PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And joining us again to discuss Afghanistan and Wikileaks is Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould. They’re the authors of the book Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story. Thanks for joining us again.
PAUL FITZGERALD, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Thank you, Paul, for having us.
ELIZABETH GOULD, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: It’s great to be here.
JAY: So now we’re going to catch up sort of into the current period. What is what we are now calling Taliban? ‘Cause as you said in the last episode, you can’t—you know, it’s an easy phrase to throw around, but it’s like saying "the Americans". I mean, "the Taliban" mean many different things, doesn’t it?
FITZGERALD: Yeah, it does. And that’s part of the issue. I mean, a talib is a seeker; he’s somebody who seeks the light. And this is well known in Afghan society. And these are people who—you know, these are young students who want to study and learn how to become better human beings and find God. And it’s kind of been broadly applied to this group that came out of these seminaries in Pakistan and in the early 1990s with the help of the Pakistani intelligence, ISI. But, you know, there’s a lot of other issues going on here. There are so-called Taliban groups that are friendly with the Pakistani military and which the Pakistani military has traditionally used to advance their own cause in Afghanistan and in other parts of south-central Asia, as in India, as an example. There’s one group that’s responsible specifically for the Mumbai bombings that is considered to be very close to the ISI Pakistani Taliban. So, you know, this is a specific group that’s been trained in order to go into Afghanistan and go into India and conduct terrorist activity. So these are also referred to as various kinds of Taliban. There’s also the Punjabi Taliban. Up until recently it was considered that the only real Taliban were the Pashtun Taliban. Well, now you have a mixture of all kinds of things. You have Arabs coming in from the Middle East. You’ve got ["CHEN-yunz"] coming in who are mixing up with these various groups. They each have their own political agenda, but they come under this umbrella organization called the "Taliban". So that makes it complicated for us to understand.
JAY: And there’s a section which is at war with the Pakistani military and Pakistani government.
FITZGERALD: That’s correct.
FITZGERALD: And that’s where the issue really gets serious, because, of course, Afghanistan has no nuclear weapons. Afghanistan has about 30-40 million people, something on that order, whereas Pakistan is a major economy, 175 million people. They’ve got 70 to 90 nuclear weapons. They’ve just recently signed a deal with China, as an example, by which they can get the enriched uranium to make more weapons on a regular basis. So this situation is really turning into almost an apocalyptic—it has apocalyptic overtones.
GOULD: You also have the issue of those Taliban in Afghanistan who basically are competing with the Karzai government, and they’re also competing as a better economy, which is the real challenge for the Karzai government and for the Afghan people, since there really is no economy, effectively. When you have a 40 to 50 percent unemployment rate, you have a lot of Afghans who are forced to actually accept jobs with the Taliban. They pay better, and they actually have an income, which we now know part of which comes from United States government.
JAY: Yeah, this is something that I’ve never been able to understand, unless you have a kind of a skeptical theory on why the United States is in Afghanistan. Why don’t they just hire most of these people away and give them satellite television and say, "Stay at home"? It’d be a lot cheaper than a war.
GOULD: Well, there are geopolitical issues here that actually are better served by the likes of the Taliban being very powerful or running Afghanistan than having a legitimate, democratically elected nationalist leader that the Afghan people want.
JAY: So let’s talk about that. So why is the United States in Afghanistan?
FITZGERALD: Well, that’s the big question that a lot of people people are asking.
GOULD: Two hundred bases seems to be suggesting that we have a long-term commitment [inaudible] region.
FITZGERALD: This is where it goes back to Zbigniew Brzezinski. You mentioned Brzezinski in the earlier section. Zbigniew Brzezinski has this global chessboard. His whole concept of international relations is basically this 19th-century Eurasian strategy, which is to move up into the south-central Asia, and with the help of the powers that be, being the Saudi Arabians, as an example, Saudi oil money, and to help conquer that part of the world and basically block off, seal off the string of pearls that goes from Azerbaijan all the way into the Horn of Africa, as an example. You’ve got this long-term policy that’s been at work underneath the surface since the late 19th century. And so, you know, we think of, well, how could that possibly be active today? Well, think of it this way. I mean, you’ve got protégés upon protégés upon protégés of people who’ve succeeded each other in these various governmental positions, in both Britain and the United States, who’ve handed this mission down. And this is very much—it has been, up to now, very much an Anglo-Saxon effort, and continues to be.
JAY: And Brzezinski says very clearly, he says, if you want to dominate the world, you have to dominate Eurasia. And this seems to be the main theater for it now. So if you’re going to in one word say why is the US in Afghanistan, I suppose that word is China.
GOULD: And Russia.
GOULD: I think Russia’s also a factor.
FITZGERALD: You can’t exclude Russia from the equation, either. I think traditionally the control was was that they always—I think this—the ruling group, the powers that be, always believed that a relationship could be forged with China, but that Russia somehow had to be left out of the picture, that for whatever reason, the only thing wrong with Russia was the Russians. And as long as they can control what goes on, the trade in those southern areas—in the Azerbaijan area, in the Caucasus, in those parts of what were traditionally under control of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, early 20th century—then that would be the objective, the ultimate objective. And I would say that that’s still very much in play.
JAY: So it’s a bit of a hypocrisy, then, to blame Pakistan for pursuing its national interests, where you can dress up the US position as being liberators.
GOULD: There’s no question that Pakistan does have a right, as any nation does, to pursue their own national interests. But I think that what you have in the region, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are governments that do not represent the fundamentals of the people of the region, whether it’s the Afghan people or the Pakistani people, that the ISI military basically does dominate the government and that it has its own agenda, that it has had that agenda ever since its inception in 1947, was really empowered by the United States, embracing the idea that a strong military in Pakistan served the interests of the United States. And they’ve always had a struggle [inaudible]
JAY: Which is why, essentially, Reagan allowed them to have nuclear weapons.
