Pakistan, India, And The Obama Administration Indian officials believe Pakistan is linked to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Pakistani authorities maintain they are cracking down on militants. Both countries have nuclear weapons. Should the president-elect place a U.S. intervention in the region on his list of priorities?
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Pakistan, India, And The Obama Administration

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Pakistan, India, And The Obama Administration

Pakistan, India, And The Obama Administration

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai threw new sparks on an old tinderbox: India and Pakistan, bitter rivals for 60 years, opponents in three conventional wars and thousands of skirmishes, many in and around the endlessly disputed territory of Kashmir, and now both armed with nuclear weapons. They very nearly went to war seven years ago after a Pakistan-based terrorist attacked India's parliament, and now India demands a real crackdown on the group that's widely believed responsible for the atrocities in Mumbai.

In the past, Pakistan proliferated nuclear-weapons technology and terrorism. Its powerful intelligence agency created, or helped create, the Taliban, which briefly ruled Afghanistan to the west and groups that have attacked India to the east. At the same time, Pakistan, now - again - a democracy, is a critical American ally. Its troops battle the Taliban and al-Qaeda in its remote tribal territories, and it's the irreplaceable logistical base for the American-led war in Afghanistan.

Amongst all of that, what is the priority for U.S. policy with Pakistan? Give us a call. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and then click on Talk of the Nation. NPR news analyst Ted Koppel joins us from his home in Maryland, and Ted, always good to have you on the program.

TED KOPPEL: Well, thank you, Neal. Nice to be back with you.

CONAN: And so far, Pakistan has kept its army in the west near the Afghan border. India has not moved tanks to its side of the Pakistani border either, but the possibility must be weighing on the mind of not just President Bush, but President-elect Obama.

KOPPEL: I think it has to be probably their worst nightmare, because when you said a moment ago, what has to be the primary U.S. concern, the primary U.S. concern is that this is the greatest potential, or the - a conflict between India and Pakistan has the greatest potential, of any situation or of any confrontation in the world to lead to a nuclear exchange.

CONAN: The - and I know you had an experience lately - you told us about it; I wish you would tell the audience about it, too - a story that you heard over at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

KOPPEL: Yes. I was invited over there a couple of days ago to give a few remarks and interact with members of their staff. They had a few hundred people there for a Q&A session. And as sort of a compensation, they took me around afterwards for a tour and to view a few of the toys. Now, I hasten to add, Neal, just to prevent the emails and phone calls from coming in, nothing I was shown was anything but open material. In other words, I wasn't shown anything classified, and what I'm going to tell you now is not classified. But they took me to an area - you have to imagine a fairly large map, an electronic map, on the floor of this particular room, and the room was surrounded by a catwalk. And I was told that a short time ago, among U.S. intelligence officials, there was an invited group of Indians and Pakistanis. Now, I am drawing certain inferences here. I assume that they were diplomats from the embassy here, almost certainly including the defense attaches, and they were participants in a war game.

And the assumption of the war game was that India would attack Pakistan by conventional means. It quickly became clear in the course of this war game that Indian air superiority would be established almost immediately and that within three to five days, they would be able to take over control of a major Pakistani city. And the clear message that was intended here was, A, that India would be able to impose its will by conventional means very quickly and very easily, and, B, although the war game only had three steps and never went to that very dangerous fourth step, I think the participants were invited to infer from what they saw how easily and how quickly this could lead to nuclear war. And I must say, I was particularly impressed by the fact that this appears to be one of the ways in which U.S. intelligence can be used for diplomatic means, to convey the message that Secretary of State Rice, I'm sure, was conveying when she visited South Asia just a few days ago. And that is, whatever else happens, we have to avoid war between India and Pakistan.

CONAN: Since the atrocities in Mumbai at the end of last month, the Indians have been rumbling about the possibility of attacking terrorist-training camps inside Pakistan camps they say were used to train the people who assaulted those hotels and other targets in Mumbai, in India. Well, last night, the United Nations Security Council declared an Islamic charity in Pakistan a front for terrorism; and today the Pakistani authorities detained its founder and closed its offices. The move is just the latest step taken by Pakistan to forestall the possibility of an Indian attack in the development of a standoff.

