Interview with Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State

December 10, 2015

Question:  Secretary Blinken, thank you very much for your time.

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Thank you.

Question:  I heard you attended a Heart of Asia Conference, and what is your main purpose of your trip to Afghanistan?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Well, it’s several purposes, but first and foremost it’s just to reaffirm the very strong support of the United States for the work of the unity government, the very courageous work of the Afghan Security Forces, and to continue to work in partnership and to engage with the President, with President Ghani, with Chief Executive Abdullah in ways we can continue to work together and support the government’s efforts.

Question:  You attend the Heart of Asia Conference.  What do you think?  What was the outcome of this conference?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Several very important things came out of this conference.  First, the very significant statements from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in support of the Afghan government, Afghanistan’s constitution.  Second, a commitment on the part of Pakistan as well as other important countries on the urgency and importance of trying to promote and advance reconciliation to lead to a lasting and sustainable peace in Afghanistan.  And I think what we heard from pretty much everyone is a sense of urgency in trying to advance that process.

So Pakistan, the United States, China, all of us are in support of the efforts of the government with an Afghan run and Afghan owned process to see if the Taliban would engage in the reconciliation effort.

Question:  After the establishment of the unity government in Afghanistan, the peace process started with the Taliban, and the first time the Taliban was sent to the Afghan government delegation, and U.S. and China was monitoring that.  After the death of Mullah Omar, the negotiation stopped and the Afghan government blamed that Pakistan is not [inaudible].  What do you think, that Pakistan is still honest for the peaceful [assist] in Afghanistan?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Pakistan, based on what it said yesterday, is very focused and in support of the reconciliation process.  Pakistan was important in actually helping to bring the Taliban to the table for the talks that you alluded to in July and their work now in support of reconciliation I think would be important to having the talks resume and trying to advance the process.

Question:  What do you think?  Are you seeing a loyalty between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the peace process?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  I think what we’re seeing, at least on the basis of the Heart of Asia Conference, is an agreement on the urgency of the moment, to try to use the period that we’re in now, especially if there’s a lull in fighting that comes with winter, to test whether the Taliban is prepared to engage in the reconciliation effort.  And both Pakistan and Afghanistan I think re aligned behind that desire.

Question:  But it’s about over a decade that the Afghan government, the ex-government and its current government is accusing Pakistan for supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.  What do you think?  Is it a good time that we should start this process with the Taliban?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  I think there’s a recognition that one, there’s an opportunity, because first, we’ve made it very clear in the United States that we’re committed to supporting Afghanistan, and the President, President Obama, made an important announcement about the presence of our own forces here in support of Afghanistan, the international community is doing the same thing.  And I think that sends a very strong message to the Taliban that it cannot achieve its aims militarily, and indeed if it wants to see the eventual departure of international forces from Afghanistan, the only what that’s going to happen is through a peace process.

So I think this is an important moment to test whether the Taliban is serious about stopping the acts of violence against the Afghan people and actually reconciling.  The government of Afghanistan is focused on that, Pakistan is focused on that, and so are many of the supporters of Afghanistan around the world.

So now is the moment to test the composition.

Question:  Yeah, but the outcome of the Heart of Asia Conference doesn’t have much good outcome in Afghanistan.  As you heard a moment ago, that Rahmatullah Nabil head of NDS, chief of Intelligence Service of Afghanistan is resigned because he was criticized in [inaudible] about the way in which we did in Heart of Asia.  What’s your point here?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  I heard about the resignation just a short while ago and I understand a successor will be named shortly if that has not already happened.  My understanding is that this is based on longstanding differences.  That happens in any government.  We have in our own government officials who have resigned at various points in time, and that’s the case in governments around the world.  So that’s a normal part of governance when differences emerge.

Question:  Actually he wrote on Facebook that we are talking for peace process with Pakistan, that Pakistan is not loyal and the fighting is underway and Pakistan is fighting the Taliban with Afghanistan strategic forces.  If the Chief of Intelligence Service of a country does not believe that Pakistan is loyal (to the) peace process, what do you think about the future of the peace process in Afghanistan?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Again, first, this is obviously a matter and an issue for the government of Afghanistan.  When there are differences in a government then sometimes officials decide that they can no longer be part of that government, and that’s what happens around the world.  That happens in the United States.

I was in Pakistan, as you noted, yesterday for the Heart of Asia Conference, and this issue didn’t come up at all.  Any of my engagements with the Pakistan government, the military, this was not an issue, not something that was discussed.

So I think this is entirely an internal matter in Afghanistan.  And again, one that happens in any government.

Question:  Do you think Pakistan is honest in peace process in Afghanistan?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  What I heard yesterday and what we’ve heard over the last months, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Washington visiting President Obama, General Raheel Sharif was in Washington, and we have heard a commitment on the part of Pakistan to the process, to reconciliation and to doing what they can in terms of the influence that they wield to encourage that process.

So we’ll now find out in the months ahead and look and see what actions are taken in support of the positive words that we’ve heard.

Question:  The Afghan government says that our side of the negotiation is Pakistan government.  Do you think this [inaudible]?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  I’m sorry, that —

Question:  Afghan government says that our side of negotiation in peace process is Pakistan.  Do you think similar?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Again, this comes down to all of the different parties deciding to prioritize the reconciliation process, and what I believe based on all of the meetings and engagements that we’ve had over the last few days is that we are now at a moment where Afghanistan and the government are prioritizing the reconciliation process.  Pakistan is doing the same.  And the supporters of Afghanistan including the United States also believe in prioritizing that effort, and to testing whether the Taliban is prepared to engage, to stop the violence against the people of Afghanistan and to start to see whether it can reconcile.

So right now, at this moment, everyone is aligned in the same direction so we should try and seize the moment to see what we can achieve.

Question:  Yeah.  You mentioned that you met with President Ghani and also the CEO Abdullah of the Afghan government, what was their message to you and to the U.S. especially, next year for the Warsaw Summit?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  There are two important summits next year.  One, you’re right, is in Warsaw.  There’s another one in Brussels that will involve all of the international supporters of Afghanistan.  I think their message was very clear.  They understand that the important efforts of reform that the Afghan government has undertaken need to continue and move forward to demonstrate first to the Afghan people that progress is being made, that reform is happening, but also to demonstrate the same thing to their international supporters.  That’s going to be very important in giving countries the confidence to continue to invest in Afghanistan.  So I heard that very clearly from both the President and the Chief Executive.

Question:  And my last question.  What will be the message of U.S. in that summit, in Warsaw and Brussels Summit?  And what will U.S. want from the allies for Afghanistan?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Our message will be very clear. It’s that the international community needs to continue to strongly support Afghanistan as it moves forward on reform, as it moves forward, we hope, on the reconciliation process, as it moves forward in strengthening its security forces and making its governance even more effective.

As Afghanistan makes those commitments and moves forward, it’s absolutely essential that the international community support it and that’s the message we’ll carry both to Warsaw and to Brussels.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Thank you.  It’s very good to be with you.