U.S. Policy Options to Stabilize the Region

Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Gary Cameron/Reuters
Marc Grossman

Former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Vice Chairman, Cohen Group

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

Evan Medeiros

Managing Director and Practice Head, Asia, Eurasia Group

Barnett R. Rubin

Director of Studies and Senior Fellow, Center on International Cooperation

Experts discuss how the United States can support and advance stability in Southern Asia. 

This symposium is made possible through the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation.

RUBIN: Hi. Welcome to this third session of today’s Council on Foreign Relations symposium on “The New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan.” It’s entitled—this session is entitled “U.S. Policy Options to Stabilize the Region.”

I’ll remind you all that this session is on the record. It is being broadcast live on the—it’s being webcast live through the CFR website, cfr.org, and there are two hashtags—and you’re actually encouraged to tweet about it in the course of the meeting—#NewGeopolitics and #CFRLive.

And I just wanted to, before I introduce the panelists, mention that, where I work, the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, has published a report which might be of interest to those who are here entitled “The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S., and the Future of Central Asia.” I was very negligent in not bringing any copies of it. I forgot about it. Anyway, but you can—if you are interested in it, you can find it.

Well, let me briefly introduce the panelists. You have their biographies in front of you. Marc Grossman, first and foremost, my former boss when he was the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the State Department. He came back from retirement. Before that he had been undersecretary for political affairs. Is that right, “P”? Right.

GROSSMAN: Correct.

RUBIN: Right, yes, and a variety of distinguished posts including ambassador to Turkey.

Alyssa Ayres, of course, is one of the authors of this project, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. And actually, in my time in State, I recall both of us participating in the session on South Asia of the strategic dialogue with China. So our work on these relationships goes back a ways.

And Evan Medeiros, who is the managing director and practice head at the Eurasia Group, and formerly worked in the White House as special assistant for the president on Asian affairs. Thank you.

Now, I just wanted to make a couple opening comments sort of to frame the discussion before turning to the panelists.

One of the things that I worked on with Ambassador Grossman in my time in the State Department was doing the diplomatic preparatory work for the establishment of the Istanbul conference, now also known as the Heart of Asia process—Istanbul. But prior to that, to the formal conference, there was a track 1.5 session, a track 1.5 series of meetings.

And at one of them, the Turkish representative said that he would like to see the Istanbul process turn into something like—it’s only for Afghanistan—like the Balkan Stability Pact in Europe, which Turkey was involved with and in which he had been involved with. He said: What’s missing is the incentive, the power of attraction of joining the EU or joining NATO, which gave economic incentives for the countries in the Balkans to settle or put aside their various political and security differences for economic benefit.

And I think—the second observation is really the same one—in the course of the discussion this morning, if I understand it correctly, people from all these three countries—India, Pakistan, and China—have talked about the rapidly growing potential economic benefits to cooperation. Nonetheless, their relationships in the past and the way that the United States has related to them have primarily been driven by security issues. And it’s those security issues and political issues that are the major factors in the conflict in Afghanistan, which is the hottest conflict in many other disputes among these countries.

So the big question to think about is, I think, can we envisage how—not in the next year or even the next administration, but over time—the relationships among these countries might be driven by those cooperative economic interests, and, given that the focus on this panel is on U.S. policy, how the U.S. might facilitate that?

And just a final point—which Alyssa and I have talked about this as recently as yesterday, actually—that of course the administration has talked about a pivot to Asia, which China has seen as potentially threatening. But at the same time that the U.S. is pivoting to Asia—which basically means the Asia-Pacific region—China is pivoting to Eurasia, to the West, which to some extent the U.S. is disengaging from as it disengages from Afghanistan. So I think part of the agenda of the whole project is to promote a broader notion of what it means to focus on Asia as the center of economic dynamism in the world today.

So let me first ask Marc—you, of course, can and will talk about anything that you like, but—(laughter)—I thought one of the things that we observed changing during the time that you were in office was, in particular, the interest of China in Afghanistan particularly. You had to deal with that both bilaterally and also in your dealings with India and Afghanistan as well. And also it became an issue in some of the multilateral initiatives that you were involved in shepherding. So I wonder if you could say how you saw those things developing.

GROSSMAN: Well, first of all, thank you very much. I appreciate the introduction that you gave and I thank you very much for the time that we served together.

I’m really lucky here in the sense that, out of everything that I have to say, it was really talked about by the panel before, which is to say that the short answer to this question, from my perspective, is that change in U.S. policy—U.S. policy to do more—would be to focus in on all the kinds of things, Barney, that you said in your introduction and that the last panel talked about.

And of course there’s a foundation for all of these things. You were kind enough to mention the Istanbul process, but this idea that there are questions of physical security, there are political questions, all these things are tied up, it seems to me, in larger questions of human security. And certainly in going back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and when you go to countries like that, what is the profound thing that you see? Well, people need a job; they need some connection to their society; there needs to be some sustainable economic development.

And I think, with Secretary Clinton and President Obama’s help, one of our ideas in that time was to focus in on this question of economic development, sustainable economic development, the way the private sector might be involved, and through that the creation of a New Silk Road.

You’re right to say that there was, at that time, a very interesting change, at least from my perspective, in the way that the Chinese were looking at this question. They had made the big investment in the copper mine, of course, but opened up a conversation with us about how to move forward in this economic area. And two things struck me at that time.

