THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
AMBASSADOR SHIRIN TAHIR-KHELI
AND AMBASSADOR FRANK WISNER
ON PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO INDIA, BANGLADESH AND PAKISTAN
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:17 P.M. EST
MR. HAMMER: Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to introduce twodistinguished South Asia experts who will be briefing you today. We havewith us Ambassador Frank Wisner, who held and holds the career rank ofambassador. He has had a very long and distinguished career in the ForeignService, starting in 1961, but also served this last tour as U.S.ambassador to India from '94 to '97. And he will begin with apresentation. He's got to run and catch a flight so I would then encourageany quick questions for him.
But we also have Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who is at thePaul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Director of South AsiaInstitute. But also, remarkably, spent six years at the National SecurityCouncil from '84 to '90, serving five different national security advisors,which is quite a feat.
So anyway, Mr. Ambassador, if you would start?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Iam pleased to be able to come and talk to you on the eve of the President'strip to South Asia. It is an extraordinarily important event for all of uswho follow that part of the world, have business, in my case, intereststhere and care very much about what's going to happen. There has been noPresident in South Asia in 22 years. My memory -- that's for India. Mymemory for Pakistan, President Nixon was the last president to visit. Andyet, 25 percent or just slightly under the world's population lives inSouth Asia. It will be extraordinarily important to the United States inthis century to maintain security in Asia, to see America's economicprospects advance as that region grows economically and you really can'tface some of the major challenges of the new century without South Asia,challenges of population, the environment, the new diseases, HIV/AIDS, TB,malaria strains that we have not known before.
In the economic dimension, the President is going to be facing asituation that is truly unprecedented for American industry. We have, forsome time, been India's largest trader and investor. Today, we are lookingat Indian investments of nearly $250 billion in power over the next severalyears; at least $100 billion in telecommunications. Indian industry willbe retooled and much will be sourced in this country, and you have agrowing Indian middle class with a taste for consumer goods -- many ofwhich are inclined towards the United States.
Beyond the old economy, if you will, is the new economy.Information technology, if you think about it for a moment, between 30 and50 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were launched by Indian engineers,and about 30 percent of the world's software engineers are Indian or ofIndian origin.
India's, in addition, a small trader on the international scene.And when you look at the challenges the United States faces in shaping aglobal trading regime compatible with our interests -- in agriculture, inservices, in information technology, issues of labor, issues ofenvironmental sensitivity, the Indians are right at the center of shapingthe international consensus, and there is a great deal of overlap betweenwhat they're after and we're after.
India, which will be the focal point of the visit, is changing.She's entering the second generation of her reforms. She's moving from anadministered to a regulated economy. She looks like she will beregistering about a seven percent rate of growth; she will keep that up.The perennial Indian factor of poverty will begin to be alleviated.
The President will have to face the great challenges of Indianreform. The budget deficit, privatization, broadening and deepeningfinancial markets, and dealing with the shortages of infrastructure --telecommunications, transportation, and power.
The visit is a terrific opportunity, therefore, for the UnitedStates to root itself in the region, to get some traction on the issues tocreate a privileged position for us as we go forward.
But it comes also at a time in which there are rising tensions inSouth Asia, and these tensions have to be addressed. From Kargil to thecoup in Pakistan, to the skyjacking, to now-increasing violence along theline of control, the region is showing a marked increase in tension. Theseissues must be addressed -- ironically, only quietly and in diplomaticterms, for to take them public in India and in Pakistan is to distort andto cause great trouble for American diplomacy. We need to be clear aboutour principles, but quiet in our pursuit of it.
Today, Mrs. Albright, the Secretary of State, laid out an agendaof great importance, and I recommend heartily those who haven't seen ittake a moment to read it. She came down firmly that the United States willcontinue to pursue its nonproliferation dialogue with the nations of SouthAsia. But she made explicitly clear that in the nuclear age, borderscannot be changed. They must be respected. The differences have got to bepursued, be they Kashmir or any of the other perennial problems that havebeen the troubles of South Asia.
