Marc Grossman, the United States senior representative to Afghanistan and
Pakistan, recently sat down at the State Department in Washington with Voice of
America's Lina Rozbih to discuss a wide range of regional issues, from the
future of al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network to India-Pakistan relations and the
recent instability in Afghanistan as the United States begins to draw down its
Voice of America: Where were you on September 11, 2001, and what
went through your mind when it became clear that this was a terrorist attack?
Marc Grossman Being here at the State Department is, of course, a
reminder of that day. I was here at the State Department. I was undersecretary
of state for political affairs. We were having a meeting in then Deputy
Secretary of State Richard
Armitage's office. Someone came in and said that an airplane had hit one of the
World Trade Center towers, and people thought, ''What a terrible accident; what
an awful thing.'' Then some minutes later, when they said that the second
airplane had hit the World Trade Center, Richard stood up and said, ''This is
terrorism. America is under attack.''
He told us all to go back to our offices and prepare for the bad day and few
months that we were likely to have. I went back to my office, and from my
window I could see the Pentagon. We saw the airplane hit the Pentagon. There
was a huge amount of smoke, and my window shook from the impact of that
aircraft. At that moment, we knew the United States was under attack.
VOA:: Is it accurate to say that in Afghanistan, the US has
successfully removed al-Qaeda's old base of support?
MG: The job President [Barack] Obama has given us is to deter,
deny, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I think we're well on the way to
doing that. I believe the efforts of the Afghan people, Afghan national
security forces, the great efforts of the United States and friends and allies
that have worked very hard these last 10 years to defeat extremism in
Afghanistan and certainly to deny, deter, and defeat al-Qaeda are well on the
way to success.
There's more work to do. Work against extremism will take a very long time. But
if you look back to where we were 10 years ago and where we are today, I think
the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan toward the United States, friends,
and allies is much, much diminished. We can now finish this job.
VOA:: Michael Leiter, the former head of the National
Counterterrorism Center, said in an interview that al-Qaeda in Pakistan
"remains a huge problem" but is "on the ropes". Do you agree?
MG: My analysis is that the killing of Osama bin Laden in
Abbottabad gives us the opportunity to now finish al-Qaeda. What's that going
to take? It's going to take a huge amount of cooperation from Pakistan, from
Afghanistan, from countries all around the world. This is really our
opportunity now to defeat this organization.
VOA:; Do you think [Pakistan] President [Asif Ali] Zardari's
decision to legalize political parties for the first time in the [Federally
Administered Tribal Areas] could decrease the influence of militants there?
MG: Obviously, the way Pakistan organizes its own government is
its business. As far as I'm concerned, I think that the increased amount of
democracy in Pakistan, more political parties, more integration of that part of
Pakistan into the rest of that society has got to be a positive thing.
We've supported the civilian government there and the efforts they're making
politically, economically, democratically to move Pakistan forward. That
decision is really for Pakistanis to make. But I think every time you can
increase the influence of democracy, you decrease the influence of extremism.
VOA:: The announcement that the US market was now open to
Pakistani mangoes was welcomed as ''sweet news,'' but there have been several
recent developments that indicate how very tense relations have become between
the two countries. Is there any real progress?
MG: Let me divide my answer into two. First, I think your point
about market access is an extremely important one - not just for Pakistan but
for Afghanistan as well. One of the things that we would like to work on more
over the next few months and years is to increase the amount of trade and
investment in the whole region.
