11:00 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we’re very pleased to have Dr. Amin Tarzi, who is the director of the Marine Corps University. He serves as the Director of Middle East Studies. Today, he is here to talk about his latest book, The Taliban And The Crisis Of Afghanistan, and he will start with some opening remarks and then take your questions. Thanks.
DR. TARZI: Thank you. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for being here. The book in question – right here – a copy actually came in paperback, which we’re very happy – was published by Harvard and it looks – it’s actually an edited volume – looks at the – what we call the Taliban phenomenon.
I myself call it the neo-Taliban because I – the crux of what is in this place is that the Taliban that we are dealing with, the enemy that we are dealing with in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan, is not exactly the same Taliban that were in part – in charge of Afghanistan in the 1990s, but rather they’re – morphed into something else. They are different groups. Some of them have nothing to do with religious fanaticism. Some of them have nothing to do with even political power. There are some criminal gangs. And this makes this enemy very elusive and also very multifaceted.
So that the book basically looks at that from a cultural perspective, from different perspectives, by the way. It’s not one point of view. It’s different points of views. And that’s what we discussed. And if you want to discuss – whether the Taliban, Iran’s relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, those are issues that are covered there and those are issues we can discuss at your leisure. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. We’ll open it up for questions, and Dr. Tarzi can discuss any of those topics that he just mentioned.
QUESTION: I’ve got a question. The Taliban militarily seem to be defeated in Pakistan at the moment. What do you see as the future of the Taliban in Pakistan?
DR. TARZI: Okay. They are militarily defeated only in a specific area, which is – when you look at Pakistan, there’s what we call the settled areas or parts of Pakistan, which are provinces of Pakistan. Pakistan has four provinces, and those are directly under the rule of Pakistan, and the Pakistani constitution applies there.
The fight that goes on right now is in the Northwest Frontier province. The Taliban’s power in the FATA area, the, you know, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, such as – areas such as Waziristan, especially Waziristan, north and south, Bajaur, there have been no operations there. So their power and military and otherwise is pretty much intact there. I’m not diminishing the fact that there is a good progress happening in Swat Valley, but there is a difference.
And unfortunately, still I think that difference has been seen and is felt that the areas of settled – as it’s called in Pakistan – settled areas are viewed differently than the FATA area. In the FATA area, even in Pakistan, the mentality is such that that is kind of an outside area. It is in Pakistan, but it is not directly into the Pakistani – Pakistani military doesn’t see it as its responsibility in the first hand. So what I would think is that the defeat that is happening right now in Swat, if these operations continue into places like Waziristan, then you see a – it might be a breakdown of the Taliban infrastructure.
My view, also something that is very positive with this Pakistani military engagement, is that the Taliban reaction to the military offensive has been to hit mainly civilian targets. Not only just the military – they used to go hit military – now there’s, I think, civilian targets, cinemas. My own view is that the Taliban movement has become less and less popular among the Pakistanis themselves. And this may be the most positive aspect of it. I think the Taliban will not be defeated militarily at the end. It has to be military action and it has to be popular dissatisfaction with them, and I think that is happening.
So I think the trend right now is toward positive. As I said, one thing I – you know, I think would be very positive is if the Pakistani movement militarily goes into places like Waziristan. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have a question regarding Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Taliban. To what extent, really, the supply by fighters or by equipment from Pakistan is sustaining Taliban in Afghanistan? Is it exaggerated or what – let’s say Taliban of Pakistan has been defeated. To what extent the trouble in Afghanistan would remain, or will it diminish?
DR. TARZI: That’s, I think, a key question. When you look at the Taliban in Afghanistan after 2001, after they were – let us say in December when the leadership of the Taliban left Kandahar and dispersed either into Afghan countryside but mostly into Pakistan leadership as such, the Taliban phenomenon, as such, ended. And this is why I call them in this book the neo-Taliban. The morphing of the Taliban in 2003, mainly – it started in 2002, but it mainly came into force in 2003 – was organized, centered, and supported on Pakistani soil. There is no question about that.
Their centers of training, their centers of education, their centers of financial support mainly, especially in the early days, 2003, 2004, was on the other side of the border. Afghanistan is a country which does not have any access to the sea, so smuggling fuel and other supplies, weapons into Afghanistan from – you know, from outside to the sea is not possible. Therefore, it has to be another country. When you look at the Afghan map, it wasn’t happening from Iran at that time. It was definitely not coming in from the Central Asian republics, and it wasn’t coming from China. So it was happening in Pakistan.
