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Margolis on how to resolve Afghan conflict

In part three of our interview with Eric Margolis, Eric talks to Senior Editor Paul Jay about his recent book, American Raj, and the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He believes the only way the people of Afghanistan can start rebuilding their country is if the foreign forces pull out. Jay challenges this notion as well as the current US/NATO policies. Margolis says Pakistan is now bankrupt . Eric believes that corruption and bad management alongside social unrest and the threat of an American invasion are contributing to an uncertain future for Pakistan.

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Story Transcript

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenge Pt. 3

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Eric Margolis. He’s the author of American Raj. And at the end of this interview, you will find out how you can get American Raj without paying a cent at a bookstore. What we’re talking about is what happened if Barack Obama, after reading American Raj, got inspired to call Eric Margolis and ask him for advice: "What should I do in Afghanistan and Pakistan?" So when we left—. Thanks for joining us again, Eric. And when we left off at the last segment, you were more or less saying it’s not in America’s national interest to continue on in Afghanistan, how the al-Qaeda threat is a paper threat, and Obama’s kind of boxed himself into this position. But this is as seen from, argued from, purely an American national interest, which I guess is fair enough if you’re the president of the United States. But if you look at it from the interests of the Afghan people—. And as I said earlier, I made a film there and I traveled up and down Afghanistan—not nearly as extensively as you, but I got some sense of the place. I don’t think ordinary Afghans want simply all foreign forces out. I think most Afghans want an end to the American mission of chasing the Taliban around the hills and they want an end to the bombing of their villages, but I don’t think they want to see a renewed civil war that they had a few years ago that might have killed as many as two million Afghans. I don’t think they want to see just lawless warlords fighting against Taliban chieftains. I mean, they do want schools; they do want some modernization. Certainly people in the cities want it. You know, we met kids in university in Mazari Sharif that want to go to university, and the girls want to go to university, and they don’t want to have to go back to burkas and staying at home and hiding behind doors. So, in terms of the Afghan people, what do you think should be done, if one starts from their interest?

ERIC MARGOLIS, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: You know, I don’t know why we’re so worried about veiled women in Afghanistan.

JAY: Why? ‘Cause Afghan women hated this.

MARGOLIS: Or what about women in Saudi Arabia, our great ally from whom we buy our oil? We don’t care that women there are veiled and are—.

JAY: But do you think there’s not some responsibility on the amount of messing up the West has already done in Afghanistan, you know, in terms of walking away after the Russians left, putting guns and modern weapons and money into the hands of backward rural chieftains who had no business—in any natural course of events would not have dominated the urban centers? I mean, there’s been so much messing up in Afghanistan. It seems to me the world owes Afghanistan something.

MARGOLIS: Well, I think you raise very good points. But to my thinking, the only people who can settle this problem are the Afghans. Any foreign troops there will take sides. They’ll play off between the ethnic groups—the Tajik, Uzbeks, Hazara, and the Pashtuns, who are half the country—they’re going to play off each other. They, the West, the foreign intervention, is the problem. The Indians are now starting to move big-time into Afghanistan, and there’s rumors in Washington that the new Obama administration might try and convince India, which just signed a nuclear pact with the United States, and send Indian troops into there. So this war is getting bigger. The only way to shut it down is to get the foreign troops out. And there will be a bloodbath, but Afghans will eventually have to settle their affairs in the traditional Afghan way.

JAY: But that bloodbath could be in the hundreds of thousands of people. It could be in the millions, as before.

MARGOLIS: Well, it’s happening now. This war has been going on. The Soviets killed 2.5 million Afghans. They’ve been at war since 1979. This war has [inaudible]

JAY: More Afghans died in the civil war than died in the fight with Russia. So that’s the—.

MARGOLIS: I’m not sure about that. But what I’m saying—.

JAY: One of the proposals that’s been is that in fact the solution should come from the region, not from Europe and not from Americans or Canadians. But the regional countries should have some kind of a, like, Geneva-style—.

