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President Karzai Mulls Reintegrating Taliban with Afghan Society

Aired February 1, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Afghanistan. What will make the Taliban lay down their arms? Will pay-for-peace work?

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

After more than eight years of war and thousands of deaths, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that it is now time for peace, even if it has to be bought. In a news conference in Kabul, Karzai renewed the call that he made in London last week calling for talks with the Taliban.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban are welcome to return to their own country and work for peace in order for us to be able then to have the U.S. and other forces have the freedom to go back home.


AMANPOUR: Now, the Taliban leadership has already dismissed the idea, saying that the international troops must first withdraw. But others say the military surge now underway could make this the right time to turn the Taliban's foot soldiers.

This isn't the first time it's been tried. So will the Taliban reconcile now? We'll discuss that in a moment with two leading experts.

But first, CNN's Dan Rivers reports on one deal that could set an example for the whole of Afghanistan.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beyond the empty, war- ravaged mountains along Afghanistan's Eastern Nangarhar province, a quiet revolution is unfolding. Under heavy armed guard, we're traveling into remote tribal territories near the Pakistan border, half fields that used to be full of opium poppies, to see how some tribes here kicked out the Taliban.

The village of Gulai (ph) used to be a narco economy. Everything here revolved around the opium trade. The local tribe is now harvesting vegetables and wheat instead, part of a deal with the local government to renounce opium and the Taliban.

Still, elders here feel let down by local government, complaining the promised new mosque hasn't been built. Some have been considering siding with the Taliban again.

This elder explains that young men in his village will accept the invitation to join the Taliban unless they're given jobs and a future.

Despite mistrust of the local government, 170 elders have come together at a tribal gathering, or jirga, agreeing to unite against the Taliban, hoping to be rewarded with more aid.

After the elders sign this pact, the U.S. Army earmarked $1 million for development, bypassing the local government completely, hoping it will shore up tribal support. The elders certainly seem to be on message now.

This elder says, "The Taliban kill Muslims and destroy the country. Because of that, we're not allowing them in our territory."

The U.S. commander here thinks this could mark a tipping point.

COL. RANDY GEORGE, U.S. ARMY: Every valley's a little bit different. I think it's a great example, and I certainly -- I certainly -- we certainly hope that it will spread, and I think there's pieces of it that already have a little bit.

RIVERS: This very public repudiation of the Taliban has been likened to the Sunni awakening in Iraq that proved crucial in reducing violence there. Experts say the mosaic of tribes here is more complex, but the Taliban's behavior may lead to more Afghan tribal awakenings.

DANTE PARADISO, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Some of these structures and some of these elders are looking to reassert some of their organic or indigenous cultures and stand, you know, against an insurgency that really goes against that.

RIVERS (on-screen): The coalition forces hope that by providing aid where the Afghan government has failed, they can secure the trust of a strategically important tribe, numbering some 400,000 people along the border of Pakistan. The question is, will the deal stick? And can it spread to other tribes?

(voice-over): In Gulai's (ph) graveyard, a martyr's tribute pierces the darkening sky. There's a danger there'll be more war graves here if the development doesn't materialize.

But the U.S. Army is promising it will deliver, finally pacifying this crucial border land.

Dan Rivers, CNN, in the Shinwari tribal area of eastern Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: So is this a workable idea? Joining me now to discuss all of this from Washington, Christine Fair of Georgetown University, who's analyzed suicide attacks in Afghanistan for the U.N.; and Alexander Thier, the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Welcome, both of you, to this program.

Can I start with you, Christine? Does the Shinwari deal look like a good deal?

CHRISTINE FAIR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, of course the problem is, this is one example of something that might be going forward.


You know, my experience has been, by the way, with some of these military programs is that there is this P.R. campaign. And then after a few months, it doesn't exactly pan out, you know, over the long duration.

One of my concerns is that we're really talking about reintegration. We're not talking about reconciliation. And the premise is that these low- level and even mid-level fighters and possibly even mid-level commanders can be bought off without any sort of process of reintegration -- or, excuse me, reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: All right.

FAIR: And in the context of Afghanistan, you may have to back up further, de-radicalization before reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me ask you, Alexander, certainly the United States is against the idea of reconciliation then de-radicalization. As a start, is this Shinwari-style, pay-for-peace deal -- is it a starter? Is it good?