One of the things you'll notice that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton
talked about in her speech in India the other day was this concept of a new
"Silk Road," of an economic region integrated from Central Asia all the way to
New Delhi - maybe even to Bangladesh. Who is at the center of that? The center
is Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We see a day when goods will move back and forth from Central Asia to India,
through Afghanistan, through Pakistan. What will that do? It will increase
jobs, it will increase the capacity of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan to
make choices about their own lives in the economic sphere. I think that's
extremely important. So the point you make about market access, more goods,
more investment, more jobs - these are things that are extremely important to
both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On the issue of US-Pakistan relations, Pakistan and the United States have had
a relationship for a long time. Like in all relationships, sometimes it's
better, sometimes it's worse. But our job now is to see if we can't get back to
basic principles between Pakistan and the United States. When I was there a few
weeks ago, it seemed to me that the foundation for Pakistani-American relations
is that Pakistanis and Americans can find shared interests, and then act on
them jointly. I think that if we can follow that philosophy, we'll do ourselves
VOA:: There has been a lot of fighting in Paktika Province, a
haven for the Haqqani network. Is the US stepping up the pressure on the
MG: I think as Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of
Defense [Leon] Panetta have said recently, the Haqqani network remains for us a
real matter of concern. We've talked about it with the Pakistanis and when
Secretary Clinton talks about the need for Pakistani cooperation to end the
safe havens and enablers of people who go into Afghanistan to attack American
forces, Afghan forces, Afghan civilians. The Haqqani network is very much on
our minds there.
The designation [of Haqqani commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran as a terrorist] is
something that we do from time to time, when it's possible to identify somebody
from a group like that who has connections to terrorism. I think it's well
within our rights and really our responsibility to designate them, as Secretary
VOA:: There are reports that the kidnapping of American aid
expert Warren Weinstein was a ''sophisticated operation'', and that the FBI
might join Pakistani authorities in the search for him. Would you like to
MG: First of all, our hearts go out to Mr Weinstein and his
family ... The idea that anyone would come and kidnap him I think is just
outrageous. We have not heard anybody claim responsibility for this. Perhaps
they're too ashamed to do so. I don't know what kind of operation it was. But
what I can tell you is that the FBI in Pakistan and in Washington is in charge
for the US government of helping in this investigation, and we have received
excellent cooperation from the Pakistani authorities, and especially the
authorities in the Punjab. This is a case where they should just release this
VOA:: In Afghanistan, there have recently been a series of
assassinations and other attacks on key officials, just as the transition to
Afghan authority has now begun. Is this reversing or threatening gains in
governance and security?
MG: I don't think so. I hope that the response of the Afghan
people will be to see that these assassinations show the insurgents for what
they are. These are people who use 8-year-old girls as suicide bombers. People
who send people to funerals with bombs in their turbans. At some point, I think
the Afghan people will see that [the insurgents] are showing their real face
We're interested in Afghan-led reconciliation. We're interested in the
transition. We're interested in all of these things. But at some point, enough
is enough. Suicide bombing, attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals. These are
the kinds of things that I think shouldn't take place in any country.
Will this undermine the transition? I think it'll make people worry more about
it, but the transition will go forward. We believe that the military surge has
been successful. One of the reasons you see these assassinations is that the
Taliban has chosen this tactic to try and strike back because they have been
VOA:: What are the specific outcomes that the US is looking for
from the Bonn II conference, including with Pakistan and India? Would you like
to see the Taliban participate?
MG: Let's step back for a moment. The Bonn conference is an
extremely important thing, but there is an international meeting before then
that's also extremely important, and that's the meeting in Istanbul that the
Turkish government will host early in November.
If you think of Istanbul and Bonn as a pair, you can see what is possible to be
achieved in the region. For example, one can imagine that in Istanbul the
neighbors and near neighbors of Afghanistan would come together and really show
support for Afghanistan, and say the kinds of things that would be so important
to the Afghan people: noninterference, promoting Afghan sovereignty, promoting
the success of Afghanistan, talking about a secure, stable, and peaceful
Afghanistan, inside a secure, stable, and peaceful region, for example. I think
that would be an excellent, excellent outcome of Istanbul. And we'd like to do
all we can as the United States to support Turkey and Afghanistan to reach that
kind of an outcome.
If you move on a month later to Bonn, this is also a very important conference,
and that conference is hosted by the German government and - very importantly -
chaired by the government of Afghanistan.
