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Media Conference Call: U.S. Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Speaker: Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow For India, Pakistan, and South Asia, CFR
Moderator: Kim Barker, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow, CFR
February 25, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations

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KIM BARKER: Welcome to everybody who's on the line right now. I'm Kim Barker, and I'm just going to start out by asking some questions of Dan, and then we'll open it up to questions from the journalists.

First of all, Dan, you just got back from a one-week trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan. We've read a lot lately and heard a lot about the arrest and capture of Mullah Baradar and some other leading figures from the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. And I'm wondering what you're hearing about what this says about the ISI relationship with the U.S. and whether this actually means that Pakistan is now turning its back and turning against the Afghan Taliban.

DANIEL MARKEY: Yeah. Well, that was the buzz over there. You know, the first big arrest had taken place, I guess, days before we arrived, and people were just still very much trying to make sense of it.

I should start by saying, in Kabul, senior Afghan officials -- you know, speaking off the record -- but expressed complete disbelief that this arrest of Baradar or any of the others had any strategic meaning whatsoever. Their deep suspicion of Pakistani motives and activities certainly persists.

And so to the extent that they saw anything here, they were reading between the lines and looking for evidence of a Pakistan conspiracy, and you've been, you know, you're reading about this in the papers in terms of, you know, were the Pakistanis trying to take these guys off the table so that they wouldn't come and negotiate or do anything constructive or so that they could be controlled or protected or something else by the ISI.

So that was the state of mind in, certainly many quarters and influential quarters in Kabul.

And in Islamabad, I can say that we were strongly cautioned not to read too much into this when it comes to a broader Pakistani shift in strategic intent. This isn't to say that these -- this is not bad news. This is largely good news, and I don't think people were buying into the Afghan conspiracy that I just laid out entirely, but they certainly weren't to say that this was a major breakthrough in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in quite the way that some of the more enthusiastic lines have come out here in Washington.

So I'd say somewhere in between. It probably has more to do with tactical-level cooperation. The New York Times has been reporting some of this sort of thing just sort of working-level ISI, CIA cooperation that may be bearing fruit but may not actually be indicative of a higher-order shift in intention to the Pakistani side.

BARKER: On the other side of the border in Afghanistan, we were just talking briefly about the idea that you're seeing some positive signs, at least, when it comes to the U.S. military and what's been happening there.

Can you talk a bit about those positive signs? And can you also talk a bit about what you're seeing on the other side as far as any sort of civilian surge is concerned?

MARKEY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, this was, for me, was one of the more compelling take-homes from the trip was the idea that we may be seeing a shift in momentum from a very gloomy and grim period after the elections. I was in Kabul right after the first round of presidential elections, and I have to say the place was just very, very low morale and expectations wise.

And this time, I was impressed on the military side. Certainly, they have -- and it's a question of resources and manpower and a sense that they have a strategy that, while not tried and true, at least gives a lot of them confidence that they are moving in the right direction.

So this is not momentum in a positive sense that's borne out by clear evidence. It's a sense that, finally, there are troops, leadership, strategy, and money available to do this war the right way, so to speak. And I can just say, in terms of my own perception of things on the military side, it's relatively limited, but I've been -- you know, I worked at the State Department '03 to '07 and watched Afghanistan from Washington and never saw anything close to what we're seeing now in terms of the quality of people and the level of funding and resources. And it makes a big difference in terms of what people can even set as expectations.

We had a good briefing from the NTMA, those who are responsible on the ISAF side for training the Afghan national army and police. And they are spending an enormous amount of money rapidly, and they're seeing results in terms of significantly greater numbers of recruits coming in, higher quality recruits. They are paying the ANA and ANP at levels that are now basically equivalent to what they believe the Taliban is offering.

So some things are changing there on the military side. They are optimistic about the military operation in Marja. And the real question then shifts over to the civilian side. And there, too, this uplift or surge -- civilian surge -- is also offering opportunities to do things that even six or nine months ago would simply have been inconceivable.

