Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, gave this press conference and question and answer session on June 10, 2009 after returning from a trip to the region.
MR. CROWLEY: Good morning. If you ask which among the countries of the world are truly strategic – and whose future is of vital interest to the United States, a country that is probably on just about everybody’s list is Pakistan. When Secretary Clinton talks about the three Ds – diplomacy, development and defense – as integrated elements of a national security strategy, they all manifest themselves in our policies regarding Pakistan and next door in Afghanistan. And for this reason, literally one of the first appointments by the Secretary and President back in January was Richard Holbrooke as our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I don’t think there – I think Richard has been in constant motion ever since.
As our Department historians tell me, presidents and secretaries of state have used special envoys throughout our history, the first being John Jay, another New Yorker, back in 1794. It may be safe to say that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have already set a record for the number of special envoys. But this speaks both to the complexity and breadth of the global challenges that we face, and the need to establish effective partnerships around the world to solve them.
As you are aware, Richard was in Pakistan last week to meet with President Zardari and other senior officials of the Pakistan Government, and more importantly, to go out to Swat Valley to survey firsthand how – the situation on the ground and determine how the United States and the international community can best assist Pakistan in the weeks and months ahead, as it cares for its citizens that have been internally displaced as Pakistan aggressively confronts violent extremism within its borders. So we thought it was an excellent time for Richard to come down and share his perspective on the current situation in Pakistan, perhaps also in Afghanistan, and with a particular emphasis on the IDP challenge and how the United States is committed to help.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thanks, P.J., and it’s good to be back in front of you again for the first time since January 20th in a different briefing room than I remember. I want to be very – I just want to outline what I did on this trip, why we were – why we did what we did, and then answer as many questions as time permits.
This trip was the idea of President Obama. It was not one of the regularly scheduled trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan that I have been making. I’ve made two already, both of which included stops in India. This was, at President Obama’s personal direction, a trip to go only to Pakistan in the region – I also went to the Gulf – and to show American concern and support for the humanitarian crisis enveloping western Pakistan and to offer more support.
That support was embodied in a presidential commitment, which we announced the evening I arrived, of an additional $200 million for refugee relief in the western part of Pakistan, as an additional request to the Congress in the supplemental now being debated. So the $200 million we don’t have yet, it’s very important, and we announced it subject to congressional approval.
Just a personal footnote, I’m not going to use the phrase, IDP, in this briefing, internally displaced people. I dislike that word. These are human beings. They’re farmers, they’re pharmacists, they’re jewelers, they’re school teachers. And already just calling them “refugees” takes away their individuality. But giving them an initial like IDP is, to my mind, just – it’s a bureaucratic euphemism. I’ve spent a lot of time in the tents, in two of the 19 camps, and I just can’t call them IDPs; it’s just a personal thing.
I’d love to change the phrase, IDPs, to internal refugees, because that’s what they are. What’s the difference between a person who crosses a border because he or she has lost their home in fighting, to a person who doesn’t cross the border? Until 10 years ago, the UNHCR didn’t even think the IDPs were part of their responsibility. And when I was ambassador to the UN under President Clinton, I took that on as a mission, and I’m glad UNHCR now accepts them. And now we ought to start calling them what they are. There’s no difference between a refugee who crossed a border and doesn’t, except their international status.
So we announced the $200 million as a request to Congress, and we went out there and we went to the refugee camps, and we saw the conditions out there.
I think the first thing to say is that it’s not a good sight, but it has not yet reached the level of a situation where people are dying of cholera. There’s no cholera epidemic yet. But the rainy season hasn’t begun. Eighty to ninety percent of the people are staying in private houses or in schools. That relieves the burden on the international community to put up tent cities. I visited two of the tent cities. But the schools, the houses are overburdened. There’s – the longer this goes on, the more critical it’s going to be.
Now, the refugees I talked to clearly understood why they had been displaced. They didn’t like the Taliban. They – one of them, one man sitting in a unventilated tent with one of his wives and about seven of his 15 children said to me that – quite memorably, he said, “I used to live in heaven and now I live in hell.” These are people from the highlands and it’s much cooler up there. And he went on to describe this beautiful house he had which is now being used temporarily by the army, and he said, “I’ve just got to get back.” He was a mechanic.
