Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 16, 2010. The following briefing relates to the respective trips of Jacob J. Lew, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources and Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator on their respective trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. We’ve got a couple of weary travelers here: Jack Lew, our Deputy Secretary of State; and Raj Shah, our Administrator of USAID. Raj got back in Washington last night, having visited first Afghanistan and then Pakistan. Jack Lew got back at 10 –
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Ten o’clock this morning.
MR. CROWLEY: Ten o’clock this morning, having visited Pakistan and then Afghanistan. But they overlapped in what – during what’s called the ROC Drill, the Review of Concept, that recently was held in Kabul. Now, Jack, in addition to telling you about his travels, can also give you a fresh perspective on the impact that ash is having on the global aviation system, having experienced a delay in Dubai before he was able to make his way back to Washington.
But we thought it was very important to kind of bring you up to date on both of these leaders and what they saw on the ground during their respective visits to the two countries, the state of military and civilian cooperation, and the way ahead. So we’ll begin with Jack and then Raj.
Thank you very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Thanks, P.J. Good morning. It truly shows you how global the world is that a flight from Dubai to Washington has to be rerouted and delayed for four hours because of ash in the North Atlantic. But it’s a lesson to always bring carry-on luggage because – (laughter) – because they had to reduce the weight of the plane to load more fuel, and if your bags were in the hold you were in trouble, I think.
Very productive trip over the last week. I started in Pakistan and then moved on to Afghanistan. In Pakistan, my meetings, both with our team at the Embassy and with ministers in the Pakistani Government, was really focused on our civilian program there, the coordination with the Pakistani ministers, and following up on the main themes of the Strategic Dialogue, particularly in the area of economic development and energy.
For – the place where Raj and I overlapped was in Afghanistan at the ROC drill, the Rehearsal of Concept, where it was an all-hands meeting for the civilian and military leadership to go over – with General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke chairing – all of the major regional and functional activities in Afghanistan. And I must say that it left one with an overwhelming sense that we’ve made tremendous progress in the last year, putting together a truly integrated coordinated civilian-military plan. And truly coordinated means not just between the U.S. civilians and the U.S. military, but with our international partners, and most importantly, with the Government of Afghanistan.
Participating in this ROC drill were the Afghan ministers and some of the most important insights that we got from the sessions were from their interactions.
As with any exercise like this, the real reason is to make sure everything is aligned and to do mid-course corrections, and there will be some mid-course corrections where things we learned at the ROC drill help us to accomplish the goal.
In addition to the ROC drill, I had extensive meetings with our team in Kabul and with the ministers there to make sure that our assistance program which, as you all know, is quite a large one, is being implemented effectively and to make sure that it’s really driving the priorities of the Government of Afghanistan and strengthening the capacity of the Government of Afghanistan.
In addition to the meetings, I had the opportunity to take a trip outside of Kabul again. And I went to Marjah and, as he’ll describe in a few minutes, Raj went to Arghandab, which is outside of Kandahar, so between us we got a pretty good sense of what’s going on on the ground in a place where we’ve just had a military-clearing operation, in the case of Marjah, and in a place where it’s still shaping the environment for a clearing operation in Arghandab.
In Marjah, when I was able to walk through the streets and see that there is the formation of civilian authorities locally led, prepared to distribute agricultural materials, to deal with getting social services set up. There is an increasing sense of security. There are still challenges in that that area. And one really did have the sense from the reaction to our civilian presence there that having civilians there at the very beginning makes all the difference in the world in terms of the effectiveness of the transition from a clear to a hold phase.
I also was able to go to Herat. And in Herat, we have a consulate that’s about to open later in the year, so I was there partially to see how much – how we’re making progress towards that end, but also to appear at a marble conference. Now, you might ask, why does the Deputy Secretary of State go to a marble conference in Herat? It’s kind of a sign of what the future for Afghanistan should look like. They have enormous mineral wealth. Marble is one of the minerals that they have –
QUESTION: Those little marbles.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Not little marbles; we’re talking about the kind of marbles you put on the sides of buildings and things like that. And there were hundreds of people from around the region coming to this marble conference which will help to develop the natural resource economy of Afghanistan.
And leaving the session, the governor of Herat gave me a little gift, a little container of saffron. Saffron, as I think probably most of you know, by weight is the most expensive spice that you could get. But more importantly, is way more valuable than poppy in terms of its crop value. And it was kind of symbolic of the transition in the Afghan agricultural economy.
