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Discussion on Afghanistan with Abdullah Abdullah, on Sudan with Gen. Gration

Aired October 19, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, there is still no official election result in Afghanistan after fraud investigators invalidate thousands of votes. So how will the politics play out? How will a legitimate government be achieved? We have an exclusive interview with the main presidential challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

A U.N.-backed electoral commission in Afghanistan today confirmed what many have suspected, that there was significant fraud in the presidential election. And it invalidated ballots in more than 200 polling stations. It's unclear how many votes are affected.

But the numbers force President Hamid Karzai into a run-off with his main challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. That is according to an independent analysis of the election data.

And in another major development, the Obama administration today announced a major shift in policy towards Sudan, saying that it will now engage instead of isolating the government, as candidate Obama had pledged to do before he was president. Sudan's president has been indicted on war crimes charges and crimes against humanity because of the offensive in Darfur.

In a moment, the Obama administration's point man on Sudan, General Scott Gration, will join us. But first, we go to Kabul for an exclusive interview with the presidential candidate and challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah, there have been a lot of special envoys coming to Afghanistan over the weekend. There's been Senator Kerry. There have been all sorts of foreign ministers and others, phone calls going between you and President Karzai. What are they urging you to do?

ABDULLAH: I think, in the past few days, there have been a few problems between the elections campaigns commission and the Independent Elections Commission. And because of that, there was some controversy over the announcement.

And I think mainly, mainly the international representatives and dignitaries who have been in contact with us, they have been pressing on both sides to respect the outcome of the process and to respect whatever the EEC's judgment and final judgment on the outcome would be.

And finally, we had the EEC's announcement a few hours ago. And we are waiting for the IEC, Independent Election Commission's, commission to make the official announcement, hopefully tomorrow. So one chapter is behind us, hopefully, and then looking forward to the -- to the future.

AMANPOUR: What would you expect the IEC to say? And why have they not come out with their official result today?

ABDULLAH: They -- they say -- their explanation was that the report from elections campaigns commission reached to them after the official time. And then they will have a look at it and then certify it and making their announcement afterwards. That has been their explanation.

AMANPOUR: We're just going to put up a poll number that shows from an independent association, Democracy Now, what they're saying. Apparently, according to the U.N.-backed independent analysis of what's going on, some 68 percent -- or, rather, 48 percent of the vote goes to Dr. Hamid Karzai and 32 percent to yourself, which could force a run-off, according to the constitution, will force a run-off. Do you believe there will be a run- off?

ABDULLAH: Yes, that's our analysis, as well. The observers would observe the auditing the count process and also, later on, analyze the figures released by the EEC a few hours ago. That's approximately what we have reached, too, as a conclusion.

So it will certainly go to a run-off. I am prepared for going to a run-off. And in fact, we have -- since this was our anticipation, more or less, even before, so I had done some homework on preparations to go for a run-off.

But at the same time, there are some practical questions ahead of us. That's the issue of the winter, security situation, and other realities on the ground. So while I'm prepared to go for a run-off, at the same time, the door is open to see, if a run-off were not possible due to those circumstances before the winter, so to find a solution for it.

AMANPOUR: And what is the solution? Is the solution a power-sharing government? Is it a coalition unity government?

ABDULLAH: I think before getting to specifics of it, I need to get a mandate from my supporters, from the people who have supported me, to -- to open the door for talks which will be open for different scenarios. But at the same time, what I'm sure and certain about, that's my pursuit of the program of change.

My thrust right from the beginning, my effort has not been to just get one or two posts in the cabinet and -- and be part of a government, but it has rather been an effort to bring changes in this country, so to reverse this deteriorating course, deterioration in governance, security, corruption, politics, and so on and so forth.

So I'll be pursuing the program of change, if there was any scope to - - to work it out with the incumbent in that way, so I can achieve that -- that goals of change and hopefully being able to -- to influence the situation in positive way, so I leave the door open for such a scenario. But at the same time, since I haven't engaged in these talks or I haven't associated myself with any contacts with Mr. Karzai in the past few months, so it's just too early to talk about the specifics of it. But the door will be open for finding a solution for this country. That's all that I can say at this stage.

