say, well— and military commanders who say, “Well, the last thing we want to do is to stir up another hornet's nest in the provinces by cutting down crops.” Others say, “Well, you can't cut down or get people to grow less unless you pay them more.” There's no consensus within the international community as to what to do about the drug issue. And the drug issue is really the 800-pound gorilla that we are worried we may lose sight of and may cost us the whole ball game.
I think I might make one final point, and that is that our trip brought home to us the centrality of Afghanistan in the whole strategic picture. And while Afghanistan has been presented to everybody— and rightfully so— as a major kind of international effort to deal with the war on terror, and the strategic— the strategic value of Afghanistan as the key, the unlocking key to Central Asia and to maintaining the gains made by the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War is a central issue that we have never as a government really faced up to in any consistent way.
ISPAHANI: Thank you, Nick. Dennis, to take one of the points that Nick raised, which was only one of the United States' priorities in relation to Pakistan, the concern with border security on the Afghan-Pakistan border lands and the fact that the way in which the Pakistani government chooses to cooperate or not to cooperate with the United States is very critical for the future security of Afghanistan, that clearly is just one of several American priorities, policy priorities in the relationship with Pakistan. It makes Pakistan, as we said in the report, perhaps the most complex foreign policy challenge facing the United States today. Can you share your thoughts on the complexity of these challenges? And where would you begin to open up the story?
DENNIS KUX: Well indeed, I think recent events have shown that Pakistan is one of the toughest and most complex foreign policy challenges that the United States faces. The nuclear issue is the one that grabs the headlines right now, but there are others. Nick mentioned the problem of Afghanistan and the role that Pakistan plays. But I might want to tick off a couple of others relating to domestic matters in Pakistan before discussing the nuclear issue.
First is the very political stability of Pakistan. Musharraf has put in place a new political dispensation, quasi-democratic. Will it last? A very important question. Not at all sure. Important because political instability, whether you've had a civilian government or a military government, has been one of the banes of Pakistan's existence, and this is a big question. It's important that Pakistan, if it's ever going to get its act together, develop a stable political system.
The second is the economy. Here Pakistan has been doing much better. The macro scene, the macro situation is very positive; lots of good indices. But when you look below the surface, you've got essentially the same old problems that result from devoting insufficient resources to basic human needs— education, health, et cetera. And right now you don't have a lot of investment, whether foreign or domestic. Hopefully that will change as the positive macro factors have an impact, if there is political stability, et cetera. But this is a worry, because again, unless Pakistan really moves ahead and tackles these basic problems, it's hard to see how it will really succeed over the longer term.
And finally in these non-nuclear problems is the question of the Islamists. This we devoted a lot of attention to in the report. And when we went out there, we had a chance to talk to people and [we] drew some conclusions that were to some extent a little different than the report, at least. Many people— when we read the media, and one sees the problem as the Islamist political parties, that the threat that if Musharraf goes, the mullahs are going to come in, we did not get that impression. The impression we got was that politically, the Islamic parties are not much stronger than they were before. In the previous election, they individually got 9 percent of the vote. This time they got, pooled, 11 percent of the vote. They are still largely located in the Pashtun areas in the Northwest Frontier Province, in northern Baluchistan, the Pashtun parts of Karachi. They haven't spread throughout Pakistan.
But what people did say was a real and present, and possibly future, danger were the jihadis, if you will, the Islamic fanatics, the products of the madrassas [Pakistani religious schools]. And the madrassas were seen as an enormous problem, one which the government was at least verbally addressing, pledging reform, promising reform, putting out programs, but not much happening on the ground.
Now, the problem comes in part from the government itself. In order to promote jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir, working with the Taliban, has favored the establishment of madrassas over the years. But I think even more so, the problem has come from the collapse and the failure of the public education system in Pakistan, so that if you're a poor Pakistani living in a rural area, there is no government school, or it's a ghost school, and the only place you can go are the madrassas. And as a result, you now have— nobody, nobody is quite sure about the statistics, but a good guesstimate is 2 million students in the madrassas. And this is something that has to be tackled. And it's a long-term problem.
