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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

What Will Obama's Afghanistan Policy Be?

Aired January 25, 2009 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have a great show for you today. But first, a few thoughts on week one of the Obama presidency.

So, you've heard all about Guantanamo, Gaza and government ethics. But the biggest challenge the president faces, and that should occupy most of its attention these days, is still the economy.

Now, I've always thought that those comparisons between 1933 and today were overdone. After all, unemployment during the Great Depression reached 25 percent. There were massive runs on banks, trade wars had shrunk global output.

But the situation that Obama is inheriting is quite scary. Despite the bank bailout, despite the lowest interest rates ever, the economy is teetering on the edge.

The financial system remains fundamentally unsound. Banks are sliding towards insolvency. Credit is not moving through the economy. And companies announce massive layoffs every day.

Barack Obama is going to have to use his enormous political capital to ask the country for another set of dramatic measures -- yes, to rescue the financial system.

There are many proposals out there: a national bank that would buy up the toxic assets, more equity, harder guarantees. Whichever option is chosen, the action needs to be fast, massive, systemic, and has to create a sense of resolve and certainty, not erraticism and uncertainty.

The Obama administration has to send a signal to the market: don't bet against us, we will win.

Anyway, now on to a strategic review of Afghanistan. President Obama is doing his own strategic review. In fact, there are three going on in the government right now.

We're going to try to explore the very same issues that the government is dealing with, to try to figure out what should be U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, Western policy toward Afghanistan, and how do we in some way stabilize this country.

Stay with us.

(BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, pay close attention, because the man I am about to introduce could possibly be the next president of Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani is one of the most widely respected men in Afghanistan. He's American-educated, with a masters and a Ph.D. He served as the finance minister of Afghanistan and chief adviser to President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004.

He has played key roles at the World Bank, the United Nations, and recently served as chancellor of Kabul University.

Ashraf Ghani, welcome.

DR. ASHRAF GHANI, CHAIRMAN, INSTITUTE OF STATE EFFECTIVENESS AND FORMER FINANCE MINISTER OF AFGHANISTAN: It's a pleasure to be with you.

ZAKARIA: And I have to ask you to begin with, are you going to be part of the solution? Are you going to run for the presidency of Afghanistan?

GHANI: I am seriously considering. But the first part, actually, is that the nation of Afghanistan should be the winner of the elections. We have to arrive at the consensus regarding what our national interests are and how we make those happen.

ZAKARIA: Is Hamid Karzai part of the problem or part of the solution?

GHANI: President Karzai has lost legitimacy in a massive way. And his capacity for governance is diminished very significantly. It of course is up to the people of Afghanistan to make an ultimate decision on him.

But I feel that today, there is a negative consensus that he is not capable of leading the country, because he has not come forward with a strategy of governance. It has been a repetition of mistakes rather than a coherent analysis -- a determination of priorities in a managerial capacity to wade through these difficult times.

ZAKARIA: Is it because he is both ineffective and has surrounded himself with a great deal of corruption -- whether or not he is personally corrupt, members of his family are alleged to be part of a very -- a much broader scheme of corruption in Afghanistan?

GHANI: The extent of corruption is massive and well-documented. And this is the overall feeling. Tolerance of this, whether tacitly or actively, has become part of the problem. And people do not see improvement in their lives.

Given that we are, again, dealing with a drought, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming a source of instability. Most significantly, unless the government is seen as legitimate, and unless the capital becomes exemplary, you cannot rule the provinces.

ZAKARIA: There is a new elite that has been created in Afghanistan, because of the money provided by Western aid, by narcotics, all kinds of things. And they live a kind of extravagant lifestyle. We've seen photographs and video of these mansions in Kabul.

Who are these people? Are they part of the problem, or are they potentially part of the solution?

GHANI: They are part of the problem, because there are no boundaries of behavior. The Afghan political elite has not arrived at a definition of rules of the game. So their behavior is suicidal, because if they want to preserve their money, they need to understand that they cannot do this without order.

ZAKARIA: If you were president, what is the first thing you would do?

GHANI: The government has to be accountable to the people. And this means transparency and accountability from disclosure of assets of all high-ranking government officials to relentless action against anybody who violates public trust and uses public office for private gain.

ZAKARIA: You make a remarkable statement in an interview I saw recently. You said the entire Afghan economy has been criminalized. What do you mean by that?

