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Wikileaks: The Pakistan connection Pt.2

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And joining us again are Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, journalists and authors and documentary producers. And their last book on Afghanistan is Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story. Thanks for joining us.

PAUL FITZGERALD, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Thank you for having us, Paul.


JAY: So in the first segment of the interview, we talked about Wikileaks and these accusations being made that Pakistan’s not fighting the Taliban enough and are they actually conspiring. And we talked a bit about Hamid Gul, the former ISI head [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence], who we know was involved originally in the ’80s in helping create the Taliban. But let’s go back to the beginning. Elizabeth, talk a little bit about how this all started. How did the mujahideen in Afghanistan get armed?

GOULD: Well, I think you really have to go back to the early 1970s, when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who we already mentioned, has been an active Afghan fighter, who really started, in the early ’70s, separating from Afghanistan. He ended up in trouble, ended up killing another Afghan over political issues at Kabul University, ended up in jail, and eventually found his way to Pakistan after he was released from jail, and he began to work with the Pakistani intelligence. The funding started at that point. The United States, the Saudis, were already funding this kind of activity. Ahmad Shah Massoud was another one who was a part of the attempt to start the destabilization of Afghanistan from the Pakistani side. So this all preceded by five—.

JAY: So let’s talk about why the Americans wanted to do that.

GOULD: This was actually all focused on the Cold War. There was clearly, you know, a belief that the Afghans were very close, too close to the Soviets. There’s a lot of history to really show that the Afghans really didn’t have any choice. But this became a Cold War issue.

JAY: Yeah, just [inaudible] some context. I mean, Afghanistan essentially at that time bordered the Soviet Union, and you have a pretty active communist movement in Afghanistan, and at a certain point the communist government come to power, I think more or less in an election.

GOULD: But not until in ’73, though.

FITZGERALD: In ’73 the Parcham faction of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) put together a coup with the king’s cousin, Mohammed Daoud, who had been the former prime minister of Afghanistan, and he had been asked to step down, because of his fierce nationalism, by the king in 1963. So you have this era for ten years, from 1963 to 1973, of what was called the “experiment in democracy”. Well, Daoud ended that with the help of the communist faction of the PDPA, called Parcham, which was Babrak Karmal. Okay? Babrak Karmal in 1979 was the man that the Soviets instituted as their so-called puppet to control the country after their invasion. But there’s a whole lot of stuff that went on between 1973 and the Soviet invasion. It kind of gets glossed over in Western tellings of Afghanistan. And that’s where the real meat of this issue, really—.

JAY: When I interviewed Brzezinski—and if people watching this want to go, later, and watch my Brzezinski interview—his major point was we may have helped facilitate the Russians moving in to Afghanistan, but the resistance wasn’t spontaneous, and they really would have invaded anyway, so all we did is sort of speed up the process—and by doing that he means arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan so that it became such a threat to this pro-Russian Afghan government that the Russians had to come in. What do you make of that? That’s really, I think, their basic story.

FITZGERALD: Well, you know, there are other sources of information besides Mr. Brzezinski. He’s trying to downplay his own personal involvement in it. And there are others. I mean, Robert Gates is an example. Our current secretary of defense wrote in his own book, From the Shadows, that the United States was actually actively trying to instigate an involvement of the Soviets from 1978, 1979 on.

JAY: Yeah, they actually use the phrase that we’ll give the Soviets their own Vietnam.

