ushCouncil on Foreign Relations
STEVE COLL: Am I on? Yes. Good evening, everybody. You can take your seats. Welcome. On behalf of the Council, I’d like to welcome you to tonight’s meeting. My name is Steve Coll. I’m a staff writer at the New Yorker, and my pleasure to be up here on the stage with my friend and colleague, Kathy Gannon, for what I’m sure will be a terrific hour of conversation and your questions.
A couple of housekeeping notes as we get started: if you haven’t thought to do so already, this would be a good time to turn off your cell phone, and tonight’s session is on the record, so speak freely, but be aware that all of your words are public tonight.
In keeping with practice at these meetings, I’m not going to offer a long formal introduction to Kathy, whose biography was sent out to you as part of the preparation for tonight’s meeting, but I would like to just quickly offer a more personal introduction. I think I met Kathy 15 or 16 years ago in Islamabad where she has been one of the great foreign correspondents in South Asia and of her or really any generation; a reporter for the Associated Press who always seemed to choose the right stories and whose ambition for her work and her engagement with the region, and at the same time her ability to maintain a cool distance from her subject was a source of admiration I think—subject of admiration from all of us. And she was also just the nicest foreign correspondent than anybody of us knew—(laughter)—which was an affliction that she attributed to being Canadian, I don’t know, but whatever the explanation, it was just a delight to be around her, and I so admire what she’s done in this book.
Tonight’s format allows me to spend 15 or 20 minutes just asking her a few questions before we turn to your questions, and I would like to—I want to talk about some serious things about Afghanistan right now and Pakistan now, but I would—I’d like to ask at least one question about your own experience as a journalist working across these 15, 16 years in Afghanistan in particular, a country that did not generate a great deal of interest certainly during the 1990s, you were one of the few women who went in to Taliban-governed Kabul with any regularity and tried to work there. What was it like to work as a correspondent in Taliban-ruled Kabul as a woman at a time when very few people were paying attention?
KATHY GANNON: Yeah. Good question. It was—it was sort of a mix of—it was frustrating insomuch as the attention wasn’t there. You really had to focus people’s attention. As a woman it was—for me, because I spent a lot of time going to the front lines, whether it was the front lines with the Northern Alliance or front lines with the Taliban, you sort of establish a credibility and Afghans, as you well know, if you can establish yourself as being someone who’s not going to be easily afraid because they like to laugh at other people and laugh at themselves, and so if you—if they can frighten you, then you know, that’s—makes them feel a little bit better, I guess. I don’t know, but it certainly was an advantage to me that I was able to go to the front lines.
I spent a lot of time, you know, with the Taliban. They didn’t like to talk to women, so I had to spent a lot of time outside people’s doors, I mean, the chief justice—I once sat six hours outside his door waiting for him to see me—and finally he did because Afghans get embarrassed if they have guests and they aren’t hospitable and—even a woman, and a Western woman, so after six hours, he finally said, "Okay, come in," and he sat me at the other end of the room and we had conversation.
So I think, you know, there was a mix of advantages and disadvantages, but I have to say overall, being a woman in Afghanistan and working in Afghanistan—in some ways I sort of was able to make it work for me. You know, I was able to have access that perhaps other people didn’t. They didn’t get their back up as quickly, you know, because it’s a woman so they don’t—you know, maybe if they had a man in their face, they would get their back up and so you’ve got to get beyond that sort of (duo ?) macho response to each other. I didn’t have to deal with that, I guess. So there were some advantages actually, and I really—you know, I just—I did everything. I went to the front lines. I tried to interview everybody. I went to everything that they’d put on so that they had to either take a stand and tell me I couldn’t or they’d have to just sort of swallow it and talk to me.
COLL: And why were you so drawn to this place over 15 years? I mean, you had the opportunity to go elsewhere and you may now finally move as far away as Iran, but—but you stayed. Many of the rest of us who have come and gone find it a very attractive and fascinating part of the world, but also very demanding, and I think you alone among the correspondents who I’ve known have just stayed and stayed and stayed. Why?
GANNON: Yeah, I guess—first the stories, the stories have been fabulous. I mean it just doesn’t stop. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan, you know, you had the Taliban came to power, you had underground nuclear explosions, you had military rule, you had Pakistan-India, you had militancy, you had the Taliban leave, you had September 11th, you had Osama Bin Laden, you had—I mean it’s just the stories. It’s just endless, the numbers of stories.
I love the region—Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistanis and Afghans are really warm, hospitable, fun people. I mean, they’ve got a good sense of humor. It’s fun. The leadership is a little bit—leaves a little to be desired, but the—so it’s sort of a combination, but the stories just kept getting better.
COLL: Well, that’s true enough. Well, let’s turn to some of those stories, and I wanted to ask about—take a quick jog across the current landscape before we turn to the audience’s questions. And I’d like to start with this mystery of the Taliban’s resurgence, which certainly is subject of lot of conversation in United States these days.