But members of India's armies and intelligence agencies are still demanding more. Our next guest joins us from Lahore in Pakistan, where a great deal of this action has been taking place. Journalist and author Ahmed Rashid's most recent book is "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." He joins us from his home in Lahore in Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid, good to speak with you again.

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Author, "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia"): Thank you.

CONAN: And as you look at these developments today, is this being taken as a serious crackdown on this group, or is this just - well, as some people suspect in India and some in Washington, too - is this just for a show?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think for the first time since the Bombay bombings, this seems to be a very serious move. The government has moved tonight to close down dozens of offices of not only Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is the terrorist group, but its mother charity organization, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. And they've also put under house arrest its leader, Hafiz Saeed, and of course, this follows the United Nations' sanctions on these groups and individuals in this group. It is being taken very seriously. Again, I mean, we're waiting to see what the reaction of the extremists in Pakistan is going to be.

CONAN: And one of the reactions we get from the government of Pakistan is, look, we have been victims of terrorism, too. Of course, the new president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was murdered by terrorists.

Mr. RASHID: Well, certainly. I mean, you know, it's very clear that this group has not been clamped down upon, but it has been active with al-Qaeda, with the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. And it's suspected that some of its militants, with the Pakistani Taliban, had perhaps carried out some of the urban suicide bombings in Pakistan, such as the blowing up of the Marriott Hotel two months ago.

CONAN: And at the same time, this group was the creation of Pakistani intelligence some years ago, used as a proxy in the fight against Indian forces in Kashmir, and some people would believe that the ISI, the Inter-Services Agency, is still deeply involved with this group.

Mr. RASHID: Well, I mean, you know, this group was banned in 2002, but in fact, it continued existing, and thriving, really. And the military and the intelligence services certainly kept it going underground because it was serving a convenient purpose in Kashmir. And even after the ceasefire with India and Kashmir, and when Pakistan - in 2004, when Pakistan really stopped sending militants across the border into Indian Kashmir, this group still continued to thrive and continued to exist despite, the pressure that there was on Pakistan throughout to promptly disband the group. I hope now that this is now a very serious venture. The prime minister, the president, have both spoken very strongly against the group and their desire to implement the United Nations' sanctions on this group.

KOPPEL: Ahmed, Neal and I have both read a recent piece of yours, an analysis piece, which I must say, I found fascinating, because it is your belief that Lashkar-e-Taiba is, if anything, a front organization for not only the Taliban, but al-Qaeda.

Mr. RASHID: Yes, I think it has been for quite some time. It has continuously been helping al-Qaeda before 9/11, after 9/11, when al-Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan. It helped many of its Arab followers to escape back to the Middle East. It's been deeply involved with hiding al-Qaeda leaders in the cities. Several al-Qaeda leaders who were caught after 9/11 were caught in Lashkar-e-Taiba homes. They were being looked after by Lashkar-e-Taiba, and now we know that al-Qaeda has been able to get a lot of these former Kashmiri groups and former groups, Pakistani groups, fighting in Kashmir on its side, and they are fighting with al-Qaeda in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

KOPPEL: Just take us through very quickly, if you would, Ahmed, why that would be an advantage to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. When I say it, I mean the attack on Mumbai. To what degree would that help them in Afghanistan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think the critical battleground is Afghanistan, because in a few months, the Americans are going to be sending something like 20,000 troops more, as well as NATO. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are already being hard-pressed by the Americans on the Afghan side and by the Pakistan army on this side. There's also been a rain of American missiles, which have been targeting al-Qaeda leaders for the last two or three months, and they've been quite successful, because of at least four or five senior al-Qaeda leaders have been killed.

Now, I think the aim of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban was to relieve pressure on the western border, where its sanctuaries are, and if they could have created a major escalation between India and Pakistan, that would have involved the Pakistan army moving from the Afghan border across to the Indian border to take on the Indians or confront the Indians and involve the U.S. in a lot of diplomacy - in other words, relieve the pressure that they are under at the moment and increasingly that they're going to be under in the next few months once President-elect Obama takes over.