She made it clear the United States will not mediate unless askedby all sides. But at the same time, it's critically important that thePresident keep lines of communications open to both parties, India andPakistan in this case. And she underscored the importance of respectingthe line of control in Kashmir and reducing the violence that is occurringalong it. Mrs. Albright made it absolutely clear that the use of terroracross frontiers and inside of other nations can't be permitted and will beactively discouraged by the United States, whether it flows fromAfghanistan or stems out of Pakistan.
We aim, therefore, I hope, as the President goes forward, to beable to create -- turn a new page in a relationship with South Asia,notably with India, the dominant power, to differentiate America's approachto Pakistan on the one hand and India on the other, which is increasingly aglobal player. To be able to make it clear that we won't take advantage ofIndia with respect to our relationships with China any more than we willtake advantage with Pakistan in a growing American relationship with India.
We have a new generation growing up, many taking power. It is atime for a new vision. India will be as important a factor in Asia'sfuture and in our relationship in the century ahead as China has emergedthese days.
With those opening remarks and if Shirin -- take a couple ofquestions or -- good. Great.
Q You mentioned that first -- this is the first visit in 22years. Why it took 22 years for the world's richest democracy to reach tothe largest democracy in the world. And also what do you think therelations between the two countries today and after presidential visit?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Right. Well, there are many reasonshistorically why the President of the United States and administrationshave not given importance, the same importance to South Asia they havegiven other regions. Much was rooted in the Cold War, where India was seento be closer to the erstwhile Soviet Union. This restricted our diplomacy,raised the level of tension in the relationship. India looked at theUnited States in that regard as favoring Pakistan. We had disagreements ofa variety.
We had no broad base for the relationship. The economicinteractions were very narrow. There wasn't a way to accommodate thedifferences.
Today, we have a real chance to see the relationship broaden,politically, economically, right across the board, so that you are able tocope with those differences and manage those differences. I think we arefacing a very different day.
I have just come back from India. Those of you who are going onthe trip, I think you will sense a vibrancy and enthusiasm about a new daywith the United States, a new relationship, and it gives me quite a lot ofconfidence.
Q Despite the Secretary of State's tough words, do you see anyshort-term hopes of accomplishing any nonproliferation commitments fromIndia or Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: My main hope, personally -- I am not speakingfor the administration -- is that the nonproliferation norms that are beingpursued, CTBT, fissile material cutoff bans, are ways of indicatingrestraint, ways of -- that South Asia can make a statement that they --that south Asia wishes to hold under control the nuclear age. And then tomove beyond that to have a small and smaller -- a small nuclear capability.It is inevitable there is going to be one. Small and de-alertedcapability.
I think the role the President can play on a trip like this is,of course, to encourage South Asian nations to seek to join global norms aspart of our global policies. But to try to create the climate of trust andconfidence between himself and this country and the parties in South Asiathat permits us to talk about the sensitive nuclear issues in a quiet way,and to talk about regional tensions.
Yes, sir in the back of the room?
Q What's your understanding of the relationship between thePakistani government and the terrorist organizations that operate either --be that in Kashmir or in Afghanistan itself? In other words, is it directcontrol, is it informal contact?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Well, it's a matter of considerable debate.And I think it is very difficult to prove that there is a direct organiclink between the Pakistani government or its agencies and organizationsthat are directly responsible for terror. Over the years, theseorganizations have, however, found haven in Pakistan and they have exportedterrorists across the border into India.
The actions along the line of control do have an active elementof Pakistani involvement -- the arms, munitions, the artillery screens thatare laid before infiltration takes place. Pakistan has traditionallyargued that this is part of a liberation movement as opposed to terrorism.
But when you get down to strictly defined terrorism -- issueslike the skyjacking, the recent Indian Airlines skyjacking, there is, tothe best of my knowledge -- I certainly haven't seen it -- that proveablelink that puts this issue on the doorstep of the Pakistani government.