The question was what was the relationship of various Pakistani governmental organizations with this. That is the question that is very vague. There was support within the people. One thing that is very interesting, when you look historically at Pakistan, Afghanistan’s map – I actually wrote my dissertation on Afghan state building, and hopefully, that will be soon published, by the way, by Harvard as well – these two countries, their same people who share these two countries, these borderlines, namely the Pashtuns. The Pashtuns are spread out along that border, and the border, when it was drawn in 1893, literally cut some villages in half. So there are Waziris on one side, there are Waziris on the other side.
And it is very easy for the people we call the Taliban to live on the other side. And I mean, since they don’t have identity cards, they will be just like regular people. And this is why it has been very hard to determine, number one, who is a Talib and who is not. This is why we considered who is a Talib. We still have not identified them. And in United States of America – I’ll tell you about my own country – are the Taliban terrorists? But the State Department does not see them as terrorists. We see only one individual, Mullah Omar, but we do not see their organization as a terrorist organization, whereas some of the Pakistani Taliban are seen as terrorists.
So there’s a vagueness on all sides because one part is that they are not really a typical rebellion force, let us say, when you look at Sri Lanka, for example. You can’t compare them with the Tamil Tigers. These people do not wear a uniform, they do not have a single leadership, they do not even have a single ideology. And they’re with the people. One day, they – you know, in the morning, they may be tilling their ground, and at night they shoot you.
And this is another thing with the civilian casualties. Sometimes, the line between civilian and combatant in Afghanistan is so blurred, and I don’t think any other recent conflict in which we have been involved has had that problem. You really do not know who is a civilian and who is a combatant because of all the (inaudible) I’ve told you.
So for that reason, I think the relationship between the two insurgencies is very, very much linked. If the Taliban on the Pakistan side are defeated, which I see, as I said, a very good trend happening, you will definitely see, in my view, a weakening of the Afghan side militarily.
The other issue in Afghanistan which is on Afghanistan’s responsibility, not Pakistan’s, is that Afghanistan has to have governance. In Afghanistan, there is a – unfortunately, there is a trend to move towards what we call Taliban because the lack of trust in the Afghan central government. So one is the military aspect; the second one is governance. The Afghan Government, whichever government comes in power in Afghanistan after the August elections, their number-one priority has to be to get the – gain the trust or regain the trust of their own people. If they don’t do it, whether they – whether we call them the Taliban, some force will come in to void that lack of governance.
You know, a U.S. – former U.S. general who is now our ambassador in Afghanistan said something a couple of years ago. He said it’s not the power of the insurgency; it’s lack of authority in Afghanistan that creates these voids, and it’s filled by somebody. Whether they’re drug lords, whether they’re war lords, whether they’re Islamists, they fill it. If you fill that with governance, with law and justice – and again, justice here doesn’t mean Western justice, it means the Afghan concept of justice – then the lure of this insurgency will be much less.
So this fight has to be done more – also militarily, but more importantly, at the same hand, with that. And this is something the Afghans only can do. The international community can help them, but the Afghans have to gain their own legitimacy. This cannot be given to them by any foreign country.QUESTION:
How you can create or establish reconciliation or political solution in Afghanistan? There was lots of talks about the possibility of moderate Taliban to be invited to participate in the political process. What really – from one hand we hear there is no military solution, and now you stress the issue of military-civilian approach, and now the Administration is doing such. But at the same time, there is a mixed signal. First there is no identification of those moderate Taliban in Afghanistan. Second, there is more stress on military means, especially people now taking – we have hearing today by General McChrystal, who is now the overall commander in Afghanistan, that people think that more of the same going to happen because his specialty is special forces. So again, you stressed the issue of civilian casualties – if you’re going to continue the same military tactics, then you’re going to have more civilian casualties and we have – MR. TARZI:
-- this dilemma. Vicious cycle.MR. TARZI:
Chapter 7 of this book says moderate Taliban and a question mark. So we did address that, whether there is such a thing as a moderate Taliban. This is very important. You are raising a crucial point. From day one, literally, and this book at least we actually go and talk about specifically what happens the minute Kandahar fell, which is about early December – December 5th to 8th, 2001. At that point, until today, and this is something that I think I would say has been a shortcoming of all parties involved in Afghanistan, nobody has tried to identify who is the moderate, who is not the moderate.