We went down to Kandahar. We went to the Arghandab River Valley area and got an excellent briefing from U.S. civilians who are based there, agriculture and OTI, part of USAID and State. And what they are bringing to bear in the way of resources, largely tens of thousands of dollars, small projects, outreach to local officials, is not stunning but it is -- well, infinitely more than what used to be there.

So, you know, all of this is encouraging. It's not evidence of success, but it may be evidence that we're turning a corner.

BARKER: One last question from me before I open it up because I get that prerogative being the moderator.

You've got President Karzai. Obviously, he had huge charges of fraud during the election. He's now our central government partner in Afghanistan, and you just have him basically taking control of the election commission, saying he's going to nominate people.

In other words, not really indicating that he wants to change how he's been doing business at all. How do people feel in Kabul, the western diplomats you talk to, how do they feel about Karzai as president and Karzai being our partner over there?

MARKEY: Yeah. Now, so far, I focused on some of the positive elements. Karzai doesn't fall into that category. And the relationship between international forces and, in particular, U.S. officials and Karzai is not significant the better nor did I get the impression that they enjoy significantly greater leverage with him than they did earlier.

That relationship -- there were little bits and pieces here and there that were positive. General McChrystal's effort to bring Karzai into the planning and the authorization of the Marja operation is a positive because that's something that hadn't been happening before.

And more of that sort of thing may bring Karzai more into the realm of what we would consider a commander-in-chief role. But it's bits and pieces. And the other evidence is almost uniformly negative with respect to what Karzai is doing and how he perceives his relationship with the United States.

In particular, I was fairly troubled by what I was hearing about the reconciliation efforts by Karzai. I don't feel that I really understand what to make of reconciliation as he conceives it. Clearly, he's reaching out to relatively senior people on the Taliban side and having discussions, but it's not clear that Washington or other members of the international community have weighed in as to what they believe are the red lines or proper boundaries with respect to negotiations with the Taliban.

And the confusion that has resulted and the kind of rumors and apprehensions that have emerged among Afghans who are not Pashtuns, among Pakistanis, and among, I should say, U.S. officials are significant. So we have big problems with Karzai and, if I could add one further point, the Marja operation is seen as a potential model that then might be exported to the Kandahar area.

And if that's the case, we'll be running head up against Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose base of operations is even more entrenched in and around Kandahar. How we are going to deal with that and how that fighting and how post-fighting civilian administration efforts are actually going to bear fruit in the face of what everybody believes to be fairly corrupt governance, ineffective governance led by Ahmed Wali Karzai and others who are current there and who are on Karzai's team, so to speak, is not clear.

So Karzai's still a big obstacle would be the bottom line.

BARKER: Right. With that, we'll open it up to questions. Please identify yourself and your organization and ask one question at a time.

MARKEY: If I could just make a plea to the folks on the phone, we're getting a lot of echo, so I don't know if somebody has a speaker on or something like that. We're getting feedback. So just I hope somebody can fix that.

Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Dan. I'm Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad.

MARKEY: Hi. How are you?

QUESTIONER: Fine. I believe you also were in Pakistan and met with senior officials both at the security and political level. And as you know, the foreign secretary's meeting has just finished in New Delhi, and Indian commentators are already writing it off saying the Pakistani foreign secretary had said India doesn't lecture to us and, also, brought up the issue of terrorism at all.

In your meetings over in Islamabad, was there any kind of acknowledgement or any kind of dissipation, sort of dilution of the fact that India still remains sort of the primary security threat? Or that there is certainly this sort of existential internal terrorism threat because, obviously, the foreign secretary talks haven't gone off too well where India was expecting something more in terms of Pakistan trying to get a handle on the terrorism. But apparently, nothing had been brought up.

MARKEY: Yeah. We did actually have a chance to meet with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir in Islamabad. And while I can't really characterize those discussions in detail, I can say that, across the board, there is, to my eye, relatively little shift in Pakistani attitudes about what India represents.

But there is certainly an understanding and a fear, a palpable fear that what happened after Mumbai -- after the last terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008 -- could happen again and would be very, very dangerous for Pakistan. So there's a desire to try to get out of the post-Mumbai rut, but that doesn't reflect some deeper shift in attitudes about, you know, the purported threat that India represents to Pakistan.