Q Ambassador, the Army General Musharraf overthrew ademocratically-elected prime minister in the fall. He has since requiredthat justices swear allegiance to him. He's throwing journalists in jail.Nawaz Sharif is in jail, his lawyer's been killed. What's the President ofthe United States doing going to see a man like that?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: I feel very comfortable -- I've spent a lifein diplomacy, and I have no, obviously, personally, and I would hope thePresident and I know the President feels very strongly about the importanceof restoring democracy, the rule of law, strengthening governance inPakistan. Those issues are -- I'm certain the President is going to dealwith each one of them while he's there.
But I believe fundamentally, if you're going to do business witha country as important as Pakistan certainly is, at a time when there arereal issues on the table, you have to be able to communication. And to beable to communication, you've got to communication at the very highestlevels.
The history of the past has been, we have influence withPakistan. We were able to play a role in the Kargil event. If we decidenot to communication, then we don't have influence, we can't use ourinfluence in a constructive way. So I support wholeheartedly thePresident's decision to take the -- to go to Pakistan, to engage the chiefexecutive, and to engage the leadership of the country.
Q -- meeting with him, what if anything can the President doto avoid sending the wrong signal to other countries on the brink, likeIndonesia?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Well, I'm certain the President will findboth the right words and the right attitudes. All of our principles bindus in that direction. I understand the President is going to be speakingpublicly. There will be private discussions as well as public ones.
Q You mean addressing on television the Pakistani people?
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Yes, I don't know the details of thePresident's trip. I'm not in the administration. But I'm absolutelycertain he is speaking, and if he speaks, he will not be shy aboutasserting America's commitments to democratic institutions.
MR. HAMMER: -- going, but we have Shirin --
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: I would like to reinforce whatAmbassador Wisner had said, and just add one small note to that. And thatis the downturn in the relationship between India and Pakistan, which hasoccurred in the last year since the opening in Lahore seemed so promising.I think it has created a situation which is dangerous and where theconstructive engagement of the United States at the highest level -- andthat is from the President of the United States -- can make a difference.If there's one thing that I learned in all those years on the NSC, when theengagement with India started to be very active, as was the relationshipwith Pakistan growing, that presidential attention highlights the need forrestraint in the subcontinent. It is something that should be obvious tothe leadership there.
But it has -- if you look at the list of agreements that Indiaand Pakistan have been able to reach on confidence-building, they'veessentially been all those that the United States not only supported andencouraged, but also in many ways initiated. So I think that at least inthe private conversations, which is where probably this belongs, it's avery important time for the President's attention to be focused on SouthAsia, from South Asia's point of view as well.
Q Are you going to be -- the President has said that he wouldget involved in mediating the Kashmir issue only if both sides arerequesting that he do so. And I was wondering if you had any knowledge orany sign that India would be interested in having the United States or thePresident get involved.
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: Well, all signs are, and the Indianshave not been shy about indicating that they are definitely not interestedin having the United States, even as was put by the Prime Minister ofIndia, I believe, yesterday, no matter how well-intentioned, should thePresident be involved, which is, I think, a good start in point.
However, I think the President is in a unique position toencourage the fact that while the United States accepts the fact that Indiadoes not want mediation, then it is important for them, the two countries,to engage bilaterally. In other words, you cannot say that bilateralengagement is all that is wanted, and then have a total absence of adialogue.
Today, India and Pakistan have zero interaction at the governmentlevel and at any level. I mean, this is unheard of in the recent historiesof countries with antagonisms like that. You did not have it in theEast-West, you did not have it in the Middle East. Track two, track one,anything.
So I think it highlights the need for engagement, and I don't seeanybody, other than the President of the United States, in this position tobe able to bring that to the notice of the two leaders.
