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Kai Eide Discusses Time in Afghanistan and Future Strategy

Aired February 18, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, talking to the Taliban. Will the latest arrest of a top leader help or hurt?

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

Fighting has intensified today in the town of Marja in Afghanistan. It's the sixth day of a major offensive where U.S. and NATO forces are trying to bring Afghan government control to the insurgent-infested south.

The aim also is to flip the insurgents as the U.S. did with the Sunni awakening in Iraq, but the arrest of the Taliban's top military strategists is raising questions about how to do that, because there are persistent reports that Taliban commanders or their representatives have been meeting with the U.N. special representative, Kai Eide.

Earlier, I tried to get details from Eide in this exclusive interview as he departs after two tumultuous years at the helm in Kabul.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Eide, thank you very much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: I want to start by asking you about your meetings with Taliban officials. There are reports that it was the now-arrested Mullah Baradar who arranged your meeting with Taliban representatives in Dubai last month. Can you confirm that for us?

EIDE: First of all, there was no meeting with any Taliban leaders in Dubai on the 8th of January. If there has been other meetings, I never confirm, nor -- nor reject. And who organizes such meetings, I do not want to comment on.

So the meeting that was reported in the media was pure nonsense, and I said that before and can repeat it again.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you then: Are you saying it's pure nonsense that you had any meetings at any time recently, in the last couple of months, with any Taliban?

EIDE: I never comment on this, and I would never comment on it in the future.

AMANPOUR: Were there any meetings either between you or other either U.N. officials or Afghan officials with Taliban representatives in the Maldives, as has been reported?

EIDE: I have never been in the Maldives.

AMANPOUR: Do you know any others, any Afghan officials, or any--

EIDE: But I'd like to go there. I'd like to go there.

AMANPOUR: I'm sure you would. I'm sure it's very, very pretty at this time of year. I know that you won't confirm any meetings. Will you deny that you have had any meetings with any Taliban representatives over the last few weeks?

EIDE: I think -- I think you are trying to ask the same question five or six times now in a row, and my answer will remain the same as I've given to you already.

If you want to, then I could comment on what is my general policy on this. I believe that the reconciliation process, a peace process is important, and that there is a need to talk. And if you want to have relevant results, you have to talk to relevant people with authority in an appropriate way. I think that is important.

AMANPOUR: As you know, there are many skeptics on any kind of negotiations with the Taliban. People, including the United States, say, how would you get them to deal with the women's issue? How would you get them to deal satisfactorily with Al Qaida? Are there any red lines when it comes to negotiating with the Taliban? What's your answer to that?

EIDE: Oh, absolutely. I do not use the word "negotiations," but I say a political process of some sort has to get underway. There has to be some clear red lines. They're really summed up in the Afghan constitution, which institutes (ph) equal rights for all Afghans.

I often speak to women's groups and say any kind of political process, reconciliation process, must not come at the expense of the rights of any Afghans. And on that, we have to be absolutely firm.

AMANPOUR: Now, I know that you are not willing to comment and confirm any meetings, but can you tell me whether this process has even begun in any credible way whatsoever?

EIDE: I believe that we have not yet reached a point where a real process is underway.

AMANPOUR: As we look forward to what is unfolding in Afghanistan, as you know, the United States obviously in a very public offensive push into Marja and into the Helmand area. Do you agree that that was the right thing to do?


EIDE: I think it is important, with all the troops that are now coming in, to -- to try to push back the insurgency in those areas where we've seen that that has been a stronghold. As that military offensive is now going on, now comes the next phase, which is to establish the institutions that are required and also to start thinking of the economic development of these areas.

That is going to be very challenging. The Afghans have done their best, I must say, to prepare for that second phase. They're bringing in people who can start running the institutions, the judiciary and so on, and then to also start economic development.

AMANPOUR: How far and how long until the Afghan national army can stand up and -- and take responsibility for security?

EIDE: Well, they are taking much more responsibility now, and they are much more in the lead in joint operations than they were before. But what we need to do now in order to reach the goal that we set for October 2011, which is 172,000 troops, is to intensify the training activities from our side, also internationally, and I believe that the troop-contributing countries should look at the composition of their forces and devote more of them to training and mentoring of the Afghan forces.

There's a tremendous need for trainers and mentors, not only in the field, but also in training institutions established here in Kabul, and anybody can do that. Much of this can be done in rather risk-free environments, and all troop contributors could and should contribute to it.

AMANPOUR: Let me please read you a comment by the U.S. ambassador and also former military commander to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. He has said, talking about Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that Karzai and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume that we covered their territory for a never- ending war on terror and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.