ALEXANDER THIER, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: I think that it's good in and of itself. I think that any area that can come more firmly into the realm of stability and prevent the Taliban from being able to infiltrate is a positive. And it will send a message to other communities if it succeeds that people can successfully stand up to the Taliban.

Most of these communities, in fact, don't support the Taliban, and a lot of people, frankly, have allowed them to use their territory or traverse their territory out of fear and intimidation.

AMANPOUR: Well, what are the downsides?

THIER: With that said...

AMANPOUR: Yeah, sorry, you were going to say?

THIER: Well, that said, I mean, the -- I don't think that there's necessarily a downside to this particular deal, but the broader question really does remain as to whether a small deal like this is anything tantamount to resolving the bigger problem.

We've seen deals like this for years. There was one in Helmand a few years ago in Afghanistan that fell apart, and we've seen many on the Pakistan side of the border.

But without treating this sort of agreement in a more comprehensive settlement, it's likely to fall apart.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play a little bit of my interview with General McChrystal a few weeks ago. It was his interview in a British newspaper that set the stage for this idea of reconciling with the Taliban. Listen to what he told us.


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, AFGHANISTAN: We need to offer an opportunity for fighters and lower-level commanders in the Taliban to make the decision to come back into Afghan society under the government of Afghanistan's constitutional control, but they need to be able to come back with respect. They need to be able to come back with an opportunity for a reasonable life, protected from their former comrades.


AMANPOUR: So, Christine, there's General McChrystal, who's tasked with softening them up, let's say, in the -- in the nicest way, in order to get them to the negotiating table. What do you see as working in that strategy?

FAIR: Well, going back to the point that Alex made, from the point of view of the communities that are really used by the Taliban, their primary problem in some sense is really security, enabling them to stand up to the Taliban. And this is where potentially the surge is supposed to embolden those communities, to do what perhaps would be in their own best interest.

But turning to the Taliban and their incentive to reintegrate, I'm a little bit skeptical. Going back to the study you mentioned about suicide bombers, we didn't find in the interviews of suicide bombers or failed bombers or other insurgents that were captured, we didn't find the motivation there to be financial or the lack of employment opportunities. It was really ideological and driven by the insurgency and the interest to dispel the foreign occupier.

So I'm really skeptical that reintegration, based upon financial allurement, is actually going to provide the incentive for the Taliban...

AMANPOUR: All right.

FAIR: ... and especially since they're winning, to be frank with you.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's take those -- let's take all those issues. The question is, then, Alex, who is Karzai, who is the U.S., NATO going after, the committed suicide bomber, the top level, the top political level of the Taliban, or the people who I've seen out there, which I would call the $5 or $10 a day "taliban," with a small t, who do, do things for money and to be able to feed their families?

THIER: Well, I think that they're trying multiple approaches, and there's not necessarily complete agreement between Karzai and the international community about what path is going to be more fruitful. Karzai has been saying for several years now, as he reiterated at the London conference last week and during his inauguration address, that he wants to open up the door to negotiating with Mullah Omar, trying to bring in Saudi Arabia as a broker, and he's hoping for a grand settlement with the insurgent groups.

The NATO forces, the U.S. government doesn't really think that that's feasible at the moment, and instead what they want to do is try to lure all the lower-level commanders and foot soldiers off the field so that they can make some military progress.


Now, these things can be mutually reinforcing if they're both happening at once, but they are different approaches and are likely to yield different results.

AMANPOUR: So if they're different approaches, Christine, not just to the level of Taliban and who they want to draw in and how, but also to the very words, I mean, the U.S. agrees with the idea of reintegration, but not the reconciliation part. How is this even going to start if so many issues seem to be in conflict?

FAIR: Well, like I said, my fundamental concern is that there is this assumption that we can lure away a bulk of the fighters with financial allurement. And some of that information is anecdotal, based upon people, for example, that folks like you have met, interviews with detainees. In fact, Holbrooke said as much in an interview with the New York Times, that some of the assumption that these guys are going to be pulled away with money comes from interviews with detainees.