FITZGERALD: Their own Vietnam. And he—actually, he talks extensively about the various issues that were going on inside the Pentagon and the CIA about what would be the benefit of having the Soviets invade Afghanistan. In fact, he gives that question out, or that question goes out to one of his people, and the guy comes back about a month later, and he said there’s no downside to this at all. He said, we get to look great in the—the Americans get to look great in the Islamic world; we get to badmouth the Soviets wherever they are; we can use this as a propaganda heyday. And actually, too, if you look into the archives—you can get these archives, too; the Wilson Center is an example—you can look at what Brezhnev and Kosygin and the various people in the Politburo were talking about from 1978 up until the Soviet invasion, and they’re scratching their heads, saying, we can’t figure this thing out at all. At one point, one of these people says it reads like a detective novel, what’s going on in Afghanistan. Now, you had, of course, Hafizullah Amin, the man who eventually was overthrown by the Soviets, was definitely perceived by the Russians as being an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. The US’s own ambassador, Adolph Dubs, was so convinced that Hafizullah Amin was a Central Intelligence Agent that he actually went to his own agency chief at the embassy, station chief at the embassy, and demanded information as to whether he was. Of course his chief said no, he’s not working for us. But they put out the perception with propaganda, got the KGB and the GRU [USSR’s Main Directorate of Intelligence] to believe that Amin was in fact a CIA agent. And as things got worse, as the Shah’s—as the conditions in Iran, as an example, worsened, the Soviets really began to believe that the United States was going to invade Iran and then push into Afghanistan, and Hafizullah Amin was going to be the means by which they were going to do that. So that was their thinking. They got rattled. They voted I think it was five times against invading Afghanistan. And then finally they said, look it, the generals came forward—Paul Warnke told us this; the man who negotiated the SALT II treaty told us personally—he said the Russians, the military leadership, came to the Politburo and said, look it, you know, we’re not getting anywhere with the United States; SALT isn’t going to be ratified by the Congress; the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty that was signed by President Carter is not going to be ratified. He said, we can’t go anywhere; we’ve got nothing to lose by going into Afghanistan.

GOULD: There’s also another point, too. We actually went to Afghanistan in 1983 with Roger Fisher, from the Harvard Negotiation Project, specifically to see if there was a chance the Soviets could be negotiated out. And at that point we came back with the news that, yes, the Soviets were desperate to get out, were looking for a way to effectively save face. And what we discovered back here in the United States was that the mainstream media had no interest. We did this with Nightline. It was clear from the way the story was framed by Nightline that there was no real possibility, so let’s not even pursue this. So the whole idea of Charlie Wilson’s War, for instance, was to basically push the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Well, in 1983 they were begging to get out of Afghanistan. But what had to happen was the insurgency from Pakistan had to end.

JAY: Their objective, I think, is pretty clear now, that they actually—it’s the last thing they wanted was the Soviet Union to get out of Afghanistan.

GOULD: Exactly.


GOULD: Exactly.

JAY: You tie them down, weaken them.

GOULD: Exactly [inaudible]

JAY: Alright. So just to kind of give some big sweeps to this, so you’ve got this period. The US policy is to induce the Soviets into Afghanistan, or at least facilitate it. They certainly succeed, which leads to years of war, which also tends to, as one person has said, turn Pakistan into a country with a Kalashnikov culture. The whole Pakistan society starts to be transformed by the billions of dollars going—arms going this way and drugs coming this way back into Pakistan. Eventually the Russians leave. Tell us what happens next.

GOULD: Well, that’s when everything really does fall apart. And the—again, in terms of the mujahideen, what ended up happening was the multiple groups of Islamists known as the mujahideen began to war with one another in their attempt to take over Afghanistan. In fact, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud were two of the main people who caused the major destruction in Kabul—75 percent of Kabul was destroyed during the exchanges. And that actually was the precipitator of the creation of the Taliban. In an effort to try and guarantee that—the Pakistanis wanted to guarantee that they would have a Pakistani-friendly government installed in Afghanistan. The Taliban became the method and went around to the refugee camps, where they basically brought Afghan boys into the madrasahs and indoctrinated them. But this was all part of the buildup that eventually was presented, by 1994-96, as an Afghan movement, but really was very much part of the ideological political process that the Pakistani ISI military [inaudible]

JAY: Together with the Saudis, I think, should be added.

GOULD: Oh, absolutely.

FITZGERALD: Together with the Saudis. But also the United States was very much behind it. And, you know, Madeleine Albright, as an example, was very, very positive on backing the Taliban, and she considered them to be a cleansing force.

JAY: You know, from one angle it gets vilified, the nurturing of the Taliban. But from Pakistan’s national interest, don’t they have a right? They had utter chaos on their borders. And, in fact, the Taliban, if I understand correctly, certainly, at least in the early days, were quite welcomed by the Afghan people as getting rid of the terrible lawlessness, the culture of rape of young—especially young boys, and, I mean, the hundreds of thousands of people that were killed in this inter-warlord fighting, that from Pakistan’s interest and from Afghans’ interest there was a stabilizing factor there. Was there not?