Q Indian officials seem to be upset about the decision to makea stop in Islamabad. Do you feel that they understand now the reasons andthat it will have had an adverse effect on the visit to India?
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: Well, the Indian officials have,themselves, said, and I think they have sort of stepped back a bit from theextremely tough position they took on this issue. I think that they havebeen satisfied that the U.S. is not going over there to bless a militarygovernment, that the President of the United States needs to have lines ofcommunications open. And, actually, it is in India's interest as well thatthe collapse of Pakistan is not going to help anybody, particularly thosein Pakistan's immediate neighborhood.
So I think that the focus has shifted from that aspect of thetrip to saying, okay, in what ways can the U.S.-Indian relationship bebuttressed as a result of this visit. So I think that change has occurredand I am certainly one who is very glad that it has. Because I think a lotof energy was spent for weeks and weeks on this issue.
Q You mentioned the possibility of the collapse of Pakistan.Given the economic problems there and the constitutional crisis, howserious do you see that threat and what sort of scenario would follow?
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: To answer the last part of yourquestion, the scenario -- any scenario that follows -- I mean, it's anightmare scenario; I don't see any good scenarios coming out of thatparticular event, if should it occur.
Countries and nations have a way of going on so, you know,sometimes it is easy to sort of write them off. But nonetheless, I thinkthe conditions facing Pakistan are severe. And the irony and the sadnessof it has been that these conditions, many of them, were created under theonly sort of longest period of democratic rule that Pakistan has had. Inother words, the failure of civilian elected leadership to deliver on thepromise that was handed them with such hope only a decade ago has made itvery, very much tougher, I think, for the country.
The economic crisis is really the most urgent, and there are somesteps being taken which I think are critically needed. The economic teamthat they've put together, according to everyone's review including theharshest critics of Pakistan, is a first-class team. But of course, theeconomy cannot be turned around very quickly. So in the interim, thegovernment has to figure out a way of managing social difficulties,including the question of sectarianism and law and order. I'd put thosetwo as the issues.
Now, these two conditions have been managed in recent months.It's probably one of the few things that the military government has beenable to deliver, because they have been able to curtail the internalviolence, which was besetting all Pakistani cities on a regular, nightlybasis. But the social, underlying causes, many people think are economic,so until you turn the economic situation around, the problem is still veryacute.
Q -- anything that the President can do on this trip thatwould help that?
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: I think -- you know, presidential visits-- and despite all those years in the NSC, we were never able to get thepresidents out there -- but presidential visits do many things. They notonly show the flag on behalf of the U.S., but they also are an indicationof U.S. interest. This is a non-tangible but very important thing in SouthAsia, where perceptions and signals loom far larger than they do in theWestern world.
So the presence of the President, obviously despite a lot ofadvice not to go, I think is a very strong indication of American continuedinterest in a stable, secular Pakistan that is at peace with itself. Thoseare the kinds of perceptions that I think can help in terms of gettingthe kind of economic assistance, not to mention the votes necessary in IMFor the World Bank, et cetera.
American interest is sort of the key to Western interest, whichis sort of the underpinning of the international financial institutions.So, yes, I think by the President going, this does give them an opportunity-- it doesn't guarantee success. That will have to come from Pakistan.
Q The collapse of Pakistan -- going back to that -- Pakistanhad been ruled by the military and by the elected governments. So both are-- both could not rule the country, so who will rule the country or whowill bring the changes? Because what most Pakistanis are feeling is thatit's not the government that is corrupt or military is corrupt, but maybebecause of the -- they are spending or financing the terrorism across theborder. That's what India feels, that's what most Pakistanis feel. Sowhat is the future? I mean, if both have ruled, but who can bring thechanges?
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: Well, I don't agree with one part ofwhat you're saying, that it's the involvement with India or what's going onin Kashmir that's bringing the collapse of Pakistan. Defense expendituresare of course high in the subcontinent as such. India has just raised itsdefense expenditure by 28 percent. Pakistan has, along with debtservicing, about 40 percent of the budget goes to these two items and hascontinued to do so.
