Pakistan Update

Monday, February 22, 2010

CAROL A. GIACOMO: I want to welcome you all to today's program, very timely program, on Pakistan. We have two of our foremost experts on the subject of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I'm sure we'll have a very lively discussion.

I'd ask you all to start by turning off all your Blackberry's and telephones -- and I've been told that this means off-off, not just on silent or vibrate, so it doesn't interfere with the sound system.

Also, today's meeting is on the record, so you should be aware of that. And we are joined, by password-protected teleconference, to our members all over the country and around the world.

With us today is Ahmed Rashid, who is a Pakistani journalist and author. For more than 20 years, he's reported for the London Daily Telegraph, and also for the Far Eastern Economic Review before its untimely demise. And he also writes for The Nation in Lahore, Pakistan.

He's written three best-selling books, including "The Taliban," which is a textbook on that group. And his most recent book is "Descent into Chaos: U.S. Policy and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan," which has -- "Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia" -- which has won, probably, every award there is.

Marvin Weinbaum is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. And he served as an analyst on Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003. Currently, he's a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington. And he has authored over 100 journal articles and book chapters, mostly on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

So to start our discussion, let's just jump in.

The recent capture of the Taliban's operational commander has been quite a story and quite a(n) unexpected and momentous event. So I'd be interested in how both -- you know, it's -- several days have passed now since that happened. Presumably, we have more information about what it means, why it came about and what its impact is going to be. So I'd like you to talk about that.

You want to start?

AHMED RASHID: Well, I mean, what -- what one knows is, I think, that it was an accident. I don't think the Pakistanis actually intended to arrest Mullah Baradar. (Laughter.) He had been running the whole show in Afghanistan for the last -- you know, since 2002. I think that it was -- it was an accident, you know. The CIA discovered him or something, or and they were --

GIACOMO: Well, then that's not an accident. It was --

RASHID: Well, I mean, he was discovered -- a meeting was discovered, and the ISI was made to go in to arrest whoever was there; not realizing that the number-two was sitting there. So in that sense, it was an accident, I think.

I don't think -- much of the American press, while I've been here, has been hyping that this reflects a huge change in strategic policy for Pakistan, that Pakistan is now going to haul in the Afghan Taliban and hand them over to the Americans. And I don't think that kind of strategic shift has really happened within the military or the ISI, the Interservices Intelligence agency.

And -- but at the same time, I do think that Pakistan, with this -- with this time frame now that Obama -- President Obama has set of June 2011, handing over to the Afghans and slowly withdrawing, I think the Pakistani military and the ISI are interested in trying to engage the Americans with a serious dialogue with the leadership of the Taliban. But I think they want to be able to be in a commanding position -- in other words, the Pakistani military wants to broker that, mediate that, and it doesn't want the Afghan Taliban to necessarily have a negotiating relationship without the ISI, to have a relationship with the Kabul regime, or with the Americans for that matter.

So I think we're into a very complex phase here where you have -- first of all, I mean, the Americans have not decided whether they want to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, with the top leadership. And don't confuse that with the lesser program of integrating commanders and foot soldiers and all that. But if the Americans do make a decision to engage with the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan wants to be the principal broker for that.

And on the other hand, President Karzai and even the Taliban, who I think are very tired of the manipulation that they've faced under the Pakistanis, I think President Karzai and the Taliban want to strike out on their own and want to have their own dialogue, which is why we've had these sort of indirect talks going on in Saudi Arabia.

So I think that it's a very, very complex situation. And of course, it's going to be critical how the U.S. plays is in the next few months.

GIACOMO: Marvin, do you agree? And can any of this be successful?

MARVIN WEINBAUM: Yeah, I agree, all of the above. (Laughter.)

Whether it can be successful or not, I think, is of course the great question here. I am very skeptical about any kind of negotiations leading to a situation where the United States is going to find an early opportunity to exit.

What I worry about in these negotiations is that, right now, Pakistan -- as Ahmed had pointed out, Pakistan has very much been concerned that if negotiations goes on, that its interests will not be served. Well, I think we have every reason ourselves to ask, if something goes on, will it be in our interest? Will, for example, it result in an outcome which leaves in place some of the various forces that we're trying to contain?

Pakistan has long made -- even when I was in the State Department, I recall discussions with the Pakistanis where they would tell us the Taliban -- this is in the late '90s, before -- right up to 2001 -- where they would tell us that the Taliban, they're relaly very reasonable; you know, if they succeed militarily, they're going to be very pragmatic. And we used to -- we had several times when we thought we had a deal with them, only to discover, no, they had this millenarian view, as far as they were concerned, this was going to come their way. They were not necessarily in a rush for it to happen. But no.

Now, Pakistan, in pursuing its own interests, I'm particularly concerned about that they may be asking us to do what they did for several years with their own Taliban, and that is to strike a deal out of weakness, because that's where we are right now. We're not in a position where we're able to really dictate the terms. And I don't think people like Mullah Omar are going to take our terms in any event.

But we're not in a position to do that. And as a result, I think where we would find ourselves -- in the same kind of a situation that the Pakistanis did, except we will have left the region, and left it to them.

GIACOMO: Well, General Petraeus's theory, as I understood it, is that they need to carry on this offensive now and resume the momentum and defeat -- or not defeat; that's a bad word -- but at least weaken the Taliban militarily, and then therefore, if there's a deal to be had, they might be more amenable to it.

