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'We Have To Recognize The Potential For Collateral Damage'

Full text: US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, Islamabad, Pakistan, November 4, 2001

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'We Have To Recognize The Potential For Collateral Damage'

Sattar: Ladies and gentlemen of the media, the U.S. secretary of defense on arrival told us that he is on a leisurely trip to five countries over the weekend. But let me say that President Pervez Musharraf and the members of the delegation that have had the privilege of listening to the secretary of defense are delighted that he found time during his whirlwind tour to come and have talks with us.

I wish particularly to recall that when I went to Washington in June, the secretary of defense did me the honor of receiving me at the Pentagon and I detected in him a person who remembers the decade of the 1980's when our two countries were very closely cooperating on an issue of world importance. More than that, we get the feeling that he shares, that Mr. Rumsfeld shares, our hopes for the resuscitation of our cooperation on a durable basis.

President Pervez Musharraf and Secretary Rumsfeld have exchanged information and views on the situation in Afghanistan. They also discussed the desirability of evolving a political strategy on a fast track so as to facilitate the realization of the objectives of the U.N. Security Council resolutions in as short a time as possible. The formation of a broad-based multi-ethnic government through a home-grown process under the aegis of the United Nations appears indispensable for bringing the travail of the people of Afghanistan to an early end. Keeping in view of the interests of the people of Afghanistan, such a government would implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

President Musharraf also underlined the need for continuation of humanitarian relief for the distressed Afghan people inside their own country so as to reduce the displacement of Afghans outside their country. Secretary Rumsfeld recalled that the U.S. is the largest donor for relief of Afghans inside and outside the country.

Let me conclude by saying that we regard Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Islamabad as an important step in the development of cooperation and deepening of goodwill between Pakistan and the United States. With these few words I hand over the mike to the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Mr. Minister, thank you very much. I certainly appreciate those generous remarks. It's a pleasure to be back in Pakistan after a good many years. I used to travel here as a businessman and it certainly is a delight to see you after our visit in Washington, D.C.

As the minister indicated, the president and his senior officials and our delegation had a very wide-ranging discussion. We did indeed talk a good deal about the importance of humanitarian relief in Afghanistan and the very serious plight of the Afghan people that has been brought about by the Taliban and the al Qaeda conflicts.

The determination that we have as a country in the United States to aggressively root out the terrorists that have killed so many thousands of people and who are threatening to kill so many thousands more. The president of the United States is determined on this matter. He will see it through and let there be no doubt about that.

We as a country and I as an individual and a government official very much value the relationship with Pakistan; the cooperative way that they have approached the battle against terrorism and the assistance that they have provided. We recognize it, we appreciate it, and along with the dozens and dozens of countries across the globe who share the concern about the terrorist problem in this world, I thank them and would be happy to respond to questions.

Q: President Musharraf has repeatedly talked about an excess of hope for suspension of military operations, if they are not over, in the month of Ramadhan. Was this issue discussed today and what are your views on this?

Rumsfeld: I'm certainly aware of the views of the president of Pakistan and indeed the views of any number of countries across the globe. It is an important question and certainly an issue that all of us are sensitive to. The reality is that the threats of additional terrorist acts are there. They are credible, they are real, and they offer the prospects of still thousands of more people being killed.

Our task is to certainly be sensitive to the views in the region, but also to see that we aggressively deal with the terrorist networks that exist, and beyond that, I would simply say that we do not really want to discuss precisely how we're going to handle the period ahead other than to say that it is important that the terrorists be stopped.

Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, would you give us your assessment of the Taliban at this moment as a military force and Mr. Sattar will you respond to the reported remarks of Osama bin Ladin that Muslim leaders who cooperate with the United Nations are in someway infidels?

Sattar: Actually, Osama bin Ladin?

Q: Made a recorded statement on al-Jazeera yesterday saying that any Muslim leader who works with the UN is an infidel.

Sattar: Well, I can tell you the views of the government of Pakistan. We have ever since our independence attached the highest importance to the United Nations and we have always called for the implementation of the resolutions of the Security Council. You know the background to that. We attach great importance to the U.N. Security Council resolutions and anyone who does not is on the other side.

Rumsfeld: Taliban is not really functioning as a government as such. There really is not a government to speak of in Afghanistan today. As a military force they have concentrations of power that exist. They have capabilities that remain. They have tanks and anti-aircraft. They undoubtedly have some Stinger surface-to-air missiles and portable. They have weapons and they are using their power in enclaves throughout the country to impose their will on the Afghan people. They are not making major military moves if that is the import of your question. They are pretty much in static positions. They are using mosques for ammunition storage areas. They are using mosques for command and control and meeting places. They are putting tanks and artillery pieces in close proximity to hospitals, schools, and residential areas. And they are actively lying about civilian casualties taking place in the country. I think that probably gives you a sense of what I have to say on the Taliban.