Last thought I would like to make and then turn it over to Raj, I had an extraordinary dinner Wednesday night with a number of the ministers from the Afghanistan Government. I was sitting between Ashraf Ghani on one side and Omar Zakhilwal, the finance minister, on the other, and it was an extraordinarily interesting evening both in terms of the leadership, demonstrated the intellectual equality. And sitting there between these two leaders of a country that has so much ground to catch up in so many ways, one was left with such a strong impression, at the same time, that there were extraordinary leaders there, who, frankly, were on par or above the leaders of many countries that are considered highly developed. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work to do, but leadership does matter, and it was very heartening.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Great. Thank you, Jack. I, too, had a wonderful opportunity to really see up close and personal the work that’s taking place in both Afghanistan and Pakistan during this 10-day visit. And I came away very encouraged, and would like to start just by thanking our tremendous staff – I think more than a thousand staff in Afghanistan and significant numbers in Pakistan as well. They are taking risks every day to implement an assistance package that’s really an expression of deep partnership with the governments of both of those places and with the people and institutions of both of those places.
In many ways, they’re taking personal risks. They’re also trying a range of innovative efforts to be good partners and to allow this work to be as effective as possible in achieving the President’s strategy over the long term, which is to have a stable and secure and prosperous region.
In Afghanistan, I would echo Jack’s point, that I think the dinner – the example of that dinner gives you a sense that this is a real partnership. The fact that we were able to be in a Rehearsal of Concept drill, listening to ministers and other leaders from the Afghan Government, hearing very specific feedback, positive and constructive criticism about the effort and areas where we can improve our alignment, both within our own civilian and military apparatus, but perhaps more importantly with the Afghan strategy and the Afghan-owned approach to their own country’s development in terms of its proving its security, its governance, and its prospects for economic development.
The opportunity to travel to Arghandab, which is just outside of Kandahar, really reinforced many things we’re saying. I saw a strong civilian and military cooperation, especially at that outpost – a combined effort of providing agricultural vouchers to local farmers working to improve the irrigation system in that area, helping to improve some of the road infrastructure. Those things have really made a difference. So in an area that covered about 35,000 people east of the river there, you now see a lush agricultural environment.
We visited pomegranate orchards and other environments where people are excited to be participating in a vibrant local agricultural economy. And from a security perspective, I think everyone acknowledged that from September onward, when this program really accelerated, they all feel more secure and our own military reports an improvement in the security situation in that context. So that’s – it’s a good example of how, when we work together, things can work. And it does leave people hopeful for a brighter future.
The Afghan First policy, which has been an important priority for the Secretary and the President, has been also in effect. It’s an effort to really try to procure services locally and to build local Afghan institutions as we implement the assistance package. To give you a sense of the transformation in that area between – really, inside of a year, our USAID-related assistance has gone from hiring 3,000 Afghan employees in full-time jobs to hiring more than 26,000. A big part of that increase is a transition to larger infrastructure investments, which are more employment-rich in their execution.
But nevertheless, it’s an important transition, I think one that is recognized and appreciated by the Afghan people and their institutions.
Finally, in Afghanistan, I had the chance to sign a memorandum of understanding to establish a district delivery program, which will help both improve local governance in districts throughout Afghanistan, and just as important, the people who lead those efforts in local district governments will have the opportunity to highlight for us how we can target our assistance in a way that’s clear with their priorities. So in accomplishing both of those objectives, it tries to take forward a real sense of shared program.
In Pakistan, I would just highlight that one really got the sense that the strategic dialogue that was so visible at a very high level with Secretary Clinton and Minister Qureshi leading it here in the United States a few weeks ago is very real from their perspective and ours in Pakistan. I was extraordinarily impressed being able to go to several different ministries and meet with civil society leaders and implementing partners. The degree to which people were thinking about a shared partnership and really working to adjust our programmatic efforts to align with guidance and feedback from the Pakistani Government and from Pakistani institutions, and that they have been very rigorous in really setting clear priorities and engaging in a different kind of conversation about what kinds of projects to pursue and where.