So I don't see a big shift there inside, and I think the foreign secretary's comments in New Delhi reflect a prickliness on the part of the Islamabad to, I think he said, being sermonized or something like that.

QUESTIONER: Yeah.

MARKEY: And that was pretty clear while we were there.

So they're open to talks, and they see talks as a way to try to reduce tensions with India, but they don't want to be pushed around.

And one further point, the political dynamic is Islamabad is starting to become a little bit clearer. We showed up in the midst of what seemed to be another crisis between the president and the chief justice and a question about whether this finally would be Zardari's last stand.

And, you know, that got resolved with more of a whimper than a bang.

QUESTIONER: Yeah.

MARKEY: And I think revealed what may be a relatively steady-state situation, which is to say, recurrent crises don't necessarily upset an underlying balance or equilibrium where the Pakistani military and intelligence essentially call the shots on foreign and defense policy, which has, you know, historically been the case.

And their position, which is a harder-line, more hawkish position, will be echoed by civilian authorities from the foreign secretary to the prime minister to the president. So you'll get less in the way of people on different pages and more civilians essentially towing the army's line. And that's, I think, what we're hearing in some of the kind of -- the pushing back by the foreign secretary in New Delhi sounds a lot like what we have traditionally heard out of the Pakistani army.

QUESTIONER: And a quick follow-up. Is there still this paranoia about India's role in Afghanistan?

MARKEY: The short answer would be yes, there is. And I think this -- really, I didn't see any significant shift there either. This is brought up -- I think it was brought up more frequently and more shrilly in the period shortly after Mumbai and has gradually dissipated.

I think that this was taken up as an argument for, well, if India is suffering attacks, we're suffering as well. So it was more of an arguing point than anything else. It didn't have to get deployed quite so much on this visit, but I think it's still widely believed.

QUESTIONER: Thanks.

BARKER: Let's try to keep everybody to one question at first so that everybody has a chance to go through questions before we start asking second questions. Okay?

MARKEY: Great.

BARKER: Next question?

QUESTIONER: Sure. Can I go ahead?

BARKER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Sure. This is Shaun Tandon with AFP.

I just wanted to see if you could expand a little bit on the remarks you made earlier on potential ISI cooperation, potential Pakistani intelligence cooperation. You're saying that, you know, there's a reason to be somewhat caution with saying that the page has been turned.

I mean, what's your assessment -- if you could just expand on that. I mean, strategically speaking, do you think that the ISI sees some sort of motivation to be working with the U.S. and with the Afghans on counterterrorism, or do they see their interests as being quite different?

MARKEY: Well, the cooperation at the tactical level, that is working-level cooperation, between the ISI and CIA, you know, elements of that have been put into place -- were put into place shortly after 9/11. And that kind of persistent counter terror effort, I think, may explain -- and I should be careful here because I don't know for sure and I am not privy to enough information to be sure.

But my sense is that, at that working level, parts of the ISI cooperate with the CIA and have been doing so for years now. And that some of these arrests may indicate more effective efforts by the CIA as much as by any shift within the ISI.

Now, like I say, that's impossible to prove or disprove, but that's the sense that I have. That doesn't mean that higher-ups within the ISI have come to a conclusion that certain people need to be taken off the map or arrested or anything else. It may mean that, in the standard work of regular business, they were able to get, in this case, Baradar and then follow up on that and get several others in breaks that may be the result of increased resources and sustained activity on the part of both of those agencies over time. That's just my sense.

QUESTIONER: Sure. Thanks.

BARKER: Okay. Next question?

QUESTIONER: This is Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Can you hear me?

MARKEY: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Do you have any sense of whether there has been a more, for example, U.S. intelligence sharing recently with Pakistan and that that may be part of the contributing factor?

MARKEY: Well, yes. There certainly has been an effort to enhance intelligence sharing and cooperation. This has happened -- it's more evident or more apparent to me when it comes to Pakistani military operations along the border with Afghanistan and less apparent to me when it comes to higher-ordinary terrorist targeting of the sort that we've been hearing so much about just over the past few days.

