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Afghanistan Situation "Deteriorating Rapidly"; The View from Kabul; Old Conflict, Young Participants; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET




FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: as the Taliban vow more attacks in Afghanistan, the former finance minister tells me the

situation in the country is deteriorating.


ANWAR UL-HAQ AHADY, FORMER FINANCE MINISTER, AFGHANISTAN: I don't expect the collapse of -- military collapse of the government in the near future

but combining military weakness with political weakness and economic weakness, it could cause the failure of the state.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Also ahead, what makes a 13-year-old Palestinian girl pack a knife in her school bag in order to stab Israeli soldiers?

A special report on teenage violence in the West Bank.


PLEITGEN: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen, in tonight for Christiane Amanpour.

As the temperatures rise in Afghanistan, the Taliban launched their springtime offensive, dubbed Operation Omari, named after the deceased

Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

Meanwhile, the so-called unity government in Kabul seems to be on the verge of falling apart. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is just back from the

Afghan capital, where he tried to shore up support for the two-headed government, which, of course, he himself helped forge.

But dissatisfaction is growing as the two leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, are struggling to work together.

All of this as the economy is getting weaker, the Taliban are getting stronger and stability seems farther away than ever.

A little earlier, I spoke to Afghanistan's former finance minister, who is very critical of the unity government. Here's what he had to say.


PLEITGEN: Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, welcome to the program.

AHADY: Thank you.

PLEITGEN: Sir, there are many people who, at this point in time, say because of the security situation in Afghanistan and the economic

situation, that, at this point, there is an existential threat to the country.

How bad do you think that threat is?

AHADY: Well, I think the situation is deteriorating rapidly, economically, politically, as well as security wise. But I don't think, I don't see a

threat to the collapse of the state at this juncture.

However, if those concerns are not addressed, right now, I think we have a failed government and I'm afraid that we may end up with a failed state.

And, of course, that's not going to be good for anybody.

PLEITGEN: The other thing that you have at this point is a Taliban offensive that has just been announced by the Taliban and, at the same

time, you have a lot of problems in Afghanistan with the Afghan security forces.

I want to read to you a quote that we got from the Afghan government today, where they say, "Our forces did not have the ability to do operations in

multiple locations in early 2015.

"But we are fighting and hitting the Taliban in over 50 locations as we speak right now. The quote-unquote 'Shariq Operation' was launched two

weeks ago and we have the initiative and we are on the offensive in most places."

Do you believe that?

Do you think the Afghan security forces are improving?

AHADY: Well, I think the Afghan security forces are facing a very difficult situation. And it would be quite a task for anyone to handle

that situation. But very often, the Afghan government's spokespeople and the ministries, they make misleading statements.

While on the one hand, they are saying that the situation is improving, their fighting capability is improving, even yesterday there were some

reports that there is greater desertion among the armed forces.

And even in places where they say that they are making progress, there are also reports, for instance, in Helmand, that within the three kilometers of

the capital city in Helmand, the Taliban are in control and some people predict that they would take control of the entire province.

But even if they do take that, I think as long as there is international support for the Afghan government, especially for the security forces, I

would hope -- and I hope I'm right in this regard -- I don't think that the opposition, the Taliban, will be able really to cause the collapse -- the

military collapse of the government.

PLEITGEN: To what extent do you think that economic, that political problems, political infighting within the unity government, contribute to

the security situation?

Because, at this point in time, there isn't even a defense minister.

AHADY: Well, I'm not sure whether --


AHADY: -- the acting defense minister or having an actual defense minister would make that much of a difference, although that is an indication of the

inability of the government, really, to function well.

But there is very serious differences -- there are very serious differences among the government, I mean between the two leaders, Abdullah Abdullah and

Ashraf Ghani.

But there are even more serious differences between the rest of the population and the politicians and on one side Abdullah on one side and

Ashraf Ghani on the other side. The rest of the country, they don't trust Abdullah's ability or Ghani's ability really to function and to manage the

affairs of the state, particularly the security situation that well. And they really want a change of the government.

PLEITGEN: What do you think is the problem then?

Is it the infighting between the factions inside the government?

Is it a general lack of oversight?

Is it corruption in politics?

What's the big problem?

AHADY: I think it's all of these. I think there's the agreement, based on which this government was formed, it's not a very good agreement. It calls

for double sovereignty or double executive posts, which is not really good.

They have to agree, both leaders have to agree on every issue and they have veto power, especially with regards to selection of personnel.

But aside from that, I think it's also a question of management. I don't think either leader has been -- has proven to be good managers. We

expected a lot from Dr. Rentee (ph) but actually his record is quite disappointing.