The parliamentary elections from the outside appear to have been successful and the violence that the Taliban attempted to create in the run-up did not, in the end, prevent the elections from occurring successfully, but the—all of the measures of the Taliban’s strength and potency over the last 9 to 12 months have been going in the wrong direction, at least from an American point of view. Why? What’s going on?
GANNON: I think there’s a couple of things going on. After the Taliban collapsed and the Taliban left, really the body of the Taliban had been dealt really a mortal blow. I mean, the odds of them having returned to this extent or being able to have this kind of an impact was really minimal. There is—it’s happened as a result of several things. I mean, there’s no, like, easy answer. There are several things.
One was policy, right after the collapse of the Taliban to—because of the ethnic Pashtuns which made up the backbone of the Taliban were marginalized right from the beginning, ethnic divisions were further—the divisions were deepened rather than attempts to bring them together whether by the United Nations or whether by U.S. policy. I mean, U.S. policy—those who drove U.S. policy after the collapse of the Taliban really squandered opportunities to embrace the ethnic Pashtuns and in effect punished them because they had been the backbone of the Taliban. And I remember going through the south and the east at the time and—I mean, I tried to get them worked up. I would say to them, well, it’s—you know, (you’ve got ?) three guys in the Panjshir—they run the show. They are in the interior, the defense, they’re foreign—I think you guys really must be upset. I mean, you know, they really"—No, no, wait," they would say, "Wait for the first loya jirga." They’d say, "Just wait, let’s see what happens," you know. The first loya jirga happened, and of course, nothing changed. The second loya jirga happened; nothing changed.
A lot of Pashtuns went to join the army. I was in Zabul (ph), talked to somebody; he had sent 2,000 Pashtuns to join the army. After a few months, they came back, and they joined up with the Taliban because they either couldn’t get accepted among the defense ministry, which was vetting them, so there’s that—there’s that problem that has caused—and so, as a result, a lot of these ethnic Pashtuns said, "Okay, fine. If you think I’m your enemy, I am your enemy." I mean with Pashtuns, as an ethnic group can be like—they wanted to embrace the new government, they—so as a result, they now are—I don’t think anybody wants the Taliban back as the Taliban existed, but for sure the ethnic Pashtuns now are disillusioned. They’re ready to take potshots at U.S. soldiers. I mean, this is even the—an American soldier was telling the story of—I mean, there’s a lot of misinformation too, and you know, heavy handedness by troops.
At one point, they went into a village and the villagers took all their Korans, everything, and they wrapped them up and they put them in a dried river bed and the soldiers—this is during a raid by the U.S. soldiers, and the soldiers went over to—and found it and bought it to the village elder and said, what is this? And he says, we hid all our—anything that would show that we were Muslims because we thought you’d kill us if you found out we were Muslims. So there’s a real—a lot of opportunities squandered, a lot of misinformation, and so that has really caused—enabled those few leaders of the Taliban to get people to stage attacks. I mean, it’s guerrilla attacks. You have a convoy going through and they take potshots and then they call in the air power.
COLL: Just to jump in, and for those who don’t share our Afghan nerd vernacular, of course, the population of Afghanistan is divided about half and half between those who might call themselves Pashtuns, largely organized and federations of tribes, and those belonging to what you might think of as more traditional ethnic groups in the north. And what’s, of course, even more complicated about the Pashtun population, which is where the Taliban has always founded strength, is that it spills across the Pakistan-Afghan border and there are actually more Pashtuns or Pathans living in Pakistan or have been at recent stages than in Afghanistan, which leads me to the other question I wanted to ask—a subject you’ve been watching for 15 years, which is Pakistan’s policy toward the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has always been complicated. Of course, Pakistan was a great supporter of the Taliban and when they calculate their interests in Afghanistan, this Pashtun population that spills across their own border is an important consideration.
What do you think Pakistan’s policy toward Afghanistan and the Karzai government is now? Do you think that there is a consensus among the army leadership, the corps commanders, the intelligence services, that a stable, democratic, U.S.-backed Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interests or not?
GANNON: Yeah. Good question. I think that—I don’t think that the Pakistan military—and it really is what the military decides and that—they are the ones calling the shots. I don’t think they see a stable democratic government in Afghanistan. I think that the military has a really murky agenda, and as always there’s a double agenda that goes along with the Pakistan military.
And you look at since—just even post September 11th and you’ve got Taliban people in Pakistan not just in the tribal areas, but in Peshawar and driving around in ISI-plated cars. You have these groups, whether it’s Jaish-e-Mohammed or Lashkar-e-Taiba, they still function. They change the name or they keep a low profile, they don’t fund-raise openly, but they’re still functioning. I mean, they have press conferences and then they’re written up in local newspapers. I mean, so I think it’s a very—I think the Pakistan military—and that’s what counts today in Pakistan—has a real double agenda and I don’t think that Afghanistan can count on the Pakistan military to be an honest broker or an honest partner in this war on terror.