But when it comes to surveillance, reconnaissance, and making sense of what you can see from above, aerial imagery and so on, it is fairly clear that the Pakistanis are getting some assistance from the United States and that they probably need a great deal more. And over time, assuming that there is an increased degree of trust on both sides, that is likely to happen. And that's sort of what appears to be on the minds of our military leadership based in Islamabad is that they have a lot that they can offer the Pakistanis, but it's been a matter of lacking trust either for some time that the Pakistanis would use some of this information improperly but then, increasingly and more recently, the Pakistanis haven't always been willing to take what's been on offer. They've been skeptical or very sensitive to sovereignty concerns and that getting past that is a matter of building, as I heard repeatedly, building personal relationships which they're working on which take time.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

BARKER: Next question? Anyone? Okay. I will follow up with a question then.

You were talking about the idea of Marja and its significance right now and how it could be a model for what happens. Can you talk about this whole idea of a government in a box and about how this -- what happened after the offensive is going to supposedly be different from what's happened in the past after past offenses?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. We had a few interesting conversations about that. I still don't feel like I have a complete handle on, certainly, on how well it's going to work. And I've heard some anecdotes that lead me to be concerned.

But, you know, government in a box is something that the civilian side and, certainly, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, they don't like the term. They think it's a whole lot -- it's far too crude, simplistic, and probably doesn't express what they feel that they're after. But the basic idea is that they can rush in immediately after the fighting or even as fighting is dying down, civilian authorities who can pick up and fill the vacuum that's being left by the Taliban as they depart or as they're forced out.

And this has included injection of a local direct-level governor, a mayor. This includes hiring local staff that will work for him and can be brought in quickly to manage the various aspects of civilian administration in Marja.

The civilian officials that we talked to in Kabul explained that this has been going on for some period of time; that they, you know, required getting down to the area, advertising job openings, doing recruiting and limited training but kind of getting people up to speed and assembling a U.S. and international team of civilian officials who can go in and be a part of this effort very quickly.

That's the idea. It is -- it has been, I should say, also, to some degree, at least symbolically, bolstered by visits by senior-level Afghan officials, ministers. The minister of interior was down there, I believe. The minister of defense went down to Helmand as well to sort of proclaim their involvement in the planning and operational aspects of the campaign. And, of course, those are the ministries from which the local-level civil administrators will receive their resources through the Afghan government. That's how it works.

So trying to draw the connections between the new local government and the line ministries that have access to the pots of money up in Kabul is a big part of this effort. So that's the idea of the government in a box. It's a big test because, in most of Afghanistan, when military operations have taken place in the past, we have basically failed that test of backfilling with civilian authority, holding the area, and then creating opportunities for economic development over the longer term.

So this is -- and I think everybody -- there was a strong consensus that the military component of the Marja operation was very limited in terms of its significance relative to -- of course, if there had been significantly greater civilian casualties, that might have been different. But the military side is less important than what happens next with the civilian side.

BARKER: You mention the idea of civilian casualties. What's different about how NATO is handling allegations of civilian casualties now versus, say, you know, before McChrystal arrived or even just a few months ago?

MARKEY: Well, it's clear, just in the latest incident with the aerial bombing of -- I guess 27 civilians were killed or thereabouts. McChrystal came out very quickly and apologized for that. That's meaningful because his predecessor wasn't able to move quite that rapidly, and the messages were mixed. Even McChrystal wasn't able to move as quickly on earlier go-arounds. With the Germans, things took longer to try to sort out.

So that's a positive sign. The rules of engagement are significantly different for the operation in Marja. There's been a fair amount of reporting on that. And some grumbling among those who are watching or suggesting that the U.S. forces are subjecting themselves to significantly greater risk because of those changed rules of engagement.

But I think there's a pretty -- or I would say a very strong consensus with U.S. military leadership that this is the right way to go. Just as a sort of a related example, I can say that, a very limited anecdote, in terms of my own driving around in Kabul with a military escort, this time, I can say that they were markedly more respectful of local driving rules than I have ever seen before. It was stunning actually. Slow and steady, letting people cross, not sort of just ramming our way through traffic and pushing people aside.