In the United States at least we have certain people that we have –Mullah Omar, for example, has been listed as a terrorist. There’s actually a certain amount of money – I think it’s 10,000, I’m not sure – 10 or 25,000 – million, million – 10 million or 25 million on his head. Whereas, in Afghanistan, we get signals sometimes from the Afghan Government that they are ready to even sit down with Mullah Omar and talk. This sends a very vague message – if vagueness is part of the tactic, then good, as a grand strategy. But if it is not, it creates a sense of who is good, who’s bad. Where are you going to stop?
Who is – you know, the term we hear at Kabul – they don’t call it the Taliban, by the way, in the Afghan Government. They’re called the enemies of peace and security. That is as vague as you can get. Anybody who, you know, goes and stabs somebody in the street is an enemy of peace and security, as far as I’m concerned, because that individual is disturbing peace and security. So enemies of peace and security is very – in a way, you – Pakistan is calling them miscreants. And that again is very vague because you don’t want to name it. If something is hard to name, you create these vague terms to identify them.
My view is – this is my personal view, not the United States Government’s view I want to make – my view is that the Afghan Government – again, this is not the foreigners, not us, the Afghan Government needs to set a very, very strict, very liberal, but strict, meaning it should be very broad but strict, on who can be reconciled, who cannot be. The term accepting the Afghan constitution, again, is very vague – that’s another term you hear from Kabul. There are people, I think in Afghan, who right now are fighting – the majority, I will say. I can’t tell you what percentage, but I would say a vast majority, who would, under certain circumstances, would come back and become part of this process. There are prices to pay for it.
We in the international community have to think about that. There may be losses and – for example, in human rights. There’d be losses specifically on the rights of women. Look what happened with this law that President Karzai had signed in. Why do you think he signed it in? That was an election issue – trying to lure certain people in. So it’s always engaging what you want to give, what you want to take. You can’t gain everything. So this is something that – first, the Afghan Government, I think ought to – they have an election. They have a very good opportunity to redraw and think of what they want to do.
Once they take their decision, then they can talk to the international side and say, okay, these are the concessions we want to make. But concretely, they don’t have to give all their cards on the table initially. But it has to be something that the internationals know what is happening. Because right now, it’s very ad hoc – it’s very knee-jerk. Things happen suddenly and nobody said what happened here.
So in that case, I think people will com in towards the side of government. In my dissertation, which is not in this book, by the way, it’s called “The Judicial State.” I wrote it way before Afghanistan was even in vogue. My whole concept is that in Afghanistan – the central government in Afghanistan gains its legitimacy when it becomes the distributor of justice and security – an Islamic notion of justice, specifically in Afghanistan a Hanafi notion of justice.
And with that aspect as the center, whether it’s king, president, whatever you name the ruler or the leadership, cannot be seen as giving those, there’s no legitimacy. Right now, that is not happening. Afghanistan was not created by the Taliban, there was a state beforehand, and then a mistake we did in the international community is we – while redrawing the Afghan map after 2001, we kind of forgot what was beforehand. I think we need to go back and see what Afghans did themselves. This country wasn’t there. It wasn’t very prosperous. It wasn’t very, you know, but it was there and it functioned. It functioned pretty normally as a state. To look at that aspect of it and gain the trust of the people through justice and security.
Now, an issue of military versus reconciliation – I think you have to do both together. There are people who kill you, you have to defend. There are people who destroy – I mean, right now, they just stole 400 students in Pakistan. What you do to a people who don’t stop at any level of destruction, so – because they have guns in their hands and – more than guns, unfortunately – and they’re shooting at you, there is a military solution part of it.
So if you say there’s no solution and we just have to reconcile, I think it would be unrealistic, because the other side is an armed opposition. They are not a political opposition sitting on the table demanding certain things and saying if you don’t do that we will become armed. They are already armed. And because of that, I think when an armed opposition intends to destroy, you have to try to make sure.
I agree with you on the side of making sure that don’t give the opposition the big tool. The biggest tool right now they have is their propaganda tool. Sometimes it’s justified; sometimes not. Sometimes they exaggerate the number of civilian casualties. But they say, look, what the – you know, the coalition forces are doing. President Karzai was in this town in Washington. The entire trip was overshadowed by the incidents in Herat province in western Afghanistan, so I understand his frustrations.