CONAN: Stay with us, if you would, Ahmed Rashid. Just a couple of questions more for you. We also want to talk with Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department, now, of course, at the Council on Foreign Relations, to talk about the problems all of this poses for the president-elect, who takes office January 20th. Of course, Ted Koppel will stay with us, too, and your questions: Amidst all of these different priorities on Pakistan, what one needs - does the new Obama administration need to emphasize? Give us a call, 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, along with senior news analyst Ted Koppel. Just a few moments ago, Ahmed Rashid reported on the series of at least 30 U.S. missile strikes against targets on Pakistani territory from drones based in Afghanistan; the latest reported today in southwest Waziristan, where a reported six to seven militants may have been killed. Our focus today is on Pakistan, its renewed tensions with India, its history of enabling terror groups and its alliance with the United States in the War on Terror. And we want to hear from you. What's the priority for U.S. policy with Pakistan? 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. And let's get a caller on the line. This is Sham(ph), Sham with us from Tucson, Arizona. I hope I'm pronouncing that name correctly.

SHAM (Caller): Yes, you did, Neal. A great program, I love it. I want to welcome our guest Ahmed Rashid. He wrote a wonderful book, and he's a man on the ground who really knows what's going on. And I want to pick his brains about Mr. Zardari. And Mr. Zardari, when he was a minister in his wife's cabinet, well-known in the 10 percent(ph), and his wife actually encouraged these groups. And right now, all of these people are hiding behind, well, the terrorist groups who were encouraged by the dictators and not us(ph), but the fact is, the so-called democratic government in Pakistan were not very different from the dictators in Pakistan in their attitude towards India. The question I have for Mr. Rashid is: does he think Mr. Zardari really wants this time to get to the post (unintelligible) has something to keep in the back pocket in case of a war with India?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, there's truth to everything you say. But I think Zardari has tried very hard, in the few weeks before the Bombay bombings, to make a breakthrough with India. He has made some very, very encouraging and strong statements in favor of friendship with India, including giving up the first strike of Pakistan's nuclear capability. And I think what the terrorists were also aiming to do was to, in fact, sabotage that initiative of Zardari. Now, the problem with all the civilian governments have been that the military has regained control of foreign policy, particularly our policy towards India and Afghanistan. And it's very likely that the positive statements that Zardari was making were possibly being made without a clearance or without consulting with the military. And of course, the fundamentalists then have taken advantage of this and carried out this attack.

CONAN: I...

SHAM: I think that's a good point - and I'm sorry to interrupt here - but if the people of Pakistan really decided that, you know what, this is not in our favor to have this kind of things going on in our society and therefore - well, basically, the two governments, along with the Pakistani military, and said, we really want to go after terrorists, they can take care of this problem.

CONAN: Well, that remains to be seen, Sham, but thank you very much for the phone call.

SHAM: Thank you.

CONAN: And Ahmed Rashid, we know it is very late there and we know you have an early fight out of Lahore tomorrow, and we need to thank you for your time today.

Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much, indeed.

CONAN: Ahmed Rashid, joining us from his home in Lahore, Pakistan; he's the author most recently of - well, he's the author of "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," and that's his previous book. Here's an email that we have from Riswan(ph) in Minneapolis. Some comments: No evidence has been provided by India that any group in Pakistan was involved, just gimmicks. And please discuss Indian terrorism; when Indian army officers were involved in blowing up Friendship Train in 2007 that killed 69 Pakistanis. Talk about Indian terrorism as well. Pakistan never blames India for any terror attacks inside Pakistan.

And well, there are some points there. But U.S. intelligence, for what that's worth, supports the Indian claims that this group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was involved in the attacks in Mumbai and there is that one survivor who has apparently told Indian intelligence sources that - where everybody came from. They've identified all the members of the attack squad as being from Pakistan. In any case, let's bring another voice into the conversation now. Joining us is Richard Haass. He is now the - Richard Haass is the former director of policy planning at the State Department, special assistant to president George H.W. Bush, and senior director for the Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, now, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and joins us from their studios in New York. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Richard Haass, but we appreciate you joining us today.