This is a big change. You know, it's hard to say whether all of these things together will be quite enough, but it's certainly, I think, a change for the better.

BARKER: Great. Any other questions out there?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Can we have a second round? I'm Aziz Haniffa once again, Dan.

Dan, coming back to the India-Pakistan situation vis-a-vis Afghanistan, you know, Mike Mullen, for instance, on several occasions, has been talking about the fact that, you know, this sort of very contentious issue of referring to Kashmir but, of course, in terms of the whole India-Pakistan composite dialogue returning to what it was is essential in terms of even a U.S. strategy because it could probably call for the removal of troops from the border.

Where do you see this going? Do you have any optimism in terms of not just the composite dialogue being resurrected but the whole issue of this issue which the U.S. privately and publicly has said it's very essential in terms of even the U.S. strategy and the strategy in Afghanistan in general.

MARKEY: Yeah. Well, with respect to the overall kind of process of normalization and addressing the Kashmir dispute and so on, while it didn't figure as prominently in this particular trip, I can say that, personally, I am actually relatively optimistic about it because the basic structures in terms of interests and opportunities and trend lines that were apparent to President Musharraf several years ago and to both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and to Prime Minister Vajpayee before him are still in place.

That is, that India is a rising power and has achieved that on the back of economic growth and is looking for ways to assert itself on the world stage and perceives that its dispute with Pakistan could be existential as a threat but also is an obstacle to India's continued rise and an obstacle that needs to be removed.

Pakistan, for its part, I think, has come to the recognition that the sorts of tools that it's tried to use in the past -- militancy, proxy war, terrorism, and appeals to the international community for referenda and so on -- have not yielded results and are unlikely to change the ground realities in terms of the basic demarcation on the map and the situation of the people in Kashmir.

Having reached those conclusions, the only thing left is to try to figure out a relatively good, face-saving way for both sides to declare victory and go on with their business. And I think that's basically where we were a couple of years ago.

That may not be popular in all quarters, and it certainly isn't in Pakistan, and some in India won't like it either. But that's basically where we were, and that's basically where we would be today, if not for the fact of weak and uncertain leadership in Islamabad which has not been able to pursue this.

And an army which has been inclined, under General Kayani, to want to keep its nose clean and not to go out on a limb in ways that might be unpopular because it had reached such a low level of popularity under the -- at the tail end of the Musharraf years.

So it's a matter of timing. So not so much whether but when, and the when probably won't happen as long as we continue to see these Mumbai-like events that set back the Indian side and keep them from being able to negotiate with the Pakistanis for good reason or on the Pakistani side, as long as we don't have a civilian leadership that is truly confident in its ability to do a deal or an army leadership that feels like, politically, it can weather such a deal and that it's in its interests. We don't have that right now.

So the best I think we can hope for in the near term is a return to formal dialogues because those are a good mechanism for reducing some of the tension between the two countries even if they don't actually begin to resolve, in any final sense, the dispute.

BARKER: Great. Any other questions out there? Anyone out there?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Hello?

BARKER: Yes?

QUESTIONER: I'm calling from Berlin, Germany. Elizabeth Pond, a freelance author and journalist.

And I'd like to ask about the police in a box that are moving in. Where are they coming from? Are they local? Are they Pashtun? Are they trained?

MARKEY: Yeah. You know, I have to admit that I don't have specifics on the police that are being brought into Marja. I can speak, though, to the broader ANP training situation.

And my presumption is that they would be brought in as a part of this larger ANP Afghan national police training effort. And in that area, they lag way behind the ANA or the army in terms of their training. They have, for a long time, been under resourced. They have lacked the numbers of trainers that they needed.

And until relatively recently, they were also significantly under paid, which led to a lot of incentives for corruption among the police. What I was briefed on in terms of plans and in terms of what is already being implemented, I think I mentioned before, their salaries have been increased so that they are now similar to those of the ANA and also similar to what the Taliban is offering.