And the highest priority is for these people to be able to return to their homes as quickly as possible, but – and I cannot stress this too highly – to get back, they need security. And the military is still in the process of cleaning out Swat and Buner and other areas. And that job is not yet complete.
In addition, the amount of money that the United States and the international community are contributing is only for the relief phase. The UN request was somewhere around $560 million. Don’t hold me to the exact amount. The United States support so far is between $310 and $330 million. Normally, the U.S. gives about a quarter to a third of international support. In this case, we are currently well over 50 percent. And this Administration has requested our friends and allies in the Gulf states and in Europe and in other parts of the world to help with this effort. The U.S. cannot bear this burden at this level.
And besides which, the reconstruction phase is going to cost just as much as the relief phase. So this is a major, major crisis. It’s been often stated that this is the big migration – biggest migration flow since partition in 1947. So a word of clarification: That is not true. There were 10 to 12 million refugees during the Bangladesh war in 1971. But it is the largest flow of refugees or displaced people in Pakistan and India since partition, so just to clarify that point.
We are – now let me step up to the political issues. Pakistan is absolutely critical to our most vital national security interests. You’ve heard everyone say that in different forms. We all understand the complexities of Pakistan and the issues that you’ve all reported on so many times. But in the end, success in Afghanistan requires success and stability in Pakistan. The two issues are integrally related. And hence, sometimes people use the shorthand Af-Pak, but that’s not a popular phrase in Pakistan or Afghanistan for obvious reasons. And we would prefer not to use it in public. But the reason for it was to stress the interrelatedness of the two, something which had been neglected in the last eight years.
And in that sense, the trilateral summit hosted by President Obama and Secretary Clinton on May 6th and 7th was a very big step forward. The amount of attention we’re giving Pakistan is a big step forward. And I deliberately did not go to Afghanistan on this trip to emphasize that our focus on this trip, at presidential instructions, was Pakistan.
I went on to four Gulf states – Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar – to talk to them about our parallel strategic interests. I did not go to Saudi Arabia because the President had been there three days earlier and because I had been there three weeks ago. But I can say with confidence that all of the states in the Gulf have a similar point of view on the strategic importance of Pakistan – and their long, historic ties. Oman – for example, until 1958, the Oman national borders included a large chunk of what’s now Baluchistan. And there’s a tremendous connection between Oman and the area of Pakistan that’s now Baluchistan.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar also have very close ties – historic, economic and strategic. So we share a common point of view. But there’s not a coordination of policies at this point. That is something we’re just talking about. But I’m very gratified at the strategic symmetry between us. Everyone recognizes that instability in Pakistan poses a threat to everywhere else, and we are very gratified by the movements of the Pakistani Government.
What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. I spent time with Nawaz Sharif, a good deal of time, leader of the opposition, just after he had his political rights restored. A lot of time with President Zardari, time with General Kiyani and his top team, including General Pasha, the head of ISI, and with members of civic society. And everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters, and this was widely recognized.
You all know that the Pearl Hotel was attacked yesterday by some terrorists, another major hotel in Peshawar. My impression is that this is enraging the population. It’s not going to work, provided the government gives the security necessary. And this is a daunting task for Pakistan, which is under so much economic pressure. It has so many other problems, a short supply of energy, all the other issues which you’re familiar with. But the government is addressing it. And I found a new determination in Islamabad. And I carried the support of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the U.S. Government with me.
P.J., I think, if I didn’t leave anything out, I’ll – we’ll just open it to questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Can you just identify yourselves? I know some of you but not all.
QUESTION: I’m Bob Burns --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, I know Bob, yeah.