One was we received, one afternoon, my counterpart from Beijing, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was very interested to find out if we were prepared to cooperate on three aid projects in Afghanistan. The first time he said that, China was prepared to do a joint aid project in a third country. And we said we were. Nurses, training of nurses, training of diplomats, bringing more agricultural technology to Afghanistan, those three projects went ahead. We used that, of course, as a basis then to continue the dialogue and to try to expand it in terms of a New Silk Road.

As you all will recall, Mrs. Clinton was kind enough to make a speech in Mumbai in 2011 calling for a New Silk Road to try to connect Central Asian economies with South Asian economies, with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the center. And I think that Minister Burki said that in the previous panel, and so did both other panelists, that that would bring, first of all, some benefit from transit trade but also perhaps someday some foreign direct investment and to integrate a part of the world that’s very unintegrated economically.

Charmingly, some weeks after Secretary Clinton gave this speech, a Chinese representative came to see me and said, you know, actually we like this concept very much but you cannot use the term “New Silk Road.” Really, I said. Why might that be? Well, because that’s our historic view and vision of the area. And I said, actually, I don’t mind what we call it as long as you want to participate in this. What would you like us to call it? He said, how about “historic trade routes”? I said, historic trade routes is fine as long as we’re going to do something here together.

And so this idea of integrating an unintegrated region, finding ways to produce sustainable economic development I think is enormously, enormously important. And we had the good fortune to work with colleagues in China as they became more interested in this, and we encouraged them to do so.

RUBIN: I just might add that as China got its own Silk Road Economic Belt, its concern about the new—the American New Silk Road decreased, the terminology.

GROSSMAN: Well, but as Alyssa and I were talking about before—and I think, again, Minister Burki made this point in the earlier panel—you know, China, in this case, is thinking long term. We’re thinking short term. You know, we had this proposal. It was a very good proposal. But as those of you who have worked in and around the U.S. government will know, then getting it funded, followed up, part of a larger integrated whole, you know, is a challenge.

And so, you know, people, as Alyssa said, you know, hardly remember this—hardly remember this initiative at the time, and I think it has very much to do with the short-term/long-term point that Minister Burki made.

RUBIN: Evan, I wonder if I could turn to you to discuss how the United States handles its relations with China insofar as they affect South Asia—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

One thing that the Chinese often say in their—I suppose it’s just—it’s four characters or something—that we have, you know, common—that we have competing interests in their front yard, common interests in their back yard. Yet most of American engagement with China has been over in the Asia-Pacific region, where we have a lot of conflicting interests.

The growing engagement over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and South Asia therefore is kind of outside the chop lines and bailiwick of the people who usually deal with China. I wonder if you could comment on that and suggest how the U.S. government might better organize itself to deal with China from the West as well as from the East.

MEDEIROS: Thank you. It’s a great question.

I’d begin by saying that the issues of South Asia and Afghanistan-Pakistan have sort of moved—during my time at the NSC, moved from issues of tertiary importance to at least secondary importance in the U.S.-China relationship.

You know, during my six years the U.S.-China relationship—big, complicated relationship—first and foremost it’s about converging and diverging U.S. security and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific. Of course we have big issues that come up—South China Sea, North Korea, cybersecurity, renminbi—I mean big structural issues related to how international order is going to evolve, but obviously, given U.S. deep involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s interests, I think gradually over time the Afghanistan issue became more important.

And I can remember, when I started at the NSC as a director, I was regularly calling sort of Marc’s old office. And then when I became senior director, Dan Feldman and I talked more frequently. And basically it was a process of trying to encourage the Chinese gradually, over time, to get more involved in the issue. In the first term, under Ambassador Holbrooke, the Chinese really were not that interested. They saw Afghanistan maybe as an economic opportunity but they had some problems with the Aynak copper mine, and as a result minimized the degree of their economic involvement.

Diplomatically they just—I think they saw it as a pit of quicksand and weren’t that interested in getting involved. Gradually, over time, they recognized there was more of an opportunity there. It actually became, by the end of my time, sort of in the 2014-2015 time period, a bright spot in the relationship, an issue that wasn’t related to the Asia-Pacific proper, where the Chinese saw themselves as having an opportunity to work with the United States. It ultimately culminated in this new, interesting quadripartite process that I believe kicked off in January of this year. Is that right? I’ve sort of lost touch.

RUBIN: Formally, yes.


RUBIN: Yeah.

MEDEIROS: I guess there’s a coordination process and then there’s a contact group as well. That, to me, is extraordinary, the fact that it was very difficult to get China, in 2009, 2010, to even talk about Afghanistan with the United States in a sustained way to actually sponsoring a quadripartite agreement.

In terms of the organization of U.S. government policy toward China, I mean—and if there’s a better way to integrate Afghanistan—the simple answer is, not really. One of the—one of the issues with China is—or China policy is that it’s so diverse. It touches so many different aspects of U.S. policy that there’s no ideal way to organize China policy to better bring in Afghanistan.

I mean, really it’s about the top leadership of the U.S.—the president, the secretary of state, the national security advisor—telling their top advisers that Afghanistan is an important priority in the U.S.-China relationship and have that be driven by the NSC. I mean, when I was working on China policy, I mean, it was—I mean, I was constantly pulled in multiple different directions. In any given day you could be talking about trade policy, renminbi policy, cybersecurity, South China Sea. I mean, it’s such a big, diversified, complex relationship.