So I think that may help reduce the incentives for corruption. Increasing numbers of trainers are being partnered in place with the police. So when we were briefed in Kandahar about police training efforts, they were able to point out where they had embedded training teams put in with the police.

And this is all very recently. This is not something that has existed before. And the hope and expectation is that, by having trainers working and essentially living side by side with the police, they will also cut down dramatically on police behavior that's been so alienated for the local populations and made them so unpopular; you know, illegal roadblocks, shaking down civilians, all kinds of other things that really give the police a bad name.

So that's what's being planned, and there's a lot of money in the pipeline for it. There still are not nearly enough trainers, and there's a general plea out to, for instance, the Europeans, to provide significantly greater numbers of trainers. But so far, that is not happening. So we're still probably -- I think the number was something like a thousand trainers below before we would need to be to be undertaking the effort as it's currently planned.

And, of course, the plan is to get the Afghan national police up to about 134,000 in total and that's, I believe, a long ways to go from where we are now.

So this is going to be a tough climb, but there are some significant changes now in terms of resources and so on that weren't in place even, say, six months ago. So that, at least, is encouraging.

BARKER: Great. Next question? Anyone out there?

Well, let's flip over to the Pakistan side then. When you were in Pakistan, what did you find the mood to be of Pakistanis regarding America? Obviously, you know, you've had this recent Kerry-Lugar bill go through, some objections to it in Pakistan. How did you find the mood to be in Pakistan with relation to America?

MARKEY: Well, it's never great. As I mentioned, I was in the region in late October, and at that point, it was shortly after the Kerry-Lugar situation, and things were pretty ugly. And pretty much everywhere I went, I got a real earful about why Kerry-Lugar was, in some way, denigrating to Pakistani national interests or to their national pride, in some sense, and why it was unnecessary and so on and so forth.

This time, a lot of that has dissipated which doesn't necessarily mean that the underlying concerns about the United States have gone away. I don't believe that they have. It's just particular irritant has past.

The other point that was made repeatedly with respect to Kerry-Lugar was that it got wrapped up in a wider political debate that actually had relatively little to do with the United States. It kind of got pulled into a civil-military dispute that also brought in the opposition political party under Nawaz Sharif, all ganging up against the president, Asif Zardari, and the prime minister and their party, the PPP.

So probably more than meets the eye the last go-around. This time, at least that story seems to have gone away. But the general sense that the United States is not to be trusted is still strong. There is a concern, certainly, that the United States has tilted too far to the Indian side, and repeatedly, people spoke of the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal. This is not new, but this is seen as evidence that the United States -- its sympathies actually lie with New Delhi and, therefore, the U.S. shouldn't be trusted.

There are, you know, arguments about which Pakistan should, itself, have some sort of a similar nuclear deal with the United States. Things like that.

So I guess sort good news in terms of it wasn't as bad as the last time I was there. Bad news is the underlying concerns about partnership with the United States, I think, are still quite evident.

BARKER: Any questions out there?

QUESTIONER: Hello?

BARKER: Yes. Do you have a question?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Elizabeth Pond again.

I'm sorry. I missed the beginning of this. I hope you haven't addressed this already.

But what level of talks with the Taliban or contact with the Taliban does the U.S. seem to want when you're there on the ground? Only defectors in the village, not senior commanders? How about local commanders?

MARKEY: Yeah. I guess what I can say about reintegration and reconciliation is that there is a pretty clear and strong consensus among U.S. and other coalition forces that reintegration makes all the sense in the world and they're pursuing that to the extent that they can; that bringing low-level fighters, even low-level commanders, back in, trying to buy them off, providing them with opportunities to come back into the local economy and so on. All that is fairly uncontroversial.

But the debate has clearly moved onto the question of reconciliation, that being higher-order negotiations with Taliban, former Taliban and associates. And there, I would say confusion reigns.

