General David Petraeus (retired), who was head of the CIA from 2010 to 2011, commanded the US-led multinational force in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and the coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, besides being head of US military’s Central Command from 2008 to 2010. Currently a partner in a New York investment firm, KKR, he was in India recently. Excerpts from an interview:
What do you think led to President Trump’s New Year tweet on Pakistan?
The President’s tweet represented an accumulation of frustration, and probably not just with his administration but building on the accumulation of previous administrations where many of us were trying very hard to, frankly, to help our Pakistani partners, as they were combating the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), dealing with some of the other extremists inside their country that many of us believe represent the most significant existential threat to Pakistan… I remember Ambassador Holbrooke and I working hard with Congress to get additional economic assistance for them, to get additional Coalition Support Funds and security assistance and in that, folks in Washington would say, ‘What is this giddiness? Why are they not taking action against the sanctuaries of the Taliban in Quetta?’… I think that there has been a constant re-examination of it… why we are working so hard to help Pakistan. Again, in late 2008, I personally went, as a general, to the World Bank president to say that you need to help Pakistan, their foreign reserves are dwindling, this is a bigger concern to me than actually the military situation. There has not been the kind of action we had all hoped to be taken to reduce, to eliminate the sanctuaries from which the forces that are causing such problems in Afghanistan are being organised, led, commanded and also provisioned and taken care of from time to time.
Will this change Pakistan’s attitude?
Well, we will have to see obviously and now my hope is that we can take this behind closed doors and we can take the emotions back down…. To be fair, Pakistan has legitimate concerns about some of their enemies having safe havens in eastern Afghanistan, very rugged parts which Afghan security forces can’t control. So there needs to be a coordinated effort… and a seriousness of reeling in these groups on Pakistani soil, rather than tolerate, on in some cases maybe, as is alleged, supporting them in some fashion.
What more needs to be done to take India-US relations further forward?
In a number of areas, there needs to be a continued discussion about how to achieve common objectives. It has taken a long time but we finally got the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signe… There will hopefully be the release of technology India wants and needs from the US, and we can accelerate our own processes for approving that… Further discussion of how does the Indo-Pacific alignment work, where there can be more cooperation… ultimately, should there be a discussion on the lines of a Qualitative Military Edge for India. And of course, India has to gradually evolve from the residual, if you will, of the non-aligned period and the BRICS and all the rest of this. So it is going to require evolution on part of both countries but I think that is further along than people realise… The strategic discussions are quite considerable — the US New National Security Strategy is one that has been applauded in India and promotes the kind of deepening of the relationship…
Does the current political situation in the US worry you?
… We have been through some very tough, turbulent times in the past… The system in the US, inevitably, has always survived, the checks and balances have proven enormously valuable, the freedom of expression where we have just seen the serving members of the same party as the President in the Congress and the Senate criticise him in a set of very florid speeches and opinion pieces. It seems discordant, it is noisy and turbulent but generally, it is worth remembering the Warren Buffett saying: ‘Never bet against America’.