Do you agree with that assessment?

EIDE: I think the Afghan president and the Afghan government want to be enabled to play the lead role, both on the military side and on the civilian side. They have asked for taking for greater responsibility for years, and we have also talked about Afghanization for years, but we haven't really done much about it.

AMANPOUR: Let me go back to the elections, where there was such a lot of controversy, obviously, between you and your deputy, the U.S. official, Peter Galbraith. This is what he told us about the heart of his -- of his conflict, if you like, with yourself, that when he reported about the so- called ghost polling stations and when he asked to have them shut down, that you stopped him from doing it. And, furthermore, this is what he talked about when it came to the fraud taking place.


PETER GALBRAITH, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT: When the fraud took place, we had collected extensive data on turnout, on the fraud. We wanted to turn it over to the Afghan institutions that were investigating it, and he ordered us not to do it.


AMANPOUR: So why? I mean, why did you order that not to happen? And why did you order the ghost polling stations not to be closed down?

EIDE: You know, this is an old story now, four months old, and I've rejected those allegations over and over and over again. And there was not a controversy between me and Peter Galbraith. There was a controversy between Peter Galbraith and the rest of the international community.

Peter Galbraith was -- was forced to resign by the secretary general of the United Nations. That is a very extraordinary step to take, even more so when it was an American deputy (inaudible) and it happened without any objections from U.S. authorities. So that should lead people to reflect and understand that there was a reason for it.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask--

EIDE: When it comes to the so-called ghost polling stations, our objective -- our objective was to give as many Afghans as possible an ability to take part in the elections. We did that. We did not manage to open as many stations as we wanted, but we opened more than Peter Galbraith thought was possible at the time.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to future elections. The elections were meant to take place this spring; they've now been delayed until the fall. There is a report out that says that there is a new system for writing some of the election law which would, in fact, have the effect of removing any international foreign officials from the U.N. or whatever on the commissions. What do you think about that?

EIDE: I have a dialogue regularly with the president and other Afghan authorities about this and other election-related issues.


When it comes to the election complaint commission, where I am -- where I appointed three members at the last -- for the last elections, I believe that international representatives should remain on that body, and we are in discussions about that very topic these very days.

AMANPOUR: And what about the possibility in that new review of election process of less women being eligible for the parliament? They're thinking of cutting the women's eligibility for being members of parliament by half.

EIDE: I've seen those reports, and I've asked if they are true, and it has been confirmed to me that they are not. The speculations that we've seen in the media have not been confirmed through any conversation I have had with any Afghan official.

AMANPOUR: And with two weeks left to go in your tenure, what are you most proud of and what are your hopes or fears for the future of Afghanistan?

EIDE: Well, what I'm most proud of is perhaps that I believe that I and the U.N. played a decisive role in raising the question of civilian casualties to the top of the agenda. And we've seen also how the current commander, in General McChrystal, has moved very, very vigorously on this and reduced the number of civilian casualties, house searches, et cetera, dramatically. But I'm proud of the role that we played in that respect.

And, finally, I think that President Karzai will also confirm today that we're no longer in the situation where the international community speaks with 10 or 12 different voices. We are much more united in key political issues. And we are getting more united when it comes to development issues, where, nevertheless, there's quite some way to go.

So the debates that we had a year ago about coordination and consulting, that is yesterday's debate, and we moved forward quite vigorously, although, I must say, we still have a long way to go.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Mr. Eide, thank you so much for joining us.

EIDE: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And so Mr. Eide will retire from his post in early March, and we'll get some perspective on his remarks from the world's leading expert on the Taliban. That's when we return.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot discern size of the enemy forces at this point in time. The fire is drawn down (ph).


AMANPOUR: As U.S. Marines and insurgents battle each other in Marja, exchanging heavy fire in the former Taliban stronghold in this video just in, some NATO and Afghan officials are talking about integration and reconciliation. Joining me now, the world authority on the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid, who's written many books, including "Taliban."

Let's just talk about Kai Eide told me, that he simply won't tell me anything about whether there are any ongoing contacts with the Taliban. Are there?

AHMED RASHID, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: There are. All the major international humanitarian agencies had had indirect contacts with the Taliban, not on a political basis, but basically protect their humanitarian activities, for example, protecting the school and health programs that they are running.

The U.N. has been in the same position. For example, the U.N. had a very good polio inoculation campaign across the country in Taliban areas, as well. Now, that couldn't have been carried out unless there had been some kind of contact with the Taliban to give access to the nurses and doctors who went into carry this out. So that's the first reason.