We recommended in our report that this be the number one priority of American aid. That's right. But there's no easy solution, because you've really got to go entirely across the system. You don't have enough teachers, particularly for girls. You don't have curriculum, adequate curriculum. You don't have monitoring of the system. And so you've got a whole host of things. And at the same time, you want to reform the madrassas, basically turn them into parochial schools, and shut down some of the bad ones. There are some really bad ones.
So here we came away with the feeling that, yes, they know this is a problem, but— they're talking about it, but on the ground, not much as yet is happening. And that is a real danger. And we saw, really, the product of the madrassas: these two recent assassination attempts of Musharraf [by] the jihadis. This will require a real turn on Pakistan— on the government's part, on the army's part— to turn away from jihad. And this is why the talks with India are so promising. And one can also hope that vis-a-vis Afghanistan, they will take a different approach.
Well, that leaves us— we now turn to the nuclear issue, which is the one that is the most dramatic, and frankly, has the gravest consequences for all of us— for the whole world, not just for South Asia. Because what recent events have shown— what we now know is that Pakistanis, including A.Q. Khan, who was Musharraf's hero, the builder— not the builder of the bomb, but a very important person in building the bomb, having engaged in flagrant proliferation of nuclear technology, for whatever reason— greed, Islam, who knows. And that maybe the Pakistan Army, which supervises and has supervised the program throughout, was complicit. Now, Musharraf says they weren't. A lot of Pakistanis— the FT [Financial Times] commenting a couple days ago— [retired Pakistani] General Talat Massoud said that a lot of Pakistanis believe that the army knew about it, was involved, and that the whole business that we've seen recently of A.Q. Khan saying, "I did it, I did it alone"— this whole business is just a charade to cover up, to absolve the army.
Well, our reaction has defused the problem at the diplomatic level, momentarily. But the issue hasn't gone away. The issue is there. And the problem isn't one, it seems to me, of punishing Pakistan, sanctioning Pakistan, but it's preventing nuclear proliferation from happening again. And we fingered this problem in the task force report as a tremendous problem for the region, and we felt that it wasn't being addressed by the United States government, and we called for a searching review to come up with some answers.
The problem is a difficult one because what you really have to do is somehow bring Pakistan and India— it's not just Pakistan— into the international nuclear system without upsetting the system. It's not easy, but we've seen what can happen if you don't do it. And this is an enormous challenge, and there are two aspects of the problem. One, as we've seen here, is just leakage of nuclear technology. The other is that if you don't do something, you're likely to find a nuclear— you're likely to have a nuclear arms race in South Asia. And as Pakistan is not— does not have the indigenous capability on its own to build weapons fully, it perforce is going to continue to be pressed to follow the clandestine route.
So it is a big challenge for us and it calls for, I think, the sort of hard talk and tough love that [U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell showed Pakistan right after 9/11— that we need to sweeten— first of all, we need to know what we— we need to have a plan. I'm not sure we do now. I don't think the president's speech was adequate. And we need to sit down with the Pakistanis in private— this is not something you deal with in public— and seek their cooperation. It may not come, and if it doesn't come, as we recommended in the report, we should adjust our relationship accordingly. But it is very important— and I think we should not leave the impression, as perhaps the administration has done, that cracking al Qaeda is more important— or cooperation in [fighting] al Qaeda is more important than preventing nuclear proliferation. It's a tough problem, but frankly I don't think it's hopeless if we set our minds to it.
ISPAHANI: Thank you so much, Dennis. As you can see, there's a real host of very complicated issues that the task force as a whole— many of you are here today— spent two years— more than two years sort of struggling with. I'd like to take the remaining time to open up the floor to your questions, your reflections if you remember, the task force, to your own thoughts on this question. And please wait for the mike when it's— if you'd like to ask a question or make a comment, and state your name and your affiliation, please.