GHANI: Narcotics has become something that is eating like a cancer through the fabric of society. Narcotics is becoming a larger part of a smaller economy rather than shrinking, becoming part -- a smaller part of a larger economy.

Second, the impact of the money that is derived from narcotics is affecting other sectors of the economy. So instead of the economy becoming a level playing field where people find opportunity, this threat of force is haunting the economy.

And when sectors like banking again are used selectively to reward a number of narrow individuals instead of projects and programs that become critical to the development of the country, one is seeing the overshadowing of the legal economy by this criminalized sector.

ZAKARIA: This is a pretty damning picture, though. It suggests as though, after tens of billions of dollars, a huge expenditure of American blood, this 37-nation coalition, the United Nations, the European Union, the picture is not very pretty.

GHANI: Now, at least there is full acknowledgement of the nature of the problem. For years -- at least for four years, initially -- there was total denial that the problems were developing. The early signs were there. The warnings signals were clear. But those signals were taken as noise and criticism instead of calls for constructive engagement. The survey -- the reviews that were done at the end of the Bush administration acknowledged the nature of the problem, and the Obama administration is coming to a situation where the problems are clearly identified.

ZAKARIA: So, given the picture of Afghanistan you're painting, now explain to us, why is the Taliban growing stronger? After all this effort, why is it that the Taliban seems to be in control of more territory than it was four years ago?

GHANI: Basically because a vacuum of governance was created. What the Afghan population expected at the end of 2002 -- at the end of 2001 with the overthrow of Taliban -- was truly a new book, not just an old chapter rehearsed. They expected the international community to become partners in creating effective institutions.

Afghan culture is very strongly based in notions of justice and fair play. This is thousands of years old. And that notion of justice and fair play is now deeply wounded, and people have become skeptical.

So the corruption of the police, the misgovernance of the judiciary -- you take sector after sector, opened up the possibility. And this has allowed the Taliban to start filling a vacuum that has been created by the weakness of governance.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Ashraf Ghani, the former chancellor of Kabul University and prospective presidential candidate in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with Ashraf Ghani talking about Afghanistan.

Many people are asking, what should the West's goal be in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the military? Should the West be trying to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban? Is that a goal you would urge us to embrace?

GHANI: The goal is wider. The goal is a stable Afghanistan that cannot be again used as a breeding ground or launching ground of terror. This is our common goal.

ZAKARIA: And in order to achieve it...

GHANI: In order to achieve this, we first need to turn military assistance into a catalyst for building the Afghan security institutions. The cost of one U.S. soldier is equivalent to deploying 70 Afghan soldiers.

So, we need to come to a different strategy, because in a counterinsurgency environment, legitimacy of the government is key to winning the population.

And the lesson that has been learned from Iraq and through the counterinsurgency doctrine that General Petraeus was so critical in formulating and implementing, is people need to be put at the center, not the Taliban.

If that...

ZAKARIA: But another part of his strategy, his counterinsurgency strategy, was to talk to people who had previously been shunned and isolated.

GHANI: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: And so, should we begin a process of greater dialogue with the Taliban to find those members of the Taliban who are co- optable, who are willing to come over into the Afghan political process?

GHANI: We should at this moment talk to every Afghan with negative weight or positive weight. But the boundaries of what the negotiation is about have to be defined.

ZAKARIA: Are we killing the wrong people right now? In other words, are a number of the people that we are going after people who may be socially conservative, who may be, you know, oriented towards a certain kind of Islam, but not necessarily jihadist, not necessarily people who are trying to wage some kind of a global jihad?

GHANI: The use of air bombardment -- air bombardment is a very brute instrument. It does not differentiate. A counterinsurgency is won by intelligence, not by bombardment.

A lot of the people that need to be apprehended -- and there are people that must be apprehended -- can be apprehended through other means.

So, the key issue is whether there will be a unified doctrine for U.S. forces and for NATO forces where use of force is put within the larger construct of instruments of smart power.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe that, if a wiser policy were followed, we would be able to eliminate the al Qaeda and the global jihadist presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that we would be able to, for example, achieve the long hoped for goal of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden?

GHANI: I'm convinced of it, that had a wise policy been in place in 2002-2004 period, Afghanistan would have been a radically different place now.