Fundamental to that, we heard a few things that we’re trying to act on. First and foremost, really shifting the assistance program to focus more on energy, water, and agriculture, and larger-scale, really more transformational types of investments that could take us all where we want to go so that 10 or 20 years from now, you could look back and say you started to see these big increases in agricultural value added and productivity because of unique things that were done now.
Second is similarly focusing on investing in Pakistani institutions and making sure, as we spend resources there, we’re building the kinds of accountability and monitoring mechanisms so that we can track resources very, very carefully and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent well. But we can also build real longstanding Pakistani institutional capacity. As you know, this is a country with a tremendous amount of scientific leadership, private sector and public sector capacity. There are important areas where we need to build on what they have, but in a large country – more than, I think, 160 million people – there are real opportunities.
And finally, I’d highlight that we heard the need to work urgently and aggressively in some of the contested areas in FATA and Swat where the Pakistani military has been engaged in an active operation. And I’m happy with the progress we’re making in that area, whether USAID implementing partners and a range of other partners, including local institutions, are taking real risks to be there and provide services and provide a long-term economic vision, again, based on agriculture, some of the natural resources and mining opportunities, and a range of other thoughts especially related to irrigation that could be transformative for those regions.
And I’ll conclude just by saying in both places and consistent with the Secretary’s strong leadership, we took efforts to meet with leaders who – women and girls who are civil society experts or parliamentarians, and we will continue to take steps to make sure our assistance portfolio really hones in on and protects and supports the capacity of women and girls in both societies.
So, thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll start with Sue.
QUESTION: This is for the Deputy Secretary. I’m particularly interested in how the government in a box concept worked in Marjah. You spoke about some in-course corrections and building up capacity of the government is so important, and that course is part of the (inaudible). So what were your general sort of impressions as to how that worked? Where do you need to make adjustments, and – because that was a model for Kandahar and other regions?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: So let me start with what was working. You walk through Marjah and there is a building that is a provisional center of government. There are tents which are working tents that are set up to distribute benefits under things like the agricultural programs. And there is – very quickly; this is only 60-some days into the operation in Marjah – quickly developing a capacity for local Afghans to run programs. I think that one of the things that I took away from it was that the logistical and infrastructure issues are real. There needs to be enough capacity for people to come in and work and sleep and kind of just life support because traveling between places is still very difficult even after in the case of Marjah, the town of Marjah is a relatively secure place.
I think that going forward, there will probably be – there was an emphasis on that; there will be an even greater emphasis on advanced planning in that regard. I think it’s – there will be a lot of lessons learned from Marjah going into Kandahar, but Kandahar is obviously a big city. So it’s not going to be exactly the same. What Raj was describing in terms of the activity already going on in the Kandahar area is an advance of significant military undertaking. So the sequence of events will be different in different places, but I think some of these lessons learned will apply across the different areas.
QUESTION: So where are you now? You are in the build phase still; you’re not –
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: In where? In —
QUESTION: In Marjah.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Marjah, I would say, it’s in the hold stage.
QUESTION: It’s in the hold stage.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Yeah, and it’s only 60 days into the effort. So I think by any assessment, Marjah’s moved quickly and well, and one ought not to expect to have final conclusions at this point. There’s still a lot of work to do in Marjah, so I also don’t want to exaggerate how far along all of this is. I think for what one could expect to see at this point in the process, it’s very good, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: So I’m curious. Are you – the picture that you painted of the leadership that you met with, at least at this dinner when you talked about them being as good or better than leaders in the developed world, it doesn’t really square with the perception or the – that one has outside of the country, where this is literally the most corrupt country on earth. Where are these corrupt guys? Are you just not meeting them? Do they run away and hide when you show up? What – I mean –
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I think that there – in any country, in any government, there are people with different qualities. I’m not going to characterize everyone based on the ministers that I met with. I think we both had the experience of meeting with the members of their government who have the most interaction with us on a programmatic basis. So whether it’s the minister of finance or the minister of agriculture or the minister of education, the minister of local governance, they are the kinds of people we met with.
An important transition, the ministry of mining, which used to be one of their most problematic ministries in terms of the leadership, is now led by the former minister of commerce, who is, again, a first-rate person. I’m not – I can’t say that that means that there are no issues anywhere, but we have to take a look in a balanced way, and I think it’s easy to overlook the fact that we do have real partners to work with. And that’s the point I’m trying to make.