QUESTIONER: My name is— [inaudible]. Yeah, the question is to the panel. On your recent trip to that part of the world, did you get the impression that President Musharraf is in control of the military and the extreme religions, and [Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee is in control of the extreme religions in India such as RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and Shiv Sena? I think management of these two factions is very important if the dialogue is to proceed further for Indo-Pak relations improvement.
ISPAHANI: Thank you so much. Frank?
WISNER: Well, obviously [it is] very important. I made note in my remarks that this time is unusual inasmuch as the two leaders have firmly taken the issue of Indo-Pak relations on personally and that both of them enjoy substantial and good positions inside their political leadership, inside their communities. They exercise strong leadership. And the overwhelming attitudes inside India and Pakistan are in favor of moving forward to a dialogue between the two governments.
Let me go, though, to the heart of your question. And that is, do the radicals on either side risk upsetting the process? And my judgment on the Indian side, no. The prime minister will prove his mettle in the forthcoming Indian elections. I suspect that the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] coalition will do well. It probably will enhance its standing in the outcome of the elections. But if you followed Indian politics over recent weeks, the prime minister has really garnered an enormous amount of strong support. I don't see any of the radical Hindu groups taking him on. I don't see the chance of any of them upsetting the momentum that, in Indian minds, the prime minister has set.
[On the] Pakistani side, let me ask Nick to refer, but I certainly came away from my trip, my observations in Pakistan with the sense that the president of Pakistan has taken this policy towards India and sold it very carefully. He's gone about building a constituency for engagement inside the military, among political leaders. We came away, I think, with the sense that if something was to go awry, if something was to happen to the president, that there was a basis on which the dialogue would continue, there was a broad enough basis in the Pakistani body politic.
PLATT; Just to add a word to what Frank said, I think, going to the heart of the question, that Musharraf has control over the military, quite firm. He has sold them on the détente with India. Those who are working on it with him, and others, will try very hard to make it work. Even the skeptics are willing to see it through to see what might emerge. As far as the extremists are concerned, he clearly does not have control over all of them. I mean, they respond to all of this by trying to kill him, which makes the point that he doesn't have control over all the groups.
Infiltration is down along the Line of Control [separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir]. It is— and Indians do recognize this, they acknowledge this. But it's still wintertime and it's hard to get back and forth. It's usually a time when infiltration goes down. So we have to wait for the spring to get some sense of whether his control and the army's control over those parts of the jihadi militant groups that they did control, whether that is now going to be firmer and can be placed at the service of the peace process.
ISPAHANI: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: My question is to Ambassador Kux. Sorry— [name inaudible]--Apple Core Hotels. You said that bringing India and Pakistan both into the nuclear fold— and I presume you mean the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty]--would possibly solve the proliferation issue. But what took place right now with sales to Libya, to Iran, to North Korea, now what in any way has that got to do with India? Could you answer that question?
ISPAHANI: Just a moment, Dennis. Perhaps if there are other questions on the nuclear issue, we should raise them up so that we can address them as a whole. Are there any other questions on this point?
QUESTIONER: Frank Weil, Abacus. This is a simple question from a simple mind. I still haven't— and I've been reading the papers pretty carefully— figured out how a man in Khan's position could have gone on public television, apologized, taken full responsibility— apparently he did this in part for money— and a couple of days later he's pardoned. And how does that go down in Pakistan so easily? I grant the man may be popular in certain ways. And why does it go down so easily here? I have just never got it put together. I hope other people have the same question. [Laughter.]
ISPAHANI: Any others on this particular issue?
QUESTIONER: Frank Sutton. I'd like to ask if any of the panel members believe that we would have this dialogue without a Pakistani bomb?
ISPAHANI: Frank, which dialogue are you referring to?
QUESTIOENR: With India.
ISPAHANI: The Indo-Pak dialogue. Nick, do you want to start off?