Dr. RICHARD HAASS (President, Council on Foreign Relations): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And that question, now that we have explained some of the background of this situation for the incoming president-elect, how does he prioritize the situation in Pakistan?

Dr. HAASS: Well, to begin with, he's got an awfully crammed inbox with challenges beginning with the economy, and then internationally, he obviously has the gradual drawing down of the U.S. role in Iraq. He's got a deal with an Iranian nuclear program. There's any number of other international challenges that we know about and those that we don't. But I would think the Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum - and it's increasingly the same conundrum - is probably the most pressing and, I would argue, the most difficult specific or single challenge that he's got awaiting for him come January 20th.

CONAN: And he's got some of the people who were successful in drawing down the scale of the conflict in Iraq working for him, in terms of the military structure there, and he will still have the same secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to go on there. But nevertheless, does he prioritize the possibility of a conflict with India and put pressure on the Pakistani government to crack down on groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba?

Dr. HAASS: Well, you would put pressure on Pakistan to do that even if there weren't the risk of a conflict with India. And what Ted Koppel described earlier, the war game, is actually not the first time the United States has done something like that. I was involved in a similar episode, actually, with Bob Gates, in the spring of 1990 to keep Pakistan and India from going to war. There was also a more - a similar episode in 2001, 2002, when, again, what the United States has essentially tried to do is sober up the two governments, in the sense of highlighting that it was in neither of their interests to allow things to spin out of control, if you will, to have a salvation version of "The Guns of August."

So, the United States has regularly tried to keep the two apart, and I think there's a decent chance that we will succeed. The bigger challenge, I would think, is that of a Pakistan that at best is dysfunctional and at worst is failing; and what to do about a country of 170 or so million people that is host to the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations, that probably has five or six dozen nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and that in many ways, holds the key to our ability to succeed, or at least not fail, in Afghanistan, and the fact that it's, on one hand, a somewhat friendly government, on the other hand, it's either unwilling or unable to do what it is we wanted to do, opposes some of the most difficult foreign-policy conundrums that I can imagine.

KOPPEL: May I jump in for a moment, Richard? You certainly heard what Ahmed Rashid had to say before, namely that he thinks the attacks in Mumbai may have been designed by a group that includes al-Qaeda and the Taliban as a means of provoking a confrontation between India and Pakistan and thereby drawing much needed Indian forces away from the Afghan border. You buy that?

Dr. HAASS: Quite possibly, Ted, that terrorists and radicals for the last - they would want to both provoke in India and Pakistan, want to try to weaken both governments. They also wanted to lift some of the pressure they were facing in eastern Afghanistan and in western Pakistan, and that's why the Indian government would be wise to hold off. I think the Indian government also has to do a lot to make sure that inter-communal violence does not break out inside India itself. There's as many Muslims, as you know, in India as there are in all of Pakistan. And the last thing India wants to see is the fabric of its own society to break down.

India also needs to take advantage of the Mumbai incident to strengthen its intelligence, its homeland security, its policing capabilities, because this was a real breakdown on India's part. So, I would think that as frustrated as India is with Pakistan's behavior, it actually needs to focus a lot on what this incident revealed about some of its own shortcomings to make sure, again, it does not spread within India itself and try to work with the United States to finally get Pakistan to do some of the things that, quite honestly, we've wanted Pakistan to do for decades now, but that it has either been unwilling or unable to do.

KOPPEL: What does this say about the metastasizing of al-Qaeda itself? I mean, now we hear, almost all around the world - al-Qaeda in Somalia, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda - now, we're talking about al-Qaeda in Pakistan. It seems as though it has become a far more institutionalized organization than it ever was seven years ago.

Dr. HAASS: I think your phrase, metastasizing, is unfortunately correct. We're not dealing with the terrorist equivalent of IBM. This is not an organization in the sense that it's centralized or hierarchical. So, even if we succeed in one spot, it doesn't in any way correlate to success in another. And the cellular or viral image that you conjure up, Ted, I think as exactly right in another sense, which is that we're likely to have to cope with this or live with this for some time to come. So, it's decentralized; it's pervasive; it's enduring; we can attack it; we can defend ourselves against it; we can protect ourselves; we can get - become more resilient. We can put into place mechanisms for recovery, but we can't eliminate it. And odds are the sort of thing that happened in Mumbai is now part and parcel of life in the 21st century.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. Chuck is with us from San Francisco.