QUESTION: Well, right. But I guess what the question I’m asking, or what I would like to know is, I mean, do you really feel comfortable working with these people? Because, you know, the picture that –
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: We’ve been very clear —
QUESTION: The image that exists is not one that lends confidence.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: We’ve been very clear that our assistance through ministries was going to be only after we’ve certified ministries to be able to meet standards of accountability and to have the levels of programmatic capacity to handle the funding effectively. We’re in the process of that. Most of the ministries are not yet certified. Three are. Several are in the process of being certified. The finance ministry just recently was largely certified. I think that’s a very good and positive move.
We have to work as quickly as we can, consistent with our responsibility to be prudent in our use of taxpayer dollars, but it’s very important to build that capacity in the Afghan ministries because these are Afghan programs.
QUESTION: Did you say three – out of how many?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, there are many ministries, but not all the ministries would be likely to be recipients of U.S. assistance.
QUESTION: Three out of how many would be likely?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: There are a half a dozen to nine ministries that will be the biggest ones, so those are the ones we’re concentrating on the certification of.
QUESTION: My question is to Dr. Shah. Dr. Shah, I want you to please talk about your push for education, particularly girls’ education in Pakistan. As you probably know, the 18th amendment has been passed in Pakistan recently. It has made it basically mandatory for the girls, too.
So your push – and also, my second question is about the Pakistani-American efforts. Just before you joined the agency, there was a big meeting of the Pakistani-American groups in the office, (inaudible) office, and the focus was on to basically getting support from the Pakistani-Americans who can go out and serve in Pakistan and do – I mean, and start some projects. But recently a report was released in which a still – I mean, the impression is out there that more than 92 percent of the monies going to Pakistan (inaudible) went to the American firms, American NGOs, especially like Chemonics. So do you see anything, any movement on that front?
And I think I can also, since I have the mike, so ask quickly, Mr. Secretary, you probably know about this UN report on Benazir Bhutto’s murder. And as we understand the deal between President Musharraf and the former prime minister was hatched in London and in Washington with some official support. Do you see there was any lack of advice for her when she went to Pakistan from Washington? I mean, she didn’t get proper coaching and advice when she decided to go to Pakistan. She wasn’t really told about all the risk that she would face.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I’d have to say I got off an airplane at 10 o’clock, was at a meeting at the White House at 11 o’clock, and came directly here so I’m just not in a position to respond to that today. But we can get back to you in a separate way.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, thanks for your questions. On women and girls and the priority we’ve placed there and how that intersects with education, I think generically we all recognize that girls’ education is one of the most valuable interventions that can be made to improve long-term social outcomes in a range of different types of communities against both human development, health, education, welfare type indicators, and for actual sustainable and conclusive growth. So we’ve been supporting a significant girls’ education effort.
I think as we go forward, and this is part of the dialogue we’re having with the Government of Pakistan and the ministry of education, is trying to find areas where we can be uniquely helpful. It turns out the World Bank and the UK, through their DFID, have been very robust partners, along with USAID, in education and girls’ education.
So we’re going to work in closer partnership with them and with the Government of Pakistan and really focus our education programs going forward on places like southern Punjab, where we can be uniquely helpful, given what others are doing. And I think there are opportunities to be more efficient as we do that.
On other parts of the education dialogue, by the way, we’re really about higher education. We had the opportunity to visit universities where the U.S. over decades has had the opportunity to really build real capacity. We had a roundtable with the vice chancellors of all the universities in Pakistan, major universities, and did that in a science and math building that was built by U.S. assistance a number of years ago.
And it’s just a reminder, students that go there all see the plaque when they walk in and they all have the opportunity, and the way they talk about the value of U.S. assistance is really deep and powerful. So we’ll look at higher education as well.
In terms of investing in Pakistan, Pakistani institutions, we are – I think 92 percent is probably falsely high in terms of the amount of our assistance that goes to U.S.-based firms or contractors. But it is a high number, and we are trying to bring it down. It would not be accurate to say that that means only 8 percent or only 20 percent of resources are spent in Pakistan. Even our contractors and partners spend the majority of their resources in Pakistan, hiring Pakistani subcontractors or NGOs to do various programs. But there are opportunities for efficiencies, and it’s why the team there – I have to tell you, they’re working very hard to do two things. One is to focus on investing and building Pakistani institutions, and over a few years I think you’ll see that number go up quite significantly. And they’re trying to do that in a way that allows for really full transparency and accountability of how those resources are spent. So in FATA, and with the FATA Secretariat, for example, or with a reconstruction organization that was set up in that region, they’ve spent months building a financial disbursement mechanism that allows us to put an investment there and then track where all the dollars go so that we can meet our obligations to Congress and the American people, which we feel very strongly about. So I give a lot of credit to the team for balancing those two perspectives and being innovative and trying to achieve that.