AMANPOUR: OK. I just want to confirm: Neither you nor your people have been in negotiations or any kind of talks about power-sharing or the future with President Karzai or his advisers?

ABDULLAH: Mr. Karzai a few weeks ago had made some approaches to our people, and later on those contacts were cut off. So at this stage, in the past few days, there hasn't been any contact or approaches between my camp and Mr. Karzai's people.

So post (ph) the official announcement, while I'm fully prepared to go for a run-off, and because there is a constitutional call for it. But at the same time, if it was not possible because of circumstances, I'm open to discuss it.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me ask you this. As you know, of course, there is a very fierce debate going on in the United States and around NATO, frankly, about whether it's worth fighting, dying, sacrificing if there isn't even a legitimate government in power in Afghanistan. My question to you is, given the numbers -- and even if Mr. Karzai is below 50 percent -- do you think that you would be prepared to compromise in -- in -- in order to allow the U.S. and NATO continue to their presence and to try to finish the job, which presumably you want them to do?

ABDULLAH: Yes. I'm aware of the debates in Washington and around the world. And, unfortunately, today there are serious questions in different parts of the world about the continuation of the engagement, perhaps if not about the -- the whole issue of engagement, but about how to deal with that and -- and what should be the approaches and what should be the short-term and long-term strategies and policies.

I try in my own part to -- to help and support such an idea, so the peoples -- the people who are supporting Afghanistan, the countries who are supporting Afghanistan, are becoming more hopeful for the future of this country. And I will contribute towards that end. And that's my goal. And -- and that was my aim when I became a candidate, because I knew, without a credible partner, without a reliable partner here in Afghanistan, strategies -- no wonder how good they are -- are -- could fail.

So if I'm able to do in contributing this sort of environment, I will do such. And otherwise, of course, I -- I'll play that role from another corner.

AMANPOUR: OK. Dr. Abdullah, I also want to ask you another question. We're going to put some pictures up. There are many people who say Afghanistan is no longer governable. We're now showing some black-and- white pictures from the years when King Zahir Shah was in office. It was so-called the golden age.

I also want to play a little bit of an interview I had with the king before he returned to Afghanistan, after you all defeated the Taliban back in 2001, 2001. Listen for a second.


AMANPOUR: When I was in Kabul, everybody remembered your time and your rule as the golden age. Even the young people said, "We want the king to come back, because for 40 years, we had peace. He brought a constitution. Women had rights. Women could vote." But today, Afghanistan is torn by warlordism, by tribal differences. How is it going to be possible to govern Afghanistan today?

MOHAMMED ZAHIR SHAH, FORMER KING OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): I myself, I'm a democrat. I was brought up in a democratic society. And it was natural for me to pursue and follow that path, to bring democracy to Afghanistan, and to respect the free will of the Afghan people.


AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah, do you think Afghanistan can have a golden age, can be governable today?

ABDULLAH: Certainly. I do think and I do hope that I'll be able to contribute towards that end. And nevertheless, that post-2001, there was a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, we have missed most part of it. And that's not there anymore.

But what we can do is with the remaining of what is left from the opportunity, which is the hopes of the people of Afghanistan and the goodwill from our friends around the world, and with partnering between Afghanistan and the international community, we can achieve those goals, but through a democratic process.

And these recent announcements, like a few hours ago, about the possibility of a run-off will strengthen the fate of the people on the democratic process. And hopefully, we will be able to work it out in the remaining -- in the coming days and bring new hopes to the people of Afghanistan.

It depends whether we can make the people of Afghanistan participants in the political process, in their governance, in the issues of governance, and the politics, security, developmental process. That's the key. And I think it's doable. And -- but I -- I know that we have missed a lot of opportunities already.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah, thank you very much, indeed.

And we'll be back after a break.



HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our strategy has three principal objectives: first, an end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, war crimes and genocide in Darfur; second, implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that results in a united and peaceful Sudan after 2011 or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other; and, third, a Sudan that does not provide a safe haven for terrorists.


AMANPOUR: That was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing the Obama administration's new policy on Sudan today. America's special envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, was also at the news conference, and he joins me now live from the State Department.

Welcome, General Gration.


AMANPOUR: Tell me -- give me an idea of the priorities. Which is the most important?

GRATION: Well, that's the good thing about this strategy. It is comprehended, and it is integrated. In other words, there are no priorities. We're going to work everything in a way that we get the task accomplished.

And we have to work in Darfur. The people there are suffering. We need to end the conditions that the people are living under right now that are dire and unacceptable. At the same time, we have the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to have fully implemented. We have elections that are looming in April of next year and a referendum that's only 15 months away. We have to be able to work everything in a comprehensive and integrated way.

AMANPOUR: General Gration, Mrs. Clinton talked about also credible incentives and real pressure. Can you give me an idea of exactly what the government in Khartoum has to do, step by step, that will, let's say, get them credible incentives?

GRATION: As we reach agreements -- or, actually, as agreements are reached by the parties themselves, we will take a look at the benchmarks and the milestones associated with those agreements. And we will look for really tangible evidence on the ground of progress.


GRATION: And it's based on that progress that we will analyze and look at the incentives that we can put in or, if required, pressures that we must put in.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. You, obviously, at one point said that this government should be treated a little bit like children, that -- let's give them gold stars and cookies. That was called a very dumb statement by many in the human rights community. What do you think about that now?

GRATION: First of all, let me say that that statement was grossly taken out of context.

AMANPOUR: But you did say it?

GRATION: I said it not in that context at all. And, in fact, as we all know, diplomacy has a mix of incentives and pressures to achieve national objectives. That is still the case, and that's what I believe, and we'll continue to use a mix of incentives and pressures where they're appropriate to achieve those things that we believe must happen in Sudan to create a better future for the people of the -- of Sudan.

AMANPOUR: Can you just give me an example? You say that statement was taken out of context. Give me an example of precisely what the government has to do -- for instance, in Darfur -- that will get them an incentive?

GRATION: First of all, for the people to be able to return to their homes, we need to see a drastic improvement in security. Things that must happen would be the end of the proxy war between Chad and Sudan. We need to see that UNAMID is able to be plussed-up and given the capacity and the capability they need to be able to help with security.

AMANPOUR: That's the U.N. force there.

GRATION: Yes, that is. And then, at the local level, we have to see much more security so that bandits and people that are involved in carjackings and kidnappings, that they are brought to justice. We also can't tolerate gender-based violence. We need a situation where -- where women can go out and collect firewood without fear of being raped. We have to have many changes on the ground, and those are the things we'll be looking for from the Sudanese.

AMANPOUR: So at one point, you said that it was psychological stuff that was keeping, quote, unquote, "psychological stuff," that was keeping some of the people from going back. There's something that 2.7 million, nearly 3 million displaced people in Darfur. Do you regret that "psychological stuff" comment?

GRATION: No, that's another comment that was taken grossly out of context. What I said was that we have to understand the emotions that are connected with people that are going to be going back to homes where their houses were burned down, where their wells are poisoned, where they may have lost family members. There's a psychological component to think about.

AMANPOUR: All right.

GRATION: And so I said we need to consider this so that, when we finally achieve the stability and security that's required for people to go back voluntarily, we need to make sure that the emotional pieces are considered so that people can go back with dignity, with human rights, and can be happy about it.

AMANPOUR: You -- again, I want to bring you back to what Hillary Clinton said today at the briefing. We've talked about some of the incentives. She also said real pressure. Let me play you something of what they all said during the campaign. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Evil does exist. I mean, I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur, and I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's not only time not to take force off the table; I think it's time to put force on the table and use it.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We should make it very clear to the government in Khartoum, we're putting up a no-fly zone. If they fly into it, we will shoot down their planes.