There’s no ideal way to organize it, but having sort of streamlined NSC with senior directors that are well-coordinated, making sure that they’re regularly talking to their counterparts at the State Department I think is as good a model as there is. Trying to create sort of a czar I think just sort of—adding more layers and more people generally is not a good thing. Hiring good people, giving them very clear direction and priorities from the top, I generally think works better.

RUBIN: Thank you.

Alyssa, in addition to this project you also direct a project here about U.S.-India relations, I believe. And one of the points that we heard repeatedly this morning, which one doesn’t hear very often but one hears more often now and then, is about the potential benefits to India-China cooperation, economically and even potentially perhaps on security issues, despite—although obviously they have the big issue about the border and the 1962 war.

The U.S. has developed a more intensive relationship with India. I wonder if you could comment on how—on how or if the United States could manage and develop these two very important relationships in a way that might encourage some of the tiny shoots of cooperation that we have talked about.

AYRES: So I think it’s pretty interesting to take a look at what’s been unfolding over the course of the last three to four years. What you see happening throughout the Asian region is a deepening involvement of smaller regional institutions—you could call them multilaterals; some people use the word “minilateral” to describe them—in addition to the kinds of initiatives that have been undertaken with the Istanbul process.

In our second panel today you heard about CICA, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia. This is an organization that I think most Americans pay almost no attention to. We are formally observers, but this is not a kind of regional institution that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our own strategy toward. Well, this is an organization that spans basically all of Asia. I think the UAE, Turkey are also members. China is now emphasizing the role that CICA can play in providing a kind of regional framework, possibly a security organization. India is very involved with CICA.

There are other organizations like this as well. The Indian Ocean Regional Association, the United States became an observer of that I believe in 2012, a very new thing for the United States. That’s an institution that covers the countries that are on the littoral of the Indian Ocean. There are organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where you now see both India and Pakistan having been accepted for the membership process. They’re going through that process now this year.

There are things happening with the international financial institutions. We heard talk also about the AIIB. India is very involved with the AIIB as the number-two capital contributor. The BRICS Bank, the New Development Bank, India has the presidency of that as well.

So you see happening not only a kind of bilateral economic cooperation between India and China but a deepening of the kinds of institutions in which both countries are now playing a stronger role with each other. So that kind of cooperation is underway and I’m not sure that we in the United States have paid adequate attention to how that track is unfolding.

I mean, through the course of working on this particular project, one of the conclusions my colleagues and I have come to is that the United States ought to be more involved in whatever—we are not observers of the SCO. I’m not sure why. We could be doing more with CICA. We are observers of SAARC. Could we be developing a more proactive strategy to thinking about what our observership could help us suggest or propose as part of our own region-wide strategy in the region?

So those are some of the things that I think I’ve been looking at as ways to help deepen our own involvement and ability to be a positive, proactive player in the region.

RUBIN: Well, if I can just add a little anecdote about the U.S. level of U.S. involvement in CICA, the only time that I was ever at the same table with President Putin, President Nazarbayev, President Erdogan, and President Karzai was when I and the deputy consul general of the United States in Istanbul were present as the U.S. observers at a CICA meeting. So probably we—possibly we have upped our game since then. I hope so. (Laughter.)

Let’s just turn to another subject, counterterrorism, which is also a subject of discussion with all of these three countries. I don’t want to be diverted into a discussion of our counterterrorism discussions with Pakistan in great detail because that could consume a great deal of time and emotional energy.

But, Marc, I wonder if I could start with you and talk about how the counterterrorism concerns shaped and could shape the bilateral relationship and the relations to regional questions. And in particular, I’ll just note one of the points that hasn’t been mentioned, as far as I recall, about China’s interest in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, is their concern about extremist separatist organizations in western China, specifically in Xinjiang.

GROSSMAN: Yeah, thanks a lot. Could you just allow me to just make a comment?

RUBIN: Absolutely.

GROSSMAN: I don’t want to leave the economic question on this. And I promise I’ll come back to the counterterrorism, but the point, I think, of the panel, as both of my colleagues and you’ve talked about, Barney, is sort of what could the United States do to further the kind of integration that we heard about really in both panels this morning?

And it seems to me that you could really go through a very specific list of things. I mean, you could talk about, for example, you know, what’s a big challenge in Afghanistan in terms of getting more investment there? Rule of law, right? So rule of law ought to be on somebody’s agenda in Afghanistan.

Now, if you talk about the huge effort that Dick Holbrooke and others of you made to get the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement done, right, well, there’s something that needs to be followed up because, as your reports have shown, you know, you’re not nearly using the APTTA as the way that it could be done.

And there’s another place where very specific, practical efforts might be made. You know, I think about trying to get some proof of concept for some of these areas, and I think about the TAPI, program, CASA-1000, where you could actually get some winds in this and people would say, yes, this is going to work.

I mean, there was a conversation in the previous panel about whether this was all too naïve. Well, it might be naïve but, you know, my view of all these things is you have to be for something. You have to get up in the morning and try to do something. And so, you know, here’s some proof of concept that might be—that might be useful Istanbul follow up.