QUESTION: -- from AP. Mr. Ambassador, U.S. officials have generally spoken approvingly of what the Pakistani military has been doing in the areas you visited, but I’m wondering if you think that they are carrying that out with strategic purpose to include the capacity to deal with the internally displaced people and to deal with the issue of pushing Taliban back across the border into Afghanistan and the consequences of that.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: There is a strategic purpose, obviously, Bob. We do not know enough about what’s going on on the ground to reach definitive judgments. But we have talk – I talked to General Kiyani and General Pasha and General Mustafa about this, and they – their strategic purpose was clear, and they feel that they now have popular support for what they’re doing.
But I want to stress that the refugees must be able to return. Those camps and those temporary facilities cannot harden into a permanent refugee settlement as has happened in so many other parts of the world. So the test is not simply the military phase, but the ability of the government to get those people back into their homes as quickly as possible and provide them security.
I think what you have quoted American officials as saying is my view, too. All of us are impressed by the military’s initiatives in recent weeks. But the military themselves will say that they fully understand that the test is still to come, the second test. But I want to underline, because so much of what we say here bounces out in Islamabad in a different context, that we are very supportive of what has been – of what the government is doing, and we look for every way we can to support them. And while we’re all focused on the relief effort now, it is the reconstruct – it is the return and reconstruction phase and security to be provided them that will be the basic test.
QUESTION: Farah Stockman with The Boston Globe. Thanks for coming to talk to us. First question is: Can the Pakistani military hold Swat? They’ve gone in before and the Taliban have just come back. What will be different this time?
And my second question is that this Administration has spent a lot of work trying to get Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States all on the same page militarily and to coordinate, but it doesn’t seem to have filtered down on the ground. There still seems to be a lot of animosity between Afghan army and Pakistan army among the officers, and how do you change that?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Your first question was why will it be different this time?
QUESTION: How can – can they hold Swat?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let’s see. Let’s see why it will be different. I think the previous experiences you describe were quite different in scope. The Pakistan army has moved a great deal of troops to the west this time, a very large number, and it’s made a difference.
On your second question, the history of Afghan-Pakistan relations is complicated, and very few people in this country have studied it, although everybody in Pakistan knows the story. And I’ve been learning about it by reading books as I go along and it’s – and so what you’re talking about there is a historic problem that has – that predates 9/11, that predates the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but which was exacerbated enormously by what happened in the ‘70s and the ‘80s and after 9/11. And I’m – none of us are trying to change the DNA of a historic relationship that’s rooted in deep, deep national feelings on both sides of a disputed border. What we are trying to do is encourage cooperation.
So Secretary of State Clinton invited the foreign ministers, intelligence chiefs, and other senior officials here in February to participate in our strategic review and start the trilateral dialogue. That was so successful that the President decided to invite Presidents Zardari and Karzai here on May 6th and 7th. With them came the ministers of interior, agriculture, the intelligence chiefs, the finance chiefs, and several other pairs of people.
And one of the things we discovered was that some of these ministers have never met before. The two interior ministers didn’t know each other. The two agriculture ministers didn’t know each other. The two finance ministers didn’t know each other. In our breakout sessions, chaired in the intelligence community by Leon Panetta, in the interior department by FBI Director Mueller, finance by Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, and agriculture by Tom Vilsack, we found that once they come together, they have a lot to talk about. Subcommittees were set up on every issue. In agriculture, for example, we set up three task forces: one on food security; one on water resources; and I can’t remember the third one now, but there’s a third one. These are ongoing. We can’t have another trilateral summit till after the Afghan elections, but at the operational level these (inaudible) in every field.
So I want to be clear on this question, because we’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer your question. We’re not trying to change history. We’re trying to deal with the historical realities that are there and get people to cooperate. There is no way that success is possible if there isn’t cooperation across this disputed demarcation line. We all understand that. And in the last eight years, no attention was paid – none – to getting the governments together. Once in a while there was a theatrical event, but this is a sustained effort. Part of my staff is focused entirely on this issue on a full-time basis.
Two weeks ago, President Obama asked for an update on what had happened since the trilateral summit and how we were doing. And we handed to him 19 action plans on everything from detainee policy to agriculture to border crossing checkpoints. We have one to go, women’s affairs. We were waiting for Melanne Verveer and Judith McHale and others to come into the building, and we’re working on that one now. And the Secretary of State and I have suggested to Melanne, who is – I don’t even know what her official title is, the Secretary’s Assistant for Women’s Affairs.