And sometimes they are exaggerated, by the way. The outside may believe it or not. They’re actually – we have even heard of incidents where they have put bodies from other places into graves. So there’s a lot of this because it is the best tool for the Taliban to discredit the coalition and bring in the anger. There’s actually a war of words. In a way they’re doing their own strategic communication in a very, you know, morbid way, but they’re actually more successful than we are with all of our good deeds that we do. People don’t see the good deeds, but when something goes wrong people see it. So we have to be very careful.
I think that is being implemented as much as possible, again, in a war, unfortunately – in a war like this where the enemy has no rules. Unfortunately, there’ll be some incidences that things will happen that shouldn’t happen – innocent lives might be lost. Our job is to make sure that that happens the least amount possible, the least amount possible. And when it happens, we have to make sure we are – we take responsibility for it.
As I say, the question is that sometimes we are drawn in into situations. How do you deal with that? This is on the commanders on the ground. Their job is very tough. I think we have a very smart military and I think they will understand that they know what’s going – what is at stake right there.
But to say that reconciliation can happen without any enforcement of the Afghan Government, I don’t think that can happen. Hopefully, the fight eventually will stop and people – as more and more people come towards the government side, meaning they accept this notion of Afghan state, the Taliban or the insurgency will be marginalized more and more, and then they will disappear, or at least they will become a group of very – militant groups in certain pockets. At that point, I think the war has been – you can say the war has been won. You can live with it.QUESTION:
I don’t want to take all of the time myself, but since we have limited – I’m taking advantage of that. I just want to follow up on the issue of the military approach. General McKiernan was complaining about the lack of enough forces, and now he’s been replaced and we are relying on special forces approach, which means that we’re not going to be able to send more forces, right? One of the military tactics that’s resulting in a negative is that the lack of having enough forces, and there is no way to provide enough forces from NATO or from the United States. At the same time, the Afghan army still – and police, et cetera, still at the level that need to be doubled probably – in number to be able to task for security. So I think as long as the military approach is going to result for the lack of having enough forces, and there is no way to bring more forces. These going to – incidents are going to occur, and civilian going to be targeted and the negative effect of it, it’s going to be there. There is – need to be a different military tactic of dealing with this. And you need – sometimes you approach by military and by political, and sometimes you have to give more emphasis on economic, civilian, political approach than that.
This is just considered as a comment, but the question is really the issue of Taliban, al-Qaida. And I think it’s time to really – in the mind of many people, if we get rid of al-Qaida, there should be better way of dealing with Afghanistan-Pakistan situation. If there is a way to isolate al-Qaida, who – they were the one that, after all, attacked in September 11th. The issue now is becoming – and, you know, we are forgetting about al-Qaida and we think – I think if we have the stability in Afghanistan, neither al-Qaida or others will be able to utilize the failed state phenomenon to prosper, because in my opinion, if you want to talk on the tactical level or strategic level, al-Qaida does not need Afghanistan to operate.
They could operate from any place, you know. They didn’t have military forces, they didn’t have Boeing 747, or they didn’t have airport to train. They were trained here. It’s an intelligence failure more than a security failure here, more than the issue of – I think we are obsessed with having Afghanistan as the – you know, the place where al-Qaida’s operating, and we’re forgetting that this is really creating a situation where there’s going to be an open-ended war in Afghanistan.DR. TARZI:
Well, I’ll give you a very brief answer. This is – the policy right now, the Af-Pak policy as presented by President Obama, is mainly geared towards al-Qaida, is to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al-Qaida. So that is the policy, and this is part of it. Al-Qaida right now is not sitting somewhere outside of this problem. The Taliban – what we call the Taliban, that’s why I said when I talked the neo-Taliban there, they are meshed with al-Qaida, they are meshed with even Uzbek and Uzbek insurgency, the IMU. It’s not just one group. Even there – you know, there are Filipinos, there – you know, there are – Filipino fighters are there.
So it is not just one group. There is – all of them are there, and in order to destroy, disrupt, and dismantle this organization, you have to look at that. They are the main targets. They are the ones who attacked our country and have done things in Europe and elsewhere and in the Arab world as well, Turkey.
