PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Joining us again from Peshawar, Pakistan, is Rahimullah Yusufzai. He’s a leading Pakistan journalist and a senior editor and bureau chief of News International in Peshawar, and he’s one of the handful of journalists who’s interviewed Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. Thanks for joining us again.
RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI, JOURNALIST: Thank you.
JAY: The battle that’s taking place in the town of Marja, many people have said that this is strategically not so significant, and that it’s more of a propaganda event for American public opinion. Do you think this is true? And if so, why are they doing this?
YUSUFZAI: I think the US government is desperate for some victory, even if it is a victory which will not be there in the real sense. You know, they have been losing ground in Afghanistan. They have been actually persuading their NATO allies to send more soldiers to Afghanistan. They have been embarrassed by the corruption of the Afghan government. They have been embarrassed by the rise in poppy cultivation and drug trafficking in Afghanistan under their watch. They were also embarrassed when there was fraud in the elections in Afghanistan. So they need some breathing space, they need some victories, and that’s why they’re using such a huge forceï¿½15,000 troopsï¿½fighting only about 400 to 1,000 Taliban guerrilla fighters in a small area in Marja, in Helmand. Helmand is a huge provinceï¿½13 districts. Three of those districts are being held by Taliban, and Marja was the fourth one. So they want to capture Marja with a huge force. There has been no real fighting in that area. The only thing which is holding the advance of the US and NATO forces are the landmines. That’s why their advance has been slowed down. Otherwise, Taliban actually have retreated. They’re just firing rockets, laying landmines, and occasionally using sniper fire to attack the advancing US-led NATO forces.
JAY: Now, if the United States actually carries out its plan, they capture Marja and they do real economic development, which they claim this is what’s going to follow, can this start to change the game there or not?
YUSUFZAI: Although it’s a bit late in the day, these things should have happened earlier. Now, eight years after occupation, they could have done some of these things earlier. It would have brought a real change. But even now, if there can be some real economic development, if there is good governance, if the people can find jobs, and most importantly, if the people are given a sense of security, then there could be some change. Taliban really cannot offer all these things. They can offer security. They’re very good at providing security. But they cannot offer education, economic development, or anything else. The people would make their choices, but the occupation forces have to be really patient and really kind to the people. Only bear in mind, this operation in Marja and Helmand, 15 civilians have been killed, thousands of people have been displaced. So civilians have suffered more damage than the Taliban. Taliban just retreated. That’s why these kind of operations, using massive force and air power, it can cause a lot of collateral damage, and that can actually then create conditions which would be helpful to Taliban, and those conditions would not be very helpful to the foreign troops.
JAY: Now, in terms of the future development, let’s say they’re serious about it. What do they do about the issue of the drug trade? They’re dealing with a government, both in Kabul and in various provinces, which is riddled with corruption because of the size of the drug industry. In Pakistan as well, the corruption and drug business is such a massive undertaking. How do they make any real change if they don’t take on the whole issue of drugs?
YUSUFZAI: Most of these people in the government are involved in drug trafficking. Now, they can’t really take action against them, because these Afghan warlords are their allies, and they don’t want to make more enemies. They’re already fighting and facing difficulties in defeating the Taliban. And if they take action against these warlords, most of whom are part of the government, then they would have many more enemies. That’s why I think no action has been taken in the last eight years, and that’s why there has been record production of opium poppies and a conversion of this opium into heroin. And the narcotics which are produced and smuggled out of Afghanistan is the highest in the world. Figures have been givenï¿½it’s more than $3 billion worth of drug trafficking. So I think this is huge money. That’s why so many people have become involved, including Taliban commanders. Helmand produces most of the opium poppies in Afghanistan. So I think it’s going to be a test of the seriousness of the US and NATO forces [inaudible] want to take action against the drug traffickers, because under the watch and in their presence, the poppy cultivation has increased to record levels. The drug trafficking has become rampant. And still only two drug traffickers have been arrested until now in Afghanistan in the last eight years.
JAY: When I was in Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, the hatred for the warlords was almost as strong amongst the people as it was for the Taliban. Is there any real possible change in Afghanistan without, I guess, first and foremost the Afghans, but also the Americans, propping up the warlords? But if people don’t take on the warlords, how can this situation change?
YUSUFZAI: You know, these warlords were defeated by the Taliban fairly easily, because people hated them in the mid-1990s, and that’s why people welcomed the Taliban at that time. Taliban then also became more different. There were like the warlords: they also were using force to force themselves on the people. So people in Afghanistan actually don’t like [inaudible] government whether they are mujahideen, Taliban, or the warlords. The warlords were brought back into power by the US, and that is one reason why people did not really like this action by the Americans, and that’s why there was opposition to the foreign forces: they brought back the same old corrupt warlords who had committed human rights violations. I think that there is a need for a real change of policy concerning these warlords and drug traffickers; otherwise, all these people who have been accused of human rights abuses, they’re still part of the government. In fact, the two vice presidents to Hamid Karzai, Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, both have been accused of human rights violations. And President Karzai’s brother, Wali Karzai, has been accused by The New York Times of involvement in drug trafficking. Many ministers, many police chiefs, many people who are part of the ruling elite actually have been accused of human rights violations and drug trafficking. So if you have such a government, I don’t think that it can raise the confidence of the common people in their government. I don’t think that people can hope for a real change as long as these people are part of the government.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
YUSUFZAI: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.