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Afghanistan After US Military Leaves; More of Hamid Karzai Interview; Interview with Thomas Friedman; Situation in Syria

Aired April 20, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program, where we try to delve deeper into the top stories and explore why they matter.

Earlier this week, I spoke exclusively with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and I asked him about the grave consequences of the United States leading the pullout of about 130,000 international forces from his country.

In my brief tonight, what happens when America leaves? At stake is nothing less than everything, the U.S., coalition forces and Afghanistan have fought for during the 11 years since 9/11, and key Afghan leaders are now begging, "Don't abandon us."

Even as I spoke with the president, the Taliban was launching its bloody spring offensive, penetrating the very heart of the capital, Kabul. Afghan forces responded. But can they crush the Taliban alone? And if not, is there any chance the Taliban would negotiate an end to the war? And what would they demand?

My interview also took place amid more outrages and more apologies from the United States. The "Los Angeles Times" posted pictures this week from two years ago of U.S. and possibly even Afghan forces posing with the severed limbs of a suicide bomber. And, of course, the worse outrage, the massacre of 17 Afghan villagers, men, women and children by a U.S. soldier last month.

Now Karzai wants a U.S. presence, even after the official withdrawal. So I started by asking him a key question, will Americans, even service members like Staff Sgt. Bales, be granted legal immunity from prosecution in Afghanistan?


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: In the current frame of things, the question of the U.S. bases and the stationing of U.S. personnel on Afghan soil will be discussed upon the signing of the broad framework of the strategic agreement that we are now working on for a year.

And within that negotiating period we will determine the status of forces agreement and the -- and the hows and the conditions for it. So that's to come, and I can't say anything about immunity in positive or negative right now.

AMANPOUR: Because you know why I'm asking. Obviously that was a big problem for Iraq and the U.S. couldn't get to keep its troops there, because Iraq did not agree to that -- to that -- to that clause.

If you had to predict would Afghanistan agree to that or not?

KARZAI: Well, ma'am, it depends on how this relationship will go forward. It depends on how the commitment (ph) of the international community, the United States' (inaudible) of Afghanistan will be judged by the Afghan people.

It depends on how successful this whole operation will be and particularly the conduct of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the economic assistance to Afghanistan, the stabilization efforts of Afghanistan, all of those are issues that will have an impact on how the Afghans will view the granting of immunity or the lack of it.

AMANPOUR: What is the state of those relations right now? How would you describe your relations, Afghan people's relations, with U.S. forces, with the U.S. presence and with the international presence in your country?

KARZAI: Well, we are grateful for the assistance given to the Afghan people in the past 10 years by way of which we have achieved much significant progress in the area that I already mentioned. Our country is a better country today. Our country has overall stability. Our country's flag is flying around the world. Our economy is better. Our education is a lot better.

We have nearly 8 million students going to school, tens of thousands going to universities, thousands studying abroad in the rest of the world. Our health system is a lot better. We are going to professional provision of health services to our people now. So all that is something that the Afghan people are happy about, and thankful to the taxpayers' money in America and with our other allies.

But on the -- on the military front and the war on terror, there is much to be desired there. We have our very strong point of view stated time and again over the past many years without much attention to our point of view.

And we are not satisfied where the war on terror is concerned, where the provision of security to the Afghan individuals, Afghan people is concerned. That has been an area where we believe things could have been done better.

AMANPOUR: Are you concerned that Afghanistan will descend into a kind of a civil war after the U.S. and after the U.S. and other NATO forces leave?

KARZAI: No. I'm not concerned about that at all. I'm rather very confident that once the international forces leave, the Afghan forces will hold hands, will join hands to defend their country, to defeat terrorism.

But of course, we will need the continued assistance of the international community in forms other than the presence of the -- their troops on our soil. And that is being considered. We are right now talking with the United States on a strategic partnership between us.

We are talking with Germany right now. We have signed some with other partners. The removal or the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will not add to the dangers that we face.

AMANPOUR: What I want to ask you, then, is because part of your platform is to try to negotiate with elements of the Taliban, what pressure is there on the Taliban right now to negotiate? What can -- why would they want to, when they know the international forces are leaving, and their view is that they would like to be able to control Afghanistan?