And on top of that, there is a great deal of corruption. We used to think like the previous, that corruption under the previous government was quite

high but now, even international agencies have indicated that actually corruption has increased.

PLEITGEN: Well, essentially, because many people believed that this government was only due to stay in office for two years, anyway. And then

recently, John Kerry was in town and all of a sudden he said, no, we believe that this could go on for five years.

How do you see John Kerry's role, America's role, in Afghanistan right now and, more importantly, how do the Afghan people see it?

AHADY: Well, actually, there was a great deal of uncertainty about the life of this government. Most people interpreted it that it is for two

years, because it was supposed to convene a grand assembly within two years, which they are not capable of convening.

And that, somebody would have determined whether the Keogh (ph) opposition would be elevated to prime minister's position or whether it would be

abolished. Since that's not happening, most people think that this is the end of the coalition government.

Now Secretary of State John Kerry, he at least clarified that the U.S. position, that the U.S. considers this agreement to be for five years.

There is no indication in the agreement itself that it is for five years.

Of course, the agreement doesn't say this for two years. It's just a question of interpretation. Now this clarity helps the government a little


But at the same time, I should say that the position of the U.S. government in this regard is quite unpopular and there has been rather strong

reactions from various politicians, that they do not agree with this situation, with this position of the United States.

I think what I consider it is that the Afghan government, any successful Afghan government would need the support of the people as well as the

support of donors. Unfortunately, one of these would not be sufficient for an effective government and even if the current government receives

international support, as long as it doesn't have people's support, it will not be effective.

PLEITGEN: Sir, when we put your criticism to people in the Afghan government, they said, well, of course, Mr. Ahady would say that, because

he wanted to become foreign minister and he didn't.

Is that one of the reasons you're so critical?

AHADY: No. Well, had that been the case, I would have started criticizing the government some more than a year and a half ago. I've started only

criticizing the government like some six months ago, after they were in office for a whole year.

And when I looked at the economic situation that is increasing -- according to their own admission, unemployment has increased by 15 percent. There

has been negative growth; the value of the currency has deteriorated, I mean, the security (INAUDIBLE) et cetera.

When I looked at the national situation, I thought that this government was a failed government and, therefore, that's why I raised my voice even

though they had promised and earlier, yes, they did promise I would be the foreign minister. But that's not the main reason, although I was quite

unhappy with them in that regard, too.

Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, thank you for joining us today.

AHADY: Thank you.


PLEITGEN: It's a fairly bleak picture there from the former finance minister. And now live from Kabul, we have our own Nick Paton Walsh, who's

with us.

And Nick, you heard what the former minister said there. And you've --


PLEITGEN: -- also just seen the Afghan security forces and you've seen the state that they're in.

Do you think they're anywhere near being able to provide security there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: It's extraordinarily tough. And you simply have to remember one number for last year: 550,000. That

is the number of police and soldiers and security personnel that Afghanistan lost in just one year. That's way more than the entire NATO

campaign lost in its whole decade here.

And that gives you really an idea of the strength of challenge they're facing this year. A very bad start to their time without NATO in a combat

role backing them up. NATO say actually it's eve impacted their ability to train more troops for the battlefields here.

And on top of that, too, we now have a Taliban leadership that's changed -- younger, radical, more emboldened, closer in fact even to Al Qaeda. They made a key Al Qaeda facilitator their deputy here. So they are on the

front foot. They're taking territory fast in the key, most largest province of Helmand.

That is now a third totally under their control. A third estimated pretty much under their control. And this main city, Lashkar Gah, is heavily

pressured. That security situation, which you feel even here in the capital. I mean, Secretary of state John Kerry couldn't come here without

four explosions marking the end of his visit near the U.S. embassy.

Yesterday, two dead from the education of ministry in a bus blast, 12 army recruits killed on the way into the capital. It's bad and that wasn't even

before the Taliban announced what they now say is the summer fighting season ahead of them.

It's always easy to be pessimistic but it's always been easier to be optimistic about Afghanistan. That's what we constantly heard from U.S.

and Afghan officials. They said the Afghan army would be able to handle it. They can't. That's quite clear at this stage. What's not clear is

how much that security failing, Fred, is impacting the political crisis we're seeing, too. Those inside the palace say we had an impossible job,

frankly. NATO made us do everything at exactly the same time. They withdrew and made the security crisis worse. That meant the economy also

tanked to some degree.

And in the same year, we had to change presidents from Karzai to President Ghani. And even then, you had us accept, through John Kerry's diplomacy

and mitigation, frankly, out of an awful potential crisis, you made us accept a CEO and a president who don't get along, who have hamstrung the

administration's ability now to solve basic crises.