COLL: One last question from me before we turn to the audience, an inevitable question that I’m sure will preempt somebody, where is Osama and who is—
GANNON: Yeah, thank you.
COLL:—who is—but the more interesting thing is—we were talking about this when we were chatting before, and you have a very well informed understanding of the context in which Afghans and tribal Pakistanis might be providing sanctuary to Osama or others in al Qaeda’s remnant leadership. What’s the social or political infrastructure between Afghanistan and Pakistan that you suspect they rely on for the sanctuary that they’ve found for such a long time?
GANNON: I think—again, you know, I mean the tribal area allows—I mean, there’s easy access, and it’s not just the tribal area; it’s because the military, the intelligence allows the easy access back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan at certain points along the border. I think that Osama—you know, it’s very difficult for—whenever any of these guys have been found, whether it’s Abu Zubaydah, whether it’s—you know, what’s his name?
GANNON: Yeah, exactly, and Bin Al-Shahib and all these people, they were all found in Pakistan because once you get into the cities, then it’s easy for somebody to find a way to contact somebody that can then—they can turn them over and say, "Okay, here, Steve. I found them and you can go and arrest them and give me the money." It’s much more difficult in the mountains in Afghanistan, frankly, and it’s much safer for Osama or Ayman al-Zawahiri or whoever to be up in the mountain region because even if you hang out in a tribal region—if you go to Miriam Shah, well, you know for sure most of the tribe’s people will maybe support you or not turn you over, but there might be somebody, if they hear there’s $25 million, it’s—you know, and then it’s easier to get to somebody who can get to them and get—and arrest them.
I still—and I know that, you know, I’m possibly one of the few, but I still think that Osama is probably still in Afghanistan. I mean, I think in the northeast, in Kunar, Nuristan—I mean, first for two reasons—well, for several reasons, but Hizb-I-Islami Hekmatyar is very strong up in that area. It’s very close to the—would be very close, in alliance quite closely to the Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri. These people—I mean, they really very popular just among the local population, I’ve been up to the Kunar and Nuristan and the local population is very pro Hekmatyar and Hizb-I-Islami.
There was an Arab government—a (parallel ?) government up in Kunar in the ’90s, so there are a lot of Arab contacts that have been there for years and years and years, so you’ve got a network that is there. So, there’s that. It’s heavily treed. It’s mountainous. It’s some of the highest mountains. I’ve walked up in those mountains—(inaudible)—and when the mujaheddin were there and the Soviets were there. I mean, there are caves this size in mountains; never mind Tora Bora, but just in ordinary mountain ranges—caves this size and there’d be a tunnel leading to the next cave that you could stand up and walk through. I mean, so there is an infrastructure—albeit primitive—that exists that you can go from place to place. It’s very difficult if I see Osama up there and I want to turn him in, by the time I get down from there, get—find an American soldier that I’m not afraid to approach, that I can approach, tell him about it, and no one else has found out that I’ve gone to the Americans and they haven’t killed my entire family, and then get them back up to Osama—you know, it makes it much more difficult to get him. So, my money, $25 million—(laughter)—is on him still be in Afghanistan.
COLL: Sounds like a valuable base. Let’s turn now to the audience for questions.
Sir, I’ll try to call—everybody puts their hands up, but—
QUESTIONER: Vijay Dandapani. Somewhere in your book, you have mentioned that the U.S. was somewhat stingy in terms of sending soldiers to Afghanistan post 9/11, but the prevailing wisdom at that time was that this is a repeat of the two Afghan wars and the British didn’t do it, why would the Americans be successful, we don’t want another Vietnam, and you’ve particularly taken—(inaudible)—Michael to task. Could you comment upon as to—I mean, after all, warlords have been a part of it since the Great Game, so why is it that you feel so strongly about that?
GANNON: Well, because the people you’ve chose—the people that the U.S. chose as partners against the Taliban were the very people who had actually brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan back in May of 1996, so that makes it very difficult then to just to get the job done. They had had the chance probably between ’92 and ’96—it was anarchic, it was bloody, 50,000 Afghanis died, it was—so the light footprint of the UN, the few soldiers of the U.S. and the coalition, meant that you (found out ?) or gave off to the very people who were problematic for Afghans themselves, who had actually had a history with both Osama, Ayman al-Zawahiri. And so you needed to do the job, get in there and get in there with a real commitment, or hand it over to them and have it disintegrate into what it has disintegrated in today, and so I think for sure Afghans would not want a huge force forever in Afghanistan.
It’s different than the Soviets where the invaded—it would have had to have been, you know, a strategy that went in and had a pull-out strategy. It’s not an endless—you know, have 50,000-100,000 soldiers in there. But not just myself. I mean, people at the U.S. embassy that I spoke to, they were really surprised that there were still few soldiers on the ground on October 7th that came in. There was a real reliance on air power.