MR KELLY: Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, Melanne is a – Ambassador, sorry.
MR KELLY: Ambassador-at-Large.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Affairs. Well, Melanne is going to go out there, and we’re going to work on an action plan.
So that is the way we’re addressing your problem. We’re not trying to change history. And I really hope that’s clear, because we’re living – we’re not trying to change anything except to get them to cooperate.
Somebody in the back here. Okay. Well, yes – yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I’m Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. Mr. Ambassador, you have taken a very critical job in a critical area, which is, as you already said, very important. First of all, do you see, sir, light at the end of the dark tunnel and if this no-man’s land will be now forever no-man’s land anymore?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Lights at the end of the tunnel is a metaphor I don’t ever wish to return to – (laughter) – because I began my career in another war, in another planet, in another century, and that was the most famous phrase.
All I can tell you is that this Administration believes that what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan is of vital interest to our national security. And --
QUESTION: But –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And that India is a country that we must keep in the closest consultations with. At midnight last night, I spoke to Under Secretary of State Bill Burns immediately after he had landed in New Delhi. He is carrying a presidential letter to the Indian Government. He is carrying the messages that I would have carried if I had had time to go to New Delhi on this trip, but I couldn't do it. On my first two trips to the region, I went to New Delhi. I’ll be seeing your new ambassador here next week. I’ve already met with her twice. And we consider India an absolutely critical country in the region. They’re not part of the problem, but they are vitally affected, and we want to work closely with them.
QUESTION: A follow-up to this question? What’s the message the President is sending to India in this presidential letter?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It’s a private letter. But the important thing is that the number three person in the Department of State has gone to India to reaffirm immediately after the election – the Indians were very frank with us. They wanted to keep in touch with us during the election period, but they had to wait through the election, just like we do. It’s the world’s two greatest democracies.
But Bill Burns is now beginning the dialogue with the newly elected government in an atmosphere of great positive feelings. And without getting into Indian politics, all I can say is that all of us – Secretary Clinton, Bill Burns, myself, President Obama – everyone looks forward to working with the newly elected Indian Government.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, Elise Labott with CNN. Thank you. To get back to the humanitarian situation, I mean, some of these villages seem to have been completely ravaged, as you mentioned. And I’m wondering if you think that this is a necessary casualty of the war with the Taliban, or do you think that the Pakistani tactics are not necessarily suited to a counterinsurgency operation and they could benefit from more training or more assistance from the United States and more targeted operations that might not necessarily create these conditions?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No useful purpose would be served by my second-guessing military tactics on the ground in a combat zone that I was unable to visit on this trip. I did fly over it on a previous trip further north in Bajaur, and I saw some of the villages you’re describing. And – but not knowing exactly what’s happened in that area at the level you’re talking about – I understand your question. It’s a question I’m very interested in, having seen this in a lot of other combat zones. But I’m not going to speculate on it till we get in there.
And it’s – but when you talk to the villagers in the tents – and I recognize that if I go in there, I may not get straight answers from people because there’s a lot of officials and a lot of cameras around, although we tried to keep the press out. But when you talk to them – and I need to stress this – they really understand why the military came in. They want the Taliban out. They hate them, and they think they have destroyed this piece of heaven which was Swat. And so I’m not – there’s no question that a lot of destruction has taken place. That’s why I emphasized the reconstruction phase. But this is something we’ll find out more about as time goes on.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, do you yet see evidence --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Wait a minute. Let me call on my old buddy here.
QUESTION: Charlie Wolfson with CBS.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I think you’re the – I think Charlie’s the only one in the room who actually was here when I started in the government, so we got to give him a shot, right?
QUESTION: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve been here that long, but –
Long enough. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Okay, all right, I – you win that one.
QUESTION: Dayton, ok, but not back to the light at the end of the tunnel.