So, yes, it is a very bad year indeed already. And I think you have to just bear in mind what a top U.N. official said about the national unity

government here. If it survives this year, that would be a success. So we are looking. Everyone always says each year is crucial in Afghanistan.

But I have to say after nearly 10 years of coming here, 2016 seems like a make-or-break year frankly between whether the Taliban get a say or the

government that the U.S. and NATO spent so much money trying to keep up.

PLEITGEN: And that situation obviously puts individuals into a difficult situation as well. And there's people who join the security forces, some

of them defect. There's different alliances going on. And you've spoken to some of those people who are in that difficult situation where their

loyalties lie.

What's the best path for them forward?

What do these people say to you?

WALSH: It's remarkable. We have heard repeated stories of people who fought for the Afghan army here. One man who fought in Kunduz, that city

that fell briefly to the Taliban. We caught up with him in Germany as a refugee, having gone through Turkey, Greece and Hungary.

And we also spoke to men who fought in Sangin, a key, hotly contested province -- sorry -- town in Helmand and they not only deserted, like

apparently two-thirds of the personnel losses in the Afghan army are actually caused by but defected to the side of the Taliban. Here's why

they said they did it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I did 18 months of army training and took an oath to serve this country. But the situation changed. The

army let us down. So we had to come to the Taliban. They treat us like guests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I decided to leave the army when my dead and injured comrades lay in our base but nobody took them to the

hospital. My army training is very useful now as I am now training Taliban fighters with the same knowledge.


WALSH: Now what's obviously the challenge for President Ghani ahead. He's been hard, he says, on corruption. He's had some success on the day John

Kerry came here, he got a new attorney general, a new interior minister but he's still got an acting defense chief and intelligence chief, two key

positions for fighting a war.

The difficulty for him is perception. His officials easily admit, frankly, the perception is key here. It's not a secret. People think the

government are losing. They need to turn that idea around, because it simply gives the Taliban momentum.

But you have to look at the broad figures here: 5,500 losses in Afghan security forces just last year, 9,000 injuries within that. It's an

extraordinarily steep slope ahead of them.

And one of the number two, we saw 11,000 Afghan civilians injured just last year, too, 350,000 losing their life. Daily life here is imperiled, it is

ghastly for so many Afghans. It has been for decades and the potential now is they're entering an even worse period -- Fred.


PLEITGEN: Yes. Certainly a difficult situation. Certainly understandable that so many people say this could be a make-or-break year. Thank you very

much, Nick Paton Walsh there, live for us in Kabul.

And when we come back, the new generation of Palestinians losing their futures in the West Bank. Knives, hatred and the struggle to stay young,

that's coming up next.




PLEITGEN: Welcome back to the program, everyone.

Well, 12 years old and already in and out of jail. Imagine that. The lawyer for a Palestinian girl who confessed to planning a West Bank

stabbing attack tells CNN she'll be released in two weeks after spending 2.5 months in military detention.

The most remarkable thing about the case is that it isn't that unique at all. Human Rights Watch says the number of Palestinian children arrested

in the West Bank has increased by 150 percent since last October. That poses major problems for authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian


How do you deal with minors who have committed crimes?

Will jail make them even more likely to become repeat offenders?

And how do you rehabilitate them in the current extremely charged political and security situation?

Our own Oren Liebermann investigates.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Bethlehem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn't erupt, it repeats.

Clashes today echo clashes from past decades, Israelis firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Palestinians throwing stones and wearing masks.

But the faces behind those masks appear younger now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am hear to defend my country. I want to throw stones at the soldiers. My parents don't know I am here.

I am not afraid.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): A no-man's land of drifting tear gas and burning tires separates the two sides. Now that separation has all but vanished,

as some Palestinians, barely teenagers, have put down rocks and picked up knives.

But why?

Why would a young teenager carry out a stabbing attack when it could mean they never come home?

Reema Sanad (ph), a 37-year-old mother of five from Bethlehem, says it was her recurring nightmare.

REEMA SANAD (PH), PALESTINIAN MOTHER (through translator): I always saw the children that went for the attacks. They were the same age, like my

daughter, Sabrin (ph). Some want to be famous and some want to have revenge. They want the curiosity of living the experience, of taking part

in the intifada.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Sanad's nightmare came true on December 1st, caught on cell phone video. Her daughter, 13-year-old Sabrin (ph), left

school and walked to a checkpoint, where Israeli soldiers found a knife in her backpack. Sabrin (ph) spent a month in military prison after pleading

guilty to carrying a knife.

We meet her back at home, doing her schoolwork. She has dreams of becoming a journalist. I ask her why she did it.

