Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher shares his thoughts on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. Presidential transition.ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We’re in an interesting time right now. We’re trying to do everything we can in Afghanistan and Pakistan especially to help solidify the situation and make it better. But we’re also trying to get the new administration ready, so I’ve started talking to the transition folks who are coming in, gathering a lot of information from us even while the policy reviews of the existing administration are going on.
What we’ve concentrated on in those policy reviews is what can we do now, what can we do in the next few months to make a better foundation for next year. And we’re working on things like getting more U.S. troops out to Afghanistan, getting more U.S. civilians out to Afghanistan, helping the Afghans build government at the local level – the things that really provide a base for stability and a base for success. So a lot of those things we can do in the next few months. We can get them going. We can get them settled. We can get the budgets together. And then the new administration can pick up and decide how they want to take it.
Our motto right now is, “Do more and do better.” So “do more” means getting those extra resources out there, but “do better” also means using them in a way that helps both governance at the local level so that Afghans, so that ordinary people, get security, get justice, get health and education and what they expect from their government – roads, electricity.
There’s actually a lot of good things going on in Afghanistan, but there’s also a lot more insecurity because of the bombs that have been going off, because the Taliban have changed their tactics to set off bombs. So we’ve got to deal with that. And we’ve got to deal with that by sort of putting a web of government on top of the bombs and smothering the ability of the Taliban to do that. That’s going to be the effort that we’re undertaking now.
On the Pakistani side, we’ve seen a lot more determination and pressure on the Taliban and the militants that are up there in the tribal areas. The Paks have undertaken some really serious military operations. But again, we’re looking at how do we help them train up better forces? How do we help them build better institutions of government in those areas and more generally around Pakistan? How do we help them get through their, I’d say, triple crises right now? One is the economic crisis that they’ve got to get over. Two is the security crisis with militants trying to attack and set off bombs in Pakistan. They’ve got to fight that. And the third is the political crisis, meaning that they’re coming through a civilian transition, they’re now in a democratic governance period; how do we solidify that democratic governance for them?
So it’s become a very interesting period for all of us. I like transitions. I like transitions because you look at what you’re doing, you try to examine how to do it better, you try to explain it to the new people coming in, and you try to give them thoughts and options about how they can take things forward and sort of merge their thinking with your thinking as we go forward.