And then I think very much a part of the previous panel is that this economic integration, call it what you will—One Belt, One Road, road belt, you know, New Silk Road, historic trade routes, choose your title—is that there are some areas where China, India, Pakistan, and the United States could all be working on this together. I think you have to take Ambassador Prasad’s point from a previous panel seriously, which is to say that we need to make sure that India doesn’t feel that this is a strategic, you know, effort to surround them but, you know, there’s a lot of ways that get involved with this integration.

It’s connected, it seems to me, Barney, exactly to the issues of counterterrorism, which is that, as the previous panel said, you’ve got a whole list of issues—and Evan talked a little bit about them—in any day of the week on China, Pakistan, India, the region, but among the things, it seems to me, that the countries could really cooperate on would be a counterterrorism strategy.

You think about Central Asia. What are they worried about? They’re worried about their borders. They’re worried about who’s moving back and forth. So it’s easy to say, sure, we’ll have a New Silk Road, but if you’re in Kazakhstan, if you’re in Tajikistan you’re saying, but who’s going across my border? And so border issues, counterterrorism issues are hugely important.

And the other reason they’re important is although security and terrorism doesn’t make a hundred percent of decisions for people who are making investment decisions around the world, it does play a part, right? It does matter, when people look out when they’re making a presentation to their board about making an investment in India or Pakistan or China or any of the countries in the area, is it safe?

And one of the reasons to get on this counterterrorism question, it seems to me, is to make it safer for more investment, more of this kind of transit, and go forward from there. So it’s one of those places, it seems to me, where you could have intersections among various countries, and counterterrorism would be high on my list.

RUBIN: Well, I might note, I believe, that China, India, and Russia have an annual trilateral meeting on counterterrorism, which is one of the indicators that China and India feel they have some common interests on that.

Alyssa, I wonder if you could say—talk about U.S. involvement in both counterterrorism with India but also its role in trying to promote cooperation on counterterrorism between India and Pakistan, and what role China might play in that since China does believe that it has some counterterrorist interests in common with India, apparently.

AYRES: Well, I think nobody will be surprised to hear me say that’s a tough one. Finding a way to cooperate both with India and Pakistan on counterterrorism issues I think at the same time is a tall order. I think that will continue to be a challenge. On the other hand, I think that there are strong bilateral dialogues that exist between the United States and India and between the United States and Pakistan on these questions.

From my own perspective, I think Pakistan stands the most to gain from tackling terror within its country and terrorism that emanates from its country in bringing about a safer, more secure, more stable economic environment, which it currently does not have, and it could. But that is a decision that Pakistani leaders need to come to, that they would benefit more from having a secure place that would become, you know, an attractive center for investment, strategically located, that would be of more benefit to them than their current external policy.

I think there’s no illusions on the part of Indian leaders, in conversations with the United States, that the United States has any kind of magical power to be able to change this dynamic, but you do see happening in the United States a kind of changing tenor of the conversation right now—what you have seen unfold, for example, with the question of F-16s on Capitol Hill.

I think our lawmakers are now increasingly focused on what happens in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and is Pakistan doing everything that it can to be a good partner? And being a good international partner means tackling terrorism. This is not the kind of thing that we want to make sure that we’re supporting. So you’ve seen this F-16s deliberation unfold and now U.S. lawmakers have said, if you would like these, they’re not going to come with a U.S. subsidy.

RUBIN: Nice.

Evan, there’s also been a U.S.-China dialogue specifically on counterterrorism that I attended once, and I found that every U.S.-China Track 2 meeting related to this subject that I’ve attended, someone on the Chinese side accuses the United States of having a double standard on terrorism. And sometimes we have hinted back that maybe China has a double standard on terrorism, considering some of its positions on Pakistan.

I wonder if you could comment on how things are going in U.S.-China counterterrorism dialogue and how that might be affecting also the work toward peace in Afghanistan in the QCG.

MEDEIROS: Thanks. That’s also a very important question, and I myself have been accused of having a double standard toward China on counterterrorism so I feel your pain.

So counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and China is an area where I think the U.S. wish there could be more, but there are just limits because of differing views between the U.S. and China on the nature of the issue. The Chinese want to talk about basically one thing and one thing only, which is terrorism stemming from what they believe is, you know, violent extremism in Xinjiang. And they want to talk about certain terrorist groups in certain ways, but the Chinese aren’t really willing to share much information with the United States or have a more substantial dialogue beyond the threat they see coming from Xinjiang.

So it’s one of these issues where it’s—there’s a lot of potential but it’s really never been realized because of what I see as a very, very narrow way the Chinese look at the issue. And to be honest, it’s somewhat distorted as well. I think a lot of the instability—social instability problems and the violence the Chinese have in Xinjiang is not sort of promoted from sort of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. It’s due to social problems stemming from the way the Chinese government handles ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. And so simply, given differing U.S. and Chinese views on that issue, it’s very difficult.

That said, I mean, China—there is terrorism in China. There is a real problem. I hope that this dialogue can expand but it’s pretty thin and pretty limited. That said, I think that the concerns that China have are an important part of the equation for their involvement in Afghanistan, in particular. So the way I see it in sort of the Afghanistan-Pakistan context is it’s a necessary but not a sufficient motivation to keep the Chinese involved, again because of the nature of their concerns are actually quite narrow.

But let me make a broader strategic point that I didn’t get a chance to make in my opening comments, which is, given the fact that the Chinese views on Afghanistan have evolved especially as the U.S. has withdrawn and the fact that the Chinese have been willing to put more skin in the game, is a net positive for the U.S.-China relationship.