CHUCK (Caller): Thanks very much. I read in a piece in the New York Times by Zardari that - he said that the attack on Mumbai, in a way, was an attack on Pakistani civilian government or democratization. And that makes sense to me. I think probably, as was just kind of a main tenant of the Bush doctrine in many ways, the lack of freedom does give rise to extremism, and so basically my question has to do with U.S. aid and how we should spend it in that context in Pakistan. Specifically, we've given them a lot of aid and it's been historically, I think, military aid, and you know, the military is where the power center has been in Pakistan, I guess.

My question is basically, policy for the new Obama administration, it would seem like a great thing if we could foster the growth of democracy and strengthen the civilian government and direct our aid accordingly and away from just military aid. But I'm wondering if that will actually lead to the furtherance of our interest in the sense of - it seems awfully ambitious to shift your aid from where the power has been and develop a kind of a whole new political structure there even if - but that would seem like the best answer. So, I'm wondering you would agree that that's how our aid should be focused.

CONAN: Richard Haass?

Dr. HAASS: Over the last half dozen or so years, the United States has extended on the order of $12 billion-with-a-B worth of aid to Pakistan, and roughly three-quarters of that, or nine billion, has gone to the military. And there's two problems with that. One is that, of that nine billion, most of it has been wasted. Pakistan has bought a large number of expensive pieces of equipment - modern airplanes, tanks and so forth - which are irrelevant to the real security challenge that they face, which is the sort of terrorist counterinsurgency task in its western areas. Pakistan has virtually no relevant military capacity to deal with those low-level challenges. So, most of what we've given them militarily has been wasted, and the three billion or so that has gone to the economic side is simply inadequate.

If one looks at the needs of Pakistan, one looks, for example, at their educational system, which is in many ways something of a hot house for the development of an awful lot of young radicals who don't have the skills they need for coping with the modern global world - that's why, for example, Senators Biden and Lugar have introduced legislation, I think, to triple, give or take, the amount of economic aid going to Pakistan. I would simply say, though, that as justified as would be more economic aid, it's very hard sometimes to get a government like Pakistan to use the aid in the ways that we want. The military and others have pushed back over American - against American efforts to redirect it. In my experience in government, the only thing more difficult than dealing with your adversaries is dealing with your friends.

CONAN: And of course, the Pakistani military wants those tanks and aircraft to try to address that conventional imbalance we talked about earlier with India, but that'd be futile.

Dr. HAASS: Exactly right.

CONAN: Chuck, thank you very much for the call. We're talking about the problems that Pakistan poses for the next administration. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get another caller in. Joel, Joel with us from Cape Cod.

JOEL (Caller): Good day. At the top of program, Mr. Koppel mentioned the possibility of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. Given the circumstances being discussed, I would really be interested to know what benefit each party will derive from such an exchange.

Mr. KOPPEL: Let me jump in for a moment, and then Richard Haass will tell you what reality is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KOPPEL: But I'll tell you a story that I heard from an Indian diplomat a number of years back, in which he told me about several very hawkish Indian generals who take the position - or at least back then took the position - that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. And he said quite - it is blood chillingly direct, as Richard pointed out - Richard Haass pointed out a moment ago - Pakistan has a 170 million people; India has over a billion, and this particular general was quoted as saying, if we had a nuclear war, we might lose 50 million, they would lose 50 million, but as far as India is concerned, the Pakistan problem would be over. I'm not suggesting that many in India hold that position, but there are some.

Dr. HAASS: Ted's right. I've heard some of that talk myself. The good news is that it's a minority. The bad news is such talk exists at all, and the truth is, is that neither side would benefit at all from a nuclear war. As was said in the U.S.-Soviet context, there would be only losers, no winners, and India would still have a Pakistan problem, and more important, India would wake up and find itself with an Indian problem, given the more than 150 million Muslims that I mentioned before that are part of India, Indian society. So, the whole - I think the U.S. - over the years, United States has been quite correct in trying to prevent any war between India and Pakistan out of fear that it could quickly escalate. Let me say one thing about this relationship between India and Pakistan, if I can, Neal.