You know, it's certainly not clear precisely where Karzai is going with this. I think a lot of U.S. and other internationals are concerned that he may be taking it in a direction that is good for his own personal interests, maybe good for the interests of his brother and several other Pashtun power brokers in the south and the east but maybe very detrimental to the interests of the north and west and non-Pashtuns in general; and that it may also be that he's looking for deals that would ultimately undermine U.S. -- and, you know, we've got some British outlooks on this -- U.S. and U.K. goals for Afghanistan and would threaten the core mission which, at the very least, is to preserve of Afghanistan that will be less likely to provide safe haven to international terrorists in the future.

And leaving aside, even, other concerns about human rights, women's rights, and so on, which are quite pervasive and which are directed tied to the idea of bringing back, you know, some of the worst of the Taliban leadership.

So, again, confusion reigns, and I think that confusion also translates into concern and also confusion and possibly worse on the Pakistani side of the border where they don't know what to make of this. They have been repeatedly told by the United States not to make deal with the Taliban. They are roundly chastised for allowing Taliban to have haven in Pakistan and not doing more about it. And here we see the Afghans themselves trying to do deals with the Taliban.

At least a mixed message here and possibly worse. So this needs to get hammered out. And I got a pretty strong sense of the worries and concerns along these lines while I was there.

QUESTIONER: As a quick follow-up to that, what are the concerns in terms of how the ethnic -- other ethnic groups are viewing this in terms of, say, how the Hazaras or the Tajiks or the Uzbeks and viewing what's happening in all this talk about negotiations, whether they're arming themselves or if there's fear if they're going to do so.

MARKEY: There is concern that they will. And I cannot break it down by ethnic group or by particular leader. We can't have enough time to really explore it at that kind of depth, but we did get an overview about the kind of conversations that are being had in the non-Pashtun communities, and they are scared about what this looks like. There has always been a kind of a concern that Karzai is not quite the figure of national unity that his symbolic attire might lead you to believe or that a lot of the rhetoric would lead you to believe -- the kind of rhetoric that we heard years back -- that he may, fact, simply be a Pashtun tribal leader who is looking to do well by his Pashtun tribal colleagues and everybody else will have to make their own way.

And we did not -- personally, I didn't get the sense that this is already leading to a massive shift in terms of hedging bets, buying arms, preparing for another round of civil war. No, I didn't hear that. What I did hear was, well, that would be the natural consequence if this continues to go down this path and we continue to be lacking a confidence in what Karzai is really up to.

So it's not here now, but it is a threat that could play into the next months and year.

BARKER: All right. Any other questions out there?

QUESTIONER: Hello?

BARKER: Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Okay. I'll ask another one then.

After 30 years of civil war and the kind of disintegration that occurs then, are the various tribes still coherent enough to make deals with tribal leaders? Or is that a thing of the past?

MARKEY: Well, look, I wouldn't -- I'm not a sociologist and not a true student of the Afghan tribes, but I think you are correct in identifying the weakness of analysis that is too heavily based on what had historically been stronger tribal structures and have been unraveled both by years of fighting and by the intrusion of foreign elements as well as sort of the breakdown in tribal structures promoted by the rise of mullahs. And so powerbrokers who are not themselves necessarily simply tribal leaders but derive their power from other sources, drug lords, and so on.

So that's part of the story. So I think when we talk about the negotiating with tribal leaders, we mean a variety of different things. And sometimes, it's just shorthand for negotiating with powerbrokers, whether they're tribal -- their power is derived from their tribal authority or from something else and they just happen to have a vaguely tribal component to the way that they govern.

At the more local level, I think -- in some, you know, highly localized situations, you know, villages and things like that -- then we're often talking about still, you know, tribal or village elders. And so it's a little more of the traditional structure. But when we're talking in a much more senior level, we're talking about Taliban leaders -- not necessarily tribal -- and we're talking about drug leaders and those who have gotten rich off the smuggling and other things.

So it's a much more differentiated power structure, social hierarchy than I think just simply tribal would lead us to believe.

BARKER: Any other questions? Okay.

If there are no other questions, then I think it's fair to wrap this up unless you have anything else to add, Dan.

MARKEY: No. I think -- I guess -- well, one little bit which hasn't come up so far.

We had a number of conversations about the Obama administration's -- about Obama's West Point speech and his July 2011 date and the implications of that.