I think at that session, you could see a welcoming of the Istanbul declaration
of the kinds of assurances that Afghanistan has been given. Second, I hope, as
Secretary Clinton said in India, that you might also see a highlighting of this
idea of a "New Silk Road," the economic integration of the region so that
people can start to have jobs and sustainable economic development, investment,
and a real economic future. Third, I also think it's very important - for us,
anyway, and we'll see what others think - to try to find a way to use some of
the savings that [nations] are making as they reduce their military presence in
Afghanistan, and to reinvest that in the Afghan economy. Maybe that's connected
to the Silk Road, maybe it's a separate item, but those are the kinds of things
we'd like to see come out of Bonn.
As to your question about who participates in Bonn, I think [Afghan] Foreign
Minister [Zalmay] Rasoul has made it absolutely clear in Afghanistan that the
Afghans will choose who is on their delegation. And I say, that's completely up
There's one other important aspect of Istanbul and Bonn; that is the
relationship between those two conferences and Pakistan, and also the
relationship between Pakistan and India. In both places, we hope that Pakistan
will continue to be in support of Afghan reconciliation. One of the most
interesting developments over the past few months has been the point that the
Pakistan government has made to support Afghan reconciliation.
You'll recall when the Pakistani government visited Kabul on April 16, they
supported Afghan reconciliation, and they also proposed a core group of
Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US to meet together and talk about
We've met four times. I hope we'll meet here in New York over the next few
weeks again. So both in Istanbul and in Bonn, I hope the Pakistan government
will continue its support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation.
Another important part here, especially if my vision, my dream of a new Silk
Road comes true, is the relationship between India and Pakistan, because
clearly, as goods and services and people move up and down this Silk Road, they
also need to move successfully between India and Pakistan.
So the work that the Indian and Pakistani commerce ministers have done together
- very positive. Some of the other ministers, including the foreign ministers
who have met - if we can continue to see that kind of progress between India
and Pakistan, it will also be a foundation for this vision, this idea of
economic integration running from Central Asia to India, or even actually to
VOA:: Secretary Clinton said that there must be an ''active
political process'' to elect [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai's successor in
2014. What should that process look like and when should it start?
MG: That's a question for the Afghan people. No, seriously - I
thought the statement that President Karzai made the other day that he didn't
think he would be right to be president after 2014, that it was democratic,
that it was part of the constitution. We admire that.
In terms of the campaign, the campaign can start when Afghans want it to start.
I would say that it should be open and transparent and democratic. Who Afghans
choose to be their president is a matter for Afghans, not for Americans.
VOA:: There has been months of controversy and parliamentary
stalemate over fraud in the 2010 elections and the authority of the Independent
Election Commission. How would the US like to see this very sensitive issue
MG: We'd like to see it resolved in an Afghan way by Afghans.
Again, the statement that was made the other day by [Karzai] that the
Independent Election Commission [IEC] was in charge of this, that they would
make these decisions, seemed to us a step forward. But the Afghan parliament is
a matter for Afghans.
What we're interested in is democracy, institutions, transparency - those are
the principles. But the statement made empowering the IEC was a positive
VOA:: Looking to the future, what progress is there on a
strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and what guarantees will it contain for
any insurgents who plan to wait out the Americans?
MG: That's a very good question. We would like to complete the
strategic partnership document as soon as possible. We've had two rounds of
negotiations; my negotiators tell me we're about 85% of the way there. I hope
that at a senior level we will be able to come together with Afghans in the
very near future so we can finish the last issues that are involved.
The idea of the strategic partnership document is to define the relationship
between Afghanistan and the United States after 2014, so it goes precisely to
the point that you make. It's a sign not just to the insurgents but to the
people of Afghanistan, and the neighbors and the near neighbors of Afghanistan,
that we've learned the lesson of 1989 and 1990. We are not going to just
disappear from the area and the region. So we want the strategic partnership
document to speak to the future about economics, about politics.
There are certain things that will not be in that strategic partnership
document. For example, the United States of America does not seek permanent
bases in Afghanistan, and I think that's a very important point for the Afghan
people, and also for the neighbors and near neighbors of Afghanistan. But we
don't want to put anyone in a position - and, most prominently, the Afghan
people - of thinking that in 2014, everyone is just going to take off.
That's the reason for the strategic partnership document, and I hope we will
find a reasonable way and a rapid way to complete the negotiation of that