SABRIN SANAD, 13-YEAR-OLD CONVICT (through translator): I was not concentrating on anything, not playing or even doing homework. I was only

watching Al-Aqsa TV. I saw all those guys and girls doing what they do and I want to do the same for my country.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Al-Aqsa TV is Hamas TV. It calls for more attacks on Israelis, hailing the perpetrators as heroes. It's on during

our visit.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Her 21-year-old brother doesn't approve and turns it off. But the language of hate has seeped into Sabrin's vocabulary.

SABRIN SANAD (through translator): The hate that we have for them is our motivation. They are killing us where everywhere. I can't accept what is

happening to my country. Many guys are killed while walking. No one can accept that because we love Palestine and we want to defend it.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Sabrin will not accept her mother's explanation that violence sets back the exact cause she's trying to support.

REEMA SANAD (through translator): Let's say that you went out and stabbed a soldier and killed him.

What did you do?

You did nothing. You ruined the situation more. This is exactly what Israel wants. The occupation wants to say to the world, look, they are

stabbing us and killing us, we are in danger.

And suddenly everything is the opposite. Those who are oppressed and under occupation are terrorists and the occupation that is actually killing us

with the siege every day is the victim.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Fadi Al-Ghoul (ph) is trying a different approach, a performance mixing in humor and emotion based on his own story.

His mother was killed in the Israel-Lebanon war in 1982.

FADI AL-GHOUL, PALESTINIAN PERFORMANCE ARTIST (through translator): We need to show those children that the resistance has many other ways that I

believe in. As a human being, as an artist and as Fadi the father, I do believe that there are many ways of resistance that we can use.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Al-Ghoul speaks to the memory of his mother. He promises to make her proud. He promises to live.

AL-GHOUL (through translator): If you really love Palestine, take care of yourself. Don't put yourself in danger. Your soul is so dear to us all.

Resist with all the tools you have but keep yourself safe for your country.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): One young girl in the audience who lost her mother breaks down in tears. Al-Ghoul's message, he hopes, has gotten

through. He reaches out to the young, those most likely to carry out attacks: 70 percent of Palestinian attackers against Israeli civilians and

soldiers have been between the ages of 16 and 25, according to the Israeli military. Another 10 percent were even younger.

Israelis called the wave of attacks terrorism. Palestinians call it resistance. It is a cycle that has not yet been broken.

PETER LERNER, ISRAELI MILITARY SPOKESMAN: At the end of the day, we are left with a reality on the ground, of extreme violence, which is

encouraged, embraced and glorified by the society. Whatever reason they feel it be, this is the result.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Palestinians describe a different reality, one of suspicion and humiliation from Israeli soldiers. Psychologists speak of


TAWFOOK SALMAN, PSYCHOLOGIST: Many of those kids told me, look, Doctor, now you want to try to help us here in your office. But when while we are

going back home, Israeli will stop us, will humiliate us again.

We will forget your advices. We will go home with the last trauma, with our small kids, they have to go to their schools, to go to their school, to

go to play, to express themselves, not with the knives, not with the stones.

LIEBERMANN: They should be kids.

SALMAN: They should be kids.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The West Bank, where, for Palestinian children, the challenge is just to stay children -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Bethlehem.


PLEITGEN: And that certainly is a pretty tall challenge there for those kids in the West Bank.

However, a new ray of light is now shining in Gaza. It's coming straight from a film projector, as the territory opens its first cinema in 20 years.

Now screenings take place in a Red Crescent building and, so far, the popular movie theater is steering clear of any controversy, playing

carefully chosen films to avoid the ire of sensors.

They mostly show Palestinian history movies, while some Western hits like "inside Out" are now breaking through as well.

And next, we'll switch over to the small screen. Imagine a world of so- called Muppet diplomacy. We meet "Sesame Street's" newest Afghan residents -- it's after this.





PLEITGEN: And finally tonight, we imagine a street of bulging eyes and squeaky voices. It all lives, of course, in the self-contained world of

"Sesame Street," which is introducing its first Afghan character in that country's own version of the hit show named "Sesame Garden." Soon children

across Afghanistan will meet 6-year-old Zari.


PLEITGEN: Adorable.

And Zari translates as "shimmering," in Dari and Pashto dialects. And her starring role will see her promoting female empowerment while taking a keen

interest in girls' health. It's not the first time the show has extended a hand of friendship across the globe. Its runaway popularity, for instance,

in the Arab world goes back decades.

And get this: when Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard invaded Kuwait in 1990, part of the treasure trove they brought back included "Sesame Street"

tapes and a camel puppet.

There's already a Palestinian version of the show, just one of the 120 countries it airs in. Now Zari, alongside Elmo and Big Bird, will

hopefully spell and count out a path to understanding for a new generation of girls and boys in Afghanistan.

And that's it for our program tonight. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.