And so for that reason I think that it was—to have a successful strategy required many more soldiers to actually do the job, and by not sending them in and doing the job and handing it off to others, the partners that they chose have—were the very people who in part were part of the problem.
QUESTIONER: I wonder if you could say something about the premises of U.S. policy towards Pakistan and whether they are realistic or not. You have made these comments about the Pakistan army having a double agenda, the great difficulty of finding Osama bin Laden given the cultural and social traditions in the region. Do you think that the United States policy is based on a realistic assessment of Musharraf’s situation and of the Pakistan military or do you have another assessment?
GANNON: I have another. (Laughs.) I think that the Pakistan military is a poor partner to have. It was before when Zia Ul Haq was the partner. Since the Pakistan military took power in Pakistan in 1999, for the first time you had the religious right control two provinces and the official opposition. Never before have Pakistanis voted—given more than 6 to 9 percent of the popular vote to the religious right. The Pakistan military has a deep alliance with the religious right—with groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are the creators of these groups and since September 11th there hasn’t been an indication that the relationship has been severed. You have active movement in the frontier of different groups operating, different individuals operating; moving about in ISI-plated cars, the ISI being the Pakistani intelligence.
So I think that just looking at the realities on the ground the civil society in Pakistan is devastated by the military—consistently is devastated. The madrassa system, the religious schools will become the public—mainstream public education in Pakistan at the rate that the military-led government is going today in Pakistan. It’s hugely detrimental for Pakistan itself and for the Pakistani people, who have consistently when they have voted not voted in these—the religious right. The military spends $3 billion on the military and $500 million on public education, you know, so—
COLL: If I could just follow up for a moment. We often discuss this relationship in just the way you did and the question I find there, which is did the United States have the right assumptions and the right policy as it approaches the Pakistan military. But what do you think the Pakistan military to date—what has it been, four years after September 11—think for itself is happening in its relationship with United States? Do you think that they continue to believe that the United States is a poor partner? That they continue to believe that when it suites us that we will leave and that they are just trying to draw down as much military equipment as they can before we inevitably leave them again, or if not that what? What do you think that they see in this relationship?
GANNON: Sure. No, I don’t think they trust the relationship at all. I mean, I think that—and with some very good reason. I mean, the United States was a full fledged partner with Pakistan when the Soviets were in Afghanistan in 1989. February of 1989, the Soviets pull out of Afghanistan and in 1990 the United States cuts all military and humanitarian aid to Pakistan and says "Oh, you have a nuclear program." They had a nuclear program throughout the 1980s, every single year Ronald Reagan—the U.S. president whoever he was, in this case it was Ronald, signed off and said that there was no nuclear program, they were convinced that there was no nuclear program because the United States needed Pakistan.
So it’s—certainly the relationship is one of mistrust. I don’t think for a moment the Pakistani military thinks that the U.S. will be an honest broker in the partnership. And when it suits the U.S. I think the Pakistani military believes that it will do as it has done in the past: it will throw it aside and either move on or then stand up and take a moral high ground and say "Well, you have a nuclear program and we are going to hit your nuclear facilities." So I think that from the Pakistan military perspective I don’t think they see the United States as an honest partner either.
COLL: Do you think that the Pakistan military—you referred to their—the corrosive effect that military rule has had on civil society in Pakistan. Do you think that the Pakistan military believes in any way that the revival of party and democratic politics and civilian participation and governance in Pakistan is ultimately a good thing for them as well as for the country or are they still convinced that direct rule by the military in whatever form they can get away with on the international stage is the best course?
GANNON: Yeah. No, I think it’s absolutely the latter and I think that what has happened in Pakistan is the military has worked its way into so many of the civil institutions now in Pakistan—and this is very new for Pakistan in terms of retired generals in the education system, retired generals—serving generals in all the crown corporations. You have a real deep involvement now in the economy of Pakistan. The military is very, very deeply involved in the economy of Pakistan in terms of industry, construction, so they are—what they are doing—what the military is doing is its really working its way into a position of actual virtual control and then hand it over to a civilian face.
And really—you know, civilian rule in Pakistan has never been really given a chance. You think Benazir Bhutto and Navaz Sharif—I mean, the military was always in the background ready to get rid of them after two years, three years and—and try the next one and try the next one, and—I mean, political culture and politicians—it has to develop. It doesn’t you know come in 10 years even, but you know it certainly hasn’t even had that chance, so I think the military is working its way in a very, very calculated way to integrate itself right into the society so that in fact it is—(inaudible).
QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—go back to Afghanistan for a minute and ask if there has been enough institution building in Afghanistan that if anything happened to Hamid Karzai—what happens?