Now it's more difficult, because a significant number of mistakes have happened and the population's trust now needs to be won. The trust of the population both in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be won for a strategy of partnership. But this is the only strategy. We cannot fall to a false notion of clash of civilizations.

The people of these two countries -- because I've worked for years on Pakistan, too, as an academic and as a World Bank official -- desire good governance. And Afghans are sick and tired of violence.

What Afghan people would like, to lead our normal lives.

ZAKARIA: Ashraf Ghani, thank you very much.

GHANI: A pleasure to be with you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: We've heard of all the problems in Afghanistan, and there are many. The questions are, what is the military situation on the ground, and is there a military solution?

Joining me now are two men who certainly know the answers.

Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and he is back from Afghanistan recently.

David Kilcullen is a counterinsurgency expert who has been an important adviser to General David Petraeus. He is currently a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Michael, when you were in Afghanistan, was it your sense that the military -- and I know you were with both the Canadian and the U.S. military -- are they as pessimistic as the kind of news reporting out of Afghanistan is these days?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Fareed, the short answer is "no." There was a mix of opinions, of course, and different people expected different things in 2009. But what I would say in summary is that everyone feels the glass is sort of half full, plus or minus 5 or 10 percent.

And people expect 2009 will be somewhat more difficult as additional U.S. forces spread out into the country and try to establish some order in places where we haven't been before. But there's a wide disagreement as to whether the increase in casualties will be modest or large as a result.

ZAKARIA: But what is their explanation then for the negative indicators -- the fact that the Taliban controls more territory now, casualties are up, attacks are up, you know -- all those kind of indicators of stability, if you will, are pointing in the wrong direction?

O'HANLON: I think they would say, first of all, that we have not had nearly enough resources. And by that I mean not only the United States and NATO, but also the Afghan security forces, which have been kept deliberately small in the belief that a larger Afghan security force was not fundable, was not sustainable economically over the long term. And that has allowed, of course, the Taliban to resurge and to control much of the southern and eastern parts of the country. That's been the fundamental problem.

So it really boils down to increases in resources, doing counterinsurgency right, the way we finally got around to doing it in Iraq in 2007.

ZAKARIA: Dave, is your sense of Afghanistan similarly kind of qualified optimism?

DAVID KILCULLEN, SENIOR FELLOW, THE CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY AND AUTHOR, "THE ACCIDENTAL GUERRILLA": I would say qualified pessimism, actually, Fareed. I think my optimism is pretty firmly in check at this point. The trend lines are all bad.

And I think that the injection of additional coalition forces into the country, although it will probably give us better control in the medium term, is going to spike violence in the short term, despite the nature of the fact that we have a lot more troops on the ground engaging the enemy. So I think we need to be pretty cautious about being overly optimistic going into this fighting season.

Having said that, a new strategy which focuses on protecting the population and delivering governance that meets the needs of the Afghan population, provided we can do that effectively, I think the medium- to long-term prospects are much as Mike described them.

ZAKARIA: The counterinsurgency strategy, Mike, sounds an awful lot like what we did in Iraq: protect the local population, provide them with security so they don't have to either resort to militias or accept the reign of militias, a certain amount of talking to formerly irreconcilables, formerly hostile elements.

Everybody keeps saying Afghanistan is not Iraq. But what you're describing sounds to me like the Iraq strategy applied to Afghanistan.

O'HANLON: I totally agree, Fareed.

In fact, just to make sure that they don't sound too much like what they're doing in Iraq, people in Afghanistan like to say we're doing not just a strategy of "clear, hold, build," but they throw in the word "shape" at the beginning so it sounds a little different. But then they say, "clear, hold, build."

And it's as David just mentioned. We don't want to go in and try to seize control of cities any longer until there is a force, NATO or Afghan, that can hold the place after we're gone.

Otherwise what you wind up doing is you develop intelligence, you go in and use that intelligence to try to conduct a mission. And as soon you pull out, your informants are killed by the Taliban or other insurgents when they come back.

It doesn't make any sense. We tried it for a half dozen years. It's time to change that, and thankfully we are. I should clarify, I'm not quite as guardedly optimistic about where things stand at this moment as some of the commanders I spoke with. I thought they were trying to maintain morale, which is understandable.

