A Pakistani Journalist's View Of Afghanistan
ROBERT SEIGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. Wrapping up our series of interviews this week on the future of Afghanistan, and U.S. policy there. We've talked about the resurgence of the Taliban, about more effective counter-insurgency tactics and the need for more U.S. troops. We've talked about whether the Afghan government should negotiate with reconcilable elements of the Taliban. And today, we're going to talk about the regional players vital to any resolution in Afghanistan, most importantly, the role of Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and frequent commentator on these issues. His latest book, 'Descent into Chaos,' talks about mistakes of U.S. policy in the region. As he describes it, the U.S. needs to understand that a major issue affecting Pakistan's stance toward Afghanistan is its long rivalry with India. That helps explain support from Pakistan for the Taliban.
Mr. AHMED RASHID (Pakistani Journalist): Oddly enough, this was part of Pakistan's desire for strategic death vis-à-vis India. Now, how that works is that India has been Pakistan's rival for decades and the two countries have fought three wars. The fact is that during the Taliban period in the 1990s, there was no Indian presence in Afghanistan. And that, of course, was a great victory for Pakistan. And now, there was this fear that India was going to come back to Kabul and use its presence there. And so, we've had an escalating series of tensions between India and Pakistan related to the Indian presence in Afghanistan.
BLOCK: You have written, Mr. Rashid that the only solution here is an interlocking regional strategy and key to that is Pakistan. What would you say needs to change in U.S. policy under a new administration toward Pakistan, if you want to start turning things around across the border in Afghanistan?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know, the key thing is that the US has to engage the Indians and urge them to be more forward-looking on trying to find a resolution to the Kashmir dispute because the threat that the Pakistan military feels it faces is not from Afghanistan, as such. The threat is actually from India itself. And if there would be a resolution to some of the disputes that exist between India and Pakistan, then perhaps the Pakistani military would feel less threatened by India and therefore, more willing to play the game of the international community in Afghanistan, and stop backing the Taliban.
BLOCK: You're talking about a wide ranging diplomatic strategy here. That's obviously something that would happen over the long-term. Is there anything in the short-term that you think would be useful?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know, in the short-term, I mean I think, a lot of things need to be done. I mean I think that first of all, the international community needs to back an India-Pakistan meetings on their mutual suspicions and rivalries in Afghanistan. You need also, urging the Pakistan government to deal with the tribal areas. That is, the tribal areas which exist within the territory of Pakistan, are semi autonomous, they are not part of the Pakistan state. They don't come under the constitution. Pakistan needs to bring them into Pakistan, as it were. And this requires a political process. I think the international community needs to do more to urge Pakistan to do that.
BLOCK: One complication here it seems to me is that even if the United States and Pakistan were to work out an agreement on dislodging the Taliban from these tribal areas, there's also the Pakistani intelligence service- the ISI, which you call a state within a state. It has its own agenda and it's known to collaborate with the Taliban and operate independently in many ways. So what do you do about that?
Mr. RASHID: Well, it is a state within a state and it runs a lot of the domestic politics in the country, it has great control of the media. But its leaders and the generals who run it are very much owing to the military and the military - commander-in-chief of the military right now, General Kayani. Now, the problem is that, the military and the ISI together, they control foreign policy and especially foreign policy towards Afghanistan and India. They're not about to give this up to civilian government. Now, I think here, we really do have a problem right now. And here, I think the international community must help. It must help the civilian government politically, financially, economically, strengthen itself vis-à-vis the military. It's only after that, I think, that you will see, perhaps, the military willing to enter into a serious dialogue with the civilian government on reducing the powers of the ISI.
BLOCK: Well, The United States has been sending huge amounts of military aid to Pakistan. Should that be shifted, do you think, to social economic assistance?
Mr. RASHID: I think, absolutely. And I think, you know, what we're seeing with the Obama administration is that one of the first gestures it would make to Pakistan would be to, in fact, sanction much greater aid to the civilian government and particularly, the social sector, health education, infrastructure. I think, this would be an incredibly powerful signal to the people of Pakistan, to the extremists, to the region as a whole, that the U.S. supports the civilian government, it supports democracy and it wants to help the people of Pakistan.
BLOCK: One last question that's related to all of this but it has to do with the governance of Afghanistan itself. There are supposed to be presidential elections there next year, at the same time, a lot of displeasure with the rule of Hamid Karzai. Do you think that President Karzai is the only the game in town there? Are there any likely contenders who could replace him and do a better job, do you think?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, so far, nobody has come forward. But clearly, there are Afghans who are competent, who could run for president and who could muster some kind of support. And I think that one of the very big questions facing the Obama team will be whether they are going to give their support to Karzai to run again or whether they are going to move their support to someone else.
BLOCK: Do you think that the kinds of changes that would need to happen in Afghanistan could happen if Hamid Karzai does win another election?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, we have seen some changes already. I mean, he's carried out a cabinet reshuffle. In the last few weeks, he has sacked a minister for corruption. Now, these are things that he had refused to do for two or three years despite urging by President Bush and by the European leaders. He also seems to be deeply aware that, you know, the Obama team is coming in, this is going to be a new policy and he better catch up. Now, what we don't know is whether he's going to be able to do enough which- whether it's- you know, too little or too late or whether he's going to do enough kind of catching up to convince both the Obama administration and the Afghan population that he can be a candidate for change in Afghanistan.
BLOCK: Mr.Rashid, thanks again for being with us.
Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Ahmed Rashid has co-authored an article with Barnett Rubin that's in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. It's titled, 'From Great Game to Grand Bargain, Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan.'
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