CONAN: In 30 seconds, and then we'll take a little break.

Dr. HAASS: OK. It's a wildly underdeveloped relationship. At the lowest point of the Cold War, when U.S.-Soviet relations were worst, they were far more developed than Indian and Pakistani relations are today. This is a bilateral relationship that is quite primitive in the diplomatic sense. It's very worrisome.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel and Richard Haass, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about the terrible problems and the conundrums post by Pakistan, a critical ally in the war against terrorism, but also a country which is host to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, and the country which is a bitter rival of another U.S. ally, India, and both, of course, have nuclear weapon. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Today, one of our visits with NPR news analyst Ted Koppel. We're focusing on Pakistan. Our guest is Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. And the - let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Eli - excuse me - Ed, Ed with us from West Windsor in New Jersey.

ED (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon, Neal, to you and your guests. As always, Neal, wonderful show, always a great show.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

ED: Gentlemen, I'd like your thoughts on this; in reference to al-Qaeda provoking both nations, don't you think it's their goal to put America in an untenable position where they have to support one side or the other, hence causing a lose/lose situation?

CONAN: Richard Haass.

Dr. HAASS: I think al-Qaeda is content on doing anything that is essentially is costly to us, is disruptive to us. They have essentially a negative agenda, which is to drain and distract American and Western and Israeli, in this case, also Hindu, societies. I think they have a very vague long-term agenda of trying to recreate some sort a 7th century Islamic society throughout the world. So, I wouldn't get too specifically geo-strategic, but that they have a largely negative agenda, which is to disrupt economies, disrupt the societies and kill people.

KOPPEL: And to the extent that they can cause the Pakistanis to pull their troops away from the border with Afghanistan, there will be more and more of these pilot-less drones, you know, firing rockets into the area; inevitably civilians are killed - it happens that way, it's hard to avoid - and the level of anti-Americanism in the region just grows. If I may, Neal, I'd like to just go back to a question that Chuck asked a little while ago, where he was talking about, why is it that we can't get more economic aid into places like Pakistan. And it seems to me that the one thing that we didn't mention is there is sort of a paradox, but it is particularly acute in bad economic times like these. And that is, somehow, even in the worst economic times, you can convince the American public that we have to put money into weapons, have to put money into a military budget, but trying to convince the American voter that money needs to go to provide economic support in a place like Pakistan at a time when there is a feeling that we need all economic support we can get in this country, I think that needs a comment and I wonder if Richard Haass would respond.

Dr. HAASS: Ah, Ted, at the risk of continuing to agree with you here...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KOPPEL: You've never done it before, Richard. Don't start now.

Dr. HAASS: You're exactly right. What will compound it will be also the lack of investment flows from the private sector into places like Pakistan, and compounding it even more will be the shrinkage of world trade. So, Pakistan will find itself unable to export as much to places like the United States. And you add all that up and it creates much more friction within Pakistani society and makes it even more difficult to govern. It increases the economic grievances, and it's one of the ways in which the economic recession in the United States and around the world won't be simply an economic phenomenon, but it will have strategic consequences, most of them bad.

CONAN: And we are talking about strategic consequences. Here's another point of view, sort of on the domestic front, from Paul in Orange Park, Florida. Who died and left us in charge of mitigating every possible conflict between whoever and wherever our leaders decide we have a vested interest? Let some other country or the United Nations take care of putting out conflicts between nations. If no one else steps up, it should be a hint that we shouldn't get involved either. And there's a - you know, why is the United States embroiling itself in the possibility of a conflict between India and Pakistan and involving itself deeply in a country like Pakistan which is so deeply troubled? Richard Haass.