KARZAI: The reason -- the reason I am sure we will be able to defend is because the past 10 years we have seen where Afghans have acted alone and in clearing areas of terrorists or those who come from abroad to attack us.

We have done well, and we have held those places well till today.

AMANPOUR: Are you not worried about the talk right now that the Afghan forces, which have already been trained and which are projected to be nearly 31/2 hundred thousand, are going to actually be less, because nobody can afford it, not the international community nor you, sir, can afford to keep up this huge 300,000-plus force?

KARZAI: We are not reducing the forces right now. We are negotiating with the United States and our -- and our NATO allies on a structure of force that will be sufficient as a matter of necessity for the conditions that we have today.

And that should go on at least till 2015, from 2015 onwards, keeping in mind the security environment of the country and the recent situation, Afghanistan will consider to reduce the number in accordance with the needs and the necessities that we may have.

AMANPOUR: So that presupposes that the Taliban is going to be, in some way, pacified or negotiated or some way brought in to the process. That doesn't look like it's happening yet, even though I know that that's something that's on your mind. Are you having, right now, any negotiations with the Taliban?

KARZAI: Well, we have -- we have -- we have contacts with the Taliban. I cannot call that a formal negotiation with the Taliban at this point. We have had contacts with the Taliban in Afghanistan and outside of Afghanistan. A formal negotiation, I hope, will come soon.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about America's counterterrorism strategy. As you very well know, it's relied a lot on drone strikes. Many of those have taken off from bases inside Afghanistan. Your foreign minister said in Washington recently that post-2014, after the U.S. leaves, Afghan territory will no longer be available to launch drone strikes.

Do you confirm that?

KARZAI: Well, we have not made -- we have not made Afghan territory available to any forces, even today, for drone strikes against other countries. So this isn't by an agreement with us.

Beyond 2014, the agreement between Afghanistan and our international partners, including the United States, will certainly not have a provision by which they will be allowed to conduct an airstrike against a neighbor. That will not be there. Rather, it will be Afghanistan making sure that our neighbors are not threatened from our relations with other countries.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Karzai, thank you again.

KARZAI: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: I had also asked President Karzai about the future of women in Afghanistan, including his own baby daughter. Despite his optimism and the progress, women there still struggle for their rights, respect and equality, which requires some desperate measures.

You'll meet one such woman later in the program. But first, few know the Middle East better than my colleague, "The New York Times" and Pulitzer prize-winning columnist, Thomas Friedman. I'll talk with him when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. Yesterday on this program, I spoke to the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and he told me that he was surprised at Syria's president Bashar al-Assad was still clinging to power. In no small part, he told me, because the world community has so far failed to exert enough pressure, particularly to stop the slaughter.

Thomas Friedman knows Syria, past, present and future, as well as anyone. And earlier I sat down with him to get his views on that embattled nation and other flashpoints in the Middle East.


AMANPOUR: So welcome, Tom. Welcome to this program.

Right now the big issue in the Middle East, obviously, in the Arab world is Syria. And it seems to be the bar is always moving: should they intervene, should they not? Should Assad step down, should he not? Is there a political rapprochement possible? How do you see it right now, today?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, JOURNALIST: Well, you know, I think the thing you have to keep in mind about Syria, Christiane, is that it's the keystone in many ways to the whole eastern Mediterranean.

So when there was a revolution in Libya, Libya implodes. When there was a revolution in Tunisia, it implodes. When there's a revolution in Egypt, it implodes. When there was a revolution in Yemen, it implodes. When Syria blows, it explodes. It goes out --

AMANPOUR: But what do you mean by that?

FRIEDMAN: I mean that because Syria is connected to Shiites in Iraq, Sunnis in Lebanon, to Sunnis in Turkey, to Druze in Lebanon, to Kurds in Iraq and Turkey and even in Iran, every community outside has an interest in playing inside, and every community inside has an interest in pulling in the outside. So when the lid comes off, it can really come off.

AMANPOUR: But is the lid going to come off? And for instance, obviously many people have said, you know, Israel has a huge stake in what happens there. But very senior Israelis, I think, have now come to the conclusion that it's only a matter of time before Assad goes and the replacement could be a moderate Sunni group.

What do you think?

FRIEDMAN: Or not. I mean, we really don't know. But I think that right now, I think there's a broad consensus in this country, and it -- I would share that we are much better off with a post-Assad regime, for two reasons.