But you suggested, if I read you correctly, that you think that talks should start now.

RASHID: Absolutely. I mean, you know, first of all --

GIACOMO: But you think that they're powerful now and they will negotiate now rather than weaken them militarily and then they would be more amenable?

RASHID: No, I think you can -- you should talk and fight at the same time. I mean, you know, what happened in Vietnam? What happened in Northern Ireland? Everybody fought to the last day and everybody spoke to the last day. So I think you can talk and fight at the same time.

This is also how the Cold War ended. I mean, you were fighting proxy wars with the Soviets. You were also talking arms control and all the rest of it. I don't see any contradiction, and I think the other side will do exactly the same.

But I think the key thing is that the U.S. military delivered a message to this administration, when it came in, that we cannot win this war.

Now, when you -- when the U.S. military says that, what does it mean? It says we cannot have a victory in this war, we cannot defeat the Taliban, which means that we have to end this war, somehow. And we cannot end it through military means, which means obviously we have to end it through some kind of political negotiation.

Now, I think -- I think that is the message that this administration is grappling with. And of course, there are huge domestic connotations here. How will, you know, the Democrat left see it; how will the the Republican right see it, et cetera, et cetera.

But essentially, I think, you know, the U.S. military is ready for fighting, for escalating, for rolling back the Taliban, just as it's doing in Marja and it will have to do in other places also. But at the same time, I think it's ready for someone to take the responsibility of opening up some -- perhaps some kind of dialogue with the Taliban.

GIACOMO: But hasn't there been a dialogue, a quiet dialogue, on different levels? Not with the Americans but --

RASHID: I don't think the Americans have been involved with -

GIACOMO: No, not with the Americans but with others.

RASHID: No, with the Afghans, with the Afghan government, certainly there has been a dialogue. In fact, Mullah Baradar was in Saudi Arabia. He has met with individuals from the Karazi administration. And I do not for a moment believe Mullah Baradar is a -- he was -- you know, the most responsible Taliban, given the fact that, you know, Mullah Omar was like in the background.

So I mean, I don't think his reaching out to people and talking to people is -- this is not a rogue policy. This is a policy coming from the heart of the Taliban. They want to suss out what Karzai is saying, what is he -- what is on offer. You know, we're very far away from negotiations. These are just feelers, if you like. But they have taken place. There's no question.

And I think the message of making his -- arresting him right now -- he's -- in a sense, he's been tainted now, because, you know, he is now -- he would now be considered both by the Taliban and by the Afghan government as possibly reflecting Pakistan's point of view, rather than the pure Taliban's point of view.

WEINBAUM: Let me say that I got some problem with our talking to them at the highest levels, because what we're doing, in effect, is we're legitimizing them as negotiating partners at the very same time that we're trying to undermine their standing with the people of Afghanistan.

Now that -- we ought to be able to take that risk if we feel there's going to be a payoff. I would put it this way. There really are two ways in which we go about this politically, and I think it's the military and the political together, as we all as other legs of the counterinsurgency strategy, which means of course changing people's lives in terms of governance, in terms of their economic circumstance.

But you've got to bring -- you've got to bring those two together. And they work together, but they work together either in reintegration or reconciliation. And let me make a distinction between the two.

Reintegration is essentially, I think, what we're -- what we're doing right now. We're trying to win a war of perception as much as anything. We're trying to say we've been losing that war of perception because the situation isn't quite as bad as many people believe it is. But it doesn't matter, if people think that's the direction in which it's going.

At the same time, if we can, with operations like Marja -- and we'll see operations in the Kandahar area before very long, and in the northern part of Helmand -- if we can begin to suggest that we've gained the initiative, then we'll get the benefits of perception.

This is what reintegration is, because this -- our thinking at the moment, I believe, is that, look, we're not going to get in the way of these high-level discussions, because we don't want to be viewed as the spoilers here. That's the last thing we need. This is -- see, getting, you know, where we're not interested in seeing peace, that will certainly work against us.

Reintegration, though, involves bringing down the Taliban, marginalizing the Taliban as much as we can throughout the country, because people now perceive that their interests lie with the international forces, with the central government. That's a problem in itself. But that integration will occur, I would argue, village by village, valley by valley. And it will be a gradual process. I think that's the way in which we're going to succeed, and that success is going to be of a very modest nature. But that's all we're really aiming for.

We don't think to get -- just let me finish -- with one sense that -- whereas reconciliation -- reconciliation means striking the grand bargain with -- and I don't think that that grand bargain is in our interest.

That grand bargain, given where we are today, would amount to everybody's interest being served but ours, I believe.

And I think that would be foolish, because even though Pakistan would enter into it, any outcome which would leave the Taliban with a strong position, inside Afghanistan, will ultimately boomerang on Pakistan.

The same people who want to see a Shari'a state in Kabul -- it will not take them very long to say, we've got cousins across the border called Pakistani Taliban, and we'll join with them against Islamabad.

GIACOMO: Wouldn't it also be -- it seems to me that it might be difficult to do reconciliation and reintegration in tandem, because it's -- through reintegration, you're reaching out to the lower-level Taliban and, you know, trying to win them over to your side, by giving them jobs or health care or whatever.