PLATT: Let me address a couple of the facets of these questions. I think that the pardon and the confession were part of a political deal. And I think that the American approach, which has been forbearance and acceptance, is also part of an at least tacit political deal. And deal-making is one of the ways that one handles problems of this sort. It's not over. And the flow of information about the whole proliferation process— and I think this is quite healthy— is spreading, and more and more is coming out. And I think that that's what we should be focusing on, whether or not this is helping the nonproliferation process rather than hindering it. It's not a cover-up, but it represents an effort to limit political damage. It's not going down particularly well in Pakistan. The National Assembly had a debate the other day about this whole question, about whether or not the military was complicit. This is not going to go away. This is going to be an issue. But the United States, for a whole bunch of reasons that relate to our broader interests, is choosing not to make it an issue.
KUX: I would agree with Nick. I think it won't go away, however. And I think the United States should be behind the scenes making it an issue, because I think if we don't, it sets a horrible example for the rest of the world in the nonproliferation area. But I don't think it's the sort of thing where you get the spokesmen out and you hit Pakistan over the head. It's the sort of thing that you have to do privately, and you have to work with the Pakistanis to try to come up with an arrangement.
And that gets to the question of putting India and Pakistan into the global nuclear system. I don't think that means asking them to join— it doesn't mean asking them to join the NPT. It means trying to construct something now that fits today's reality, globally, to minimize the risk of further proliferation. And it has to do with India and Pakistan, because if you don't do anything, as I said, I think you can be certain that there will be a nuclear arms race between the two countries, with all the problems that that will entail. So I think that you should move ahead with it.
ISPAHANI: I would just add, before I turn to Frank on the questions related to the Indo-Pak dialogue, that this is not just an issue for the United States. Pakistan also has very important strategic and financial relationships with China and with Japan. And in particular, the question of the North Korean program— which I think will be discussed again in the next couple of weeks with all these countries meeting together. I think there are other countries that are very concerned and involved with trying to figure out how to deal with Pakistan's role in this proliferation episode.
WISNER: I think that three questions bear in my mind on a very fundamental point that's worth all of us thinking about.
We lived with a nonproliferation regime that began with the NPT. It reached a crescendo in debates that went as far as the Senate over a CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] and were defeated there. And I would argue today that the United States has not found its bearings. We are moving around the world trying to stop the physical acts of proliferation. But trying to find a political basis, a consensual basis in the international system for proceeding into the next steps of containing the nuclear and other dangerous weapons menaces, I think is a question we really as a nation have got to get back to. And in part, it's about how you accommodate the nuclear holders in South Asia who don't threaten the United States directly. Through proliferation they can threaten us, but there isn't a direct threat. So I hope that all of us reflecting on this question, this Council and beyond it, can treat as a matter of priority how important it is to sort our way out, to sort through new perspectives in the proliferation debate.
But let me just, on one point raised by the third question. Obviously, the nuclear issue is alive in the minds of Indians and Pakistanis, but I do not believe it is the reason that the two have come together in dialogue. The events of December of 2001 through the summer of 2002, when at the worst of it there were a million men stacked on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, were bracing in South Asia, but by no means decisive. What was decisive was a view on the part of the Indian leaders, reciprocated by the Pakistanis, that after 50 years South Asia had lost ground, and South Asia stands today on the practical possibility of entering the global system and making a real dent in the levels of poverty that the region has known.
Vajpayee, when you look at him and listen to him, makes a very simple point. Many around him who experienced the pain of partition [when India and Pakistan were created] would like not to leave it to a future generation. I think while that spirit sounds altruistic in a way, it really is very real, and it's reciprocated on the Pakistani side. Does that mean that it's all going to be easy? No, it doesn't. But I think there are practical perspectives that drive the two sides back together, and a persistent longing in both countries to find common ground again. And that gives us some reason for optimism as we look ahead.