One, give democracy a chance there. We can't guarantee in any way it'll happen. And two, you really do undermine Iran's influence in that whole corner of the Middle East if it eludes the Assad proxy.

AMANPOUR: So what does the United States do? Obviously there's no move towards intervention. How does this end?

FRIEDMAN: I think what we're doing is we're giving them non-lethal equipment and we are encouraging Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to give them lethal equipment, whether it's sufficient to tip the balance, I don't know.

AMANPOUR: Well, when you think about it in the long run, it's been going for a year now, more than a year. And these people are still on the streets, despite the bombardments. Now, look, you have seen the reality of what that -- what that means in that place, about 30 years ago, Assad the father bombarded Hama in Syria, very important place, some 10,000-20,000 people were killed.

And you wrote about Hama rules.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I was in Hama in the aftermath of that 1982 massacre where, again, there -- you had a Sunni-Muslim fundamentalist uprising. Assad the father came in and basically bombarded the city.

AMANPOUR: And we have that picture, those pictures of the rubble.

FRIEDMAN: And that wasn't the end of the story, because after they bombarded it, Christiane, they brought in steamrollers and steamrolled it flat into huge football-field-sized parking lots as a message to all Syrians. This is what happens if you challenge the regime.

But one big difference between then and now, there were no cell phone cameras back then. No flip cams and no one to basically tell the story as it was happening. Very different from today.

AMANPOUR: And many, they say, many people were killed -- and we've seen pictures of the bodies that have come out of there. But the question, I guess, is does Bashar al-Assad still play by Hama rules? Will that be enough to, let's say, let him win?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, he's trying to play by Hama rules, though, in the 21st century, and it's not so easy right now, again, because he's so much more connected to the world.

AMANPOUR: But you think that he would step down? He's said no.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, he said no, but I think, you know, these things, when they crack, they look really solid until they don't. And then they go really quickly. And we won't know when the tipping point is.

But we also have to acknowledge he clearly still has support, both among the Christian minority that's worried about a Muslim fundamentalist takeover in Syria and his -- both Sunni and Alawite from his own community loyalists, who really are dependent upon him economically.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk a little bit about the killing of civilians. Does the world not have a duty to actually stop that?

FRIEDMAN: I think the world feels very troubled by this. I think people are trying to intervene in a certain way without anybody putting their own foot so deeply in there that they can't extricate it.

And let's remember one other thing. It is very important that the Syrian people own this revolution. I think that's one of the real lessons. And we should do everything we can to help them. But it's very important that they own it.

AMANPOUR: As they did in Libya?

FRIEDMAN: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: In Tunisia, in Egypt --

FRIEDMAN: Well, again, Libya also is a little bit -- they half-owned it, you know, and because --


FRIEDMAN: -- yes, and I think that could be in the long run -- it could be problematic there. Still we haven't seen the end of that story.

AMANPOUR: So that leads me to what I really want to explore and that is the prospects for democracy in that part of the world, perhaps not yet Libya, as it's still playing out, but let's say Egypt and Tunisia.

Obviously, Islamists are coming to the fore. And the thing that Americans look at, the thing that people in the region look at is, oh, is this going to be scary Islamism? Or is this an evolution of their kind of democracy?

FRIEDMAN: I think there's two things to say, you know, and this has been my motto in covering the Egyptian revolution, Christiane, and that's whenever I see elephants fly, I -- my motto is, shut up and take notes. Whenever I see something I've never seen before -- and that Tahrir revolution was that.

So I'm really trying to be very humble, careful, listen, not -- because you have sort of two people out there kind of saying, I met with the Muslim Brotherhood. (Inaudible) nice guys. And other people say, I read their website. I know just what they're up to. I'm not smart enough either way.

So I think we should watch how they behave. The second thing to keep in mind is this: in the Middle East we've seen political Islam with oil in Iran. In Saudi Arabia we've seen political Islam with oil. In Egypt, you're going to see a new experiment, political Islam without oil, without the money to buy off the contradictions.

AMANPOUR: Let's move to Israel and the United States. There's been a lot of talk, obviously, throughout President Obama's administration, why hasn't he been to Israel, why does he seem to be the least popular American president amongst Israeli Jews in quite a long time?