GANNON: There hasn’t been any institution building in Afghanistan and—and that’s the reality of it. I mean, the very foundations of institutions have not been laid. Yes, it is good that that they—they voted in the parliament. Yes it’s good that they had the presidential—and every Afghan will say, yeah, they love to vote. But for Kabul there were 600 candidates that you had to choose from to choose the candidate in Kabul. I mean, it is very difficult. You know, you ask people, "Who’d you vote for?" Well, I hope he is good—you know, (this face ?). I mean—there isn’t—so it—but if you ask Afghans today, they will say, if the international community leaves tomorrow, everything will fall apart.
I mean, it’s a real worry for ordinary Afghans. They sort of feel that a house of cards has been built. You’ve got the very same people who were involved—heavily involved in the drug trade between ’92 and ’96 back in positions of power again in Afghanistan. Yes, Hamid Karzai has moved around, taking a governor from here, put the governor there, but he took for example a governor in Kandahar who was well known to be actually involved in the drug trade, put him in Nangarhar, which is the second largest producer—drug-producing province in the country. It’s like taking the same deck of cards and shuffling it and so the message that it’s business as usual is out there.
I suppose, too, that it’s not business as usual. So I think for many Afghans they believe that any rights that exist today are very fragile and would disappear when the international community disappears.
COLL: If I can just ask another version of that question? One reason why a prospect Hamid Karzai’s sudden loss is so unnerving is because he has to some extent pulled of this very difficult trick of speaking credibly to some Pashtuns because he is himself a Pashtun of a significant family. At the same time he has been able to hold the Northern Alliance—you know, sort of at least keep them off their tanks and out of coup-making mood. And he has been able to liaise with the international community and hold the creditability that any Kabul leadership would require to be the recipient of so much support and aid. And if he were to pass, it is difficult to imagine particularly another Pashtun leader who could attempt such a trick. And I guess I just wanted to ask, where is the next generation of centrist Pashtun leadership going to come from? Is it—is there anybody who was elected to parliament this time around who—who is such a voice in your—
GANNON: Yeah. You know, it’s very difficult. For sure that—you know, the—both sides are not fighting each other and—but they wouldn’t with the international community there, though. I mean, as long as there is foreigners there, the Afghans won’t. They are very patient. They will wait till everybody goes, first off.
And what Hamid Karzai really has done is he has kept it—you know, people say well in—in—for the sake of stability, but it is not a stable country. You have people in positions of power today who are heavily involved in drugs. Have we driven the country into a state of being a narco-state? People say, well, it’s becoming a narco-state, but it is a narco-state.
You have people in power today who have the—the chief justice who is—(unintelligible)—who is deeply—(unintelligible)—and if the international community left tomorrow his interpretation of the constitution would not reflect the rights that people believe that are guaranteed for everybody in Afghanistan. So I think what he is been able to accomplish is maybe not what is on the surface people think he has accomplished. I want to say that first.
And second, is there another generation of—I mean, you have to lay the foundation. Is there another Pashtun that could come up? Unfortunately, the way things that have been laid over the last four years, the Pashtun element has been with Sayyaf. They view Sayyaf as their Pashtun—Sayyaf is a power broker and—whose people were quite vicious when they were in power between ’92 and ’96 and he is really the one that they sort of embraced as saying, okay, we have—you know, the Pashtuns, so it’s worrisome who they would be looking at for the next generation.
Hamid Karzai has said we will not run again. I think, Hamid Karzai believes deeply and has a deep desire for something better for his country, but he has taken none of the tough positions that shows—that sends a message—even just the message that it’s not business as usual in Afghanistan.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Gary Sick (ph). I am curious about—wherever Osama may be, there are sort of three versions of where the al Qaeda is today. One is that they are running from place to place up there in the caves and that they are watching out for their backs but they are not doing anything else. Two is that they’ve established a kind of franchise system where they have covert communications and they are talking to people and there is a lot of decentralization, but it’s still functioning. And the third is that there is lot of copycats; that basically they are out of business, but there are a lot of people sort of imitating al Qaeda and doing things on their own.
Do you have a view on that or any other view in terms of where the Al Qaeda is today in terms of terrorism?
GANNON: Sure. I mean, I think Iraq really is a huge, huge training ground, and it’s so easy for people to move about because they have the language, they can blend in very easily. I think that—I don’t think it’s dead and out of the—you know, been blown out of the water by the—in the last four years. I think it certainly had permeated into a different organization. I think that for sure, you know, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda has become more of a—sort of like an umbrella theme for people, that maybe there are other leaders in different ways that have their selves and aren’t as strong and powerful as maybe bin Laden.
I think it’s much more difficult today because it’s much more, I think, dissipated and I think that today because of Iraq that you do have a real arena in which they can train, they can move, they can recruit. I mean, a lot of recruitments goes on—a tremendous amount of recruitment goes on, people feel that it’s become easier because as this progresses four years down the road there is an increasing sense that if Muslims are targeted—Muslims countries are targeted—you know, Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction but North Korea did. I mean, so I don’t say that’s in anyway the motivator, but I am just saying that there is an increasing sense and so it’s much easier to recruit as a result, so I think it is very different organization today.