I think the second reason is that the U.N. has been very deeply worried by the attack on its offices and one of its guest houses in Kabul a few weeks ago.

AMANPOUR: Why did that happen? Because it's really one of the first times that's happened.

RASHID: I think the assumption it was the main Taliban grouping based in Pakistan and was that some of the allies of Taliban who are more closely linked to Al Qaida, and was that done to, in fact, sabotage the relationship between the United Nations, you know, and any ongoing talks that might held?

AMANPOUR: Well, let's take those one by one. First and foremost, it's all very nice that the U.N. talks on humanitarian issues and their polio vaccine, but that's not exactly what everybody's getting their hopes up, in terms of a political channel to bring the Taliban in. Is there any political channel of any credibility that's happening right now? Kai Eide says no.

RASHID: I think there is a channel that has been opened, and everybody acknowledges that that channel has to be carried out by President Karzai and the Afghan government. And all the others -- you know, the Americans, U.N., everybody else should be -- should help that channel, but they have to be for the time being bystanders.

AMANPOUR: So how far is it? How far is it along?

RASHID: There have been talks -- there were talks much earlier in the spring of last year in Saudi Arabia, but there have been talks this winter again in Saudi Arabia. And, in fact, several of the Taliban leaders have been in Saudi Arabia meeting with the Saudis and also meeting with representatives of the Afghan government.

AMANPOUR: But in terms of who do they represent, do they represent Mullah Omar? Do they -- are they real, credible Taliban who can actually deliver something?

RASHID: Well, I think, you know, the fact is that Mullah Baradar, this -- this number-two who was arrested in Pakistan, he was in Saudi Arabia for hajj just a few months ago. And all the reports are that he certainly, you know, did have talks, and there was a dialogue going on with the Saudis, with members of the Kabul government, and that is -- you know, that is one of the main venues.

AMANPOUR: So why now then? Why his arrest right now, if he's one of the main interlocutors?

RASHID: Well--

AMANPOUR: He was just arrested in Karachi.

RASHID: I think there are many levels of problems here. The first thing is that I think the Pakistanis obviously have been under huge pressure to arrest active members of the Afghan Taliban who've been living in Pakistan for years and years.

Now, the Pakistan's ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence, could have arrested these people at any time. Now, the question is, why did they choose to arrest them at this time? And I think one of the reasons is that the ISI wants to send a very firm message to the Taliban and to the Americans, also, that if there's going to be any talks or dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban, Pakistan will have to be the main broker or mediator.

AMANPOUR: So this is a shot across the bow then?

RASHID: In a way, it's a help across the bow, because you've arrested Taliban leaders, but certainly it's sending a very strong message by the ISI and the military in Pakistan to all of NATO and the Americans that, you know, don't go into talks with telling us, because, you know, we are the key players here.

AMANPOUR: So Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has praised this. He's met with the Pakistani prime minister. He's called it, you know, a significant move. Is it a significant move in the right direction? Yes, you say, they've got this top man off the battlefield, but does it hurt in the other direction, in terms of political reintegration?

RASHID: I think, in the long term, it will hurt. Why? Because Mullah Baradar is a very serious number-two of the Taliban. He's very close to Mullah Omar. He would not have gone to Saudi Arabia and met these people, frankly, without permission of Mullah Omar.

I think this is a Taliban joint effort. Mullah Baradar is not some rogue element who's talking on his own or he's not a moderate Taliban who's talking on his own.

So I think the Americans, of course, are faced with this dilemma that they want to encourage this amongst the Pakistanis, but the problem now is that, if Mullah Baradar was going to be the main negotiator, he is now tainted, he is now arrested. He will now be seen by many of the Taliban and even by members of the Afghan government as an envoy for Pakistan rather than an envoy from his own movement, because this is a man who's been arrested and been interrogated.

Even if the Pakistanis want to use him now as a mediator and they set him free, you've tainted him.

AMANPOUR: Given that you say he's so close to Mullah Omar, are there red lines? How does one deal with the Taliban, if you want to bring them in from the cold? How do -- as I asked Kai Eide -- how do they deal with the women's issue? How do they deal with the Al Qaida issue?

RASHID: Well, you know, I think -- I think, you know, what Kai is saying is absolutely correct. I mean, there has to be a political formal process of dialogue. And certainly, one of the main demands -- the major demands of the Americans is that they have to show signs that they've broken with Al Qaida.

Now, the mainstream Taliban, which is represented by Mullah Omar, could possibly do this. Now, how will they actually demonstrate this? That's the problem. How do you -- how do you prove that you've broken with Al Qaida?