Sort of in the grand scheme of the relationship, it’s a relationship in which both sides will forever be groping forward for some kind of new strategic modus vivendi for what drives the relationship, because there are both impulses for competition and impulses for cooperation cutting across both security and economic issues. Both sides are trying to figure out what the other is all about and which aspect—cooperation or competition—defines the relationship.

So the more that there are opportunities, especially on security and diplomatic issues, to highlight where our interests converge and where we can cooperate, that’s generally a good thing. I mean, when I was at the NSC we were constantly searching for ways to highlight that we meant what we said when we sort of welcomed China’s rise as a responsible power that can play an active role in international relations.

And Afghanistan, though it didn’t begin like that at the beginning of the Obama administration, evolved into one where the Chinese were willing to take, you could even say, more of a leadership role. And that’s a good thing. It’s something that the U.S. should applaud.

I will have to say as a footnote, though, I’m dying at some point in my life to meet Afghan diplomats that have been trained by both the United States and China and to see what their worldview looks like, because I personally can’t fathom it. (Laughter.)

RUBIN: Well, there are such people now—

MEDEIROS: That’s right, there are. Correct.

RUBIN: Yes, thanks to his efforts.

GROSSMAN: I’ve been treated by nurses who have had a similar—have had a similar background. (Laughter.)

MEDEIROS: So Western medicine and Eastern medicine simultaneously? So an IV while you’re chewing on roots or something? (Laughter.)

RUBIN: Well, it’s almost—it’s really time for the questions, but I would be derelict if I didn’t ask Marc for his views on one particular thing, which is of course we have been talking about the QCG, which is now the official format for trying to seek a political settlement either with the Taliban or with Pakistan, depending on whom you ask. And at the moment, as we all know, it is stalled.

I wonder if you could—of course it’s something that post-dates your tenure, but a lot of the stuff that you did laid the groundwork for it. I wonder if you could comment on how the United States and China might cooperate more effectively to bring Afghanistan and Pakistan together in that process and also get the Taliban to the table. (Laughter.)

GROSSMAN: I see Dan Feldman back there. I might leave this to him. (Laughter.)

Well, I had a chance to—

RUBIN: Well, he left office just for that reason. (Laughter.)

GROSSMAN: No, I had a chance to listen to the very first panel and, you know, I think that there’s a proper amount of skepticism about what happens in a peace process in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it does seem to me, as Evan said, that little by little by little this recognition that a secure, stable, prosperous Afghanistan inside of a secure, stable, prosperous region is in everybody’s interest, and particularly in the interests of China, and I’d say, to Alyssa’s point as well, very much in the interests of Pakistan. But I think that’s why you see the evolution of Chinese thinking in this regard.

And I’m not expert in this but, you know, as we stepped out from Secretary Clinton’s speech to the Asia Society in February of 2011 to see whether it might be possible to find out if the Taliban were interested in having some kind of conversation, well, more and more interest from the Chinese side. Why? Because that was a path to getting security and stability in some kind of capacity in Afghanistan, not just for the economic questions but, as you rightly said, for the strategic questions as well.

And so what came first as curiosity then came ultimately to interest. And I think what you see now is an effort to try to be part of the process. And so sitting from the outside, you know, to see that China and the United States and Pakistan and Afghanistan can sit together and start to try to have some kind of a construct to me is a very important and positive thing.

As I say, this idea of Afghanistan for everyone in the region as secure, stable, prosperous inside of a secure, stable, prosperous region is to everyone’s benefit. And one of the paths to get there is to bring some kind of political solution to Afghanistan, not for us to say what it ought to be, not for Chinese people to say what it ought to be. Afghans have to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan. They’ll come to this conclusion, but the more that we can encourage them to do so, and if we’re assisted by and joined by countries like China and India, all to the better.

RUBIN: OK. Look, either of you want to comment on that further?

MEDEIROS: I completely agree.


AYRES: Yeah, I agree.

RUBIN: OK. And you mentioned, of course, appropriate skepticism about peace processes, which I also don’t object to as long as it is balanced by appropriate skepticism about war processes.

Now I will open the floor. Please wait for the microphone, give your name and affiliation, ask a brief question. Thank you.

GROSSMAN: It must be getting to be lunchtime. (Laughter.)

RUBIN: Hmm. Well, I could coerce someone.

AYRES: Use the Socratic method. (Laughter.)

RUBIN: Yes. Well, I’m not sure whom to coerce, though.

Dan, you’re sitting in the very, very rear.

FELDMAN: Yeah, but you’ve got a full hour with me coming up. (Laughter.)

RUBIN: You’re sitting in the very rear, trying to avoid being noticed. And you have a huge amount of experience on all of this. Would you like—can you think of something that you’d like further elaborated on? (Laughter.)

FELDMAN: I mean, again, we—I don’t want to steal thunder from the next session, but I would certainly concur with much of—virtually everything I just heard. And what we sought to do over the last two years, three years since Marc was leading the SRAP office was very much in alignment with all of this: the continued quest for regional integration, the importance of the economic piece, and certainly this potential role that China has.

And so I think in terms of potential peace processes, at the end of the day the very open question is what’s going to most incentivize the Taliban? And no one around that table can ultimately do that, but bringing together these parties is certainly a net benefit and one that was very strategic on our part from the very beginning of this administration. And I was going to note this in our session.

