Cablegate: Srap Holbrooke Discusses Afghanistan and Pakistan

DE RUEHNE #0163/01 0281320
O 281320Z JAN 10



EO 12958 DECL: 01/18/2020

Classified By: Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer. Reasons: 1.4(B, D).

1. (C) Summary: In a January 18 meeting with Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao described the Indian effort in Afghanistan as focused on strengthening governance by building Afghan capacities. She said Indian engagement is transparent and should not be threatening to Pakistan. She urged U.S. pressure on Pakistan to break its ties to the terrorist groups and to permit Afghanistan’s economic links with India to grow. Rao said India needs some deliverables on terrorism before it can engage bilaterally with Pakistan. Holbrooke pledged transparency with India on U.S. activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He noted that the increase in U.S. troops has helped stabilize the security landscape, saying that the top security focus now is on unified training of Afghan army and police personnel. He identified agriculture as the highest civilian priority for the quick returns it promises, which Rao welcomed. Rao expressed Indian reservations on reintegration programs, saying they are unlikely to change Taliban thinking. Holbrooke drew a distinction between reintegration and reconciliation, saying that there will be no power sharing with elements of the Taliban. Rao was neutral on postponing Afghan parliamentary elections, saying the decision should be left to the Afghan government. She said that Iran could play a positive role and should be engaged in finding a solution in Afghanistan. End Summary.

Transparency With India

2. (SBU) Special Representative Holbrooke met with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao for nearly two hours over breakfast on January 18 to exchange views on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke said at the outset that the important underlying principle of his visits to India is the need for complete transparency on U.S. activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He noted that he comes with a clear vision of the centrality of India to the strategic landscape in the region. He reiterated that his portfolio explicitly excludes India, policy for which rests with SCA Blake and Ambassador Roemer. Holbrooke was accompanied in the meeting by Ambassador Roemer and SRAP Advisor Vali Nasr. Rao was joined by Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) Sinha and Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar.

Holbrooke Briefing on Afghanistan

3. (C) Holbrooke said that the mission in Afghanistan continues to be difficult but the situation has been stabilized, primarily as a result of the President’s politically courageous decision of more than tripling the number of American troops in the country. In his view, the Afghanistan Presidential election cast a shadow on 2009. The election was untidy, but it produced a legitimate President. Rao offered that there was less fraud and rigging in this election than in previous post-Taliban Afghan elections.

4. (C) The agenda for 2010, according to Holbrooke, is to strengthen the government. On the security side the effort will be to improve the army and police, primarily through unified ISAF training instead of dispersed and uncoordinated training by many countries. Holbrooke described this as the most important part of the international challenge. Rao accepted his offer of a detailed joint State/Pentagon briefing on the redesigned training plan for the Afghan army and police.

5. (C) Holbrooke said that on the civilian side, the number one priority is agriculture because it produces the quickest payoff. He noted that investment in mining, power, and other sectors is important but the gestation and payback periods are longer. Besides, he observed, Afghanistan has traditionally been an agricultural export country, with India as its biggest market. With revival of an agricultural credit bank and other agriculture support programs, the
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international community expects a quick return in terms of employment and incomes in rural areas. Holbrooke described this as a sharp contrast with the previous administration, which focused on poppy eradication. On narcotics, the USG effort now is to target the traffickers and the kingpins, not ordinary farmers.

6. (C) Rao responded that supporting Afghan agriculture is a high priority for India as well, with Joint Secretary Sinha on his way to Kabul on January 19 to explore opportunities to build Afghan capacities in this sector. She noted that the GOI is considering establishment of an agriculture college and enhanced training, in part through scholarships to Indian agricultural colleges. Holbrooke offered to arrange a briefing for Sinha in Kabul on the USG’s agriculture support programs and plans.

Indian Approach to Afghanistan

7. (C) Rao described the Indian effort in Afghanistan as a focus on strengthening governance by building Afghan capacities through training and infrastructure such that the country can develop a functional administration. In her view, the international community should resist the temptation to micromanage in Afghanistan. Instead, the effort should be to build institutions and let them manage the country. Rao observed that India has the resources and the willingness to assist Afghanistan and is prepared to explore areas that the may assist the U.S. effort.

8. (C) Rao observed that each year the GOI provides about 1,300 scholarship to Afghans for education and training and is considering increasing this number sharply. She noted that security assistance was minimal, limited to 150 training scholarships to Afghan army personnel in various Indian Army training facilities, including the Staff College. Rao readily agreed to Holbrooke’s request for a briefing on Indian training for Afghan security personnel, emphasizing that this engagement is completely transparent. She supported her argument by noting that the GOI had previously provided a detailed briefing on this at the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group meetings. “We have nothing to hide,” she declared. Holbrooke assured Rao that he is in favor of Indian assistance programs in Afghanistan and is not influenced by what he hears in Islamabad.


9. (C) Rao and Sinha raised grave concerns about Taliban reintegration plans currently under discussion. Sinha argued that no amount of monetary incentives would induce the Taliban to alter its core beliefs of intolerance and militancy. He was particularly troubled by the British plan which, in his view, takes Afghanistan back to the pre-1990s. Rao expressed skepticism that such a plan would work unless Pakistan changes its policy on supporting the Quetta Shura and other Taliban elements. She observed that it had failed to bring in the Maoists in Nepal and was likely to fail for similar reasons in Afghanistan.