COLL: There’s a woman in the back—we’ll just—keep the next one.
QUESTIONER: Hi, it’s Rachel Bronson, Council on Foreign Relations. Good to see you, Kathy. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about financing. Can you talk about the Taliban resurgence, and here the United States it is supposed to be so concerned with terrorism financing. From your interviews, how are they going about their financing, their fundraising? Where is it still coming from? How do they go about doing it now that there is so much attention from the international community? Do you have any sense of that?
GANNON: Yeah, I mean, for sure they are getting money. I mean, there is no question that money is coming in. And I think in the Pakistan-Afghan region that it’s coming in—I mean, people I talked to say that you know like they go out an they will go out to a country where they raise the money and that they will have it brought through traders, they will have it moved in—again, it’s still the informal movement of money where you just get a check and you can move—instead of moving large amounts, you move smaller amounts, you get truckers bringing it in, you get traders bringing it in, so it’s much more decentralized, but I think that there is definitely—you know, the money is still coming in and it’s increasing.
For a while from what people said, initially after September 11th and after the collapse of the Taliban and the bombing, it had reduced considerably, but then it’s really started up again and large amounts coming in. A lot of it brought through traders and through Pakistan, through the—you know and through the trading routes through Pakistan; some through Iran in that way.
QUESTIONER: Kathy, could you just share with us what needs to happen for real economic development opportunities in Afghanistan for it to sustain itself going forward?
GANNON: Well, security. Security is a real big concern and I think that’s really important to encourage investment. There has to be—I mean, in terms of economic development there has to be the institution building, I mean, there has to be the beginnings of the institution building so that you have a judiciary that’s working, that you have you know, systems of government that’s working so they have the capacity to take money coming in and to return it to building industry, developing industry. So I think there is a lot of just very basic works that needs to happen for the economic development. But I think, really, institution building and security before it comes in, you know, and then and investors have to come in with the industries that will employ people to get them jobs, which there are very few. I mean, you have the reconstruction work going on, but once the highway is built, you are out of work again. There aren’t manufacturing industries—you know—the real development of industrial base.
QUESTIONER: Hi, I’m Kimberly Martin from Barnard College at Columbia University. I very much enjoyed the writings of both of you, so it’s a real privilege to have you on the stage.
My question is about how we solve the warlord’s problem now that we’re in the situation that we’re in and particularly I’m wondering if you can comment on the case of Ismail Khan because obviously the Afghan government, the U.S. government, says here is a success case. He’s now in Kabul, he is no longer a warlord, but I haven’t seen anything that talks about whether he is still getting or somebody else is getting all the customs duties that used to come into Herat across the border of Iran.
So is this just a case of reshuffling a deck of cards or is this a success case and what does it say about dealing with other warlords?
GANNON: Ismail Khan now is a minister, the new—
COLL: The Minister of Oil and Mines or something that you would want to be a minister of if you were not—(laughter).
GANNON: Yeah—no, he is Water and Power.
STEVE COLL: Water and Power?
GANNON: Water and Power is his ministry, which allows for a fair bit of revenue. The people who are in charge in Heart—who are actually in charge in Herat are actually his number two and number three people in his organization that are still in charge in Herat.
That isn’t to say though, that more of the customs that’s collected isn’t coming to the federal government, because more is, but there is still a lot—I mean, they were getting $125 per truck coming into Herat and the numbers of trucks coming in from Iran daily—I mean, I remember being out there and there were like hundreds coming in and so it was—it’s a huge amount of money and a huge amount of money for the national exchequer. Some more is coming through to the central government, but not—you know, certainly by no means all of it.
What you do about the warlords? I think you send a message. You don’t send a message by giving him a minister’s job and saying—I mean, I think that some people have to be held accountable. For sure you can. I mean, it’s 20 years; you can’t just say, okay, everybody—you know, we are going to just take all you people out and we are going to—I don’t know—put you in one big cell. For sure you can’t do that, but while the international community is still there, you can send out some messages—you know, make some people accountable.
Their people are not going to take up weapons as long as the international community is there. They are just not. I mean, you know, Afghans don’t—you know, there are afraid of the B-52. You still hear Afghans talking about the B-52. "Well, we can’t. You know, the B-52 will come." And so you know there is that ability to instill a certain amount of the restraint while you send out the message, but if you don’t do it soon, then as the international community withdraws more and more—I mean, already the U.S. is talking about withdrawing it’s—some of it’s troops in the spring. So I think it’s a very, very slow, slow process, but it is a process and it is a process that at some point has to begin.