BARKER: Right.

MARKEY: And I actually thought it was kind of interesting because I was one of those who was somewhat bothered by that date. I understood it. I understood the political necessity of it here in the United States. But I assumed that it was going to play very poorly in the region, especially in Pakistan, in terms of their assessment of what our staying power and commitment might be and how that would influence their behavior.

And although I still have some concerns along those lines, there were also some positive elements to that announcement of a so-called deadline, although it's such a sort of a vague deadline and indeterminate what exactly it means.

But one of the most important pieces of it was what we were hearing with respect to the training and recruitment of the Afghan national security forces and the fact that they have massively increased the tempo and, it seems, the energy behind that mobilization effort. And a lot of it seems to be tied to seeing that July 2011 date, not as a drop-dead date, but as a date that will essentially signify the end of this surge in money and resources available to building up the ANSF.

So they're seeing that as a significant planning deadline. After that point, they anticipate having a very significant drop off in terms of money that will be available to them to build and train and sustain the force. And that may be a good thing. That may have gotten a fire underneath some of them where they were previously somewhat more lackadaisical. And that's necessary to really get that project going.

So there may be a silver lining to this, perhaps, not planned in the region that I certainly hadn't anticipated to begin with.

So I just wanted to add that piece to the discussion.

BARKER: Is there any danger at all, though, of any of the Afghan leaders seeing this as, okay, we've got that much longer to take money? You know? Obviously, there's been a lot of allegations of corruption.

MARKEY: Absolutely. But a tend to believe that they were up to that anyway.

BARKER: Right.

MARKEY: So I don't think they needed an incentive. (Laughs.) I think that was painfully evident. And, you know, the continued stories about the extent to which U.S. assistance money and even security-oriented money somehow ends up in the hands of the Taliban in terms of protection rackets and things like that, all of that continues to be true.

So we haven't turned -- certainly, this story hasn't been turned upside down. There's no way to go from the pretty grim and dire conditions that we were in a year ago into something that looks particularly rosy. It just seems like it's less bad than it was, and maybe we're going to be able to pick up some momentum in ways that might not have been anticipated a couple of months ago.

(Dialing sounds.)

BARKER: Whoever's hitting their phone, they're hitting -- (laughter.)

Does the anybody have any other questions? We have a few more minutes, if something else has something they want to ask.

Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Well, sorry to ask another question, but if nobody else is, I will.

BARKER: No. Go for it. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Do you have any comments about how it's going in the northern sector, because the Taliban has come in or come back there really only in the last year? And do you have any comments on where it's going?

MARKEY: Not so much. I mean, that wasn't a center of our discussion there. We certainly did hear that that's the case and that, basically, aligns with the idea that the Taliban is capable much shifting their lines of operation to parts of the country. When they feel pressure in one place, they can go elsewhere.

It's also very much in line with the argument that, you know, perhaps the greatest reason for instability in Afghanistan is the weak civilian and law enforcement institutions that are basically almost in every part of the country. And so it's a very permissive environment for an insurgency, and that's not just true in the south, but it's true in the north as well.

But, you know, the south is the sort of strategic fulcrum, I guess, of this problem. And so even though we are seeing increasing violence, to some degree, in the north, if you're trying to go for a significant change of momentum, if not a knock-out punch, your emphasis should be in the south. If not, in Helmand, which is not a terrible starting point but maybe not the centerpiece. The centerpiece is really Kandahar.

And by all indications, if things go even reasonably well with the current strategy in Helmand and Marja, if they can enlarge upon that, then next stop is Kandahar. And that will be very significant if they can pull that off.

Symbolically, politically, historically, that is a centerpiece to where Afghanistan goes. And so what happens in the north and so on is meaningful for the people living there and, as I said, indicates some other dynamics at work but probably isn't the win-or-lose element to this campaign.

BARKER: Great. Any other questions? One more, one last question from anybody? Okay.

With that, then we will end this. Thanks very much for joining us, and thank you, Dan, for speaking to us.

MARKEY: Great. Thank you.

BARKER: Great. Bye.

MARKEY: Bye.

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