10. (C) Holbrooke explained that some of the anxiety stems from confusion between reintegration and reconciliation. He noted that the reintegration program is not a political negotiation designed to give Taliban elements a share of power. The United States cannot be a party to any such arrangement, in his view, because the Taliban is allied with the Al Qaeda and the social programs of the Taliban are unpalatable. He noted further that the Taliban leadership appears to have no interest in talking to the international community in Afghanistan. Holbrooke also allayed Indian concerns that UNSCR 1267 policy would be altered with respect to Taliban and LET leaders such as Mullah Omar, Gulubuddin Hekmatyar, and Hafiz Saeed.

11. (C) Holbrooke said it is important that the Afghan
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government have in place a program to respond to frequent ceasefire calls at the local level. Such a program should involve laying down of arms and commitments to participate peacefully in society. He outlined the public rollout of the reintegration plan, with a Karzai announcement soon, to be followed by the London conference where a reintegration fund would be established, and to be capped by a conference in Kabul where funding pledges will be solicited. He urged Indian support and contributions. Rao said reintegration could work if it is Afghan-led, if it is painstaking in its selection, and if it involves real commitments to respect human rights and the constitution. She underscored her skepticism by noting, “these are big if’s.”

Parliamentary Elections

12. (C) Holbrooke identified the upcoming Parliamentary election as the most important political event of 2010. He offered the USG view that the election be postponed to the fall because of inadequate preparation and insufficient ISAF troops on the ground to ensure a peaceful and smooth election in May. He noted that Afghan law allows for such changes in election dates. He requested India’s support for this proposal. Rao responded that it must remain the Afghan Government’s responsibility to make the call on postponement of elections. “Unlike Pakistan, we do not interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan,” she quipped with a smile. She offered Indian assistance in administering the elections.

Pakistan Role in Afghanistan

13. (C) Rao said that Afghanistan has the potential to prosper as a hub or transit point for energy, agriculture and trade if it could be connected to its natural market in India. She said it was unfortunate that Pakistan does not allow this to happen. She asked that the U.S. apply pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting the Afghanistan Taliban and to allow Afghanistan to develop through trade and commercial links. Holbrooke responded that Pakistan views certain Taliban groups, particularly the Quetta Shura, as an insurance policy to protect its strategic interests in Afghanistan and it is not clear that anyone can easily influence Pakistan to turn on these groups, although the U.S. is exerting tremendous pressure. Rao said she was alarmed at this continued Pakistan support for terrorist groups, noting that the LET was “ideologically fused” with both the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network. As evidence, she pointed to the Haqqani group’s 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. She was also disturbed at the length to which Pakistan had gone to exclude India from the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan, citing it as an example of unwarranted Pakistani insecurity over Indian intentions in Afghanistan. Citing the USG’s own difficulties in dealing with the Pakistan government, Holbrooke suggested that many people overestimate the U.S. influence in Pakistan.

India-Pakistan Relations

14. (C) Rao expressed concern that there has been a sharp increase in unseasonal Pakistan-inspired violence and preparation for violence. She pointed to incidents of cross-border shelling along the line of control and in Punjab, increased infiltration, and transfer of terrorist hardware. They are clearly trying to “stir the pot” in Kashmir, she added. In her view, Pakistan is trying to deflect attention to its eastern border from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the focus ought to be. Yet, Rao argued, India has not turned its back to Pakistan but needs some Pakistani progress on terrorism to reengage. Holbrooke noted that India and Pakistan working together is obviously in the interests of the region and the international community. He said that Foreign Minister Qureshi was very pleased at the phone call with Foreign Minister Krishna. He reassured Rao that he understands
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clearly where the U.S. strategic interests lie. Holbrooke and Special Advisor Vali Nasr briefed Rao on the evolving political landscape in Pakistan with a weakening President Zardari and the fluid dynamic between the various centers of power, including COAS Kayani, Prime Minister Gilani, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice Choudhary.

Iran-Afghanistan; Iran-India

15. (C) In response to Holbrooke’s query, Rao and Sinha suggested that Iran could play a positive role in stability in Afghanistan. They cited Iran’s common border with Afghanistan, its strong links with the Hazara ethnic group and its economic and cultural connections as reasons for involving Iran in shaping a solution. She said that India was willing to play a helpful role in enabling Iran’s engagement with the international community and this had been conveyed by the Prime Minister to the Iranian Foreign Minister. India, however, does not want to be a mediator in any capacity, she declared. Rao said Iran-India relations were good -- civilizational ties, India’s large Shia community, petroleum trade -- but “not as good as you may expect” because Iran is difficult to deal with.

China in South Asia

16. (C) Holbrooke and Rao agreed that the Chinese have a big interest in Afghanistan but it is focused on exploitation of the country’s natural resources. They also agreed that China does not use the influence it has in Pakistan to shape responsible Pakistani behavior. Referring to the U.S.-China joint statement issued during President Obama’s China visit, Rao disclosed that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Copenhagen that China has no intention of playing any mediating role in South Asia.

17. (U) SRAP Holbrooke has cleared this message. ROEMER

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