And at the same time, you're dealing with their leaders. You know, it seems to me that they would say, well, we'll wait till our leaders make a deal, no?

RASHID: Well, you know, the reintegration is being carried out by the U.S. military and by the Afghan military and by, you know, local government officials. And it's a local/regional thing.

The dialogue that has perhaps begun, between the Kabul government and the Taliban, is operating at a completely different level. And I don't believe at the moment that -- you know, Westerners are in touch with the dialogue. But they're not directly negotiating with the Taliban.

And I think it's very important that that dialogue continues. I mean, even -- it's been going on for some months now. I mean, much of last year, there were spasmodic, you know, meetings and talks. It has not yet reached the stage of negotiations. But this is also going to depend on Karzai.

Karzai has so far, unfortunately, used only his family as the main negotiators from his side. He needs to include a much broader array or put together a team that is a much broader array, which reflects not just the Pashtuns, from which the Taliban come from, but the other ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan, perhaps even a woman, to represent the advances of women.

So I mean if you're going to go into negotiations, you can't use your brother and uncle and father. You have to use, you know, a proper political representation of -- you know, of Afghanistan to make that serious.

And I think if something like this happens, although now the whole balance has shifted with all these arrests and what's going to -- you know, how his brother is going to be used. I mean, is he going to be used as a source of information for the (ISI and ?) for the CIA or, you know, is he going to be used for negotiations? And if he's to be used for (negotiations ?), how will he be used for -- will you free him? I mean, you know, which probably the Americans might well object to. And if you don't free him and you keep him under some constraints, then he's next to useless. So the whole situation has become very complicated.

I believe Pakistan ultimately should facilitate and help the mediation, you know, between the Taliban and the Afghan government. If it tries to play a role that is over the top -- and it will, because it has very sharp interests, it wants India eliminated from Afghanistan, it doesn't -- you know, it wants all sorts of interests fulfilled -- I think it will antagonize the whole region, because India will not accept Pakistan's -- a central role for Pakistan in this. Iran will not accept it. Russia and the Central Asian states won't accept it. So even if the U.S. accepts it, the region is not going to accept it, and we may then face another huge problem in the region.

GIACOMO: Can we talk a little bit about Pakistan and the strength -- or rather weakness of the civilian government there and the relationship between the military and the civilian?

I mean -- I mean, we're talking about the military who would actually be running the show if there were negotiations with the Taliban. So where does the civilian government come into play? And, you know, what's the appropriate sort of approach of the United States as it deals with a bifurcated government?

WEINBAUM: Well, the -- we know that Pakistan has a leadership crisis, certainly on the civilian side. And although the military has stepped back in the last two years from playing the kind of active role that it has had under General Musharraf, nevertheless, the military is always there. Even if the military is not running the show, they're making sure that those who do do nothing to in any way detract from the military's interests.

So the military -- and the military has always carved out foreign -- two areas particularly. It's involved in every area if it affects the military, but two areas in particular: Kashmir and that kind of -- those operations, and Afghanistan. Generally speaking, foreign affairs.

The military will be concerned about its interests. And for the longest time, this military has viewed the Afghan Taliban, as we've heard from many sources, not as a -- as a danger, but as an asset. Because there's a firm belief in the military, as well as elsewhere in Pakistan, that the United States and the international community are there only temporarily, and that they don't have -- whether it's military or economic, that they'll be -- they'll be moving out, and that Pakistan is going to need to have a -- friendly faces inside Afghanistan, and those friendly faces were to be provided by the Afghan Taliban.

Now, they're not so perfectly sure about them now.

But this is -- there's been a reciprocation up until now in this, in that the Afghan Taliban did nothing against the Pakistan state. The recent arrests are a way of getting a better control over the Afghan military to make sure that they remain along -- they remain in concert with the military.

But I haven't really answered your question, because as far as the political side of it is concerned, it's hard to see where the political elements in the country are playing any major role in this. Perhaps Ahmed has some insight into this that I have -- I don't have. Right now, I believe they're following entirely the initiative of the military.

But in conclusion on this, there's one thing that does figure in here, and that is Pakistan public opinion, which has become so cynical and indeed so paranoid about our interests, our intentions in the area, that this ultimately does put a certain degree of constraint on what both the civilian leaders and the military leaders can do. And I think we have to factor this in to any understanding about the role that Pakistan is going to play.

GIACOMO: Can you pick up on that, Ahmed?

RASHID: Well, let me just say one thing. I mean, certainly we have a leadership crisis. Absolutely. The military controls the key areas of foreign policy, including, by the way, the relationship with the United States. It can certainly sabotage the relationship with the United States, as it has done in the last few months. And of course, it controls the nuclear weapons, which is, you know, vital.

But having said that, let me just say, yes, the People's Party has come back after a nine-year hiatus of military rule under General Musharraf. You know, we've had these bouts. We've -- the military comes in, rules for a decade, collapses and then calls in the civilians, who have been in exile, scattered, shattered, demoralized.

And suddenly they're left with having to govern the country.

And then in three months, we've heard, you're feeble, you're hopeless. (Laughter.) Well, what do you expect -- I mean, you know -- after being out in the boondocks for a decade?