Sattar: May I just add one point. We have greatly valued the information given to us by the secretary of defense of the United States that never in history has so much care been taken as at present by the United States to reduce civilian casualties to the minimum possible. And I think this statement is extremely valuable in view of the news that we see everyday alleging increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld: May I just add one thought? It is always a shock to me to turn on the television and see a banner or a hear a voice saying that the United States is bombing Kabul or bombing Kandahar. That is not true. There is a lot of ordnance flying around in Afghanistan, let there be no doubt, and the United States is aggressively trying to go after the Taliban and the al Qaeda, and their military forces. And we intend to continue to do that. But the ordinance is coming to be sure from the air down, it is also coming from the ground up and it is also coming from opposition forces fighting in certain locations around the country with the Taliban.

When there is damage done, it is not always exactly clear what caused the damage and to have pictures of artillery being fired in the air and saying someone is bombing Kabul, the United States bombs military targets every time we can find one, except when they're in close proximity to very densely populated residential areas, and then, of course, we have to recognize the potential for collateral damage and so as the minister says, we have been as careful as humanly possible. I don't think that ever in the history of the world has there been a bombing effort that has been done with the precision and the care and the attention to that issue.

Q: Mr. Minister, what concerns did you express to the United States about the bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Is Pakistan concerned that the U.S. has said it might keep bombing through Ramadhan. Is Pakistan concerned about the close relationship between the United States and the Northern Alliance?

Sattar: The president of Pakistan has very candidly shared with the secretary the concern over reporting that we see in the media -- day in and day out -- alleging increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan and as I said I anticipated your question and the secretary also has given you a very detailed answer on the exceptional care that has been exercised by the United States to spare and prevent civilian casualties.

Q: But sir, on the question, the president of Pakistan has said he would like this to end quickly. The U.S. has said there is going to be bombing as long as it takes. Is there a common opinion?

Sattar: No, I think the secretary was already aware before he landed in Islamabad about the remark that the president of Pakistan has made namely that the military campaign should be reduced to a time as short as possible consistent with the realizations of the objectives. And that is the position; he was already aware. We did not therefore go into any great detail.

Rumsfeld: And I can assure you that's the position of the United States of America. We would like to see it end as quickly as possible, too. There is no one who favors a long process. We need to do what needs to be done. We're aggressively trying to do what needs to be done and we intend to end up having done what needs to be done.

Q: Mr. Minister, is Pakistan concerned about the Northern Alliance gaining control in Afghanistan? And, if so, can you characterize that concern?

Sattar: For the sake of stability in Afghanistan it is extremely important that the government in that country should be broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative of the demography of Afghanistan. I think the secretary will perhaps wish to say a few things on this point but my perception on the basis of the conversations that have been held today is that the United States too seeks to support the process for the formation of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government under the aegis of the United Nations.

Rumsfeld: That is exactly correct. That is the position of the United States of America. Secretary Powell has addressed this; President Bush has addressed it; a U.S. representative, Mr. Richard Haass, Ambassador Haass, has been designated to work with the U.N. to work with the neighboring countries, to work with the interests within Afghanistan, the non-Taliban, non-al-Qaeda interests and to find away that out of that process can come a government that would be broadly based and that would be not willing to harbor terrorists and to try to terrorize either their neighbors, their people, or the rest of the world.

Sattar: The Secretary is traveling in telescope time, so one more question.

Q: (Partially audible) President Pervez Musharraf has said that there are three strategies: a military strategy, a political strategy, and a rehabilitation and reconstruction strategy. How prepared America is to carry out that rehabilitation strategy?

Rumsfeld: To carry out the other two pieces of the strategy? Yes, there is no question. The United States was the largest donor of food before September 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington at something like 170 million dollars prior to September 11. The president of the United States has already announced 320 million dollar humanitarian effort for Afghanistan even though the terrorists and the Taliban are still involved.

There is no question but that the United States as a country that cares about the Afghan people and wants to see the circumstance of those people improved, would be a willing partner in a post-Taliban rehabilitation process.

Sattar: One sentence I wish to add that the president of Pakistan has also apprised Secretary Rumsfeld of our concerns with reference to Kashmir and also informed him of the stringent measures that have taken by the government of Pakistan to insure custodial security of our strategic assets. Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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