But as a strategist, I would say things, frankly, at the moment, are not very good. And in the absence of a major increase in U.S. and Afghan military and police resources in 2009, I would be fundamentally pessimistic about our prognosis.

ZAKARIA: Well, you said police resources, or did you mean military? Because many people believe the Afghan police is beyond reform.

O'HANLON: Indeed. And I spoke to one of the Canadian top military officers in Kandahar and asked him, if this mission ultimately doesn't work -- and he was relatively optimistic, I should say -- but I asked, if it doesn't work, what will be the reason. And he said that the police are simply beyond reform. And so, that is indeed a great concern.

But a more positive message -- and one that he himself emphasized as well -- was that in Kandahar City, in the city itself of Kandahar, the police are actually performing reasonably well. They're the ones that have been through the most rigorous training, including pulling them out of Kandahar to a different location for team training, essentially. And then they returned with embedded Canadian advisers, much as we've done in Iraq with the Iraqi security forces.

And just to give you one factoid, Fareed. They are now getting about 80 percent of all explosives turned into them before they go off. Eighty percent of all of the IEDs are being identified by the local population, and information is being conveyed about them before they are detonated, which is a much higher percentage -- meaning much greater civilian population cooperation -- than we ever saw in Iraq.

And so, that makes me guardedly optimistic.

ZAKARIA: Michael, when you look at this problem of holding, in Iraq, the way we dealt with it was we gave the Sunni areas to the Sunni community, to Sunni tribals. There were often fairly coherent tribes with coherent tribal structures. And you could, in effect, hand it over to these tribes, that the only problem with them had been that they were part of the insurgency, they were Baathists, or the Shia government didn't support them.

In other words, there was a structure of authority that you could kind of hand over the politics to.

Does that structure of authority exist in Afghanistan? And if it does, and it's Taliban, can we make the switch? Can we say to the Taliban, you get to run your area as long as you don't attack us anymore?

O'HANLON: Complex questions, Fareed, but I would say the short answers are "no" and "no." The structure in Afghanistan is not as coherent, especially as, let's say, in al-Anbar province in Iraq, where, as you know, there's one major tribal group and that's it. And then, of course, there was a lot of former Baathism in al-Anbar, which had survived the invasion, and which was also something we could gradually build up as well.

And on top of that, I don't believe that there's much optimism that the hardcore Taliban, or the hardcore insurgents -- the Mullah Omar, the Hekmatyar, or some of the other warlords -- that they're really reconcilable in any meaningful way.

The efforts that I saw were at the local level, working with traditional tribal leaders. And they would try -- the NATO forces would try -- to cultivate these jirgas and meetings of the elders. And then they would try to create a sense of community and maybe even encourage these elders to form a security company of some kind involving their young people, and then create a contract with that group.

And so, there was not nearly the same kind of structure. And whatever reconciliation effort is happening, is happening locally in this way.

ZAKARIA: Gentlemen, stay with me. We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with David Kilcullen and Michael O'Hanlon.

David, what do you think about this idea of talking to the Taliban? It's something that has been broached a great deal, partly because there's a sense that, you know, maybe this is a deep-rooted force within the Pashtun community in Afghanistan, and partly because a somewhat similar experience seemed to have worked in Iraq; that is, talking to hardcore Sunni militants.

Is it a good idea?

KILCULLEN: Well, I'd make two general points on that.

Firstly, to recount what an Afghan tribal leader said to me when I was there a few months ago, 90 percent of the people that we call Taliban are actually tribal fighters or people who are concerned for local tribal interests rather than people who are ideologically committed to the Taliban agenda.

This tribal leader estimated that about 10 percent of people were firmly ideologically committed to the sort of Mullah Omar, Quetta Shura agenda.

He said that 90 percent of the others would be willing under certain circumstances to make a deal, to come in from the cold or to do business with the international community and the Afghan government. But what stopped them was that no one had really approached them in an effective fashion, and also that they were frightened of the other 10 percent, the hardliners.

Now, in Iraq, we didn't actually do much dealing with the very hard-line insurgents. We found that we needed to do two things. We needed to co-opt and deal with and talk to everybody who was willing to reconcile. And we needed to kill and capture the very small number who proved themselves to be irreconcilable.

I think we're going to find a similar thing in Afghanistan, that there are some people who just -- we won't be able to talk to, and there is really no substitute for military and police action against those people. And the more particularly...