As – you have to get rid of their – their support (inaudible) this insurgency. They are behind – they are in – on the lines, but they are also behind the lines. So I agree with you; that has to come in, but they are one and the same. There are groups of the Taliban, what we call the Taliban, which may not have direct access to al-Qaida, but a lot of them do.MODERATOR:
New York, did you have a question?MODERATOR:
Yes. Yes, we do. QUESTION:
Can you tell me something about – you know, can you foresee a scenario in the case President Karzai is going to be reelected? And regarding the (inaudible), not a lot of international support, you know, it seems like it’s more considered an imposition.DR. TARZI:
You know, that is an issue of democracy. Afghanistan is – you know, we talk about all the negatives. There is an aspect that – just a few months ago, we had a conference at the Marine Corps University on Afghanistan, and there were some very senior Afghan officials there, including their defense minister, members of their parliament. And I made a comment to one of my colleagues. I said, you know, whatever we say – yes, there have been mistakes done, a few years past, these people will kill each other. Right now, they’re actually talking. They may not agree, but they’re doing this disagreement at a conference table rather than with rifles.
So whatever we say about Afghanistan, those of us who have been involved in Afghanistan since I have been involved, since 1980, one way or the other, the Afghan society, with all the negativities we are talking right now about – you know, in the 1990s, they would have fought. Right now, the democracy is there. The election will happen.
The main hope is that the elections are fairly acceptable by the majority of Afghans, and I’ll caveat, fairly acceptable by majority of Afghans. Will it be a perfect election? No way. There are parts of Afghanistan that are no-go to begin with. There are security problems. But as long as the majority accept it, whoever is chosen there – you know, if it’s President Karzai reelected, I don’t think the international community, all of us, have any say in that. That is what the Afghans pick. You know, we can say that he is becoming more conservative or not. Part of it is because he wants to gain more votes. Maybe the country is more conservative.
So I’m not saying this is good. I’m not saying this is good. But all I’m saying is that we, as the international community, in my view, do not have – we can’t have our cake and eat it, let’s put it that way. We can’t say on one hand democracy, and on the other hand say, you know what, whoever is elected, we don’t like. This is – and I’ve said, you know, this is not going to be a French democracy or a Norwegian democracy or a U.S. democracy. This is another thing. We think democracy – somehow, we think in four years Afghanistan would reach the levels of a liberal, Western democracy. That’s another mistake we had in our own heads.
I always say that, you know, all of our countries should also do a little bit of strategic communication within our own countries, because the American public – I can speak for my country – sometimes think, you know, well, we went to Afghanistan, and now it should be functioning like any other country that is like, in Europe, or even countries in the Arab world which have had more democratic or more civil society. It’s not. Afghanistan has just come out of 30 years of war. Afghanistan was the fighting ground of two superpowers.
So within that context, we have to be realistic what we are looking for. And I think it would be very, very wrong in my view – again, my personal view – that we interfere in the Afghan election process unless we see some gross violations that – unfortunately, there are no observers anyway. We have very few – the United States has. Europe chose not to send major observers, so therefore, you know, we can’t stay away from it and then say, you know what, we don’t like what they’re saying. As long as they are abiding by the norms that they have accepted, we have to accept whatever – whoever comes in and have to work with them. That’s all I can say about that one. MODERATOR:
We’ll go back to New York for the next question.QUESTION:
I have a question about – you were just talking about this legitimacy of the present government in Kabul. My question is – you know, it’s as clear as crystal. I mean, if one nation was not imposed – represent current government, do you think today’s insurgency, which is, as you were talking about it, would do – was predictable, that today’s – because the government really is not very popular in Afghanistan. And if Afghan nation was allowed to participate in their tradition elections with (inaudible), do you think (inaudible) insurgency will be this strong, like we see it?DR. TARZI:
You know, I kind of understand what you’re trying to say about the Afghan tradition of it. I think this government – this government was elected. There were quite a bit of Afghans waiting in line to vote. Whether those votes – you know, the problem in Afghanistan, to be honest with you, is having that Afghan history 25 years on and off; whoever comes in the there, they’ll be always saying, you know what, this person has had this or that and it – the – I think the lack of legitimacy of the current government is not how it was chosen, but rather the fact that the promises made for – the Afghans are like any other people.
The number one thing they want is they want to make sure that their daughter and son is not raped or killed, as any other human being. They’re not any different. Second – so meaning that they want security – second, once they have security, they want to have opportunities to work and make themselves better people. This country used to function pretty normally. Not the best country in the world, but it was pretty normal.