Now, these folks in Gitmo, Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi are certainly not going to said, "I'm fighting for ideological reasons." They're certainly going to offer explanations that can be seen as less dangerous, i.e., if I had jobs and other opportunities, I wouldn't do this.

There is potentially a downside. And I'm thinking, for example, in the 2004-2005 elections, when a quasi-DDR was offered -- so folks like Dustum's commanders were offered the opportunity to contest elections. And, you know, essentially, they'd go to the U.N., they'd hand over their weapons. No one then asked them, "You know, what are the weapons you're not handing over? What weapons are you going to buy tomorrow?"


FAIR: So we don't know if these guys are actually going to be permanently reintegrated or if they're going to take the money and run.

AMANPOUR: All right. We don't know, but is this the moment to do it? We'll be back with that next. And will Pakistan help kick-start the peace talks in Afghanistan?

And also, for more on what's going on there, go to our Web site,, to find out why some Afghans say that the Taliban has out- governed the Karzai administration. Is that the case?



SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: There always will be an element that will not come and talk and negotiate, but there is an opinion that, by and large, the rank-and-file is also fatigued. Let's not forget that they've been in this conflict zone for over three decades. They want a normal life. And if you can provide them an alternative, I think many of them would want to engage.


AMANPOUR: So that was the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, talking to me last week. And joining me now on the phone from Pakistan is the world authority on the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid.

Mr. Rashid, why do you think now is the right time to talk to the Taliban? Do you think they're on the back foot or on the offensive?

RASHID: There's no question. I mean, they are on the offensive. And certainly, the American military has made it absolutely clear that this surge is all about reducing their military capability and making them more amenable for talks.

I just want to posit another kind of point of view, which is simply that the Taliban have reached possibly the height of their military achievements. They can't go much further than where they are now.


They're across the country. They're having shadow governors and shadow government in all the major provinces, but they can't take the cities, because of NATO firepower. They can't create a populist movement against the Americans. They tried and failed to do that.

So in a way, the Taliban is in a very strong position which actually might make them more amenable for talks right now.

AMANPOUR: So who should be the ones having those talks? Who should be the key interlocutors?

RASHID: Well, I think there's no question that the Afghan government has to be the key interlocutor. This has to be an Afghan-to-Afghan dialogue, and eventually, if there is a deal, it will be an Afghan-to- Afghan deal.

But there's also no question that a lot of other countries are involved. Muslim countries can play a role. There have been indirect talks in Saudi Arabia. And it's important for the Taliban and for the Afghan government to have a third country venue which is acceptable to both sides.

Now, at the moment, it seems that Saudi Arabia is fitting that bill. A lot will depend, of course, on cooperation from Pakistan, because a lot of the Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan, and they have to be able to come and go freely.

AMANPOUR: What specific role do you think Pakistan would have? You heard Mr. Qureshi said that they would do what they can.

RASHID: Well, you know, I think this is a big question mark as far as the Afghan government and the Taliban are concerned. There's very little trust between the Afghan government and the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI, which would carry out or facilitate Taliban leaders to meet with the Kabul regime.

There's very little trust between the government -- you know, between the Afghan intelligence and the Pakistani intelligence. That has to be built up.

The whole question is, if Pakistan is going to try and play an overwhelming role by acting, perhaps, as the sole broker, then there will be acute problems with the Americans, with the Afghan government, and even with the Taliban, because I think the Taliban also do not want any kind of Pakistani interference when they do talk to the government.

If there is going to be facilitation, as the foreign minister said, then I think that will be very acceptable and slowly trust can be built up between Kabul and Islamabad.

AMANPOUR: Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for that analysis and insight. Thanks a lot.

RASHID: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So joining me again from Washington, Christine Fair of Georgetown University, and Alexander Thier, who's with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

I saw you nodding, Christine. Are you nodding about the Pakistani involvement or about the fact that this is the time to do it?

FAIR: Oh, I mean, I think strategically this is the time to do it. I very much agree with his assessment that they can't win any more. I mean, the surge is really focusing on controlling major urban populations, so from the point of view of the Taliban, this is going to be an ideal time for them to try to reach some deal.

And, in fact, to be very clear, I support reconciliation. My concern is that the reintegration plan doesn't go far enough...


FAIR: ... that it's not just financial allurement, but you also need political incentives to bring them into the picture.

