US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has said that Pashtuns in Pakistan’s tribal regions have suffered from a lack of education, rule of law and an absence of other basic services like roads and economic opportunities. He said Washington’s assistance to Pakistan will help develop the tribal region.
Ambassador Feldman spoke in an exclusive interview with VOA Deewa at the State Department on a range of issues, including US-Pakistan ties, Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S.-led international combat forces from Afghanistan at the year’s end. Feldman also discussed Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and Afghanistan’s recent overtures to China.
An edited question-answer version of Ambassador Feldeman’s interview is here:
Question: You mentioned the multi-sectorial U.S. assistance to Pakistan to help the conflict region, Pakistan’s tribal areas, that don’t have access to opportunities and resources….
Feldman: There are a lot of needs in Pakistan and those on the border area, (they) have suffered disproportionally by not having rule of law having applied to all of the country so the need for services, education, energy and economic opportunities, roads, why this work we’ve done is so important, spent close to five billion dollars in Pakistan, even during a time when the U.S. –Pakistan bilateral relationship wasn’t as strong as it is now, that’s why this relationship is important and hopefully these roads will help to provide greater stability and access to economic markets and continue to bring this relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and other regions closer together for a prospect of stability.
Question: Pakistani military has launched an operation against militants in that region. How does the U.S. see this operation?
Feldman: We really commend the operation and (it has) been very significant in countering terrorism and just want to ensure that all extremists are equally targeted. What we need to make sure is that they don’t have the ability to reconstitute in Pakistan or in Afghanistan and cause a continued threat to American lives and our partners Afghan lives and for Pakistani lives. Pakistanis have suffered so much at the hands of extremism over the last few years, 55,000 Pakistani deaths and it’s unconscionable and make sure we work together to address this common threat.
Question: What assurances did you get from Pakistani officials to leave a stable Afghanistan?
Feldman: One of the most important things at this point is the remarkable opportunity that there is in the region right now with the new Afghanistan government. I was in Pakistan and in Afghanistan over the last few months as part of the resolution of the electoral impasse there, just saw the President in Beijing too remarkable opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to turn a new page in their relationship, seen this with Pakistan…with…President (Ashraf) Ghani coming to Pakistan in the next few days, seems to be tremendous desire on both parts to ensure that this relationship is put on firmer footing and contributes to greater stability in the region, best indicator that there can be future stability of course U.S. will remain engaged, will have about 10,000 troops as part of a broader NATO troop effort over the next few years, continue to work with countries in the region and so important for China to host this conference to ensure the region stays as stable as possible that’s our end goal interest.
Question: How much the distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan a challenge to U.S. efforts to leave a peaceful Afghanistan?
Feldman: Of course there is a long history here and we are all honest about that but in the five and a half years I’ve been involved in this job, deputy to my predecessor, we’ve cared deeply about this relationship for many years, exactly this window of opportunity, this is the most alignment I’ve seen in terms of opportunity to start this new chapter in the relationship with so many areas of potential progress here on cross-border military issues, economic and trade issues, regional connectivity issues like electricity, many many things that could be great dividends for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and we see every indication that that is possible given the commitment by both Afghanistan and Pakistani leadership.
Question: A recent Pentagon to the Congress says that Pakistan is using proxies, this is not the first time an official report is saying this, Pakistan is using proxies to retain influence and conquer. How do you characterize this at this particular in time?
Feldman: This was a DOD (Department of Defense) report. I’ll have to let them talk about it. We’ve always been honest about the fact that the U.S. and Pakistan have a common enemy in extremism and a common fight, make sure there are no safe heavens on either side of the border. Pakistani people are the ones most impacted by extremism and so greatly value the contributions that have been made in terms of lives and resources dedicated here, common nexus of extremism and all acknowledge more has to be done and continue to work with Pakistan to help eradicate extremist threats.
Question: Your comments on Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the United States and its significance.
Feldman: We are greatly looking forward to Gen. Sharif’s visit. I met (have) with him several weeks ago and had a good conversation. (I) know his commitment to protecting Pakistani lives (and making) sure that Pakistani government has control over all of Pakistan. (We) look forward to having close and honest consultations with him when he’s here. He’ll see our senior leaders throughout civilian establishments and then on the think thank people who are important in policy making (he will get a) warm reception in Washington, a token of how important we believe the U.S.-Pakistan bi-lateral relationship is, strong relationship with civilian government and also want to have a strong relationship with Pakistani military.
Question: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was recently in China and seeking Chinese support for peace and stability in Afghanistan and China was seeking support in return against East Turkistan Islamic Movement. How do you see the two countries’ expectation from each other? And what does the U.S. expect from China to play in a positive role in Afghanistan?
Feldman: Delighted that China has been engaged in the region, (a) longtime partner and ally of Pakistan and glad Chinese are working with Afghanistan and happy this has come into fruition. Yesterday President Obama and Xi identified this as a common interest for China, along its border to counter extremist threats and welcome role they play on economic investment, counter terrorism reconciliation talks and a range of issue China would be helpful on ongoing U.S.-Pakistan relationship? We believe we are on a firmer footing than we have been in many years and continue to facilitate and nurture that maintain that this is a strong and beneficial relationship that delivers for Pakistan and Afghani people happy we’ve been able to deliver on our commitment of assistance over the last few years certainly after the floods in the border regions humanitarian relief way we’ve prioritized assistance for energy projects exchange programs and Fulbright programs enabling 12,000 Pakistanis to go to universities and schools, building thousands of kilometers of roads many in border region and access roads, helping to incentives economic growth initiative programs range of things we’ve done very collaboratively under the structure of the Strategic Dialogue that Sec. (John) Kerry chairs with advisors, various working groups focused on core interests of Pakistani people meeting on economic, finance, counter terrorism etc and now on science, education, and technology range of things we will continue to do to demonstrate we have a long commitment to Pakistan and other countries involved like China is to everyone’s benefit.