ZAKARIA: But what you're describing, Dave, is that we should be talking to 90 percent of them, and we are not.

KILCULLEN: Ninety percent -- well, but I wouldn't call that 90 percent the Taliban. I mean, it depends on what you mean by the term Taliban.

I would say you're not going to get very far talking to members of the Quetta Shura or people who are allied with them.

But there are a lot of people who are local fighters. You know, I think about Mullah Salam, who was a Taliban leader in Musa Qala district, who came in from the cold in February this year. And I spoke with him about 10 days after he had defected to the government side, and said, you know, "Why did you leave the Taliban?"

And he said, "Well, I never really was Taliban, and I'm not really government now. I always cared about my own local district and my own people, and that's what I still care about."

And I think there's a lot of people out there like that, who are willing to negotiate.

ZAKARIA: Michael, do you agree with that?

O'HANLON: I do. But I think I would summarize by saying that we really aren't going to be able to do a deal with the Taliban -- capital T Taliban -- people who want to identify themselves in those terms. The broad, big leaders are not going to be reconcilable.

I was with the Canadian military in the south, in Kandahar, where it is primarily a Taliban movement. The Canadians are fighting very hard in that region. The main issue is they don't have nearly enough resources. The border is wide open. A lot of problems with the Pakistan sanctuary afflict them. These are the kind of challenges.

And they don't really see great opportunity to negotiate with the Taliban, capital T, and nor do they see warlords being people they can splinter off. But they do see a lot of grassroots reconciliation efforts, offering people who might not really be committed to these warlords or ideologies the opportunity to change their stripes and join a local process.

ZAKARIA: Michael, do we need more troops? O'HANLON: Yes, Fareed. And in fact, a nagging doubt I have about the strategy -- even though I'm overall optimistic, as you know -- is that we still don't have enough even in the pipeline, even in the plans.

American forces are one part of the equation. Other NATO forces would be a second part. And I'm quite pessimistic about even President Obama's ability to convince our allies to send more forces.

But the plans for the Afghan army and police -- even the plans are still, in my judgment, far too modest. We still haven't gotten over this notion that we have to somehow leave an affordable-sized force.

Let's face it, the alternatives are worse. The alternatives to a properly-sized Afghanistan security force are: we do all of the fighting, or we lose the war.

ZAKARIA: You would be in favor of an increase in troops.

KILCULLEN: I think that's a done deal. There will be an increase in troops. It won't be anything on the scale or the rapidity of the surge in Iraq. But additional troops are needed to carry out the sorts of counterinsurgency tasks that we want to carry out.

But it's not the numbers of troops that are going to count so much, it's how those programs are carried out on the ground and how effectively we stand up Afghan forces and Afghan structures to do that.

At times in the past we simply asked for whatever troops we thought we could get away with asking for. Whereas, I think with the new administration in Washington and new commanders on the ground, we're looking in a different way to figure out what is actually needed to do the job, and sort of triaging to say, what can we achieve with the forces we have available, and then what extra forces do we need to do the rest.

ZAKARIA: Mike O'Hanlon, Dave Kilcullen, thank you very much. As always, a pleasure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: If the Obama administration is not talking to my three guests, it should be. Among them, they know more about Afghanistan and Pakistan than almost anyone. The fact is, I think they are talking to some of them, but no one's confirming right now.

Joining me are Rory Stewart, who came to international attention when he walked across Afghanistan in 2002 and wrote a book about it. He's a British Foreign Service officer who served in Iraq and now teaches at Harvard University.

Barney Rubin has written extensively on Afghanistan for decades and is a professor at New York University, and has at various points advised the U.S. government and the Afghan government. Steve Coll is a writer for The New Yorker, the author of "Ghost Wars," the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the CIA's machinations in Afghanistan, and the president of the New America Foundation.

Welcome.

Rory, you are just back from Afghanistan. Describe the situation. People seem to think that Afghanistan is spiraling downwards. Is that a fair assessment?

RORY STEWART, HARVARD UNIVERSITY AND AUTHOR, "THE PLACES IN BETWEEN": I certainly think, from the point of view of security, people are worried. The Taliban seem to be operating in more places than they were last year. There's this massive corruption.

