Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former senator, is the permanent representative of the United States to NATO. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, she says the alliance is committed to Afghanistan until its people have the right conditions to build their country with freedom and equality of life.
RFE/RL: The Taliban have recently announced their spring offensive, vowing to attack in their words the Americans and their internal supporters. Do you see this as a rejection of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unconditional and generous peace offer earlier this year?
Kay Bailey Hutchison: I am, of course, disappointed that the Taliban is talking about a spring offensive, and all of the terrorism that the people of Afghanistan have endured is very troubling and so sad that they have to go through this. I don’t think it’s a rejection. I think the Taliban are floundering. I think they have seen now a will of the people to stand up for their country. You see Afghan fighters who are doing such a good job. When we were there just at the end of February this year, every one of the divisions with the trainers from our NATO allies talked about how good the Afghan fighters were and committed for their own country’s freedom and the future.
The Taliban is now talking a lot behind the scenes, a lot of people in the tribes who know who the Taliban fighters are. It’s not an encouraging sign that they are going to attack; nevertheless, there is a resolve by President Ghani that he’s made an offer, he’s put it on the table that the violence must stop, and we must come to the table and talk about what’s good for Afghanistan. He is not giving up, and neither are the allies that are supporting the people of Afghanistan for a life that they could not imagine they could have, but which they now see in their future.
RFE/RL: Regarding the U.S. South Asia strategy, more than seven months ago President Trump said Pakistan harbored terrorist groups on its soil. Islamabad denies this. Has Pakistan changed its policies toward the U.S. and Afghanistan in the region?
Hutchison: It’s time Pakistan became a real contributor to the stabilization of Afghanistan. We think it could do more. We know they have familial ties with people in Afghanistan. But they have the ability to stop the terrorist networks from trafficking between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have the ability to have a say with the Haqqani network and the Taliban. To see this destructive behavior is not a positive. It’s not a positive for Afghanistan, but it’s not a positive for Pakistan [either].
Pakistan needs to realize they are in danger of being isolated by the international community, [which] wants the stabilization of Afghanistan, and they expect Pakistan to be a leader in that effort.”
RFE/RL: Another security threat is the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, where the group recently claimed responsibility for a deadly and horrendous attack killing nearly 60 civilians in western Kabul. How would the United States and its partners tackle this challenge?
Hutchison: It was a despicable attack on people who were trying to register to vote. That tells you the lengths to which these terrorist networks would go to stop the progress of the people of Afghanistan. We’re standing very firmly with the government of Afghanistan to stop this treachery, and that’s what it is.
We’re asking for the partners that would be able to help, like Pakistan, to say we don’t condone killing innocent people who are trying to register to vote to have a say in their own government. We are looking to Pakistan, to India, to China, if Russia would come on board.
Russia is not helping at all. Pakistan could do more. Iran is not helping at all. We hear this when we’re in Afghanistan, and we hear from the military leaders. They talk about the enablers -- those who have the money and the capacity to be helpful but instead are really propping up the terrorist networks that are killing innocent people.
We call on Russia, Iran, and Pakistan to do more, and we call on places like India and China who could do more and have not gotten as involved as we think they could by -- number one -- saying to Pakistan: 'You have a chance to come in with the international community and be [involved in] a positive effort. We need to rally all of the capabilities that we have to stop terrorism in Afghanistan, which is then exported to many other countries around there. We want to stop it for the Afghan people and for all of the countries that would be invaded by terrorists.’
RFE/RL: As the U.S. ambassador to NATO, how do you see NATO’s long-term commitment toward Afghanistan?
Hutchison: NATO is committed for a conditions-based end of this conflict in Afghanistan. Conditions-based doesn’t mean permanent. It means an order so that the people can speak and elect their government, and it would be a government with human rights with a judiciary that’s fair with a police force that helps the people, with armed services and air force that is protective of its own people.
We want a stable Afghanistan, and that’s the condition that we would leave, but we are not leaving. We’re not going to be in any way intimidated by the Taliban or Haqqani or [IS] or anybody else that thinks to wait us out. We’re not going to leave until the conditions are right for the Afghan people to build their own country with the freedom and equality of life that we want every person in the world to be able to able to aspire to.
RFE/RL: People are concerned in Afghanistan. We’ve witnessed peace gatherings from Helmand to other provinces just recently. Do you see peace and stability on the horizon for ordinary Afghans?
Hutchison: I do, because the people of Afghanistan have begun to see a life that’s worth fighting for. We beginning to see that almost 50 percent of girls go to school. And when girls become women who can contribute to the country, in the economy, in the society, then you’re looking at a stabilization, you’re looking at a hope they never had before, and you’re seeing those lights now when you see those Afghan soldiers that are fighting for their country.
It’s not the foreign fighters anymore; it’s the Afghan fighters that are being trained and helped to know how to support their own country. So they’re seeing a hope of a life that’s a good life and that they want their children to have. And that’s why peace can be a part of Afghanistan and that’s the first time in the history of Afghanistan that they’ve had that kind of hope for a future.