Listen to what he said to APAC.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel we will stand against them.


OBAMA: And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.


OBAMA: So there should not be a shred of doubt by now. When the chips are down, I have Israel's back.


AMANPOUR: Now you called President Obama the most pro-Israeli president in a long time. Isn't that a little bit counterintuitive? Or do you think that speech -- ?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I --

AMANPOUR: -- means it (ph)?

FRIEDMAN: -- I think he's pro-Israel because I think he's trying to do the right thing for Israel's long-term future as a Jewish democracy, which is try to bring about a two-state solution. I think that's what pro- Israeli means, and not simply say, gosh, whatever you guys want, I'm ready to do. You know.

AMANPOUR: And let's talk about Iran. Let's listen to what Romney has said recently about Iran.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the hands of ayatollahs, a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran's suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world.


AMANPOUR: Has Romney boxed himself in? If there is a President Romney, does that mean inevitably war over Iran's nuclear program?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I just don't take seriously anything any of these people said. You know, during this campaign. It's such a gravity-free zone.

I do hope the United States puts on the table an offer that has two components, one that it doesn't humiliate the Iranians and allows them to be a -- to have access to the nuclear fuel to run the programs it claims it's running, OK, which is for medical purposes and for electrical power generation, that is, give them an offer that says, OK. If you guys really are serious of not becoming a nuclear power, we're going to -- we're ready to put that on the table.

But here's my fear about Iran. I'm very diffident about saying it to you. I wonder if they can make a decision. I wonder if that regime isn't so messed up and there is -- talk about a team of rivals, these are team of, you know, pirates, basically, at each other's throat. I wonder, Christiane, whether they could ever say yes.

AMANPOUR: Do you know, a lot of people have asked that question and certainly that is a question. But the other side of that question is can an American president, particularly in an election year, do what you say? The serious kind of diplomacy that requires not just sanctions and punitive measures but incentives as well?

FRIEDMAN: I think he can for two reasons. I sense even -- if you read the reporting from Israel lately, I think the polling in Israel, they would like a diplomatic solution to this. They want it to be credible and one that will be secure for Israel.

But they don't want to be in a shooting war with Iran and I know the American people, with gas prices where they are, they certainly don't want to be. I think Obama has a lot of room to maneuver.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Tom Friedman, thank you very much indeed.

FRIEDMAN: Pleasure. Any time.


AMANPOUR: And when we return, we'll go back to Afghanistan, where boys, unfortunately, are valued more than girls. Still, parents sometimes have to pass their daughters off as their sons. For one woman, that masquerade has become a way of life and a way to be counted. Her remarkable story when we come back.


AMANPOUR: And now, imagine a world where women have to disguise themselves as men just to be taken seriously as people. This is the world of Bibi Hokmina, a politician from the Khost province of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

I recently met her when she came to New York to speak at a conference about women's rights in Afghanistan and around the world.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bibi Hokmina looks like a man, dresses like a man and has been elected to the local council in her rural province, which is dominated by men.

But Bibi Hokmina is a woman.

"My heart has become the heart of a man," she told me, "just as a man cannot put on the dress of a woman, I cannot. It would be very shameful for me. I'm considered a man now."

Hokmina told me that she's lived as a boy since childhood. Her father told her that he needed a boy to fight alongside him after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Indeed, dressing young girls as boys is quite common all over Afghanistan. Some families do it for social prestige and necessity, since boys are valued more than girls. And others do it for freedom, particularly in areas where women need male escorts to run basic errands, like going to the market.

"Our women have been deprived from their basic rights, even in the elections," she told me, "providing us limited seats as compared to men. We have been ignored. You people have been given your rights. Our rights have been deprived."

Ultimately, though, Hokmina hopes for a time where women in Afghanistan can just be women. But as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, Hokmina says that it must make sure that women don't again pay the price.

"The only solution," she tells me, "is to get Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations all together to bring the Taliban to the table and say to them, `Listen, you cannot do as you've done before. You must follow the law. And if you do not, you will be brought to justice.' Otherwise," says Hokmina, "the cycle of war will just start all over again."


AMANPOUR: An amazing woman, an amazing story, and that's it for tonight in our first week back. But you can catch us anytime at Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.