The very first delegation that I led, at Ambassador Holbrooke’s request, in December of 2009 was to China when, at the time—and I think—I can’t remember if you were on that one or a separate one—


FELDMAN: —but where they refused to have the words “Afghanistan” or “Pakistan” in the title of the conference or anywhere in any of the written materials. It was just a very general dialogue on South Asia.

And so, given what has happened, especially in the kind of glacial timeframe that China usually operates within, the fact that we’ve had some of these joint cooperative programs and can see the fruits of that, whether in diplomats or nurses in Afghanistan, the fact that they’ve gone from an observer status in part of our SRAP group to much more active participant, the fact that we’ve had our first trilateral between U.S. and China on Afghanistan, and now this architecture and framework with these quadrilateral parties on reconciliation is the way that any sort of sustainable resolution that may occur has to be rooted in.

When that may occur, what may ultimately incentivize it, is anyone’s guess I think at this point, but it is the necessary prerequisite architecture, I think, for something long term and successful.

RUBIN: Well, thank you for that comment, which I forced out of you.

I think there is—

AYRES: Can I just add to that?

RUBIN: Yeah, sure.

AYRES: I do think that one of the issues that we face as the United States is that many in the region feel a sense of American uncertainty about what our future plans will be for our involvement in the region. We’ve seen that unfold with the question about troop presence in Afghanistan. We now have a highly unusual campaign process going on this year where I think there are some other questions that countries are asking about what U.S. foreign policy will look like.

None of us can answer that, but I think if we do focus on creating institutional mechanisms for sustained U.S. involvement, whether through already standing institutions, institutions we have helped create and shepherd, like the Istanbul process, designed specifically to provide that mechanism for engagement and talking about stability, getting those confidence-building mechanisms continued, that will at least send a signal that we are not simply short-term thinkers, that we do care about ensuring that Afghanistan no longer returns to a state of insecurity and a problem for the rest of the region, and that we care a lot about trying to shepherd the process of connectivity that we have said we are trying to shepherd.

RUBIN: Evan, do you want to add anything? OK.

I’ve got two over there, first in the back, and then, Sadanand, you’re number two. OK.

Q: Hi. Simon Henderson, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

I live here, I’m an American, but I can’t help noticing that there’s been no mention of Britain, even in historical terms—(laughter)—nor in Europe. Now, is there no role for Europe? I mean, certainly in Pakistan and India it’s—but from my own experience, both countries are staffed by people who think in British bureaucratic terms rather than in American bureaucratic terms.

And tangentially to this, is there any role for anyone in the Middle East in this? And again, historically, I recall that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, along with Pakistan, were the sole countries which recognized the earlier Taliban regime.

RUBIN: Thank you.

Go ahead.

GROSSMAN: Well, Simon, first of all, thank you for your question. I don’t know if you were here for the previous panel, but you—Britain came into a fair amount of blame from before, so you were—(laughter)—you were absolutely mentioned in the previous panel about what you’d left behind or what you’d not left behind.

Let me first of all say that in terms of Europe and—in terms of Europe, I think there is an enormous supportive role that can be played here. I mean, if you consider the effort that was made in 2011, 2012 to set up Istanbul, Bonn, Chicago, and Tokyo, well, what did that involve? It involved European countries, both NATO countries and EU countries, and others as well.

One of, I think, Dick Holbrooke’s great accomplishments, as Dan said, was to put together this international consultative group, contact group on Afghanistan, and European countries played an enormous role in that. I don’t think—and Barney, I hope, would agree with me—that we would not have been able to succeed even a bit in terms of laying some of the foundations were it not for the close relationship between the United States and Germany on this issue.

And for me also, I think it’s important to remember here—you know, if you look around this room, you get a lot of former government people—government, government, government—but an enormous part of whether this is going to be successful or not on the economic side is whether the private sector is prepared to get involved. And I think European companies in that sense might be also extremely important.

The point about the Middle East, also very much so—a lot of investment from the UAE into Pakistan, for example. And the UAE in particular were great supporters of the effort we were making in Afghanistan to try to get people some jobs.

RUBIN: Anything? OK.

AYRES: I agree, yeah.

RUBIN: One point. On the Middle East, you didn’t mention Iran. We actually need Iran in Afghanistan, and particularly not so much for the Taliban but for keeping the government together, which is to say for keeping the Bonn agreement in effect.

OK, Sadanand.

Q: Thank you. I’m Sadanand Dhume with the American Enterprise Institute.

And my question is for Evan. And I want to get back to a comment that Barney mentioned, the idea of the Chinese double standard when it comes to terrorism. And this is something that has been very much in the news, in India particularly, over the last month or so because the Chinese have effectively blocked Indian efforts to put Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed on a U.N. list.

 So my question to you is do you see China’s perceptions toward terrorism emanating from Pakistan changing thanks to One Belt, One Road? Will it stop turning what Indians perceive as a blind eye towards the problem? And secondly, what role can the U.S. specifically play, if any, in nudging that process along?

MEDEIROS: That’s a hard question.

So I think Chinese views, concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan making its way to Xinjiang provide sort of an incremental motivation for investments in One Belt, One Road. So I think, generally speaking, that’s a good thing, I mean, in the sense that the Chinese feel that they have both a political and a security interest in paying attention to Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think that that will hopefully promote smart, sustainable types of investment using this big pot of money that Xi Jinping has identified.