The final point I would just say is there are real risks, and I appreciate your mentioning that. I think across the board, wherever we traveled, both our direct hire staff, our Foreign Service Nationals in particular, and our implementing partners have all really highlighted the extent to which they’re taking personal risks in doing this work. And I think it’s worth recognizing that and recognizing their courage.
MR. CROWLEY: We’ll go to Charlie and then make our way around.
QUESTION: Both of you started out in your presentations with everything so positive,and I understand that. Can – surely, not everything is so rosy. Can each of you identify one or two things where you found things lacking, and aside from just that it takes time to build up – you know, real problems that you want to correct?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, I think that the point that Raj was just making is a very serious one that I saw again as well in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, that the general lack of security, not just in the areas that we’re going into, makes it difficult for locals, for Afghans and for Pakistanis, to travel in a normal way on the roads. And our ability to get our program fully up to the level that we have planned and intend to get it to requires an awful lot of those partners doing things that are very dangerous, whether it’s the risk of IEDs in the road or the risk of being identified with international efforts. I think we’re making real progress there, but that is something that is a very significant issue that we have to keep our eye on.
In terms of our kind of U.S. effort, I think we’re at an extremely good point in terms of general level of coordination amongst agencies. I think that it is an extremely difficult challenge which will come up each time we have a program being put in place that this coordination takes time, it takes effort, it takes flexibility. It’s not the history of the way we’ve provided assistance in the past in other places, so we’re in very difficult environments trying to bring together all of the different instrumentalities to work in a coordinated way. I think we saw some places where that had worked better than others. We also saw some processes that we could improve to make it even more effective.
So overall, both of those concerns are things that we have to be very cognizant of, but it’s nonetheless in the construct of an overall assessment that the program a year into it has gone quite well.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I would just add that really the point of going and the dialogues, whether the Strategic Dialogue in Pakistan or the ROC Drill that we did in Afghanistan, I’d say both of those highlighted and raised a host of issues where we could be more efficient in doing our work going forward and just do a better job. In Afghanistan, for example, I mentioned the Arghandab – I consider it a success story – where the teams have done extraordinary work. When you look at the unit costs of that work, it’s quite costly on a per-person basis, and our Afghan partners and we recognize that we want to find a way to transition that to something that is sustainable over the very long run so that people can really hold on to the hope and the economic promise and progress that’s been created there, but do it in a way that is more efficient and saves money. So now we’ll start planning on those types of things, and by highlighting those issues we can raise them and work to resolve them.
Another example is we’ve funded an amazing institution, the Afghan Vocational Training Institute, in Kabul. They have 2,300 students this year. They – for about a thousand dollars per student, after two years, they graduate students – that’s a thousand dollars a year – they graduate students and they can get technical jobs in the construction trades and electrical construction efforts, in ICT and computer programming, and those jobs pay three to four hundred dollars a month there, which is a great payoff on a thousand-dollar-a-year investment.
But when I looked at the cost structure of what it took us to provide support, I think the next round of support should be about 30 percent more efficient. And so we find those types of opportunities and really work to sort of get there as we do these trips.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: If I can just add one note on the point of sustainability that Raj made, the observations that Raj had in Arghandab totally corresponded with concerns raised by the Afghan ministers we met with. And the advantage of having been there for the two days after the Rehearsal of Concept, I can tell you that the observations that Raj had in Arghandab very much infused the discussion of the review of all of the programs that I continued the conversations on. So I think it’s one of the values of going and doing these kinds of intense, deep dives is that you come in from the outside, and it’s not like you’re changing things radically, but you’re just doing these kinds of midcourse corrections that are much more likely to lead to success.