COLL: Last two questions have captured different versions of this problem, I guess, that the World Bank calls capacity-building and usually we think about that in terms of state capacity and governing capacity and the capacity of bureaucracies to implement policies and distribute aid, build institutions, but I wonder as someone who has been going in and out of Afghanistan for an awfully long time, what is the capacity and the experience of ordinary Afghans to fill up this moment of pause at least that’s been dropped on them by historical events? From—when your friends, people who you have met or known in Pakistan across the border, are those with the means to build houses, construct small businesses, resettle their family, think about the future, are they doing so with any sense of possibility or are most people as worried about the future as it sounds like you are and it might be rational to be? What’s the spirit of ordinary experience, even in the cities, these days?
GANNON: Sure, sure well I think you know, after the collapse of the Taliban, there really was that. I mean, people did go back and they really did have that sense of optimism and they really did sort of think that, okay, and now we will move forward and things will be different and—you know, people talked about. I mean, there were a lot of investment possibilities and people are talking about going into construction work and that.
But really four years on, it’s just ordinary people who say—you know, I mean, they are really worried because they think that if the international community leaves tomorrow, the whole place will collapse. They see a lot of their expectations, albeit maybe their expectations were too high in the first place, but still their expectations weren’t even marginally met in terms of the reconstruction, in terms of nation-building, institution-building, real key institutions that—you know, which show that, okay, now if you go in and you want to reclaim that piece of land that your father had had, your grandfather had had, that you would be able to. You know, you have got all the papers, everything. You’d be able to go in and say, okay this is my—you know, I’ve got all the papers and I’m come to rebuild my life and my family here in Afghanistan. You couldn’t even get that piece of land, you know. First, somebody else will have taken it. Second, you don’t have the—you can’t go to the courts to implement it because somebody will be a friend of somebody and they are not going to give it back to you or they will just outright not give it back to you or threaten you, and so you don’t get it back. Or else you fight and fight and fight and fight, day in and day out to try and get that piece. You’ve really have got to be committed to get that piece back, and you might or you might not, you know.
So I think four years on what you were saying is true: that’s exactly how people did feel and they really—and in a way it’s been a bit of a kind of a dirty trick played on ordinary Afghans four years on because what they expected really wasn’t what was given or even—you know, the commitment really wasn’t there from the very beginning because, I think, resources were looking else—were needed elsewhere.
COLL: Yes, ma’am?
QUESTIONER: Without projecting Western values too much, how do you assess the role—how do you assess the future for women in Afghanistan? Is there a hint that education is improving and will it happen over the long term and will there be a slow creep of improved education and influence in the society, or is it just bonkers for everybody or is it all over or do you have a sense of the future, although I’m now projecting Western values?
GANNON: No, no, that’s fair enough. I mean, for sure that there are some schools. Women are more involved today, but the problem is, is that the future guarantees for their rights they are guaranteed in the constitution—it was very clear that it was put in the constitution to say citizens, men and women, you know, so that they—you have to have a guarantee of the institutions that ensures that those rights will be protected so that tomorrow some similar version of the Taliban doesn’t take power and then it’s gone. I think it’s very worrisome that the chief justice is a very regressive individual and is a—and controls the judiciary despite the fact that he is over the age limit, he is regressive, his—I think that’s very problematic insomuch because it shows that the commitment to a judiciary that is progressive or even that is to be developed to protect rights and to guarantee that the constitution is interpreted in a fair way is suspect because the judiciary is controlled by someone who is really very regressive, so I think that’s my concern.
COLL: In front, here.
QUESTIONER: John Temple Swing. I would like to ask you a bit about the economy on a different side you haven’t mentioned yet and that’s the poppy trade. We know that Afghanistan’s major export is opium and 90 percent of world’s opium now comes from Afghanistan, I believe, but what is the future of that as far as these the state of the Afghan economy?
GANNON: Well, I mean it’s a huge part of the Afghan economy, but the danger with that is that it’s all in the hands of the criminal elements, which—who actually control the administration to a large extent. So, I mean, it’s problematic for Afghanistan. It’s problematic for the region. It’s growing. It’s of concern because it’s becoming more organized. It’s being grown in areas that weren’t previously under cultivation. It’s more organized because land is actually being leased by big drug lords to grow poppies. There is—and it’s unlikely that the poppy production could be mainstreamed in terms of using it for export and legitimate because the UN Office of Drugs and Crime says that there are three countries that do officially produce opium for opiates in the medical industry and there really isn’t a room there for another and for Afghanistan, so as a legitimate trade it’s unlikely that that would happen.
And from an economic perspective, it just increases the lawlessness in the country and the insecurity and it puts a lot of wealth in the hands of very few and so it really isn’t a plus for the Afghan economy although it’s heavily dependent on the drug trade. I hope I answered that.
