ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. We've been taking a close look this week at the Obama administration's new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militants operate in both countries near their shared border. So the new idea is to have American diplomats and war planners treat Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single challenge.
SHAPIRO: Earlier this week, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan told us he's skeptical about one part of the plan.
SHAPIRO: The evidence is mixed as to whether or not the government in Pakistan is going to take on the religious extremists inside Pakistan.
SHAPIRO: And retired general in Pakistan's army, Talat Masood, explained to us why his country's government might be resistant.
MONTAGNE: Pakistan thinks the real problem is in Afghanistan. And now the focus is so much on Pakistan that the U.S. and the world is trying to give an impression as though the entire problem is in Pakistan.
MONTAGNE: Now, while you were finance minister - and since then, you've been very outspoken about corruption and its dangers for Afghanistan - there are those who say corruption is even more dangerous than the Taliban. How so?
MONTAGNE: Corruption is dangerous because corruption has created a vacuum of government. The Taliban disappeared between 2001 and 2005. Why did they reappear? Because the government failed to deliver to the people, and then trust the people. And all that you need in a situation of insurgency is for the population to turn its back to the government. That creates the space for the insurgency to operate, and that is what has happened. This is why it is so dangerous.
MONTAGNE: Now, this may be part of the Obama administration's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but how can the U.S. do anything, really, about corruption in Afghanistan? Is it not something that the Afghans at all levels have to tackle for themselves?
MONTAGNE: Absolutely. The issue, the task and the challenge is primarily ours, but then the international community becomes a catalyst. During the Bush administration, there was an implicit endorsement by not calling attention to it, by not supporting civil society organizations, by not supporting reformers within the government. An implicit partnership of tolerance had developed.
MONTAGNE: One change the Obama administration has endorsed, at least provisionally, is the possibility of co-opting moderate Taliban leaders there in Afghanistan, or moderate Taliban, into the government. Do you think that will work?
MONTAGNE: In terms of the leadership, the jury is out. We have to try to see who is going to become reconcilable, and what will be the count. But we need to rely on a repertoire, including political outreach, to be able to see what are the real issues that can be highlighted, and how they can be resolved.
MONTAGNE: Let me ask you. The Afghan presidential elections are set for August. And until recently, the U.S. and European leaders have openly backed President Karzai. Some of that backing has been withdrawn in recent months. Do Afghans believe they have a choice in this election?
MONTAGNE: Afghans very much believe that they have a choice. The disenchantment with the current government is universal. If there is going to be stability in Afghanistan, the Afghan people must own the political process, and must have the capability to hold their leaders accountable. Election is the key instrument of this. But we need to realize that the playing field is not level. This is an extremely crooked playing field favoring the incumbent.
MONTAGNE: Can't President Hamid Karzai define the terms of debate in a way...
MONTAGNE: President Karzai fails to define a debate because he is failing to govern. What he does have, which distorts the field, is of course use of government power. So Afghan civil society and international community have to come together to create the checks and balances in the monitoring arrangements that the population can exercise its legitimate right.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
MONTAGNE: It's a pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Ashraf Ghani speaking to us on his cell phone in Kabul. He served as minister of finance for Afghanistan, and he is founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness.
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