The third thing they would like to have is, in my view – and I mean, we do surveys, everybody does surveys – is to have opportunities for their children to grow and go to school. They do want to go to school. They don’t want the things that the Taliban want. But they may not want Western-style schools. That’s another difference. They would want to educate themselves. Maybe it’s, you know, in a madrassa. A madrassa is not a bad concept. It is what is taught in a madrassa. You can teach bad things in a room like this too.
So the question here of legitimacy, I don’t think – I don’t think – you know, when you say the government was imposed was on them, I mean, right now there’s another election. They have choices. Will – again, I keep on wanting to say, will it be absolutely clear, clean elections? Maybe not, but it will be pretty representative. You talk to any side, they say that the results of the Afghan parliamentary election and the results of the Afghan presidential election in 2004, 2005 respectively were pretty fair.
So that’s what people chose. If they are very frustrated with this government, they may not vote for them. That’s what I’m saying. QUESTION:
Just – regarding to your book, I mean, it’s a different generalization, actually. How do you see – I mean, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan – I mean, how do you see the future? Will the West be able to defeat it?DR. TARZI:
It is not for the West to defeat them. I think it’s for the Afghan society and Afghan Government to absorb most of them into the system, because most of them will be absorbable. And then the West can help. There are certain things that need to happen. Yes, my answer is yes, it will be – and it’s not issue of defeat. It’s success of Afghan Government. This is not a classical battle; therefore, I don’t want to use the word “defeat” in here.
What you want to do is you want to enable the Afghan authorities, not just the government, the Afghan civil society as well, to gain – see – look at – imagine this table. What you want to do is you want to spread the governance, spread rule of law, spread Afghan traditional – the Afghan traditions, which are now being – by the way, another thing that’s happening is right now they’re relying more and more on what the gentleman there is talking about, to go and actually look at the traditional Afghan concepts of society from bottom up, from the district level up, or even in the nontraditional way where there’s a jirga system to attach the government with its society. But it has to be done by the Afghans in the Afghan way. The West has to only be in a supportive role.
And another thing that is very important which we never discussed about is this whole culture of criminality, whether it is drug or not drug. You cannot look at Afghanistan and say, you know what, you can just look the other way where Helmand province alone is producing more opium than entire world. When you have that much illicit economy, criminality comes in. Criminality – whether that money goes to the Taliban directly or not is irrelevant. The fact is that that culture of criminality creates lack of order. So it is a big package. Afghanistan is not an easy thing to deal with.
And also, lastly, it is not just the West. Afghanistan cannot be stabilized unless the neighbors – number one, Pakistan; number two, Iran; in the third degree, Russia and India – also join in. It has to be regional as a concept because Afghanistan is a landlocked country, is a country where countries that I just named fought their proxy wars for 30 years. They have to be involved. They have to want this to be a working solution.
You know, look at history of Afghanistan. One thing that – I go to Afghanistan at least once a year, sometimes more. I think the greatest asset of that country is its people. They are one of the most resilient people I have seen around. With all of the things that has happened to them, you still go there, they want to do something better. So I think that is the greatest asset in that country. And if that asset is used and then given an opportunity, I think the future of Afghanistan will be good. Again, let us not think Afghanistan is a Norway in five years. Look at Afghanistan, what Afghanistan should be. As an agricultural country, it will not be very rich. It will be a stable agricultural country going towards a life in peace and security. I think that’s possible. If I didn’t think that’s possible, I wouldn’t be in the job I am.MODERATOR:
We have time for two more questions. QUESTION:
Since you mentioned the issue of regional, I want to ask you about the issue of regional, especially with the focus now on Pakistan. And it seems that the political situation in Pakistan is still fragile. The relation – inter-relation between the military and the civilian government is not at the best shape, or there is some rumors about to what extent the military campaign will affect the stability of Pakistan itself. There is many people talking about disintegration of Pakistan or other scenario if this military campaign continue.
From the other hand, you have Iran, that – it used to be in almost entering war with the Taliban at the – before the (inaudible).DR. TARZI:
Right, in ’98, ’99.QUESTION:
Yeah. So to what extent Iran and others – Russia, China, Turkey – they have influence, but it seems to me that Pakistan has now the most impact on what will happen. But what kind of approach you could have? You mentioned that it needs to be a regional approach. The Administration talking about regional approach. But what – with the situation in Pakistan dictating the security situation, military situation, how are you going to have reconcile with the interest of all regional factor or element, especially with the unknown outcome of what’s going to be in Pakistan?DR. TARZI:
Okay, I’ll give you a brief answer. I think first of all, again, whether Pakistan can – I think the war in Pakistan, the campaign by the Pakistani military, in my view, is having very positive aspects, not only on the ground, but most importantly, as I said before, you look at the Pakistani side, and not – just don’t look at the media from the West side. Look – read the Pakistani media itself. People, just regular Pakistanis, are becoming frustrated with this insurgency. That is very, very important. So I don’t see the Pakistani state as collapsing. I just see the Pakistani state as reevaluating its own relationship with this militancy.