MARGOLIS: But there won’t be, because look who’s in the region: Iran, which has stirred the pot and stabbed the anti-Russian resistance in the back, has its own designs on western Pakistan; Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as its strategic hinterland and sphere of influence; India, which wants to move in there dearly to get at the Pakistanis; and then the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which have their own regional interests. All these people are stirring the pots. The only way is to impose a cordon sanitaire around Afghanistan, get all the foreigners out, and let the Afghans shoot for awhile, and then sit down under a big tent, loya jirga, and settle their differences the way they always have.

JAY: Talk a bit about Pakistan. The Pakistan side of this equation is inseparable from the Afghan side. The border, according to the Pashtuns, I think, it shouldn’t be there in the first place, and the Pashtuns move back and forth across it. Certainly Obama and the American policy is to get the Pakistani government to use its army in a kind of pincer movement against the al-Qaeda and pro-al-Qaeda and the pro-hardcore-Taliban forces. We’re seeing a sort of an awakening council phenomenon now, where some of the local tribes, I think, are being paid or perhaps on their own initiative fighting the Taliban. Make some sense of this for us.

MARGOLIS: Well, you know, one of the reasons I wrote American Raj is that I’m so concerned that we’re heading into a disaster in this part of the world, particularly in Pakistan. It’s 165 million people—this is no Iraq with 25 million. And what we’re doing is we’ve bought or rented the Pakistani army and security forces to fight their own people. Ninety percent of people in Pakistan hate the United States as a result. Every time Pakistani forces bomb villages in the tribal agency who are supporting Taliban, people come down from the north and shoot off a bomb in Islamabad. We call it terrorism; they call it retaliation. What’s happening, there’s enormous outrage in Pakistan against the West twisting its arm. The army’s humiliated, and they’re saying, "Fight India, fight for Kashmir. Don’t fight your own people." And now the US is buying and bribing these small tribal groups in the tribal area as sort of awakening councils. It’s not the same as Iraq, and it’s going to result in chaos in an already chaotic area. And I’m afraid that this whole area of northern Pakistan is going to disintegrate and simply fly apart. And if this happens, the danger of Indian intervention is very real. Look at Bangladesh in 1970-71, when there was a rebellion, an uprising, chaos, and the Indian army moved in.

JAY: To what extent is the financial crisis going to affect all of this? We’ve been told the Pakistani economy is collapsing. They’ve been going looking for bailouts. They went to China, the United States, they went to Russia. They’re getting turned down everywhere. I’m not sure exactly where the IMF deal was. One day we were told it was on; the next day Pakistan said they hadn’t actually agreed to it yet, and it’s only $5 billion, which is not even what the Americans pay to support the Pakistani military. So what’s going to happen if this economy unravels?

MARGOLIS: Pakistan’s bankrupt in spite of the $1.2 billion official aid, unofficially probably add in another hundreds more millions from the CIA. But it’s bankrupt. The politicians have stolen a lot of the money, and the rest of it has gone up in the air. There may be great social unrest, rioting when Pakistan goes. It can’t buy oil. I expect the Saudis will eventually come and rescue them, and they won’t let Pakistan dissolve into chaos.

JAY: ‘Cause they did turn them down. I think the Sauds were one of the places they went for the bailout.

MARGOLIS: They did, for baksheesh, as it’s known in the Middle East. But I think eventually they will be saved. Unfortunately, the new government, under President Zardari, is really a Musharraf II clone; he’s doing the same policies as the US-backed dictator, Pervez Musharraf. He’s wildly unpopular. The army doesn’t like him. The army’s fed up fighting its own people. It’s a terrible mess. And, remember, Pakistan has 60 to 100 nuclear weapons, and the US is now making rumbling talks about attacking Pakistan’s nuclear forces. Very dangerous.

JAY: In the next segment of the interview, I’m going to ask you: what would a peace deal with the Taliban look like? If you would like to read American Raj, you can go to donate, and it will be a gift you can get as a result of donating. Eric has generously donated a quantity of books, and it’s not unlimited, so you probably want to donate soon or you may not be one of the people that gets American Raj. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Eric Margolis.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.