I think the malaise that has overcome the society and thedisillusionment with institutions, and the breakdown of institutions, whichunfortunately was started with the political leadership under -- is of theseverest kind. And I think Pakistanis who have not given up on theircountry feel that it's the revival of these institutions which is terribly,terribly important before you can put the country politically back on theright track.
So I think the debate there is not between who is the morecorrupt of the two. Corruption is endemic and corruption is endemic inSouth Asia for many reasons. But there are other countries that havemanaged to put that aside and even with large pockets of poverty have athriving middle class, as has India. So things can coexist. The questionis, how do you manage them, where do you put the emphasis and who comes outahead.
Q The people pay the price.
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: Yes, but the breakup of Pakistanactually means that more people will suffer and more people will pay theprice. So this is a chance. And a lot of Pakistanis, thinking Pakistanissay this really is the last chance to try and see if -- Pakistan can berevived.
Q How India can help, being a neighbor --
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: That's a wonderful question and I amglad you asked that. Because ever since leaving government, I spent all mysort of existence trying to see if there are enough senior people in Indiaand Pakistan who actually want to try and build a different future.
I think India can help in many ways, long-term, mid-term,immediately. I think immediately India can help by engaging Pakistan, bynot focusing on the isolation of Pakistan, which happened as a result ofthe coup. But India and Pakistan have fought two-and-a-half or three,depending on who you speak to, wars and they have overcome that bitternessand started afresh.
The, I think, time has come for these two countries to actuallytry and do that. So India can immediately do something psychologically andotherwise. But there are ways in which the two countries can interact thatis productive. The economic opportunities, for example, of trade --India-Pakistan trade, official level -- is $100 million. The unofficialtrade is $2.5 billion. It comes via smuggling or via third countries. Soobviously they're trading; it's just that the governments lose revenue, andthey don't build those habits of cooperation that are terribly, terriblyimportant for any region. And South Asia is now practically the onlyregion where there is local cooperation on the trade side, and any of theseother issues.
But the disparity in size, and the importance of India, willhopefully make India comfortable enough with its role in the region that itcan act the bigger power that it is, in terms of its smaller neighbors. Ithink that has already begun to happen, but I hope that that willaccelerate as India feels more comfortable.
Q Is there a danger that all the talk of nuclearproliferation, of the turmoil in the region, will overshadow economicdevelopment issues and other matters, particularly in India, that thePresident will be dealing with?
AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI: I think there is that danger. As Ilisten to all the very, very interesting and informative analyses leadingup to the President's visit, I'm struck by the promise of the economicrelationship that Ambassador Wisner and others have referred to. But I'malso struck by the fact that the promise of the economic miracle that couldbe India is held back by this fear on the part of those who would otherwisebe investing more freely, regarding the possibility of a nuclear exchange.
In this open world, where capital can go anywhere -- and I don'tmean just capital in terms of transfers in and out, but investments on theground: infrastructure, communications, a whole host of other things -- youfind that you've got to be somewhat competitive for global capital. And Ithink that that would be even more enhanced were there to be some modicumof peace between India and Pakistan.
And I think it's doable. Indian leaders have tried to reach out.They did something very unique in Lahore. And I think the Indian PrimeMinister himself has said that, you know, you can't change geography; thatin the end, we have to deal with each other. So one has to sort of hopethat -- you know, these are old civilizations with some new problems, thatthey somehow find a way of doing them. And the President of the UnitedStates going, I think, refocuses energies in the region and outside on thispart of the world.
Q Thank you very much.
END 4:45 P.M. EST
Press Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
Press Briefing by Ian Bowles
Press Briefing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger
Press Briefing by USAID Administrator Brady Anderson
Joint Press Briefing
Press Briefing on the President's Trip to India, Bangladesh And Pakistan
Background Briefing on the President's Visit to Pakistan
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