QUESTIONER: Phil Gates, a lawyer. I’m very pessimistic about what you’ve been saying. I have heard no plan that you would like to see if you had waved the magic wand with our and the free world’s—the World Bank, the World Trade—what could we do to keep our presence there because if our presence is so important—what can the world bodies do to convince the Afghans that we are going to stay? Even if we don’t stay in the force, that we can gather other nations and make the world community know that if we don’t stay and try to help institutionalize some of these things, it’s all going to go back to worse? What could—what could we do? If you were with the president, what would you do?
GANNON: All right. I think there is no magic wand and this is a problem. It really does take real commitment to bring about a change and that commitment wasn’t there from the beginning. That real commitment wasn’t there from the beginning either in terms of numbers, in terms of money, in terms of—you know, so really there isn’t a wave the magic wand and come up with something.
I think that there has to be a commitment of resources, but resources are finite and resources are spread very thin in terms of military resources, first. Okay, they’re spread very thin. Financial resources—they’re trying to turn over to NATO in terms of getting more international countries involved and NATO is certainly—is involved, but it fluctuates. The countries aren’t willing to give over more people. You know, sometimes they say, "Yes. Oh yes, there’s 10,000 here that can come from Turkey," and then they are not available and so it’s—I think really as far Afghanistan is concerned there really wasn’t that commitment right at the very outset.
And CARE did a survey that said that despite all the talk and the promise of assistance and everything that it was like $50 per capita given to Afghans versus you know, $500 per capita to Kosovo after the war, so, I mean, I think the initial commitment, the job of policing the army was handed over very early to the very people who were problematic in the first place and it’s very difficult now to pull back.
I think the answer is a real commitment—an international commitment. I don’t know that that’s going to happen because I don’t know if the resources are available at this point, okay.
COLL: Why don’t we take about two more questions and then we will call it in an evening.
QUESTIONER: John Sifton with Human Rights Watch.
GANNON: Hi, John.
QUESTIONER: We’ve been talking a lot about the future and that’s all I do at work is talk about Afghanistan’s future, so I’m going to ask you about Afghanistan’s past. Can you tell us the most either funny or embarrassing moment covering Afghanistan or Pakistan in the last 15 to 20 years?
GANNON: Funny or embarrassing? No. (Laughter.) I mean, there’s been a lot of kind of bizarre moments, you know, where—you know, near escapes and stuff. I mean, there has been some horrific incidences. You know, there’s been lots of arguments with Taliban and fights with Taliban at front lines and their offices, but you sort of have to be there to appreciate the humor of it. I think it might get lost in the storytelling, but basically there’s been lot of amusing times during the Taliban, and even during the previous—there’ve been a lot of tragic moments, too.
Sorry, that was a crummy answer, John, and I apologize.
COLL: Last question there—left.
QUESTIONER: Nancy (Byrd ?), Council on Foreign Relations. I was struck by your comments about the resurgence of the Taliban resulting partly because the Pashtuns weren’t accepted in the Afghan army and there seems to be a parallel there with Iraq in terms of the de-Ba’athification. Once you’ve gone partway down that path, is there any going back? Is there any way to actually get disaffected people into the process and the army and the government again?
GANNON: Sure, sure. And attempts are being made, because they certainly realize that those opportunities were squandered and mistakes were made and the result being that the alienation of an entire ethnic group. It’s very difficult then—you know, at different times—you know, a year after the fall, two years after the fall, you talk to people and they would say, "Well, you know, we’re—we’ve got this narrow window. We’ve got to really do something in this narrow window now," and then that passes and nothing is done.
Certainly Hamid Karzai has tried to bring back like Minister Wakil, the former Taliban Foreign Minister and sort of trying to say, Pashtuns—and embrace Pashtuns more openly and talk in terms of bringing Pashtuns in, so attempts are being made.
It’s very difficult over—you know, to gain that lost ground, but attempts are being made. Now you know, it’s difficult. The Pashtuns are—you know, you still have operations going on. There’s a lot of anger now at the international community. There is—so while attempts are being made and I’m sure there’s some incremental progress because you know, they do want to see—I think it’s still a difficult road ahead. That wasn’t a very good answer, I know.
COLL: No, it was a very good answer. Thank you, Kathy, very, very much. I apologize to the several people I didn’t have a chance to call on, but I’m sure that Kathy would be happy to talk privately with you as the evening continues.
And I’d just like to finish, Kathy, by congratulating you on the book, but also on the body of work that stands behind it. I think there’s a lot of discussion in this country about how the United States can improve its ability to hear and read events across the oceans through the mechanisms of intelligence collection and diplomacy, but it’s journalists like yourself who stay put in a place and stay committed to it for a long period of time and work with both passion and impartiality who ultimately provide this society and readers all around the world, not just American readers, with the information that allows at least some eyesight and empathy in a place like Afghanistan, which otherwise would fall off the map. So I just congratulate you. I’m thrilled for you with this book and join everyone else and thank you for spending some time. (Applause.)
GANNON: Thank you. Thank you very much.
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