QUESTION: The – a Senate report says that – on contractors in the Afghan police – that found that the Afghan police is not well-prepared as it is – the $6 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent training them and that there’s rampant corruption among police forces, that there’s extortion to local communities. I was just wondering if you two are worried about this and if you heard complaints on the ground about these findings of the Senate.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I think that we all know that building Afghan security forces, both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, are central to our mission there, that the ability for Afghanistan to take control in the long term of its own security depends on building these forces. There have been many challenges in both regards. There’s progress being made in both regards. In the Afghan National Police program, we are shifting strategies over this year. We have shifted strategies. I had the opportunity to visit the Afghan National Police training center in Herat, where there really was outstanding training going on. I don’t think a year ago one would have seen that kind of training. It was a joint international effort where a lot of the training was being done by Italian carabinieri who actually have a national police force and they’re amongst the world experts in training national police. The training of the higher-level Afghan National Police is going quite well. I think that there’s more challenges as you go down into the kind of basic foot beat police and that’s a challenge in a country with a very low literacy rate. They’re bringing in people more and more. We’re introducing literacy training into the program. There’s a lot of work to do, but I must say I left the visit to the Herat training center more encouraged than I expected to be. It doesn’t explain the past, but that’s where you see the beginning of the future because that’s where the new training program is visible.
QUESTION: But do you think that the police is fully prepared to provide security after this and the police forces —
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, the goal is to get them to a point today, in a snapshot in time. We’re at the beginning of this new training initiative. I think that they’re getting – they’re gaining skills daily. They’re being deployed in places like Marjah and taking the lead in many of the most difficult police and security undertakings. It’s with a lot of support from the U.S. and international presence there.
But if the question is “Are things in a better place now than they were,” very much so. Is there a lot of work to do? Yes, there’s still a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is (inaudible) from Business Times. During his recent visit to Washington, D.C. (inaudible) the Nuclear Energy Summit, president of – I’m sorry, the prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said that India has been involved in a big way in humanitarian activities in Afghanistan – in education, healthcare, and other things. And it is – he says that it is appreciated. But how will Pakistan use as a different way? And do you think that India is getting – (inaudible)? Did you – when you met with the Afghanistan leaders, what was their (inaudible) or ideas (inaudible) on this subject?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I think that Afghanistan has a longstanding, close relationship with India. India has been a big supporter of development programs in Afghanistan. And I think that there are well-known concerns in Pakistan about that relationship. I think that we’ve encouraged all sides to look at this in terms of what’s being done, is it helping to move the area, in general, to a better place in terms of development security. And I think that the observations that India has played an important role in Pakistan continue to be true.
More important than development, ultimately, the trade relationship is very important. We can build an airstrip, but the export market that produce is going to is in India. And you were able to see that the airstrips that were built over the last couple of years are now being used to export agricultural products again. So again, it’s a beginning. I mean, one has to take hope from these beginnings, but not be complacent about them because they’re just first steps.
MR. CROWLEY: Charley.
QUESTION: Charley Keyes, CNN. A question to Dr. Shah. Please, sir, hoping for your reaction to the General Accounting Office report on U.S. aid to the federally administered tribal areas. That report said gaps in planning, performance, and monitoring documentation make it impossible for the United States to accurately assess the status of assistance. Your reaction to that? And how do you reassure U.S. taxpayers when we’re talking about billions of dollars?
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, I appreciate that question. I also appreciate the report. I mean, we generally concur with the report’s findings and believe that we can be more effective at putting in place mechanisms that allow us to track and monitor resources. That’s really been the work that’s been underway over the past seven or eight months, especially in FATA and with the reconstruction organization PARSA – I believe is what it’s called – that is the joint effort that will partner with the World Bank trust fund that’s been set up and with a number of other donors. It’s going to be very important – and the report highlights why it’s so important – to make sure that we have a financial disbursement mechanism that is clear and transparent and allows for that kind of monitoring.
I will say there are a couple of observations I had from the trip that I don’t think are reflected in the report in as much depth. One is the security situation there does make it harder – and we just have to recognize this – for either our own staff or, more likely, actually, local partners to be out there visiting and monitoring. We know we have to do that and our staff is eager to do it, but they are – but it puts them at great risk, and you’ve seen what’s happened in the last few weeks with – in Peshawar with some of the unfortunate incidents.