In your discussions with the political leadership in Pakistan, can you give us an idea of your assessment of whether they’re strong enough to carry the fight through and win and – both politically and on the military side?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I think they are.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke? Ambassador Holbrooke, Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you yet see evidence that the Pakistani Government has a broad counterinsurgency strategy, one that goes beyond simply the military aspects to the kinds of political, economic, educational and other aspects that may be needed to prevail over the long term?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They outlined to us a strategy – for a comprehensive strategy with particular attention to their economic needs. And I would draw your attention to the fact that they have some IMF/World Bank repayment deadlines coming up as early as July 1st, which put additional burden on this country. And again, we want to help them. I’ll leave it to each one of you to decide whether it fulfills your definition of a comprehensive strategy. I read in the papers they have one, I read in the papers they don’t have one. That’s not my job to make an assessment. My job is to encourage them and support them and not infringe on their sovereignty.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, let me just go to – just a minute, Indira. Let me go to the back.
QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, I am from Interfax, Russia. How do you view the role of Russia in resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On every trip I’ve made to Afghanistan as a private citizen and as a government official, I’ve called on your remarkable ambassador in Kabul, Ambassador Kabulov – I’m not making his name up, he’s Ambassador Kabulov in Kabul – who has been serving almost continuously in one capacity or another in Afghanistan for over 30 years. We have had this discussion.
He states, as does Sergey Lavrov, the former – my former counterpart at the UN, that the Russians share the same objectives. In our international dialogue, which is an important part of what we’re doing in this Administration, reaching out to other countries like the Gulf states, which I already mentioned – I’ve been in China, Japan and South Korea, Turkey, the EU, and I’ll be going to other countries – in that dialogue, we consider Russia a very important component. They have a major role to play, and I believe we have the same objectives.
QUESTION: But in practical terms?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: To be determined.
QUESTION: Paul Richter with LA Times. I wonder if you have any concern that the money that’s being appropriated by the U.S. for civilian purposes in Pakistan – I’m not talking about the new refugee aid, but the $1.5 billion, that there are --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Kerry-Lugar.
QUESTION: Yeah, that there are enough specific purposes for that money. I mean, I understand there are some people who are concerned that there is – that the process is so new that some of this money may not have a good purpose immediately.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: If you ask me whether every penny that goes into foreign assistance programs is equally valuable, I think we all know the answer. It’s a very – it’s very difficult to be sure that every penny is spent perfectly. But that’s equally true of domestic programs; that’s the nature of the beast. What I can say is that Pakistan needs our help and that help is in our own national security interests. And that’s why the President has endorsed the bill by Senator Kerry and Senator Lugar. In fact, remember that it was originally called the Biden-Lugar-Obama bill when it came up last year and didn’t pass. It’s a very important piece of legislation. And Chairman Berman has got a similar bill in the House.
But if you’re asking how every penny of that is going to be allocated, it is laid out in broad terms in the bill, you can read it for yourself. And the specifics of allocations have to be worked out when it passes, as we hope it will quite soon.
QUESTION: Kirit Radia with ABC News. Much has been said and written about the Pakistani reluctance to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy and to accept U.S. help in training their forces in doing so. Can you tell if in your meetings recently with Pakistan officials, if you believe that they have now agreed to do that? And then, on one other point on the bombing yesterday, if you can clarify a point in some reports that the U.S. was preparing to either purchase or lease that building for use as a consulate, if you could tell us about that?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The latter point, we were looking at it – the Pearl Hotel in Peshawar, you mean?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yeah, we were looking at it.
QUESTION: But it had not been done already, was it?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, it hadn’t been done, but it was the one – it was sort of an obvious place to look at. And I had stayed there. And on your first question on training, the Pakistanis are very proud and zealous in emphasizing their sovereignty. They have always said that it is a red line to have no boots – no foreign boots on the ground, in their own phrase. And we respect that. And what we – and how we can help them in regard to maintenance or equipment training issues and so on, is up to them to determine. But our presence in Pakistan on the military side will always be extremely limited.