GOULD: There you go. M’hm.
JAY: Okay, so let’s jump another step. You’ve been focused, writing about Afghanistan for decades now. What is a solution? If ordinary Americans or Canadians or Europeans want to demand of their governments a different policy that actually would be in the interests of the Afghan people rather than India or United States or all the other countries, like Pakistan, what should they—in a practical way, you know, what’s possibly realizable? What should they be telling their politicians?
GOULD: Economic development is the key. As I mentioned before, one of the reasons—if the Taliban has any power at all in Afghanistan, it is because of the fact that very few people can get the jobs they need to support their families. So you’re really looking at an economic crisis in Afghanistan. And that would be the most important to develop would be helping to develop it economically. That’s not happened since America first started getting involved with redevelopment.
JAY: But, Paul, the argument against that that you hear, especially from the American military and others, is that you can’t do it now. Maybe we—in fact, some people are saying maybe we could have in 2002 or 2003, but the opportunity was missed. Now, if you don’t deal with the security situation, you can’t do any economic development, ’cause the Taliban won’t allow it. And number two that’s raised is—and this not by the Americans; by other people who know the situation—that the warlords now, and especially Afghanistan turning into practically a narco state, that it’s how do you do any real economic development in the midst of a war and a narco culture?
FITZGERALD: It’s an issue of priorities, I think, at this point. I mean, I think from a political standpoint, if you look at it politically, you’d better say, well, what’s generated this entire problem to begin with is this relationship between India and Pakistan, which has been bad, of course, from its inception. And that is something that the United States and the Western powers have the ability to adjust. They can get the appropriate Pakistani people and the appropriate Indian people in the same room at the same time, sit them down, and come to some kind of real resolution over the Kashmir issue. This has been a divisive issue from the very beginning. In addition to that, you have other issues regarding the state of Pakistan—as an example, the Baluchistan independence issue. There have been, from what I understand—there was an Amnesty International report that came out about eight months ago, ten months ago. It stated specifically about the number of disappeared that’s been happening in Baluchistan as an example. It rivals anything that ever happened in Chile during the early 1970s. So the number of missing is an example, political activists who’ve gone missing. The suppression of legitimate political parties in Baluchistan and in the northwest frontier provinces, and the backing of radical Islamists, as an example. So you have not just an active but also a tacit kind of a situation, where you have—the earth has been groomed for this kind of extremist enterprise. And, of course, what the United States did with backing the warlords, that has really heightened the situation. Zalmay Khalilzad was an example: Reagan’s ambassador made sure that the entire process, not just in Afghanistan but also in Washington, was corrupted from the very beginning with the people who were brought in in order to work with this situation.
JAY: Okay. So some people have said the Americans should just get the hell out. So if the Americans did just get the hell out, does it lead to some force or pressure that, regionally, these countries will have to come to some kind of deal? Or does it lead to renewed civil war?
GOULD: At this believe point I believe that there has to be a regional solution, that it would be irresponsible for the United States and NATO to just pull out without actually bringing in a regional support system. But once again, as you asked the question before about the warlords, empowerment of the warlords and the Taliban, but yet it is the United States that’s part of the empowerment process. So we know that the Taliban right now in Afghanistan are being paid not to attack or to help guide the US distribution that it needs for its 200 bases. These are things that clearly show a conflict, I think, in terms of priorities. So there’s an awful lot of things that I think are—you know, it’s very easy to say, well, now that the warlords and the Taliban are so strong, we’ve got to figure out a way to negotiate them into the government. But from the Afghan viewpoint—and I think a recent poll said something like 6 percent of the Afghan people actually would embrace the Taliban. So there’s no desire. And, of course—.
JAY: And many of the Afghans call the Taliban fascist.
JAY: And these are anti-American Afghans that say so.
GOULD: Yes. Absolutely.
FITZGERALD: Yes. Right.
GOULD: So we know that it’s very convenient that the United States backed the wrong people. Well, they backed the wrong people for the Afghan people, but they backed the right people for their own self-interest. That’s part the problem. It’s also part of Pakistan’s problem. Every nation, obviously, has the right to protect its own self-interest, but we all have to realize when we step over a boundary, a border, we are now affecting someone else’s self-interest. So there has to be a way that self-interest can be defined in such tight quarters that actually recognizes the actual self-interests of India, of Afghanistan, of Pakistan, of Iran, of Russia, of China. All these interests, obviously, have to be balanced.
FITZGERALD: I mean, one of the big problems that the United States has suffered in this part of the world, and specifically during the Bush era, was the fact that the people that were sent over there to work in that situation in that theater simply did not understand the complexities of what they were dealing with. I mean, they didn’t even know, as an example, the issue of the Durand line. That was even raised at one point a few years back with one of Bush’s people who was there. The most important person he had there had no idea what the traditional issue was regarding the line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, I mean, this has been an issue. I mean—and how we get beyond that, I really don’t know. But I do know that at this point, I mean, the United States can turn its remaining effectiveness towards helping the situation, kind of de-escalating the tensions involved here. I’m just not so sure, on the one hand, that there is the expertise to do that, even if the will exists in Washington.
JAY: Well, I guess what there really has to be is a change of strategic objective on the behalf of this Obama administration. They talked about a new mindset for foreign policy, but I don’t think we have seen much of a change. If they’re going to have a regional solution and a regional conference, perhaps, and really bring all the countries in on this, there has to be a giving up of this grand Brzezinskian chessboard, where the US is going to dominate the region. But we’re sure seeing no signs of that. Thanks very much for joining us, Elizabeth and Paul.
FITZGERALD: Thank you, Paul.
GOULD: Thanks, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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