So I think we just have to be cognizant of how do we resolve the challenge that’s been articulated in a difficult security environment. And there might be some unique things we can do to do that – using technology to improve feedback and connectivity, having a more structured and secure approach to monitoring that would leverage some of the Pakistani military’s ability to provide security to Pakistan locals and nationals that go out on monitoring and evaluation exercises, but in a coordinated way. So we’re working to address that, but I think that is a real issue.
QUESTION: Can you reassure U.S. taxpayers, though, that their money is being well spent and adequately monitored?
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah. Well, I think that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. I’d have to go through the details of the report to articulate a reaction to every part of that. But the whole point of really working through these established mechanisms and taking the time – this is an area where we’ve, frankly, delayed some disbursements simply because we didn’t have faith in the mechanism. And it has taken time to establish the mechanism. It’s still not up and running yet. So we expect it will be in a few weeks, though, with PARSA.
So I have supported the team, and the team there is very focused on taking the time to build disbursement mechanisms that are transparent and allow for effective monitoring.
MR. CROWLEY: The two are due to see the Secretary momentarily. We’ll take one more question. I apologize that we don’t have more time.
QUESTION: It’s a very short question, too. If you could each just tell me how many State Department civilian representatives you had — are now operating in Marjah and in Arghandab Valley?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, in Marjah, we actually have a small direct hire presence. I believe it’s three or four now. I’m at three combined State-USAID. And what was quite striking was how central they are to what’s going on on the ground there.
Whether you’re talking to the local governor or to the regional governor, to the military, there’s a leveraging going on between them and their military partners, the local Afghans, that’s tremendous in terms of thinking through the program, making sure that it is well thought through and well executed. And I was struck at the attachment that the local leaders had for our civilians who have only been there for a short period of time. You would have thought that they’d been there for years.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: And I would just say the exact same impression in Arghandab. We have – I wish I remembered his last name – Kevin out there. And you meet with the local shura members and local governor in that district and they embrace Kevin as if he’s one of their own. And that’s the right kind of relationship we want to build.
I would just say that I’m not sure necessarily counting the number of civilians in those forward-operating environments is exactly the right metric. I mean, in our case, at USAID, we may have a few numbers – one or two or three people at any one very forward position – but they are supported by hundreds of people in Kabul that are doing contracting, legal, financial compliance work, and a significant number of foreign nationals that are on our staff there that are often doctors and engineers and sector-specific experts. And most importantly, we do most of our work through implementing partners, especially local implementing partners, that frankly can get around – can move around and interface with local communities far more effectively.
I met the gentleman running our AVIPA Plus, which is the agriculture program in that area, and he clearly is stopping by and visiting farmers that are receiving vouchers and asking what they need and making sure things are working, and doing that without the significant security that a U.S. direct-hire personnel would require. So I just think it’s important to note our capabilities in those areas are far in excess of a few U.S. direct-hire civilians.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I’ll tell you one little vignette. The deputy governor in Helmand who came to Marjah to join me when I was there was just very much full of praise for our senior civilian there. I don’t remember his last name – his first name is Marlin [Hardinger]. And at the end of the conversation I said, “Governor, we only send our best Marines and our best Marlin. (Laughter.) They knew each other because Marlin had been in Lashkar Gah last year in the operation to set up Lashkar Gah.
And the ratio of civilians there has always been, roughly speaking, 10 to 1, that for each civilian we have, there’s roughly 10 others surrounding them. So to get any kind of a picture of what our civilians are doing, you have to look at the whole structure that Raj was describing.
QUESTION: How much are you spending on security? How much of one dollar would go towards security in terms of contracts? I know it’s – in Pakistan it’s –
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: It’s very high. I’d have to go back and check the exact number, and it varies by location. But security is a real issue. I mean, people don’t travel in normal ways. Whenever going any distance requires a helicopter, your security costs are going to be very high. I think this gets back to the question of kind of generalized stability and security. As we get to a point where it’s – where the points of security become regions of security, that should start to change. But it’s high right now.
QUESTION: But what kind of percentage – half, 60, 70, 80?
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I’d have to get back with an exact number.
QUESTION: Can you say, sir, about the bombings in both countries while you were there?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay, thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you, gentlemen, very much. And I would like to say between Lynne Weil and Lars Anderson they are – we have recently brought them on board as the new senior press officers, spokesmen for the USAID. We’ve very happy to have them on board and you’ll be interacting with them a great deal as you – in the months and years ahead. Very good.