QUESTION: Sir, thank you. Jill Dougherty from CNN. Ambassador, do you believe that the U.S. right now has sufficient supply routes into Afghanistan to supply U.S. troops?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You know, honestly, Jill, you’ve got to ask David Petraeus that. I follow it vaguely, and I’ll be seeing him tonight, and I’ll get updated. But he’s the one who’s been doing the northern route issue. He’s – I think he will say yes, but let the military talk for themselves on that.
MR. CROWLEY: We have time for one or two more questions.
QUESTION: Mina Al-Oraibi, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: From where?
QUESTION: Asharq Al-Awsat, Arabic language paper.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Based where?
QUESTION: In the UK, distributing internationally.
I wanted to ask you about what you mentioned regarding the Gulf states. You said that, you know, there’s symmetry in how you strategically view Pakistan, but what about the coordination? You said there’s not enough coordination. What sort of coordination are you looking for, and did you have specific requests from the Gulf countries when you went there as – with financial aid?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No. I do not go to the Gulf to ask for money, like everyone else has so often and, by the way, that I often did in private business. They don’t want to – they don’t want us to come in and say, “Where the check?” I want to establish in a dialogue of mutual respect with these countries whether we have a strategic symmetry. If we do, then policies and coordination will logically proceed in accordance with the individual views of each country. And it’s going to be completely different for the United Arab Emirates than it will be for Oman, for obvious reasons. And each country will deal with it as they wish.
The important thing is that for the first time, the United States is having an extended, serious strategic dialogue. So I didn’t go out there and say – on a fundraising mission. That is for each country to decide. And I’m glad you asked this question, because it’s always assumed – and I want to point something else out. I was the third special envoy to visit these countries in the last six weeks. George Mitchell was there on the Mideast issues, and Dennis Ross was there on the Iran issue. So we are putting a great deal of attention – and then the President went to Riyadh for a historically important meeting with King Abdullah. So there’s a – this is – we’re only in the fifth month of this Administration, and we’re trying to establish an intellectual strategic base.
QUESTION: Ambassador --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, Indira, yes, sorry.
QUESTION: Thank you. Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg. I wanted to follow up on something you made reference to earlier about Pakistan having moved a lot of its troops to the western Afghan front. Please give us some details on exactly how many they have, because we also understand that India says that, actually, the number of troops that have been moved there is simply back to the pre-Mumbai bombing levels. And so it seems that it’s a status quo, as opposed to significant change.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to give you figures for the simplest of reasons: It’s for the Pakistan Government to announce their own force deployments, not for me to make a headline here. But I will say that the number of troops that have been moved west is clearly larger than the number that were moved east after the Mumbai bombing. And I don’t believe there’d be any question on that.
QUESTION: And the ROZs and the Berman bill, can you tell us anything about that?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes, thank you for that. The Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, which were proposed in the House and Senate by a coalition of people led in the House by Chris Van Hollen from Maryland and in the Senate by Maria Cantwell, is a high-priority item for the United States Government. President Obama has twice referred to it in speeches, calling on the Congress to pass it. We have been in extensive communications with the leadership in the House and Senate, particularly the House, because it has to originate in the House.
The legislative process is complicated, and I don’t want to drag you through every detail of it. And in any case, since I haven’t talked to anyone since last night about it, it may have changed. These things are run by the Speaker. But I did have an opportunity to talk to Speaker Pelosi and to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, to Chairman Berman, and to many other members of the committee on both sides of the aisle in the last three days, as have General Jones at the White House has also spoken to the Congress and other people in the legislative affairs areas of both State and the White House, and perhaps higher-level people who I’m unaware of.
And this legislation is vitally important to our national interests in Pakistan. And if you want more details on it, I would refer you to P.J., and he can give you the outlines of what it does. It’s complicated, but it is tremendously important. And I want to make a point: The area on the Pakistan side of the border, the area covered by these ROZs, Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, is where the refugees are. And when they go back to houses which have been destroyed and shops which have been destroyed and try to rebuild their lives, an opportunity for them to have this kind of chance through this bill is all the more important. This bill has been around for three or four years, but it never got to this stage before. We have a real possibility of getting it passed in the next few days and weeks. And it’s never been more important, because it is exactly where the refugees are.
Thank you very much.