AMANPOUR: Well, Alexander, you've been sort of in this business of political reintegration in Afghanistan before. How does one do it with the Taliban? Are there any red lines? Who are these people who oppress women and carried out really a medieval government when they were in power?

THIER: Well, the first thing to remember is that this is not the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban. In fact, since the Taliban came on to the scene in 1994, elements of the United Nations and the international community have been negotiating with them.

And I took part indirectly in some of those early negotiations. They are not particularly amenable to compromise. And so while I agree with Ahmed and Christine that the Taliban may in some ways be reaching the height of their power, I'm not sure that they know that.

They've demonstrated repeatedly that they are willing to press ahead in the face of uncertainty and danger as they did during the civil war, when it was far from clear that they would achieve what they did. And, of course, after September 11th, they were in some ways offered to keep Afghanistan if they turned over bin Laden, and they refused to and lost it all.

AMANPOUR: So what's the best realistic option then right now? What is the best you can envision for this pay-for-peace strategy?

THIER: Well, I think that the first thing that needs to happen is actually the achieving of some sort of political consensus on the side of the Afghans, that is, not the Taliban, but those in the government and the loyal opposition.


There needs to be agreement, because one of the problems, the overhang from the civil war, is that many of the ethnic minorities in Afghanistan are going to very reticent about a deal with the Taliban, and they certainly have the power to end that prospect.

And so I think that there needs to be a dialogue within Afghanistan about what those red lines are, what power-sharing looks like, not only for the Taliban, but for Afghanistan's other ethnic minorities.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask you, Christine. Again, what will it look like, do you think, the enticement to bring them in? And isn't it also about whether the Afghan government or the Afghan power structure is one for all Afghans, like bring the Pashtun majority into the whole business of governing and into the social fabric?

FAIR: Well, I very much agree with what Alex said. This has to be an Afghan process. The role of the international community is to support whatever the Afghans determine to be in their best interest. What the United States should actually do is really be thinking about a Plan B.

We should really take it as a given that the Taliban are going to be in some capacity. And the question remains, how does the United States protect its national interests, given this reality?

And so this kind of puts us back into the debate about, what are our interests in Afghanistan? Should we be looking for ways to protect ourselves against Al Qaida? Should we be looking at the possibility that Pakistan becomes the locus of our security interests?

So I come at it from a somewhat different point of view. I accept that at some point the Taliban will be back, but we need to be thinking about, how do we protect our national interest in light of that potential reality in the future?

AMANPOUR: All right. And that is our discussion for the next time we all meet. Thank you so much. We're out of time. Thank you, Christine. Thank you, Alexander.

FAIR: Thank you.

THIER: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And next, our "Post-Script." And we turn to Haiti again. While some organizations is coming to the aid effort there, there is a new crisis facing some of the earthquake's most vulnerable survivors, and they are pregnant women.


AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." And we return to Haiti, where despite progress on aid delivery, a new medical catastrophe is unfolding.


There are about 37,000 pregnant women in the capital, Port-au-Prince. And about 1,500 of them are likely to face life-threatening complications now. Medical facilities are stretched to the breaking point by people who were injured in the earthquake, and that means many of the pregnant women who need special care just won't get it.

Haiti already has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. And doctors say that women giving birth today will be even more at risk than they were before. And if they die, that could force young children, usually the girls, to have to leave school and take on the mother's role.

We'll be keeping our focus on Haiti, and we'll also be keeping our focus on Afghanistan and what American officials, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are saying about it and the efforts to bring peace to the country. Here's what she told CNN's Jill Dougherty last week.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is the way peace usually gets made. You send out feelers. You see who's willing to lay down their arms and abide by the conditions. You see how far up that will go. I do not expect Mullah Omar and those, you know, people to be at all interested in this. In fact, they've made it very clear that they're not.

But I think there are many members of the Taliban who will see this change to re-enter society under these very stringent conditions to be attractive enough to test.


AMANPOUR: So that's Secretary Clinton's take on the reintegration plan, this jobs plan that they're calling pay-for-peace. And you can see more of that interview with Secretary Clinton on our Web site, You can also catch our daily podcast there, which includes the entire program.

But that's it for now. Thank you for watching. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.