It's not good enough for me to say, "I've broken with Al Qaida." I have to prove it on the ground. And one way I can prove it on the ground is actually by going after Al Qaida.

So would the Taliban be willing to actually go after Al Qaida? Because they know where Al Qaida is more than anyone. But don't forget that there are other elements here amongst the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who are very close to Al Qaida, who would do their utmost to sabotage any kind of dialogue like this.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about U.S. strategy in Marja right now. Look at this map. Let's start with this map. Give us an idea of where the concentrations of Taliban are.

RASHID: Well, the Taliban control most of the south and a lot of the east. They control some of the provinces. They have a very strong presence around Kabul, and I think that's where the next offensive, Western offensive will be.

They are -- they are strong in the north. They have pockets in Kunduz in the north and in the west, in Herat, and other provinces in the west. So it's become now a countrywide movement.

AMANPOUR: Well, as we -- we're going to play a little bit of an interview by the British Army Major General Nick Carter, who's responsible for the southern area where the offensive is going on. Listen to what he says about the inroads they're making.


MAJ. GEN. NICK CARTER, BRITISH ARMY: They have shadow governance in every district in the south of -- in RC South's area. And we, broadly speaking, can identify who they are.

Now, the extent to which that shadow governance is successful is patchy, to say the least. And the fact of the matter is that in the 10 or 12 districts that really matter to us in the south, I think we can be confident that we are in support of the Afghan government, winning the argument about delivering better governance to that which the Taliban are delivering.


AMANPOUR: Can they win the support? Are they bringing better governance? And are they telegraphing that message well enough?

RASHID: Well, it's going to be piece by piece. I mean, this whole Marja offensive is all about bringing governance, as General McChrystal has said, government in a box to what is a critical area.

It is, first of all, the poppy area. It is the concentration of the Taliban. And it was also the supply route for logistics going into Pakistan, where a lot of their recruits and logistics come.

If you can settle that area, win the confidence of the people, certainly that would be a big blow, but you will have to repeat this many times in the next year or 18 months all over the country, particularly in the south, but in the east, you have to clear these provinces around Kabul, you have to push the Taliban back.

AMANPOUR: Will the U.S. and NATO forces win praise for what they did, which was so loudly telegraphed this, in order to get the civilians out of harm's way? Certainly some Afghan officials are already saying that, that the majority of people in that area are pleased at the fact that there was so much notice given.

RASHID: This is a completely new and different strategy, and I think it's a very positive strategy, and I think it's been met with a lot of positive response by Karzai, by the government, and by the local people. There's enormous care being taken -- I mean, the 12 civilians who were killed by this rocket attack, you know, have been taken -- you know, the -- General McChrystal was quick to acknowledge that, to apologize for that, and then to take, you know, action against that. So I think, you know, this is a way to win hearts and minds.

AMANPOUR: And as you said, one of the key things is, how quickly can they bring the good things, the development, basic things to the Afghan people? Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for joining us, and we hope to talk to you again here in the studio or by satellite.

RASHID: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And for a closer look at what's happening inside Afghanistan, go to, where we have a special feature on a frightening crime wave in Kabul and kidnapping for cash. You'll see the story of one Afghan man blindfolded and held in an animal pen while his family raised $10,000, a fortune in Afghanistan, for his release. That's on our Web site, where you can also catch our daily podcast.

But up next, our "Post-Script." President Obama today incurred the wrath of Beijing by meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House. But what makes their anger at this meeting different from before? We'll have that, next.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script" on the unending friction between the U.S. and China over the Dalai Lama.

President Obama today hosted Tibet's spiritual leader at the White House, despite a stiff warning from Beijing, and he's not the first American president to meet the Dalai Lama. But on this occasion, Chinese protests have been unusually strong. That may be because of other tensions over U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, over Internet censorship and trade.

But China gets angry when anyone talks to the Dalai Lama, even when journalists do, even when we did. Take a listen to part of my interview with the Dalai Lama two years ago that resonates even today.


AMANPOUR: I heard you say to the people, you said, "We're dying." What did you mean by that?

DALAI LAMA: Since Chinese Army entered Tibet, a lot of damage, a lot of destruction. Plus, the population, Tibetan population, now becoming minority. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place.


AMANPOUR: Cultural genocide. For the complete interview with the Dalai Lama and his views on democracy, in our documentary, "Buddha's Warriors," go to

That's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow. And in the meantime, catch us on our daily podcast on our Web site. For all of us here, goodbye now from New York.