Now, you have a particular -- the same thing, as you remember, happened in the '90s. The same thing happened in the '70s. So this is a cycle that we repeat. But let me just say a couple of things, I think, which are very important to understand.

The first is, we have been going through a steady process of fragmentation at every level: religious, extremism, ethnic, sectarian, economic, all sorts of things.

The People's Party today, for whatever it is -- weak though it is and ruled by a gentleman who's considered to be very corrupt, et cetera, the People's Party remains the only national party in the country. If the army were to move against the People's Party, every single other party is either a regional party or an ethnic party.

Even Nawaz Sharif, who was the main opposition, and many people argued, well, he might make a better prime minister -- his party today has become a party for Punjab province, the largest province. It's a Punjabi party.

He doesn't command any loyalty in other -- well, very little in other provinces. So the danger of doing away with the People's Party, even for the military, is that they would be dealing with a far more fragmented situation.

The second thing is that this People's Party government has stitched together -- it's a coalition of numerous ethnic and regional parties in the North-West Frontier, in Karachi. And this kind of coalition could never have been brought together by a Nawaz Sharif- type character or anyone else.

So it's better we keep this government and hope. I mean, it's -- you know, it's not delivering the goods for the people. It's not very effective. But it's certainly better than a military coup. And nobody wants the army back in power, let me tell you.

And one of the big changes that has happened this time is that none of the political parties, even though they dislike the ruling party or they may be in position to it, or whatever, none of them are letting themselves fall into the army's trap of saying: Let the army come in and get rid of President Zardari and take over. They all recognize now that the army is a big danger, and the army would represent a huge setback to -- military rule would represent a huge setback to Pakistan.

So I think this alliance -- I think, you know, we have to wait for better days. I mean, you know, it's a very miserable time being in Pakistan. You -- I mean, apart from all the other threats -- terrorism and the economy going down the tubes and the insurgency in Baluchistan and the suicide bombing -- you have a government which is not offering very much in terms of governance and is very ineffective.

Now partly that is because, you know, the military has got it by the short and curlies. But on the other hand, it has also been very ineffective.

But I do not believe that this is a time when, as past U.S. administrations have done -- oh, forget about the civilians, you know; now it's Taliban time; we have to -- only the army can deliver for us in Afghanistan; we better go and strike a deal with the army; if they want to take over, it doesn't matter; you know, it might be easier; there will be one guy to talk to, rather than 17 different guys -- I -- you know, Pakistanis do not want to see that. And that is what has made America so unpopular, because at the end of the day, you have always gone with the military, and that's -- Pakistanis do not want to see that happening again.

GIACOMO: Marvin --

WEINBAUM: I don't think that's going to happen --

GIACOMO: Okay. What's --

WEINBAUM: -- at least not right now. At the moment --

GIACOMO: What's not going to happen?

WEINBAUM: Well, I don't think that at the moment, fortunately, this administration is prepared to give up on the political -- on this elected civilian government. I think that's (their very fortune ?).

Now it doesn't mean that we don't recognize the importance particularly of the head of the military now, General Kayani, who we have to deal with, obviously.

But I have a certain amount of confidence now that we're not -- we're not going to do what Ahmed said we have done in the past so regularly.

No, one of the things that's very clear here now is, whatever course Pakistan's going to take in terms of its internal political development, the Pakistanis will take for themselves. I think we have a very limited ability to influence the way in which -- the course of politics in Pakistan. Afghanistan is another matter.

So I've got a little bit more confidence here that we recognize the mistakes we made. But we've got one problem which we continue to grapple with, and that is, we mistake often what we think we're doing from what is being perceived that we're doing. Often we speak and we act in ways which we think make a lot of sense that we're helping this in a way, and we have a tendency here not to understand that it's all about the way in which it's being received that matters. And so, so much of what we have gotten ourselves into trouble with the Pakistan populace has been because we haven't appreciated that you're going to have to recognize how it's going to be accepted or not accepted by the Pakistan people.

GIACOMO: I'm going to ask one more question and then open it to members.

On Thursday, India and Pakistan sat down for talks, first really formal talks since the Mumbai bombings. What do you think could possibly come out of it? And I don't mean just the one-day meeting; I mean if they set off a process. And how important is this?

RASHID: Well, you know the India-Pakistan talks have been through a series of stop-starts, you know, over -- since 9/11.

After the Kargil war it stopped for two, three, years, and started again. And then it stopped after Mumbai, it started again.

So, I mean, frankly, I -- I'm not expecting anything very dramatic, but I think a couple of things are important to note. I think one reason, one reason the Indians have come back to the table -- and they were the ones who were refusing to talk to Pakistan until Pakistan had dismantled the terrorist infrastructure, extremist groups which had been fighting in Kashmir; now, Pakistan has done no such thing, and yet the Indians have come back.

I think one reason is that, obviously, there's been a lot of pressure from the Americans and from the international community, and even from within India. But I think the Indians were very shocked by the London conference on Afghanistan a few weeks ago in which the entire international community decided that it would be a good thing to start this reintegration with the Taliban.

Now, the idea of talking to the Taliban is anathema to India, because it would simply mean for India that, you know, Pakistan would get a huge say in a future Afghanistan. And don't forget, India spent 10 years in the '90s having no presence in Afghanistan, because Pakistan ran the Taliban and the Taliban regime did not allow the Indians in at all.