QUESTIONER: Winston Lord, International Rescue Committee [IRC]. When I visited Afghanistan for the IRC a few months ago, I didn't meet a single Afghan who thought that Musharraf and the Pakistanis were really helping along the border. This is crucial, of course, for security, and therefore for the elections, and therefore reconstruction. It seems in weeks and weeks he has begun to get more serious. This is a question for any one of you. Has he made a strategic decision to really crack down along the border and along the Taliban lines? And if so, is he able to pull this off?
PLATT: Well, as I said, we found the same attitude in Afghanistan. And I also feel that the attempt on his life by jihadis and al Qaeda elements, and so forth, that have now been identified, is helping with the levels of cooperation. That said, it's a hard nut to crack because the border is a porous area, and there are Pashtuns on both sides. They're all the same tribe, the same families. They've been moving back and forth, back and forth for years. The border is not very well defined. And the tribal areas have always been run by the tribes, who have been sympathetic towards the cause of the Taliban and the more traditionalist religious elements.
And in fact, what Musharraf has done recently is to move troops, central government troops into tribal areas to an extent never before seen, which has gotten him and his troops into a certain amount of trouble. But he has shown some determination in these areas, like Waziristan [Pakistan], to take control and to get a better handle on this. We have a trilateral commission that works on a rather technical and low level to deal with these issues, and to, you know, pass back and forth names of people that they want to chase here and there. It's too low level and it's too tactical.
What we think should be done is to have it dealt with as a strategic problem, in which you talk about aid levels on the Afghan side, you talk about security on the Afghan side to make the atmosphere and the environment much more hostile to roving Taliban groups. And similarly, actions on the other side in Quetta and Peshawar, where people are sympathetic towards these people, to try and make it harder for them to operate.
But it's a big, multi-faceted problem, and we all can play a role in it. And I don't think it's going to be solved overnight, and it's not something you can just turn off and on like a light bulb. But I think that they will try because it's becoming one of the top issues between the United States and Pakistan.
WISNER: There's something that I think is worth keeping in all our minds and, Nick you put your finger on it. This isn't going to change overnight. There is no border; the people move back and forth. The Taliban are rooted in a complex geographical and social situation. And as much as you want the Pakistanis to crack down on leadership elements appearing in Pak cities, the real problem isn't going to be there.
And it comes back to I think a real issue for Americans to reflect on, and that is, we're going to be in Afghanistan for a long time. And it's going to be a dangerous place. There is no shortcut out of Afghanistan. And I think all of us have to sort of put our minds around the fact that for the next five years plus, American forces are going to be engaged in trying to maintain a level of order and peace behind which Afghanistan can gradually begin to recover.
PLATT: Further to that point, we visited a training center where they are bringing in new recruits for the Afghan army, and we were quite impressed with the diverse nature of the units that were being formed, because they were not from any one tribal area; they were all different— Pashtuns, Hazaras, Panjshiris, et cetera, et cetera. Now, they have now trained about 7,000 to 8,000 people. They will finish the first 10,000 in a year. To get to the level that is our goal— 70,000— is going to take seven years. We asked our military guys, how long will it take to get to these goals? These troops work. The ones that have been trained are already out in the field. They're much in demand because they don't represent any particular warlord. They represent the central government. But it's a long curve. We have to be ready for that.
ISPAHANI: Thank you. The lady there?
QUESTIONER: My name is Meera Gandhi and my interest is education. I sit on a number of boards, like United World College and Digital Partners, that promote these interests. But mostly I'm a mother; so that's my claim to fame. Ambassador Wisner and Mr. Platt, I just want to take something that you started a step further. The U.S. understand that Afghanistan is going to be a problem, however, in spite of the resurgence of the Taliban, the fact that there are so many women that are uneducated— the U.S. is not putting any money into education. Why do you think that the U.S. is just not pursuing this?
PLATT: I don't think that's correct. I think a lot of the focus of our assistance has been on education, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and on education for women as well.
