Beyond the war on terror

July 21, 2008

The Real News Network Analyst Pepe Escobar talks to Professor Barnett R. Rubin of New York University, a leading expert on Afghanistan, about the relationships between the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and NATO.

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The Real News Network Analyst Pepe Escobar talks to Professor Barnett R. Rubin of New York University, a leading expert on Afghanistan, about the relationships between the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and NATO.


Story Transcript

Pepe Escobar interviews Barnett R. Rubin, Part 4

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: How do you see Afghanistan evolving in the next few years? Are we going to have, every spring and summer, going to have another Taliban or neo-Taliban offensive? And we’re going to have western troops bogged down in Afghanistan for years?

PROF. BARNETT RUBIN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, the situation now is sort of a stalemate with, I would say, the strategic situation of the insurgents—you could say the Taliban, but the insurgents—gradually improving, but it’s not improving in a way that would lead them to defeat the other side. At this point, it could go on indefinitely, except that at some point, some disaster will happen, you know, whether it is a successful assassination, or a riot, or something that I can’t even imagine, or perhaps another major attack like 9/11, which would be traced back, perhaps, to Pakistan. You know. Something will happen or could happen that would kind of drive home the lesson, even from people who aren’t really paying attention, that what’s happening now isn’t working. Part of Osama bin Laden’s plan, according to people who interviewed before this, was to attack in such a way as to force the United States to fight in the Muslim world, so that they would be defeated like the Soviet Union. So far what I still see is that because the United States was directly attacked—and we’re sitting now in my office. Right outside my window—I was here on September 11. Right outside my window, there were thousands of people going down the street like war refugees. Well, they were war refugees, because you could see the towers burning from here. Because of that event, Americans still, by and large, perceive a vital national interest in being there. I think that the insurgents are making a mistake in thinking that they can get the United States, and therefore its allies who need the United States, to withdraw in the way the Soviet Union did, because the attack of September 11 made the United States have a much stronger feeling of national interest there than the Soviet Union ever did.

ESCOBAR: So we’ll go on with this forever.

PROF. RUBIN: Well, it can’t go on forever. And I would say, in a way, if there were going to be some kind of disaster or crisis, it’s just as likely, if not more likely, to occur in Pakistan as in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter how many troops you put into Afghanistan if the Taliban are still destabilizing Pakistan, which is in a way the source, it’s the factor that aggravates the many problems in Afghanistan to the extent that they are now. It’s been on the front pages of all of our newspapers and the lead story in television news. More western, more NATO and US casualties in Afghanistan this month and last month than in Iraq. Okay. That never happened before. In fact, before, the difference was huge—so many more in Iraq. Now you have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying just the other day that he needed more troops in Afghanistan, and he couldn’t get them because of Iraq.

ESCOBAR: Because they were in Iraq. Yeah.

PROF. RUBIN: Right. So the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is practically reciting talking points for the Obama campaign. I’m sure he wouldn’t thank me for saying that. And President Bush is saying he’s going to try to find those troops. Now, what would it take to actually get some action? That I don’t know, because we’re tapped out of troops and we’re deeply in debt, and our allies are also giving a lot. But I think there are things we could do that would be much smarter. But it would be a very difficult adjustment, and I think probably it will take some kind of [inaudible]

ESCOBAR: Especially create another relationship with the Pakistani government.

PROF. RUBIN: Yes. Well, see, the other thing, of course, one thing that’s happened that’s very important, of course, is that there have been elections in Pakistan. So we’re no longer dealing with a military regime in Pakistan. Now, when you’re not dealing with a military regime in Pakistan, you always have the problem that you don’t know who you’re dealing with, because the military is still in charge of security issues, but they claim they’re not; they claim the government is in charge. The political parties that won the elections in Pakistan, both nationally and in the frontier areas, in the provincial elections, articulated political visions for Pakistan that I would say are very compatible with legitimate US interests. In other words, because they are representing the people of Pakistan, what they articulate—not necessarily what they do once they’re in office, but what they articulate is improving the social and economic situation of the people living there, which is not promoted by covert action, destabilizing their neighbors, and things like that. And, in fact, those parties, which tend to be on the left, have also been the victims of violence from the Islamist forces in Pakistan, which the military has also used against them at times. So it means that although the situation is more complicated, the United States, international forces, if it had a policy that wasn’t just so focused on getting other people to help us kill our enemies, we actually could have a much better political base for cooperation in the region. But that will require a policy toward Pakistan, in particular, that was much more focused on engaging with Pakistan, supporting the democratic institutions.

ESCOBAR: A new policy would be an antithesis to the war on terror.

PROF. RUBIN: I would say so. I mean, in other words, it would still be addressing the threat of terrorism, but recognizing that that kind of international terrorism basically comes out of two things. One is political grievances, and the other is the way that those grievances become escalated into violence when there is no legitimate redress, and also when there are ungoverned areas where people survive by criminal activity, because there aren’t legitimate economic opportunities. You know, so they have drug trading, the government is weak, and so on and so forth. So we need to do something to address those political grievances. It’s not possible to settle all political grievances in order to end terrorism. There will always be political grievances, debates, differences, conflicts. But if you can at least incorporate people living in some of the most marginalized areas into the structures like the tribal agencies, for instance, the people that are not getting any benefit from being part of Pakistan or being part of the international system right now. So why should they support it? But if we help the government of Pakistan, offer them a package of integration into the rest of Pakistan, then the interests of the people who live there are quite different from the interests of international terrorists or, you know, bin Laden and so on who are founding bases there, because they’re not going to get benefits from the extension of Pakistani government into that area.


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