So I think the Indians have been pushed into talks. They've been quite shocked by this idea that the international community is now ready for some kind of dialogue with the Taliban, and wants to -- and obviously they want to find out from Pakistan what they want to do.

As far as really dealing with the core issue of Kashmir, which is something that, you know, has to be resolved before these two countries really get rid of their suspicion, I think we're still a very long way away, and this is going to take a very long time to resolve.

But, you know, there are -- there are some very critical issues which are probably even more important than Kashmir.


RASHID: The water issue.


RASHID: I mean, water -- you know, there's a -- we have an agreement -- I mean, you know, it's a very complicated situation, but basically we need a new agreement on the distribution of -- because all our rivers start up in the Himalayas, and then some of them come down through Pakistan and some of them go down to India.

And you've got to have some -- and there is an agreement, which is now kind of becoming (stalled ?) and it's being undermined by both countries, in a sense, but largely by India. And we need some agreement on this; otherwise, you know, you're going to have a starving, unirrigated, waterless population.

WEINBAUM: Everything that Ahmed has said I think exactly. But they are important talks, and as Ahmed suggests, they're not going to be anything more than getting reacquainted in -- at the -- at one level. But what they do is, they also facilitate a track two, which is really where the business of some kind of understanding is likely to happen. They -- they set the climate here in which a track two can go forward.

But above all, these talks are important because we're all waiting for the next shoe to drop; we're all concerned that there's going to be, if not another Mumbai, there's going to be something like it. And then there's going to be the big test as to whether there's enough resilience in this relationship, there's enough confidence in this relationship, where the partners here will act rationally.

There's no rational reason for India, back in Mumbai or in some future, to attack Pakistan militarily, because in doing so it will only strengthen the very forces that it's trying to avoid coming to power in Pakistan. But if we get back to some kind of dialogue here, when that next attack comes, there will be a buffer here, so that both sides will say we won't necessarily accuse the other and will say that continuing here with a certain degree of normalization is better than the alternative.

So although I don't think anybody should look for any great strides made here, it will be a lot of what we can't see that will be important.

GIACOMO: So have we answered all your questions?


QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.) New York University. This is to Mr. Rashid.

What is the relationship between the military top brass and the ISI? Who runs who? And what is the relationship between the ISI and determining India -- Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan, as distinct from the military interest?

RASHID: Well, the ISI is very much part of the military. It's staffed by military officers sort of, you know, on secondment for a period of time. It has a professional corps of officers who are involved.

It's very much the analytical and operational tool for the military. And the analysis that the ISI gives the military -- on Afghanistan or India, on the United States, on other such things -- is absolutely critical to the military's way of thinking.

And you know, don't forget, we've had this enormous fusion over the last few years. President Musharraf hired numerous former ISI chiefs to be his ministers. So you had the ISI kind of penetration into the civilian sector in a very overt way.

And General Kayani, who's head of the army now, was formerly head of the ISI. And his very close friend and associate is now with the ISI. So it's a very, very close relationship.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Stephen Schlesinger, Century Foundation, to both of you.

I'm curious what you could see at the outlines of a settlement or negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

And also, there was a story in The New York Times the other day that suggested that the U.S. would be not opposed to Pakistan having an interest in the Taliban -- in the Afghan Taliban if the Afghan Taliban would agree to sever all ties with al Qaeda.

WEINBAUM: If I could address that. Right now what we think that the Afghan Taliban are asking for would be at a minimum, of course, that the international forces leave. In other words, effectively leaving Karzai's government undefended, because many people believe that without our presence there for some time, he would last a matter of days.

But the idea behind -- you say what kind of form would it take. The idea that somehow people like Mullah Omar, Mullah Baradar and others would sit in a cabinet, for example, disarm the Afghan Taliban -- which is now what Karzai is talking about, that they should disarm themselves, that they should renounce violence, that they should accept the constitution -- knowing what we know about the Afghan Taliban, these are anathema to them.

So it doesn't mean that there aren't compromise to be made, but again, my own experience is they don't know how to compromise. They don't -- it's hard to compromise when, for example -- and just a brief example -- when in the 11th hour before our military action in 2001, when it was posed to the Afghan Taliban that if you don't do something to satisfy the Americans on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, they're going to attack militarily, their attitude was -- that we got back -- was, we don't believe the Americans are going to attack; and if they do attack, we'll defeat them; and if we don't defeat them now, we'll defeat them later.

So it's this kind of mind-set which I think makes it impossible to see some kind of powersharing way -- (inaudible).

The one person we've been talking to regularly -- and this has been going on for two years, would you say -- was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This is one of the -- one of the forces that we're fighting against, a former mujaheddin, of course. And the Pakistan -- the Afghans have been talking -- Kabul government has been talking to this man.

Now, with him you probably could strike a deal. After all, he was once the defense minister -- foreign minister also? -- of the country, under the mujaheddin government. He's used to this.

But what he demonstrated was, this is the most untrustworthy man probably in all of Afghanistan. If there's anyone that you should worry about having under the tent, this is the person. (Soft laughter.) So that's what we're dealing with.

Again, it doesn't mean that you won't be talking. You are going to talk with the Taliban, but you're going to talk with them from a position where they're not going to have these options that they have right now.