ISPAHANI: Actually, [Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow] Isabel Coleman here may have the statistics or some idea of what the expenditures are. In Afghanistan and Pakistan there's already a hundred million dollars.
ISPAHANI: And in Afghanistan?
STAFF: It's around 45 million [dollars].
ISPAHANI: Right. Oh, go ahead. Right here. And I'll come back to you.
QUESTIONER: Bruce Gelb. Just following up on that question. If they're spending 45 million [dollars] in Afghanistan, and I think it was either Ambassador Platt or Ambassador Wisner who said that they counted— it was Ambassador Platt, counting along the road burqas versus headscarves, [and found] 10-to-one burqas, that would give me a feeling that the education, at least in that particular area, is falling behind what our anticipation is. Is that because of fear of reprisal?
ISPAHANI: May I say something first?
PLATT: People have— you say something. [Laughs.]
ISPAHANI: Well, one thing that I'd like to say is, I don't think burqas versus headscarves is really an indication of the education level of a woman. It's a much more complicated issue than that. I think we tend to think primarily of veiling and unveiling as a designator of all sorts of transformations in a woman's worldview, which is not necessarily the case.
And secondly, I think that this is a very long-term process. We're looking at enormous amounts of cultural change. We're looking at an education system that was decimated in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan that has collapsed over several decades. So I think that these are very, very long-term problems and there are a lot of efforts being made, both within the country and from the United States and other donors, to begin. If you think of primary education, Dennis has been speaking only of the madrassas. You think of the condition of the universities; they were bombed and devastated.
PLATT: It's not fear.
KUX: No, no.
ISPAHANI: No, there is some measure, I would say, of fear, but I don't think that's the only factor. It's a very complex set of issues.
KUX: Afghanistan is a very, very conservative society. It was conservative when communists tried to make it more liberal. Frankly, this was one of the elements that sparked the insurgency against the communists, which we supported, and it remains a very conservative society. In Kabul, it was, what, 10-to-one of burqa [to] non-burqa. That, interestingly, is also reflected in the electoral registration statistics. It's roughly— I think it's 9- or 10-to-one, men to women.
PLATT: This is the burqa ratio.
KUX: The burqa ratio— [laughter]--carried over, nationwide.
ISPAHANI: The burqa index.
KUX: But I don't think it's fear. I think it's a reflection of the society.
PLATT: It's a lot more convenient to wear it, and you can get very well educated under your burqa. [Laughter.]
KUX: You recommend it?
PLATT: I don't know this personally, but --
ISPAHANI: Introduce yourself, please.
QUESTIONER: Isobel Coleman, I'm a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. Just on the education front, female literacy in Afghanistan is roughly 20 percent, although that masks big differences across the country. It's single digits in many provinces. And today there are more girls in school than ever before in Afghanistan. They may be in open-air tents or schools without roofs, but there are more girls in school today. But to Mahnaz's point, it's a very long-term effort.
ISPAHANI: Thank you. I think we actually have room for just one more question. David, you've had your hand up.
QUESTIONER: I'm David Phillips with the Council on Foreign Relations. Ambassador Wisner talked about the significance of Kashmir being included on the agenda and also the consultation between New Delhi and Kashmiris. Do you have any knowledge about the options that are being considered, or has the panel made any recommendations in that regard? [No audible response.]
ISPAHANI: Are there any other questions on the Indo-Pakistan?
QUESTIONER: My question is on your recommendations on dealing with Kashmir itself. You mentioned three recommendations. If the panel could address this one particular one, which says Kashmiris must be fully consulted in the course of determining the final solution of the state's future. In other words, could you elaborate a little bit on that?
WISNER: Shall I have a go at that? The task force report that is before all of you does not attempt to be prescriptive as to the exact course that the two sides should follow in negotiations and that the Indo-Srinagar, Indo-Kashmiri dialogue should follow. It makes, nonetheless, a very important point that the question of Kashmir really cannot be solved if the two sides, if anyone is humiliated, if the violence is the regulator and if the Kashmiris are not fully taken into account.