Normal Afghans are often very disillusioned, very bitter. We boast a lot about what we've done in education and health, but they say the services are not good. People are very disappointed.

But on the other hand, these are things that are true in many poor countries. Afghanistan is one of the very poorest countries in the world. Corruption is not unusual. Crime is not unusual in those kind of circumstances.

We need to find a solution -- or President Obama needs to find a solution -- that recognizes this is a poor country, and develops the kind of national politics required to very slowly over 20 years make it more stable, more prosperous, more humane than it is today.

ZAKARIA: Steve, the thing that worries all of us, you know, this is -- Afghanistan is unstable, it's poverty stricken, it has corruption. In a sense, I think many Americans will say, "So what? The reason that we care is the rise of the Taliban."

The Taliban was supposed to have been destroyed, and over the last two or three years it seems to be reconstituting. Is this truly a kind of vital security threat to the United States?

STEVE COLL, PRESIDENT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION AND AUTHOR, "GHOST WARS": Well, the Taliban are a threat to stability in South Asia, and that's vital to the United States. They're not the only threat to stability in South Asia, but they're an important one these days.

After the invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the Taliban were not defeated. They simply retreated, as they said they were going to do, into rural areas that are across the border into Pakistan.

And notably, the Taliban were, of course, born essentially as creatures of the Pakistani state to prosecute Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan during the mid 1990s. And when they returned there, they found residual interest in their sort of continuing at least as a reserve force for the Pakistani state, as a hedge against changes in Afghanistan that Pakistan judged unfavorable to itself.

BARNETT RUBIN, CENTER ON INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yes. And al Qaeda cannot function unless it has an alliance with a territorially-based group, because al Qaeda has no territorial, ethnic or national base. In Iraq, what it did in Al Qaeda in Iraq was to change the loyalties of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgents.

It could be possible to do that in Afghanistan, and also in Pakistan as well. But that requires empowering an Afghan government to engage in that kind of political activity.

ZAKARIA: Rory, when -- you were in Afghanistan. Do people regard the Taliban as an inevitable force, a local force? Does it have political appeal? Does it have popular appeal?

STEWART: It keeps changing. It's very difficult to document the Taliban.

If you'd asked me two years ago, I would have said this is largely to do with the Pashtu south. This is not a force that has any appeal in the center of the country, the north of the country.

Certainly, people in Kabul, who tend to be more modern in outlook, more liberal, have very little time for the Taliban. But there is a sense that it's a very dynamic organization.

A few years ago people were saying it just consists of a few hundred people. Now we see it beginning to have a real presence right the way around Kabul.

If it really has become so strong that only 70,000 international troops stand between it and victory, then it may be time to start thinking much more seriously about what the terms for a political negotiation with the Taliban might look like.

ZAKARIA: There's a correspondent in Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes, who I'm sure you know, who worked for National Public Radio, who has eloquently denounced the point of view that you are expressing, saying that -- you're basically saying, bring the Taliban in. These are retrograde people who want to put women back in cages and put them under veils, and that the Afghan people don't want this, that this is a kind of appeasement of a kind of Islamo-fascist force.

STEWART: I think -- I can completely see what she's feeling. There are many, many moral reasons to feel unhappy. The Taliban are an extremely unpleasant group. They're associated with terror. And as she says, they're associated with the exploitation of women.

The question is, though, not what ought we to do, but what can we do? We don't have a moral obligation to do what we can't do.

We've been in Afghanistan now, coming up to eight years. And we're going to have to think seriously about what our options are, because at some point we're not going to have the resources, the troops, the money, the will in the West to continue to try to create Afghanistan in our own image.

ZAKARIA: All right. Now solve the opium problem. Everybody says that narcotics are at the heart of -- you know, the -- lots of people say that the opium production is at the heart of the corruption, the money the Taliban gets, it's corroding the entire Afghan political system.

What do you do about it? I mean, farmers are growing opium, because they can make lots of money.

RUBIN: Well, I think that's an erroneous analysis, first of all. The opium is the result of the insecurity and the lack of control of the government. It is not the cause of it.

Second, a lot of -- most of the -- that's one source of corruption. Another major source of corruption is the unaccountable money that comes from our operations in Afghanistan and the way that we have -- we employ private security companies, we contract for things in a very un-transparent way, and so on and so forth.