And very likely you're going to talk to them because the Taliban are not monolithic. They are far more than the groups that we're talking about. They include lots of Afghans who are fighting for non- ideological reasons, for reasons -- some of them very good reasons, given the grievances they have against the central government.


QUESTIONER: Jeff Laurenti, also with Century.

I'm a bit disturbed to hear this view that the Karzai government would crumble instantly the day after the American troops left, which has this kind of resonance of what the Americans in the Reagan administration thought would happen with Najibullah's government the day that the Soviets left. I mean, if we kept writing checks, is there not enough of a -- of an Afghan constituency? At least half the country is still going to be governed by the Kabul government.

And I wonder in particular, to Mr. Rashid for his guidance on this, the Taliban perhaps view a mirror image of what Mr. Weinbaum was saying, that the Karzai government is illegitimate because it's propped up by foreigners, but the reality is that the staying power is -- should be evidenced -- that they are not going to be able to come back and take over all of Afghanistan.

Does that lead within the Quetta shura to some, you know, debate about whether to cut a deal and accept something partial? And I think that may be what Steve's question is. Is there -- is it -- do they object to the constitution per se, or just to the people whom that constitution, with Americans and other foreigners there, have put in power? What is it that is indeed the room for some potential agreement if they accept that they can't just do it themselves?

RASHID: Look, I mean, I want to say (a separate ?) thing. The first thing is that at this stage, obviously, both sides are expressing maximalist positions. You know, the Taliban and -- in fact, now, the Taliban have actually watered down some of their things. Some of their statements -- not all -- some of their statements have not talked about a total withdrawal but a staggered withdrawal. Now, you know, there's a slight difference here.

Some of them have even talked about not allowing bin Laden back, which of course would be the key American demand, and not allowing al Qaeda back. And increasingly, their language is about patriotism, nationalism. It's not about Islamism, jihad and imposing, you know, Shari'a systems and all the rest of it. They've even given the statement two weeks ago about women's education for the first time. So it's not that the Taliban are completely sitting still. They are trying to, you know, move their position.

Now, let me say, you know, too, and I think it's -- so I think we will see flexibility in these negotiations from both sides. Now, clearly, there are some red lines which have to be set down. Now, I think one of those red lines is about al Qaeda. That's absolutely elemental. And what that -- what that will mean is actually -- the problem with that is Taliban can say, "We've broken with al Qaeda." How do you prove it? You know, that's the question.

And actually -- I mean, ultimately, you will have to tell the Taliban, well, if you really want to come into government and you have really broken with al Qaeda, you have to go after them yourself and catch them for us, because you know where they are, actually. (Laughter.) Now, I mean, I'm talking to you about, you know, something way ahead, I mean, which may -- which may be a complete pipe-dream. But that will be the only way finally to get the proof of their -- of their genuineness about al Qaeda.

Now, the second thing is that we must remember, the Afghan Taliban are very different from al Qaeda and very different from the Pakistani Taliban. I think genuinely they are a much more -- I mean, Marvin talked about one aspect of them, that they're fighting -- many of them are fighting for very local reasons. But many of them are fighting for nationalist reasons and what they consider patriotic reasons, getting the foreigners out. They're not fighting, you know, to put women back into the burqa or to -- you know, to --

Now, so I think the other bottom line that we have to draw, and which the Afghan government will have to draw, with the support of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, is that the progress made in Afghanistan in the last nine years cannot be reversed.

Now, what does that mean? You don't necessarily talk about the constitution. What you talk about is, progress means what? Education, health, women, you know, all the other things that have happened.

So that -- now, that red line is -- to me, I think -- you know, could become acceptable. After all, the Taliban want Afghanistan to develop. They want -- what do you want to do, break up all the roads that the Americans have built or destroy all the powerhouses or blow up all the schools?

Now, they've been doing that now as part of the war. That's part of the war. But as part of the peace, I think, that is a red line you can lay down. Progress made is progress achieved. And we are going to build on that, and you have to be a part of this. We want you to become a part of this.

Now, so I think there are -- now, many people will say, why on earth should the Taliban negotiate right now? They seem to be winning. Many Afghans think they are winning. The Americans are going to leave in 18 months. At least -- I mean, wrongly but that's the perception in the region.

Now, I just would give you two or three things. I think the Taliban are very tired, very, very tired. I mean, for them, this is a 30-year war, not a nine-year war. For you, it's been a nine-year war, the longest war in living memory, longer than the Second World War and all the rest of it.

Secondly they're fed up with the manipulation that they've had to undergo -- in Pakistan, in Iran -- by the Arabs, by all sorts of people who have been trying to manipulate them to do certain things. I think they're really fed up.

And don't forget, most of the top leadership and the commanders, their families, are all living outside Afghanistan. So they're eminently hostageable. You know, they can be held hostage by all these outside powers, and they're fed up with that.

I think thirdly many of the sensible Taliban know that they cannot take the cities. They've reached a kind of, you know, apogee of their abilities.

They control the countryside. They can hit wherever they like. They can launch suicide attacks in the cities, et cetera, et cetera. They can fight the American for 15 days in Marja, you know. But they cannot take the cities because of Western firepower. And wouldn't it be better, then, to prevent more losses amongst us, et cetera, et cetera, and to do a deal in -- you know, with the present Afghan government?