The question of Afghanistan and Pakistan is, I think – and this is why I think it was a very good decision to put these two countries together – is there is a problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s historical. Right now, President Zardari and President Karzai like each other. This is wonderful. But this is, again, not something that’s institutional. It’s personal. It’s ad hoc. Which is great; I’m not saying it’s bad.
There is a problem. Afghanistan, as a whole, the national psyche of Afghanistan, what I can call it, the historical narrative of Afghanistan, sees Pakistan as an illegitimate state. They don’t even recognize the border between the two countries. Afghanistan does not recognize that boundary. They actually don’t even call it the Afghan-Pakistani border. They call it Durand Line. So there has to be a conceptual change that Pakistan is a legitimate country with very specific borders.
On the Pakistani side, the concept of Afghanistan is always as a country that is in cahoots with India and squeezing Pakistan from two sides, so Pakistan always – the Pakistani militancy sees Afghanistan as what they call at the strategic depth, that if India hits them, they always look – Pakistan’s main obsession and main problem is always with India, so they see Afghanistan as a place where they can fall back. And when Afghanistan becomes closer to Pakistan – sorry, to India, they get very, very jittery.
I think the solution, which is happening right now, because we have at least the leadership liking each other, is for these two countries to – they don’t have to love each other, but they have to respect each other’s states. Until that happens – and I am very unfortunate to say that – unless that happens, we’re going to always have a friction, if not an open conflict. If they can accept each other as states – and here is where Europe can help us – I think it’s a win-win situation. How Europe can help the solution of this border and all that is to forget about where is the border, make the border disappear like Europeans disappeared their borders through economic integration.
These two countries need each other. They will be a perfect – not union. I’m talking about two countries coming together, but working with each other. Central Asian routes will open. That is a zero-sum game. It has to be a win-win situation. It has mentality. It has history. This is long-term, but it has to start today. It has to start in Afghan textbooks, it has to start in Pakistani textbooks, to see each other as states.
This history – we unfortunately – when we do policy – I work on the policy end of it, and I look at things very short-term – we don’t look long-term. Unless we look long-term – this is a long-term solution, it’s a very slow process, but it has to have mentality of these two people liking each other, or at least living with each other.
The other regional countries – the other more important regional country, in my view, is Iran. Iran has been a very odd situation in Afghanistan. They have done very good things, but they have also done very bad things. Iran’s bite is a potential what they can do. You said very correctly that, you know, they had lost eight diplomats, one journalist, in Mazari Sharif. The Taliban executed him when they attacked their Consulate General there in ’97 or ’98.
Iran right now – Iran plays a very different game. If you imagine this is a roulette table, Iran puts money on pretty much every number there is. They don’t care – Shia, Sunni, heathen. They are more interested in what they can gain. The Iranians are supporting the Taliban. We know that for a fact. It’s a very limited support, but they want to have – make sure they have a card to play when that is needed.
That card is not vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Unlike Pakistan, Iran is not worried about Afghanistan’s stability. Iran is worried about the West. They’re using Afghanistan as a card against the West. For example, if something to happen to a pressure from either Europe or anybody else comes in to Iran on their nuclear file, they will use Afghanistan as a new pressure point, or even maybe as a battleground. They have more assets in Afghanistan than Pakistan has. That’s the reality. They have a lot of assets.
And it is a danger point. And they – Western Afghanistan is infested with Iranian influence, and they don’t care whether it’s Taliban or not Taliban. And a case in point to that, I always point when the Taliban kicked out Hekmatyar, a Pashtun Sunni, ordered (inaudible) openly. Guess where he went and stayed? In Iran. They don’t care. They – if they can get an asset, they will get an asset. They have a lot of assets in Afghanistan.
Ma’am, did you have a question?QUESTION:
Okay. DR. TARZI:
Well, we’ll have to end there. Thank you very much, Dr. TarziDR. TARZI:
You’re very welcome.
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