I don’t know whether or not that would shape their views of terrorism. I think, more broadly, what is most likely to shape Chinese views of terrorism is just simply the fact that China, Chinese people, Chinese companies are all over the world now, whether it’s the Middle East or Latin America. The Chinese people are just simply more vulnerable to acts of terrorism globally. And that has sort of opened up this entire new space, almost a new discipline, within the Chinese foreign policy apparatus focused on basically sort of citizen services.

And in fact, the Chinese foreign minister is much more active and public about defending the interests of Chinese citizens abroad. So I think that is—the fact that you have more Chinese citizens active and present internationally, the fact that they’re vulnerable to all sorts of terrorism, not just terrorism from extremists in Xinjiang, probably over time is making the Chinese more mindful of that particular threat, because the foreign ministry now has to respond to them to be shown to be responsive to the needs of Chinese citizens abroad.

So I think that the Chinese views maybe will evolve more due to that. Basically they’re vulnerable to a diversity type of terrorist threats, not just one specific one. But I don’t—I can’t think of any particular example of how that new vulnerability or emerging vulnerability is changing China’s positions and policies on terrorism per se.

RUBIN: Thanks.

GROSSMAN: Frank Wisner back there.

RUBIN: Oh, Frank, right back there, behind you.

Q: Barney, thank you.

Alyssa, your comments—

RUBIN: Why don’t you introduce yourself?

Q: Frank Wisner, law firm of Squire Patton Boggs.

Alyssa, your comments on regional integration sparked me to try a thought on you and see if it makes sense. As I listened to you, it strikes me that the most powerful single integrator on the international scene today: the emergence of our mega regional trade blocks—TTIP for Europe, TPP for Asia.

And while I recognize we’ve got a lot of trouble in convincing the American public to follow those through to their logical conclusion, I’m struck by the fact that South Asia is notably absent in the development of these mega blocks, that both India, Pakistan—but Bangladesh and the others—face really severe problems if the block, particularly TPP, moves forward without India’s—Pakistan’s inclusion: loss of trade and loss of opportunity. But even more important is the loss of the integrative capacity of TPP, of bringing economies and political leaderships together to define a path forward.

Now, if that makes sense to you, and it certainly does to me, then isn’t that a policy line the United States should be thinking hard about rather than resisting bringing the Indias into TPP? Think about what is an evolutionary path forward that would bring the region more squarely into this integrative mechanism.

There is to be an APEC meeting in Lima in November in which the question of membership will be open. None of the South Asians are in the process of applying that as another step, but also an integrative measure. Doesn’t this represent, as opposed to other fora, the most powerful single way we could help influence the integrative processes in South Asia and the rest of Asia?

RUBIN: Thank you.

Alyssa, would you like to answer that?

AYRES: I don’t think I could have put that better. I agree with you 100 percent. I think that we’ve had some trouble in Washington seeing how we could use the promise of a larger and expanded Asia-wide trade arrangement to help pull India into thinking about what would be in its interest to do to try to join that grouping.

We have not worked the way I think we should be working to try to bring India into APEC, which would be a necessary first step. All the TPP members are APEC members. We haven’t begun to even think about this with respect to smaller economies in South Asia. You mentioned Bangladesh, which is a big exporter. Pakistan could benefit from becoming a more active economic power and trader.

So I agree with everything you just said. I think we’ve got some political work to do in our own capital to think about how these could be great strategic tools to help bring that sense of regional economic connectivity and integration to the region, looking more broadly throughout Asia.

MEDEIROS: Barney, can I come in on this?

So I have a question for you, Alyssa. I was in the administration when we had this debate about whether or not to bring India in APEC, and one of the arguments that certainly prevailed at a particular time was you bring India in and you drop the standards way down. So how do you—how do you address the issue of, because of India’s rather sort of nativist tendencies on trade and investment, would radically change an agreement? So I think about when people often ask me to compare TPP and RCEP.

The reason why RCEP is going so slow and its coverage is so limited is because of India. So how do you—how do you find the right balance, because you want a high-quality—I mean, the reason why TPP will be so transformational is not only because there’s very high tariff coverage—or tariff liberalization coverage. That’s good. But really what’s significant is the rulemaking component. The SOE disciplines government procurement and then of course labor, environmental, et cetera. So how do you address those issues?

AYRES: India is not presently ready for TPP and I am not trying to make that argument.


AYRES: So it’s a long way.

MEDEIROS: Completely understand.

AYRES: And, frankly, if you talk to people in India, there are a lot of different views about trade agreements—


AYRES: —but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a strong voice in India to say, we’ve got to radically and quickly continue our reforms so we can get into TPP. I mean, you just don’t hear that very often. In fact, you hear sort of the opposite. You hear people saying things like, the United States is trying to exclude India—


AYRES: —from this great development.


AYRES: But what I would say is that a good first step would be getting India into APEC. That is not a binding trade negotiating forum. That is a community of practice. That is a forum in which countries get together, develop action plans for what more they’re going to do to uphold their commitment, which they’re required to uphold, committing to free and open trade.

And India in APEC—and Indian officials have said very publicly that they would like to be in APEC—they would be required to come up with plans and show the rest of the APEC membership what they would be doing to fulfill those commitments and keep expanding their markets and make it free and open to greater trade.