Fourthly, what they see in Karzai ultimately -- yes, he is a puppet, he is a stooge, and ultimately he would go and somebody else would come in -- but what they see is the cementation of Pashtun hegemony in Afghanistan. And Karzai sees that also, because the real ultimate threat to both Karzai and the Taliban are the non-Pashtuns -- you know, Abdullah Abdullah, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Turkomans, who are lying quiet now, but let me tell you, the non-Pashtuns are arming. They are not in favor of this dialogue with the Taliban.

Ultimately, what Karzai and the Taliban, when they really sit down and talk about things as two Pashtuns, they will talk about how do we reestablish Pashtun hegemony that has ruled this country for 250 years -- how do we reestablish that?

And Karzai will say: I need your guys' help.

And the Taliban say: Well, we need your help, because we need the international community, because if we make a government on our own, we will be pariahs once again. We will be like the '90s. Nobody will help us, nobody will aid us, and we'll be lumped with another civil war with the non-Pashtuns. So better we go with you, Mr. Karzai, right now.

WEINBAUM: But you will have another civil war. That's the problem. Just as you say, Ahmed, what we can look forward to now is a return to this -- basically the situation that existed in the mid- 1990s and whether that kind of environment here, of a civil war, in which all of the regional players will have their proxy clients here fighting, and the danger of India playing a major role in this -- I think our greatest concern in the region now is a regional concern.

This region -- forget about Afghanistan -- this region now has become of critical concern to us. And a destabilization in this region will have implications for what goes on in the Gulf, our relations with Iran, our partnership with India and our general -- the general view of American standing in the world.

And I don't think we can ignore this. I know to some people this sounds like the old domino theory. I realize that. But we can't -- we can't be slavish to that concept and not face what I think are the real differences here.

And I worry particularly about a civil war. For the Afghans themselves, that's the last thing they need, is to go back into a civil war.

And there's one element that nobody is talking about. If things go badly in this regard, I don't think it takes very much to predict a humanitarian crisis. There will be millions of Afghans who will now see, having cooperated, collaborated with the West, who will see they had better make a run for Pakistan, for Iran; and we will have to deal with this, not to mention the fact that there is bound to be a great deal of retribution here.

So the idea that somehow -- and I agree with Ahmed that these are motives perhaps, but as far as the top leadership is concerned, I can't believe everything I've seen about them. And what they did over the six -- five and a half years that they had control -- six years that they virtually had control of Kabul, they didn't build a single road.

They didn't -- they took DOWN schools. Everything that we're talking about their leaving now, they dismantled. The idea that somehow they would have to give up on this, having scored a victory? This would be -- this would be for them, and for their -- for others, having bested the United States just as they bested the Soviet Union. How, in that context, they're ameniable (sic) here now to buying what we left behind I find hard to believe.

GIACOMO: Next -- (off mike).

QUESTIONER: Nick Platt, Asia Society. This is for Ahmed. What is holding Pakistan together? What are the elements of stability in Pakistan? We're seeing all the time that, you know, it's descending into chaos, to quote an eminent person -- (laughter) -- and other headlines to that effect. But there must be something that's holding it together. Can you give us a list? (Laughter.)

RASHID: Look, I'll tell you -- I'll tell you, one thing that is -- that is -- that is widening the chasm between the military and the civilians is this whole concept of the future of -- defining national security for our state. And that, of course, has always been divided. The military defines national security that we are threatened by India, India is the big national-security concern. And everything has to be geared up for that.

The civilian description of national security is, you know, we want health and education and economic development and trade and liberalization and blah blah blah.

And this chasm is actually getting wider. And this, for me, is, first of all, the biggest fear, that, you know, the military is more concerned -- even at a time of relative peace with India, is more concerned about India and, you know, trying to undermine the U.S. relationship with India and trying to bring other countries on board in its policy vis-a-vis India, and trying to undermine Afghanistan.

The military is more concerned with that at this particular time than all the other crises that we face, which are huge -- economic, political, you know, everything else.

Now, I think what is keeping it together is -- literally is the people of Pakistan. I mean, you know, they have been through so much. They do still want to stay together.

I think most people in all the four provinces have come through a process where I think most people now acknowledge the fact that the army is bad, because the army can offer no political future to the country, and it always stumbles after eight or nine years and then hands it back to the civilians.

Extremism is a disaster. And we've (been said ?), this extremist thing, that these extremists are damn good because they are protecting us against India and they are protecting us against other enemies. I think people now realize that extremism is bad.

People are now desperately for -- in favor of economic development. I think people are fed up with the India bogey. I think the Kashmir-India bogey does not mobilize people in any numbers, even in Punjab province.

So I think, you know, civil society, the middle class has come out in the last three or four years. It was civil society that got rid of Musharraf, basically -- the lawyers and the NGOs and other such people. So actually, you know, I mean, despite this widening chasm, I think there has been progress and there have been things that have held this country together for the first time.

And there is going to come a major clash between the army's perception of national security and the civilian perception of national security.

It may be over Afghanistan in the next 18 months, because the army will demand all sorts of things for -- you know, of control over Afghanistan, and the civilians perhaps may not be interested.

