Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Press Conference with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Charles Hagel (R-NE); and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) - The Pakistani Elections



Copyright ©2008 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at, please email Carina Nyberg at or call 1-202-216-2706.

SEN. BIDEN: Good afternoon. Let us begin by apologizing. We had no idea you were waiting this long. We apologize. We are meeting with a number of people today, including leaders of the parties who participated, as well as others in the government. So we apologize for keeping you waiting.

Pakistan has -- in our view has taken a very important step on the road back to democracy. The people of Pakistan should be heartily congratulated by everyone for stepping up to an election that although there will be complaints -- and there are complaints -- about how free and fair it was, was it totally free and fair, the (main ?) important part was, it was a credible election. The people of Pakistan, based on what we've observed -- and it's premature, but -- seem to have -- be satisfied with the outcome. There are parts to the process, like there are all such elections, that nay have been flawed. But the bottom line here is, from my perspective, is, notwithstanding this, it appears that the will of the moderate majority -- and the vast majority of the Pakistani people are moderate and democratic -- is becoming a reality.

The most important test for the election is whether the Pakistani people see the result as basically fair. And right now, as an outside observer, it appears as though that's exactly how the people of Pakistan view it.

The leaders of the major parties deserve praise for bringing Pakistan to this point, and so do the election observers from around the world, whose presence, I think, was a positive impact in this election.

Most importantly, of course, are the people of Pakistan. They are responsible for what has the potential to be a peaceful and historic transfer of power from one government to another. This election represents, from my perspective, a tremendous, tremendous opportunity for Pakistan, as well as, from our selfish perspective, the United States.

For Pakistan, nothing is more important than giving the moderate majority a clear voice and a clear stake in the system. Without that, dissent gets channeled underground, and moderates end up making common cause with those who are not moderate.

We've come down the road -- this road -- before, but here, the moderate majority has regained its voice, and now it's the responsibility of all Pakistani leaders to focus on the future, restore constitutional order, including a free press and an independent judiciary and genuine a decision-making power for the parliament and the government. If they do, the United States of America should do much more to help in this process. I'm speaking only for myself, but this is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that's been focused on a personality to one based upon an entire people and a move to a genuine Pakistani policy.

Because I think one of the things that has been part of the dilemma in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship for the last three decades has been somewhat transactional. It is very important, from the perspective of the United States that Pakistan grow, prosper and find itself in a position that its democracy takes even deeper root.

And I believe that from a -- speaking only for myself now, that we should be tripling our non-military assistance. We should sustain that commitment for 10-year period. We should be focused on helping you build schools and roads and healthcare centers and dealing with the infrastructure of the entire country, and I think we should give the new government a democracy dividend of an annual increase in assistance in order to do just that. We also have to demand real accountability for military aid that has continued to be provided.

And in short, I think we have to demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that we're not simply partners when it matters to us, but we care about their needs, their progress and their interests. It is clearly in the interest of the United States of America and the entire world that Pakistan have a stable and competent government, that its people have confidence in that government and that it continue to move in a direction of prospering economically. And so, I think that happens to be the best way to secure support for the things that we care about, including taking the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So let me now turn this over to my good friends and my colleagues, Senator John Kerry and Senator Chuck Hagel.


SEN. BIDEN: With regard to the religious parties, I'll take a crack at that.

With regard to the religious parties, it reinforces our notion that the vast majority of the people of Pakistan are moderate and democratic. And purely from a personal standpoint, I found it gratifying that they reinforced that notion, by the loss of support for the religious parties and the secular parties having succeeded in those very areas where the religious parties lost.

Secondly it's a decision for the people of Pakistan. I must reiterate what Senator Kerry said. We all have known General Musharraf for some time. We met with him today, and I think the characterization that Senator Kerry uses is exactly accurate.

He was not reticent. He was not reluctant. He came in and started off the meeting by saying, the people have spoken; the results are clear. And he was prepared to abide by and cooperate with whatever -- assuming the coalition government; it appears that will be required -- coalition government comes forward.

I found it reassuring. And notwithstanding all the criticism that can and legitimately could be leveled at him, the truth of the matter is that the election did go off, at least the day of election, with what would be considered by everyone as being legitimate and fair. And so I think that his future will depend upon whether or not he and the elected leaders, of the new government, are able to look at the future and not the past.

There's an opportunity here. This is a great transition. So that's for the people of Pakistan to decide, not at least for me -- (off mike).

Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.)

(Cross talk.)

Senator, what's your reading of the result that the people of Pakistan have produced in the shape of this election? This is an expression of distrust upon the policies that General Pervez Musharraf followed, and his political police were following, including the policy on war against terror. So do you think that this is an expression of low confidence in General Musharraf's policies? So in that respect, what's your reading?


Q Senator Biden, Candace Rondeaux with The Washington Post. You mentioned tripling more non-military aid for Pakistan, but I'm just curious how a nation that has such difficulty rebuilding its own cities, like New Orleans, would keep sort of checks and balances on, you know, taking care of the money up there. And how -- with the security situation up there. I mean, what kind of proposal do you have in order to keep people in place and to check on what's actually being done?

SEN. BIDEN: I'm confused by your question. You're saying because we haven't -- because the administration hasn't handled New Orleans well, that we should not be engaged in providing economic --

Q My question is -- I'm just a little confused about how you plan actually to keep track of the money.

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, accountability in the money -- is that what you're asking?

Q Correct.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, well that's -- quite frankly, that's quite easy. We condition the money based upon a sign-off that, in fact, the money is being used for the purposes that we're putting forward, that is, for building schools, for providing for potable water, for building roads, for dealing with infrastructure. And that is -- we do it all over the world, and we do it in places where it is accountable. Obviously, accountability is a critical part of any package that was put together.

And so I am confident that if the will here is to form a coalition government with the parties actually cooperating with one another, that they have the capacity to wisely spend that money. But there would require -- there would be very close accountability as to how the money's being spent. That's why I mentioned in my opening statement, there is a need for greater accountability on the military side of the equation; greater accountability on how the billion dollars a year, quote, "to fight terror," is being expended. And so we're calling -- I'm calling for two things.

We are all essentially saying the same thing, which is that we're prepared to increase the economic assistance long-term to Pakistan. So it's not a transactional relationship. It's a long-term relationship, where the people of Pakistan understand, their success is in our interest, and we support their succeeding, but also that there be accountability for the military expenditures that are being made now -- now -- a greater accountability than exists. Two separate issues, but not inconsistent.

Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.)

Sir, my question is that certain new realities have emerged during -- (inaudible) -- elections in Pakistan. My question is that whether United States of America will amend its policies towards Pakistan. Because, as Senator Kerry has just stated, that the American policies should also address the masses of Pakistan, not only one person. What are your views?


Q Senator Biden?


Q (Off mike) -- for the U.S. military assistance to Pakistan. But I would like your comments about the kind of accountability are to be placed in Pakistan when you're talking about independence of the judiciary, when you are talking about justice, the rule of law, and the supremacy of constitutions. Have you discussed this issue of restoration of the judges -- 60 judges who have been disposed of over the past few years -- few months with the leaders you have met, the new players going to form the coalition government? And do you find any consensus among them that they are interested in that issue? Are -- we looking forward to a real -- we are toward future now.

SEN. BIDEN: The answer is yes, it's come up in each of our discussions. Either we have brought it up or has been brought up by the representative leaders including President Musharraf. President Musharraf's comment was that will be a decision of the new parliament, how to proceed. He indicated to us, when we asked whether or not he was prepared, quote, "to restore the supreme court," the one that was fired, he said no, that is a decision that will be made by the new parliament. It's their responsibility to decide what to do.

Whether or not we have all expressed our -- from abroad, our opposition to the way in which the judiciary was treated, we have been vocal in our own country about that. We each have personally communicated that view on more than one occasion to President Musharraf while he was still wearing the uniform, after he took the uniform off and, in the case of Senator Kerry, raised today with President Musharraf.

The other leaders whom we met, Mr. Sharif -- with all the parties concerned, they have brought it up in one way or another. And our response is that it is their decision. You've had an election. There is a transition in power that's taking place, as imperfect as it may be. But it's real. And so it's not for us to sit up here on this dais and to dictate to a newly elected government in the process of forming a coalition how they should deal with an issue that was of great division within your country. It is a new parliament. It will be a new parliament. Our expectation is it will be resolved in a democratic process as this transition from essentially a state of emergency, a dictatorship in the minds of some, to a democratically- elected parliament.

Q Senator?


Q (Name off mike.) Again, to touch on this prime issue here, your brief impressions, all three of you, the impact of the elections on the war on terror. Will the new government be a less effective partner in fighting al Qaeda, Taliban? Might they take some cues from some feelings in the public against a U.S.-led war on terror? Or could a more democratic government, respecting the military, et cetera, maybe even a little less associated with the United States, be a more effective partner in the war on terror? Your brief impressions, all three of you, if you can, sir.