But the fundamental issue really still comes back to the one thing that we generally neglect, which is the politics. People in Afghanistan have shown -- just like people everywhere else, actually -- that when they have an opportunity to engage in legal livelihoods that gives them some prospective on the future, they will do so. And they have done that in most of Afghanistan now.

So at the moment, it's not just that -- and it's an illusion to think that the farmers actually earn that much more money. They don't earn that much more money from opium than they do from licit crops.

Actually, the biggest industry in Afghanistan is not opium. The biggest industry in Afghanistan is the private provision of security services to criminal activities, including opium. And that is the problem.

ZAKARIA: How is a new Afghan president going to solve all of this? I mean, we're in the process of leading up to an election, presumably at some point. What is going to be different if you had a new Afghan president?

STEWART: I think what we need to do is firstly have confidence in the Afghan people, have confidence in Afghans. I think often we have an inappropriately condescending attitude. We imagine that Afghans...

ZAKARIA: But you're describing the place as one unholy mess.

STEWART: I think it's one unholy mess, but it's an unholy mess that Afghans themselves have the capacity to solve. And I think the secret is, it doesn't matter whether it's President Karzai or somebody else. It's about us giving them space.

One of the sad things about our relationship with President Karzai over the last six years is that we keep interfering and micro- managing. Every time he appoints a governor or a police chief, we say, "Oh no, no, you can't have him." Every time he criticizes us, we get very angry. We need to learn that this is an independent country, it's an independent sovereign state, and stop bullying and using our money and troops to try to push it. Because if you do that, you end up with a presidency that's disempowered. It doesn't really have the confidence, the support of its people.

I'd like to see a presidency that was criticizing us. I'd like a presidency that was in our face. That's why I'm interested by people like Gandhi or Lee Kuan Yew, is that they were not our best friends and allies. They were often the enemies of the Western powers, who were able to get their own people on side. I think if that happened, then maybe you do have one of the ingredients of development in Afghanistan.

ZAKARIA: Can we just step back, Steve, last thoughts?

COLL: Well, I think that there is -- you know, I am taken by Rory's sort of forecast. The question is, where in Afghanistan is such leadership, such institutions, such political parties going to come from in the short run? And I'm hard-pressed to answer that question.

The Afghan army is a work in progress, in its place, and national life is essentially as a proxy of the West. There are no formal political parties.

The personalities who are likely to contest the presidential election are all clustered around their relationship with the West, not with their relationship with the Pakistani populace.

So, I don't think that that vision is realizable in the short term, however desirable it might be longer range.

ZAKARIA: On that note, thank you all for a strategic review of Afghanistan. And we will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: What are history's most memorable lines? What lines have inspired you the most, spoken or written? That was my challenge to you in our question of the week last Sunday.

Your response was extraordinary, and we wanted to bring you the results in a different manner than we usually do.

So here, set to the music played by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman during the inauguration, are many of your answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, 32ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, 35TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. (APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 16TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so must we think anew and act anew.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, FOUNDING FATHER OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF INDEPENDENT INDIA: A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new; when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds an utterance.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: Never give in. Never give in -- never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

(APPLAUSE)

MAHATMA GANDHI, INDIAN INDEPENDENCE LEADER: We must be the change we wish to see.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

(APPLAUSE)

YITZHAK RABIN, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: You don't make peace with your friends.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing.

BARACK OBAMA, 44TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

There is not a black America, and a white America, and Latino America, an Asian America. There's the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

The pundits -- the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states -- red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, for today's question of the week.

Should we talk to the Taliban? Would engaging them help us out of the quagmire in Afghanistan? Or are negotiations with them simply against everything America stands for?

E-mail me and let me know your thoughts.

Also, I'd like to recommend a book. It's probably the single best brief account of how we got into this economic mess. It's called "The Origin of the Financial Crises," and it's by George Cooper. I think you'll learn a lot from it. I know I did.

And as always, don't forget to check out our Web site, cnn.com/gps, for highlights from this program, our weekly podcast and some conversations that are exclusive to the Web site. You can also e-mail me at fareedzakariagps@cnn.com.

One piece of housekeeping. Very good news. There are now four times you can watch us -- on CNN at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and on CNN International at 1200 hours and 1900 hours Greenwich Mean Time.

Thank you. Have a great week.

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