So I’m not saying—


AYRES: So I’m saying that I think we see a process of, step one, become part of an organization that has advanced trade and investment across Asia, work with India in that context, and then look down the line to a roadmap for what a binding agreement would look like, and it has proposed that.

MEDEIROS: So the argument is that APEC would socialize India away from its current tendency—relatively protectionist tendencies. Is that the argument?

AYRES: That is a way to put that. (Laughter.) Yes.

MEDEIROS: How would you put it? How would you—no, I’m curious. I mean, I’m trying—

AYRES: Yeah.

MEDEIROS: I’m no India expert.

RUBIN: Let’s let everyone—you think about it and you can come back later with that. In fact, it may be in her article. (Laughter.)

Do you want to add to that?



Jonah, in the back there.

Q: Thanks, Barney. I’d like to get back to the point that Evan raised about President Xi’s pledge of $46 billion for Pakistan infrastructure, and whether this really could be transformational for regional stability.

As you all know, we in the U.S. had a big, bold infrastructure plan to—Kerry-Lugar-Berman. We tripled our economic aid and many of us thought and hoped that this would be truly transformational. We had real difficulty spending that money in a way that was transformational. And I’m sure some people would go even further than that—than that critique.

What’s the view of the panel first on whether President Xi is actually going to deliver $46 billion, and second, if he does, whether that actually will have a transformational impact?

RUBIN: All right, well, you directed it initially to Evan but it’s clearly for everyone. But do you want to start by talking about whether they actually will pay it?

MEDEIROS: Chinese pledges of big assistance are pretty common these days. My recommendation would be, read the fine print. I think a lot of it will depend on Pakistan’s absorptive capacity.

And while, Jonah, I don’t know the specifics of that particular pledge, I would imagine a large portion of it is financing from China’s own development banks, Ex-Im Bank, CDB, et cetera, Silk Road Fund, related to—that have to be spent in employing Chinese state-owned enterprises that are flush with overcapacity. That would be my guess but that’s preliminary because, again, I haven’t read the details of this. But the structures of these packages are important, so that’s why I recommend we all read the fine print.

RUBIN: Either of you want to comment on the challenges of disbursing that kind of money in Pakistan?

AYRES: I’ll pass. (Laughter.)



RUBIN: OK, please do.

GROSSMAN: First of all, let me say that $46 billion—it strikes me that even if it turns out to be half that amount of money, it’s still a lot of money. And so I think there is this possibility of doing something transformative, which is why, as Ms. Su said earlier, in the panel, I hope that’s someplace actually that Chinese and the United States could work together, and as Ambassador Prasad said, with India as well.

Second, I think the question on Kerry-Lugar-Berman, of which, you know, I was a huge supporter—and Dan Feldman is the person who kept it going for many, many years, at least on the administration side—you have sort of a philosophical question, Jonah, here. I mean, I think that there’s aid and there’s aid.

And one of the things that the United States tried to do through Kerry-Lugar-Berman—very properly, it seems to me—was do all kinds of projects—infrastructure projects, health projects, education projects—and that’s all good. And Robin Raphel worked on this very hard as well. The Chinese, though, what are they doing? They’re focused on questions of infrastructure. And I think that makes a big difference.

So my first post in the foreign service was Pakistan, it turns out, in 1977 and ’79. What do most Pakistanis remember about U.S. aid at that time? The Tarbela Dam, right? That’s what they remember, a huge infrastructure project that changed a lot of agriculture and life in Pakistan.

And so I think the issue here is if the Chinese, in their One Belt, One Road, are focused on infrastructure, they’ll find a way to spend it. The absorptive capacity will be there because people need this infrastructure, and therefore has a chance of being transformative. And that’s just a philosophical difference, I would bet, between what they intend to do and what we tried to do, and try to do, through Kerry-Lugar-Berman.

RUBIN: Well, thanks.

Well, we’re just about near the end, so let me—let me just ask the panelists if you have any final words before we go on to the next one? Evan?


AYRES: My primary concern when we think about U.S. engagement and policy toward this region is that we continue to keep the South Asia part of Asia high on our priority, high on our agenda, so in the sense of when we think of Asia, this is a part of Asia. Let’s kind of rebalance our rebalance and ensure that our involvement—we have a commitment to staying the course, that the region understands that we have that commitment, and that we’ll continue to place a high priority on making sure that we’re active and involved and engaged in our diplomacy.

RUBIN: Thank you.

GROSSMAN: I think it’s great that these last two panels have focused on the economic side of this because, as you said previously, it sometimes gets lost. And I think that thinking long term and thinking simultaneously and trying to actually have five or six or eight or 10 practical things that can be done to promote the Silk Road, or whatever it’s called, is hugely, hugely important.

You know, I go back to—(coughs)—excuse me—a quotation from, you know, Robert Kaplan’s book “Monsoon,” you know, where it says getting this Afghanistan economic piece right is the key then to getting the piece right in all of South Asia and therefore of Asia. So it’s enormously important and I’m glad we were able to spend some time on it this morning.

RUBIN: Well, let me thank all the panelists and the participants for the questions.

We’re now going to adjourn for lunch, which I presume is out there, and return here to start promptly on the next session at 1:00 p.m. Thank you.

GROSSMAN: Thank you.

AYRES: Thank you.


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