GOULD: Well, when you’re going from hell to basically a lesser hell, I guess there may be some kind of qualification.

JAY: Especially a hell that they can say was mostly US-policy-created, not Pakistan-policy-created.

GOULD: Exactly. But I think that the embracing of the Taliban was because the Afghan people actually believe that the Taliban was an authentic Afghan movement. And, of course, what ended up happening was you ended up with ethnic cleansing, you ended up with, you know, the type of sharia law that was implemented was absolutely unseen and unexperienced by the Afghan people. There was no relationship to the kind of Islam being practiced by the Taliban that historically had ever been connected to the Afghan experience. So what ended up happening was, yes, there was a level at which there was some kind of stability, and certainly Pashtuns, definitely in that sense, you know, had the advantage over the other ethnic groups that were being slaughtered. But the idea that this was somehow, you know, really an expression of the Afghan people or a solution that the Afghans embrace, no, it was never that.

FITZGERALD: I remember reading reports back in the 1990s and talking to people who’d come out of Afghanistan who were telling us that up to 50 percent of the Taliban in the 1995-1996 time period were Pakistani regulars who’d resign their—you know, they’d resign their commission in the Pakistani army, and they’d put on the black kohl under their eyes and the black turban and gone to fight as Taliban. So this was very much a mixed group from very early on. And a lot of the Afghan Taliban, of course, were becoming very disillusioned during that time period. Now, Taliban is kind of a generic as it is. A talib is a fighter, a seeker of the light. So this goes back a long time in terms of what the name is. And there’s been kind of a broad brush of what the Taliban are. But you can’t really go in there with this kind of American attitude and say, well, this is Pakistan, this is Afghanistan. You’ve got tribes, you’ve got nationalist issues here. And, of course, as Liz mentioned earlier, you’ve got this incredible issue of Baluch nationalism, Sindh nationalism, Pashtun nationalism, and it’s all very much an aspect of what’s going on right now and complicating the issue.

JAY: Let’s jump ahead. So 9/11 takes place. You have the overthrow of the Taliban government. When I’m there in the spring of 2002, the Taliban are hardly present. But I have to say I must’ve heard it 100 times, if not more: if there’s one thing we hate as much as the Taliban (speaking to ordinary Afghans), it’s all the warlords the Americans have just brought back into power, and the warlords who were responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths. And the Afghan people have been caught between all of these different political forces all vying for their own national interest. I suppose there’s one thing is that Pakistan gets vilified here, whereas it—and as much as Pakistan’s national interest certainly does get imposed into the Afghan situation, it’s the US national interest that’s probably caused more trouble.

GOULD: Without the United States, Pakistan really wouldn’t have had the power to overwhelm Afghanistan. So there’s no question that the US always viewed Pakistan is a hedge against the Soviet Union. It was very much the Cold War thinking that established the kind of relationship that the US had with Pakistan. And Afghanistan never ever even entered entered into the equation. Afghanistan was nothing to the United States.

JAY: Okay, in the next segment of our interview, let’s continue the discussion, ’cause we haven’t even mentioned the word “India” yet and the way the Pakistan-Indian rivalry affects the Afghan situation. And of course there’s the recent—so-called “recent” discovery of what they’re calling the Saudi Arabia of lithium and gold and all kinds of fabulous amounts of minerals, apparently, how that’s going to affect the situation. Please join us for the next segment of our interview on The Real News Network.

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Liz Gould and Paul Fitzgerald

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, a husband and wife team, began their experience in Afghanistan when they were the first American journalists to acquire permission to enter behind Soviet lines in 1981 for CBS News and produced a documentary, Afghanistan Between Three Worlds, for PBS. In 1983 they returned to Kabul with Harvard Negotiation project director Roger Fisher for ABC Nightline and contributed to the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. They have continued to research, write and lecture about the long-term run-up that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story published by City Lights. Their next book Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire will be published February, 2011.