KOPPEL: What a great question. I can't wait to hear Richard answer it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HAASS: It's a great question because it highlights perhaps the basic reality of the world we live in, which is what happens in Afghanistan, what happens in a classroom in western Pakistan, what happens between India and Pakistan, won't stay there. If you'll pardon the cliche, the world is not Las Vegas, and what happens there won't stay there; it will come here. And the only thing that surprises me about the question is that ought to have been the lesson of 9/11, that in a global world with airplanes and computer viruses and real viruses and terrorists and dollar flows and everything else you can think of, there's - you can't turn this country into a giant gated community. We can affect the world, hopefully for better, and we can be affected by the world both for better but also for worse. So, the reason we get involved is to try to shape history, to try to shape the behavior of governments and societies in ways that favor stability, favor freedom, favor prosperity, because we, otherwise, we as a society, we as a country, will pay an enormous price.

CONAN: Yet we have messed that up so often in the past and so often in that part of the world, in Afghanistan specifically.

Dr. HAASS: Afghanistan is a sobering example, and I've been involved in it in several of my tours in government, and you're right. Almost like doctors who intervene, there's always examples where treatment can make situations worse. So, we ought to - as George Bush said in a different context - be humble. We've got to be smart. We've got to learn a lot about local realities. We have to be very careful about imposing some vague general ideas about nation building and democracy promotion and the like. But I think the lesson of history is not that because things are difficult or complicated the answer is isolation - things left alone by and large will get worse; neglect will be maligned - but rather is that when we do get involved, we've got to be smart and we've got to adapt our policies for local realities. We can't do it all by ourselves; we can't do it all with military force. But again, we will not succeed, we will not thrive, if we simply let things fester. Ultimately, we will pay an enormous price.

CONAN: Richard Haass, thank you very much for your time today.

Dr. HAASS: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department, special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He joined us today from the studio at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Ted Koppel, I need to ask you; we've been talking about the possibility of a crisis war, even nuclear war, in one part of the world. Nevertheless, President-elect Obama has said another of his priorities will be to try to prevent genocide, and he has appointed Susan Rice, one his advisers on foreign policy who's been very active on that front, someone who has bitter memories of the conflict in Rwanda that got out of control, where so many people were slaughtered before the United States, or anybody else, for that matter, took any steps whatsoever. Nevertheless, we have a conflict that's underway now in Eastern Congo. It's a place where you have some experience. I know you've gone there to report on stories.

KOPPEL: I went there actually back in the summer of 2001, and ironically, we had a five-part series that was due to begin on Nightline, and the first day of the series was the 11th of September, 2001. And once again, poor Congo, which has received so little attention despite the fact that back then, I think, somewhere between two and three million people had died in the fighting in Congo; that number is now up, probably somewhere between four and five million people who have died. It's a war that almost nobody outside of Africa knows anything about, and that is a tragedy beyond measure.

The fact of the matter is Congo is an enormously wealthy country in terms of minerals, and those minerals are now being stolen, quite frankly, by one militia after another, and they're then being exported out to neighboring African countries. And yet the deaths in Congo, many of which come simply from these competing armies and militias driving villagers out into the jungle, where they simply cannot survive - people are dying of disease and malnutrition - the notion that we can prevent it - God, I wish that was so. And I hope that we can find a way of galvanizing world opinion and not only world opinion, but the nations of the world to join us, and particularly the nations of Africa to join us, in bringing about peace in Congo. That poor country has suffered more than any other country in the world.

CONAN: And there is also, of course, the continuing conflict in Darfur, another sore that continues to bleed lives in another part of Africa, and the developing, and even worsening - though it seems impossible to imagine this - crisis in Zimbabwe, where now an outbreak of cholera has added to the terrible privations of the people of that country.

KOPPEL: And add Somalia, Neal, to your list, a country that has once again descended into total chaos. I couldn't sympathize more with what Susan Rice is proposing, and I couldn't be more cynical about the likelihood of it succeeding.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel, with us from Potomac, Maryland. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And Ted, before we go, I also wanted to ask you about another situation on which you've reported extensively ,and that is our relationship with our most important creditor, and that is China. We see exports from China dwindling, as our economy and others around the world shrink, and this is going to cause, well, unanticipated problems.

KOPPEL: Well, it's going to cause unanticipated problems because one of the things that has kept inflation under control in this country is the fact that Wal-Mart and K-Mart and all the other marts out there had been buying incredibly cheap goods from China, and therefore, have been able to sell them at very, very low prices here in the United States. That's one reason why prices have not gone up for the average consumer. If, indeed, we are going to buy fewer and fewer products from China over the next few months and the next couple of years because of the economic crisis that we're facing, one of the consequences may well be inflation.