Now, I -- you know, I don't know, but I think -- and I think it is absolutely vital, you know, as Marvin said, that the U.S. stays engaged with the civilian government, no matter how weak or pathetic or -- or ineffective it is right now. Because, you know, I think this clash is coming and is going to be decisive for the future of Pakistan. And I don't believe -- I hope that the army has the sense to understand that it cannot win this clash, because the people of Pakistan are still more than the military. But this chasm is really widening, and this is what is causing a lot of the present tensions in the country.


QUESTIONER: Steve Hartman (sp) -- (off mike).

A question a little bit off the topic of the Taliban, but nuclear weapons security and accountability and, in particular, your view of whether the U.S. can become comfortable with the plans that are in place and the potential U.S. involvement in that security.

WEINBAUM: At the moment, we are comfortable with it. Maybe -- maybe we're fooling ourselves. We had a role in helping to establish the command-and-control structure that exists at the moment. We do feel that as long as there is an intact military -- and this is one reason why we can't wish the military ill; the last thing we need is a fragmented military. But as long as the military remains cohesive, as it -- as it is at present, the feeling is that it's probably secure.

However, having said that, we recognize that the dangers that exist come not so much from, perhaps, extremist groups gaining control, but from this -- the kinds of developments of a -- of an individualistic nature within the -- within the control structure of the military, that there will be rogue individuals.

We've seen some examples. So it always leaves a certain degree of uneasiness here, because we appreciate the fact that we occasionally see the ability of some of these militant groups to infiltrate.

Again, it's -- there's got to be some uneasiness here. Also, I might add that in times of tension, as they disperse the weapons, this is another very dangerous time with respect to the control of the weaponry, and that also has to be on our mind.

But overall, this has not been a source of great anxiety for the U.S. for the time being.

GIACOMO: I'll take one more quick question. Lee, (there you go ?).

QUESTIONER: My question is for Ahmed. To what extent is the army Talibanized? What extent --


QUESTIONER: To what extent is the army in Pakistan itself Talibanized -- that is to say, sympathetic to -- ideologically -- to the Taliban?

RASHID: I mean, you know, that's a very difficult answer, I mean, you know, to give. But I would say the -- I think there was a period after 2001 when we had large sections of the army deeply involved with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and there was a large chunk of pro-Taliban officers in the ISI and in the military. I think a lot of them have gone.

I think -- you know, the army now has been, I think, very galvanized against India. After a period when Musharraf had tried very hard to cool tensions down -- and as you know, there was this backchannel which almost claimed to have resolved the issue of Kashmir, if he had lasted another couple of years.

But the -- I think in reaction to that -- in reaction to Musharraf, his desire to settle with India, his relationship with the United States, I think there's been a reaction to that, which has been a much more hard-line reaction -- more hard-line towards India and more hard-line towards the United States, mistrustful of both India and the United States.

And this is -- I don't think this is related to Islam or Islamic extremism; it's related to institutional thinking. But what serves the army's best interest? You know, does a deal with India serve the army's best interest? No, because you know, the army's whole raison d'etre -- so its economic power; its -- its part of a budget; its -- all its, you know, perks and privileges that it enjoys in Pakistan is there because of India, and it genuinely sees India as a, you know, major threat. So I don't think this is related to Islamic extremism; it's related to institutional thinking that has reacted to the Musharraf era.

WEINBAUM: If I may ask Ahmed a question -- Ahmed, my sense here is that there has been developing -- and the media's played a very large role in this -- there has been developing, within society itself, a greater degree of nationalism of late, a hard-line nationalism which perhaps plays into the military's hands. Part of it has -- is in reaction to India's demands on Mumbai.

But it seems to go beyond that. And even some commentators in Pakistan who I used to consider to be fairly progressive seem to have taken on a much more defensive stance now with regard not just to India but with regard to the West, as well.

RASHID: I think that has partly happened, but it's partly happening because the army is forcing the pace of that. It's partly happened because the army is promoting this point of view in the media, also.

I mean, all sorts -- for example, the Kerry-Lugar bill which came out, now, you know, the army came out against the Kerry-Lugar bill after it had been discussed for two years in the U.S. Congress. And this Kerry-Lugar bill, as you know, was going to give the civilian sector $1.5 billion. And the army called in all the talk show hosts on TV and the top journalists and said this is all rubbish and this is handing over Pakistan to the United States and we're not going to accept this. Before -- and then it came out publicly itself.

So I think, yes, you're right, I mean there is a feeling that we've been (outdone by ?) the Indians and by the Americans and by so and so. But I think partly, I mean, this is coming from the army itself.

And the army has -- in my opinion, right now I think one of the big problems the government faces, which it acknowledges, that the military and the intelligence have far better grip on the media than the government does. They're able to influence the media far more than the government does.

GIACOMO: Well, I'm sure we could go on for much longer, but we're going to have to wrap this up.

Thank you very much. Please join me in thanking our guests. (Applause.)

















AT 202-347-1400.


Top Stories on CFR

United Kingdom

CFR experts discuss the results of presidential elections in France and the United Kingdom, as well as what to expect from the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington, DC.

Election 2024

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Republicans are gathering in Milwaukee next week optimistic about their chances in November.  


The surprising shift to the left in snap elections has broken the far-right populist fever in France, but now a crisis of governability looms in Paris that has further weakened President Emmanuel Macron’s grip on power.