AMANPOUR: So that was very clear rhetoric during the campaign about so-called pressures. Susan Rice herself also said during that time that there should be military engagement there. What are the pressures that you plan to bring, should they not come forth with what you're asking them to do, whether it's on Darfur and on the other challenges that you've identified?

GRATION: Certainly all the pressures are on the table. And what's...

AMANPOUR: Is military pressure on the table?

GRATION: What's important to say here is that there's going to be milestones and benchmarks, as I've already said, but, secondarily, there will be a process in Washington where on a quarterly basis the deputies will get together to look at the things that are happening on the ground, the things that we can verify, the things we see happening that affect the people's lives, and then we'll took -- take a good look at those things and then analyze.

If it's good progress that needs to be rewarded, certainly that will be on the table. If things are not moving or if they're, indeed, backsliding, then there's a wide spectrum of pressures that will be used appropriately.

AMANPOUR: Will those military options still be on the table if, as you say, they do not meet your objectives?

GRATION: Certainly everything's on the table, but those are decisions that will be -- have to be made by the National Security Council, by the deputies, and if required, the president himself.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think will motivate President Bashir to actually come up with the challenges you're laying down, whether it's on Darfur, on haven for terrorism, or, indeed, on the North-South agreement? What will move him to cooperate with you?

GRATION: We're looking at a variety of different things. Obviously, I think that the world has changed somewhat, and Sudan is looking at its future and how it wants to look after the referendum, whether it's unified or whether the South decides to become independent. All these things are coming into the calculus, and we're going to take a good, hard look, and that's why frank dialogue is important, so that we can communicate as countries, so that we can understand what each other needs and wants, and we can work together to not only resolve the situation in Darfur and on the South, but also work to see if we can resolve the situation with accountability and justice, and we can resolve some of those other issues that the North wants, that the Khartoum government needs.

AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, President Bashir of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. And there are many who are saying, well, how can you now reverse what President Obama said during the campaign -- that is, isolating the regime -- and instead, engage with -- with him? Are you going to be engaging with President Bashir of Sudan?

GRATION: I have not met with President Bashir, nor do I have any plans to meet with President Bashir. We'll see how this thing goes. We'll see how Sudan reacts. We'll see the progress that we're able to make in Darfur on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, on counterterrorism, and then we'll take it from there.

AMANPOUR: And are you going to remind them -- Sudan -- have you told them to cooperate with the ICC and, of course, under a Security Council mandate?

GRATION: Yes, that's the United States' position, and we'll continue to push that position.

AMANPOUR: And do you accept, for instance, even the '05 agreement that brought the -- the -- the North-South referendum possibility, even that was brought under quite a lot of pressure? And diplomats are telling me that even some of the way Sudan has moved has -- recently has been because of the indictment.

GRATION: It's difficult for me to tell why they've moved. What I can tell you is that we had 12 areas where we had wide gulfs between the North and the South. Over the course of our discussions, we've been narrowed -- able to narrow that down to two, and those are the referendum, the referendum law, and the census, which affects the elections.

We are making significant progress. And it's not us. We're trying to create the environment to facilitate. It's actually the parties themselves that have made the progress. And that's what we'll continue to encourage, the Sudanese to take an active role in resolving their problems so they can have a brighter future for their people.

AMANPOUR: We'll continue to watch it. Thank you very much, General Gration, for joining us.

GRATION: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we will have -- thank you -- we'll have much more on Sudan online and on our Web site, And there, you can join our discussion on America's new policy on the crisis in Sudan using Debategraph, which visually maps out your comments and views. So please join us online.

Next, hopeful signs from Iran about our colleague, Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari. And that will be our "Post-Script."


AMANPOUR: In our "Post-Script," it's good news that the Iranian authorities have released our Newsweek colleague, Maziar Bahari, on bail, four months after he was imprisoned. His wife is about to have their first child in London, and she's hoping to be reunited with him soon.

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow, and we hope you join us. Goodbye from New York.