One other point, Neal, as I know we've discussed on this program before, we're only able to fight those wars we've been talking about in places like Iraq and Afghanistan because we have been borrowing money from, among others, the Chinese. We have somewhere between, or at least they hold somewhere between, $600 billion and $1 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury notes. In other words, that's money they have lent us. We have not paid, neither you nor I nor anyone else in this country, has paid even one additional dollar in taxes to fight the wars that we are currently fighting. First time in American history that's happened. We're fighting those wars on borrowed money.

CONAN: It is very difficult to find any silver linings in the economic crisis which is ruining so many people's lives in this country and around the world; nevertheless, one of the effects that we've been reporting on is the diminished demand for commodities - commodities like oil, commodities like the minerals that are being exported from places like the Congo. Is it possible to derive at least some small optimism from the fact that we may have bought ourselves a little bit more time before the competition for these resources has spiraled up out of control and before the effects of some of those expenditures, those resources in terms of global warming, gets even more drastic?

KOPPEL: I suppose we have to take comfort where we can find it, Neal. But do I believe that six months from now the price of gasoline in this country will be below $2? I do not. I think the price is going to go up again. I think the price of oil is going to go up again, but it's not going to - you know, I mean, the good news is that the price will not go up to where it was last summer, for example, not very quickly, at least. The bad news is that the reason for that is that businesses are contracting rather than expanding.

CONAN: As we deal with these economic crises, eventually - you talked about the money, the expenditures. It was an interesting article in the paper the other day - the F22, the stealth fighter, incredibly expensive, apparently amazing, piece of technology. Nevertheless, the Obama administration looked skeptically at this; indeed, the Bush administration looked skeptically at the prospect of buying more of these. Yet a piece in the New York Times suggested, well, a wait a minute. If we do that, all of the people who work building the F22 and all of their subcontractors at, I think, about a $160 million a copy, they're going to be out of work.

KOPPEL: And one of the things that you certainly know, Neal, is that the companies that create aircraft like these, that put them together, are very, very wise about distributing subcontracts to just about every state in the country. So, it's not just going to be a matter of, let's say, Boeing, which is in Seattle, and the state of Washington being intimately engaged in whether or not that plane continues to be built. It is a function of almost every state in the country having a piece of the action, and every local congressman is going to be in favor of continuing the development of this aircraft.

CONAN: That is certainly true. Also, just this one last interesting sideline: as we talk about this bill coming up before the Senate today - on which prospects don't look good at the moment - but nevertheless, perhaps in the next Congress with the new president, things could different, and that's to bailout American car companies. There are, of course - that's Detroit, that's Michigan - there are a whole bunch of transplanted car companies making Toyotas and Mercedes Benz and Subarus in other places in the country. However, they built those factories in, well, right-to-work states.

KOPPEL: Exactly.

CONAN: In Republican states. They may have miscalculated.

KOPPEL: Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KOPPEL: Look, the fact of the matter is that they are able to compete on a far different plane from the traditional companies in Michigan, you know, who now have to pay off these contracts that they signed five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And you know, who is to say where the proper balance is? But I'm drifting - I can feel it even now - drifting into area about which I know next to nothing.

CONAN: Well, I know you'll be studying up on it as you go off on it on a trip. So, this is an opportunity to wish you a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.

KOPPEL: Thank you, Neal, and same to you, my friend. And I know these have been difficult times at NPR, and I wish all of our friends there a better new year.

CONAN: Ted Koppel, thanks very much. NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel with us from Potomac, Maryland. A correction today: yesterday, we spoke about political corruption and mentioned New Jersey Governor William Cahill and said he had been convicted of a crime. Although Cahill's campaign manager, his appointed state treasurer and his appointed secretary of state were all convicted of corruption charges, Governor Cahill himself was never charged with a crime, let alone convicted. We apologize for the error. Tomorrow Joe Palca here as Science Friday guest host. Have a good weekend. I'll see you Monday. Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

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