SEN. BIDEN: Chuck, want to go first?


SEN. BIDEN: One of the things, for my part -- and I agree with everything that Senator Hagel just said -- one of the things that my colleagues and I have been talking about yesterday and today with each person we dealt with about -- the relationship being larger than just the terror issue.

But with regard to terror, it is very important that we understand what we're talking about.

We have spent today with everything from our meetings with the ISI to our meetings with Musharraf to our meetings with the other people you've heard referenced today. We have asked the same question to each of them: "Define for me what you believe to be the insurgency." There is understandably a slight -- it's a complicated issue. For example, Mr. Mehsud, in the northern part of Waziristan, is not someone Americans have heard about at all. He is a great problem to the democracy of Pakistan. He occasionally works with or more than occasionally works with the Taliban or al Qaeda. The Taliban in the Frontier Provinces is a moniker that has grabbed by others who really aren't the Taliban. So this definition of -- it's a complicated notion of what constitutes the war on terror.

And one of the things that most Americans think, when we say the war on terror, we only think of bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Well, bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban are a problem for Pakistan. But in addition to bin Laden, Taliban and al Qaeda have been the complicating factors of the insurgency that existed before, has been morphed into new relationships, and it gets down to a simple proposition.

I'll end with this, because it's a very complicated -- simple question, complicated notion. There are two things: will of the Pakistani government and capacity of the Pakistani military. I think we have underestimated the will and overestimated the capacity.

And one of the things we've been talking about with our own people, as well as with the Pakistani leadership, the disparate leadership, is the issue of capacity, expectations as to the capacity of the Pakistani military to move into an area, of significant size and scope, and wipe out our, quote, "sworn enemy," al Qaeda and the Taliban who harbored them, is an unrealistic expectation. They are stretched relatively thin.

So one of the things we worked on assiduously before we came, meeting with our own people, and here is, what can we do to get on the same page? So perceptions in Pakistan and perceptions in the United States are in sync as to, what is realistically able to be done, and how do we increase capacity, working together, to get it done?

Pretty wonkish answer for you, but the truth of this doesn't lend itself to a bumper sticker answer, and so it's a process. And I believe the incoming government, whatever that coalition will be, will be as prepared to work on working out this complicated dilemma as General Musharraf, and then President Musharraf, has been.

(Cross talk.)


SEN. BIDEN: If I could take the second part of the question. The single most significant foreign policy dilemma the new government's faced is whether or not it can get over the past. Let me say that again. If the new government is able to get beyond the past and the legitimate grudges, and some cases hatred, that exists because of actions taken by each of their parties or by the losing party, then, in fact, you'll find other nations around the world, including the United States, will be much more confident in and much more prepared to deal with Pakistan as a maturing democratic society.

So the first and foremost -- the most single important thing, presumptuous of an outsider to say, is for Pakistan parties to get their house in order, to demonstrate that the outcry of the people of Pakistan for the restoration of democracy is able to be met by mature political parties that can produce a stable government. If that occurs, I predict Pakistan will find its foreign policy, its relationship with other nations around the world will be enhanced greatly.

We have time for one more question. I'm going to yield to my colleague Senator Hagel to take the question and --

Q Senator, this is Kylie Morris from Channel Four News in the U.K. For many years there was an all-pervasive sense from Washington that President Musharraf would not have only the best chance but perhaps the only chance for stability in Pakistan. Given what we know now, was that a mistake from the beginning?


SEN. BIDEN: Our security rests in the vast majority of moderate Pakistanis having control of their country and their government, having a political outlet, through a democratic process. That is the most significant, in this senator's view -- significant way in which we can ensure that we succeed in the fight against radicalism and terror.

I, for one, for the last five years have not subscribed to the notion -- and I've been very outspoken, as Senator Kerry and others have -- about relying on, quote, "a Musharraf policy" as opposed to a Pakistani policy.

But I don't want to leave this -- and I -- we must leave now to get to India -- I don't want to leave the impression that I do not appreciate -- appreciate -- Musharraf having in essence kept the commitment he made personally to some of us and to our government that he would take off his uniform, there would be an election, and he would abide by the results of that election.

This is the place to start from now. It's a new beginning. We start now, and we head to India.

Thank you.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top