The report, I think, also underscores a key attitude, and that is that there won't be an immediate settlement of the Kashmir problem. This can only evolve over time. And the purpose of the dialogue is to create conditions in which the issue can be discussed between the two sides and between the Kashmiris and the Indians. The actual formulas will only emerge when the two sides sit down and get together.
I'll speak only of my own view. And that is, I think what has bedeviled considerations about Kashmir over the years has been the intrusion of the notion of whose sovereignty is at stake. That as long as the question of sovereignty appears to be the principal issue between the two sides, there really is no way forward. It couldn't be resolved by a plebiscite. It can't be resolved by negotiation. The issue of sovereignty is the last issue in Kashmir that needs to be addressed. I would assume, therefore, that when the two sides sit down, they're going to find lots of things to talk about: confidence-building measures that permit the opening of trade and communications routes; the relaxation of tensions along the border, the backing off of troops, the conditions inside of India and occupied Kashmir itself, the human rights situation, the economic future of the territory— all of these issues can be usefully engaged. And one can hope over a period of time, to my way of thinking, that as the two sides get to talk and deal with the real questions on the ground, the question of sovereignty begins to fade in importance. It should not be addressed upfront, and it should be left till the end.
I take a leaf out of Nick Platt's description of kitchen architecture in this regard; that whether you're looking at all of the Indo-Pak differences or you're looking at all of the differences over Kashmir, the way to proceed is to have the two sides talk about all questions, all issues are on the front burner of a stove that is very, very long; and that the two sides move to take them off the stove as they become prepared as a finished meal, leaving others to cook for longer. I would argue that the last one to cook will be the question of sovereignty.
ISPAHANI: Dennis, could I ask you to make some concluding remarks in this context?
KUX: Well, I would agree with Frank that the solution of Kashmir should be a settlement. Even addressing the problem frontally should be at the end of the discussions, even though it is discussed upfront. And there are plenty of things to discuss upfront. For example, Frank mentioned some of them. You also have the idea of bus service between Srinagar [in Indian-controlled Kashmir] and Muzaffarabad [in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir], something that hasn't happened for more than 50 years.
But I think the challenge that India and Pakistan face this time— and so far the signs are good, but they haven't really faced, they're only in the preliminaries— is that once you get the talks going, [you have] to keep them going to get a process started that is a continuing process. Because in the past, not in the last couple of years, but if you go back the last seven or eight years, India and Pakistan have had talks. Indeed, the process that they agreed to, the composite dialogue and so forth that they're going to follow now is exactly the same process they agreed to, I think it was in 1997. But talks get started, something happens to one government or the other, or somebody talks out of school and they get off the tracks.
What's very positive this time is they seem to have learned from the past, and they've had a lot of, if you will, not track two discussions, but they've had secret track one discussions to set up the process. They've been very careful not to negotiate, not to make statements that will upset the others. One of the more remarkable ones is India's quiet-quiet about the whole Pakistan nuclear problem. And so, as Frank said also, the leadership in both sides seems to want to move on.
ISPAHANI: Thank you, Dennis. The last words.
PLATT: One quick note. We actually did go to Kashmir. And we spent the day in the winter capital of Jammu, which is a very boring place compared to Srinagar. But we did talk about a number of these issues with people and we found, encouragingly, that there really wasn't any formula for a settlement, and the people who are actually running the place are quite willing to let matters sort of take their course and to improvise as they go along, the focus being on inter-area contact, and on economic development, and on political dialogue. And that's a pretty good place to be at this stage.
ISPAHANI: Thank you, Nick. This is the last formal meeting of the task force, which as I've said has been going for a couple of years now. But I apologize that we've not been able to get to all your questions. Do feel free to be in touch with any one of us because obviously South Asia is going to be a very important story to watch in the years ahead. Thank you so much.
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