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View From Afghanistan; COVID-19 Around the World; Interview With British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 3, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is headed into the summer dramatically different from last year's summer, a summer of freedom.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): The U.S. races back to regular life, but what about the rest of the world?
I talk to Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee about vaccine inequality and to one of the G7's main players meeting in
Oxford, Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Then: U.S. troops prepare their exit from Afghanistan and the Taliban plot its return. We get a view from the ground from Major General Sami Sadat, a
commanding general in the Afghan army.
KIESE LAYMON, AUTHOR, "LONG DIVISION": I just wanted to put the art out there in the world that was going to live longer than me, because I wasn't
sure that I was going to make it.
GOLODRYGA: Faith race and love. Creative writing professor Kiese Laymon opens up to Michel Martin about lessons he's learned growing up in
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Pressure is ramping up on rich nations to spread the vaccine wealth, as new statistics show that only point 0.4 percent of all doses have been given in
low-income countries. Health ministers from the wealthiest countries, the G7, are meeting today in Oxford to address the issue.
And, in the U.S., President Joe Biden's team announced the White House's strategy to send 80 million doses abroad.
Here's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Our overarching aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as
possible. It's as simple as that.
We want to save lives and thwart variants that place all of us at risk. But perhaps most important, this is just the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: The dramatic disparity in vaccinations between rich and poor was evident from the beginning, but made worse by the COVID surge in India,
home to the world's largest vaccine manufacturer.
Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee are both Nobel Prize-winning economist who are also married. They are sending out this warning that India's
problem is now the world's problem. And they are joining me from Paris.
Welcome, both of you.
Esther, let me begin with that announcement from the White House today and get your reaction to, that the White House in the United States will be
sharing 75 percent of its excess vaccines with the rest of the world.
What do you make of that?
ESTHER DUFLO, NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING ECONOMIST: Well, right now, it's 80 million doses, and there are two billion people to vaccinate this year and
four billion next year, and almost seven billion in the entire world.
So, this is the beginning. And we need to go much faster than that, if possible.
GOLODRYGA: And, Abhijit, obviously, this isn't just the U.S. that needs to step up. We know health ministers from the G7 are meeting in Oxford today
What should be the top priority for them as they are meeting and discussing this?
ABHIJIT BANERJEE, NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING ECONOMIST: I think getting that $50 billion or maybe $60 billion that's needed to putting it together and
assuring manufacturers that the money is there, so that they start producing.
I think sharing the stockpiles is a good idea, but it's not going to get us there. We really need expanded manufacturing. And for that, we need money
on the line.
GOLODRYGA: And how much money are we talking about? We know that $2.4 billion was raised for COVAX in recent days and weeks. Is that enough?
And how much more do we need?
DUFLO: So, the -- according to the IMF, we would need about $50 billion to vaccinate -- to vaccinate up to six -- up to four billion people in the
next couple of years.
Even if you consider that this is an underestimate, needs to be a little bit bigger, we have to give out $50 billion or $60 billion, that's much
less than COVAX has received.
But that is -- sorry -- much more than what COVAX has received. But that is much, much, much less than what we have spent to bolster our own economies,
for example, during the crisis.
GOLODRYGA: And much of that slowdown or the pause, at least, was due to the spread in India, right, where a lot of these vaccines are manufactured.
We're starting to see the death toll slowly decline there. Things are still in very dire shape, and 3,000 deaths a day reported, and it's reported to
be much worse than that. Just 3 percent of India's 1.4 billion population is vaccinated.
We know that New Delhi's now opening up its economy. And this is a delicate balance, right, because closing the economy has a huge impact on a country
that size. And, obviously, having a pandemic spread wildly through the country has huge ripple effects and consequences as well.
How do you walk that balance? And what should the government be doing right now?
BANERJEE: The government of India? The government of U.S.?
I guess the government -- I mean, the government of India, it's -- I think what it's doing that's right this time is calling the -- sort of the next
wave. I think they are very explicit that the third wave will happen, that this -- sort of the de-lockdown that's slowly happening will lead to
another wave, and that wave, it's best to be prepared for that.
So, I think it's going to be this kind of on/off process for a while, as -- I mean, India is just very -- huge. And the vaccines are not really there
yet. They're claiming that they will have 10 million vaccinations per day in -- starting in some time in July.
If that's the case, then, two, three months, and it will really make a difference. But I don't know whether that's optimistic or not. And it's not
exactly -- they don't tell you exactly what those projections are based on.
But I have heard numbers that are not that far away from that from other people. So, maybe this is going to be -- going to start -- middle of July,
they are going to start really massive vaccination drives.
And I think, while the -- while there is some real worry that the mutant variants won't be fully dealt with, I think just slowing down the infection
rates would already, I think, make it less frightening.
GOLODRYGA: And, Abhijit, your family is from that region.
Just on a personal note, and sort of putting your economist hat aside, what has the past few months been like for you, for family, for loved ones, for
relatives, and friends there?
BANERJEE: Frightening, really frightening.
I mean, I know so many -- thankfully, none of my close friends and family have died. But I know so many people who have died. And I open the
newspaper every day, and I hear somebody else I either heard of or know who has died. It's really dire.
I mean, this sort of living through -- I never imagined I would live through something like this, to be honest.
GOLODRYGA: A living hell is how many have described it. And what was so striking about it is that India seemed to avoid much of the first surge,
right, and was even offering aid to other countries. And then here comes the past few months, and the country has just been devastated.
And that's what leading me to my next question, Esther. You co-authored this piece in "The New York Times": "India's problem is now the world's
problem. Getting ready now might give us a fighting chance to avoid a repeat of India's nightmare."
When you look at what's taking place in Africa, for example, they have seen a record number, spike of new cases there and over just the past few weeks
and months. Just a fraction, 2 percent, of Africa has been vaccinated. How worried are you about what's going to transpire there?
DUFLO: I'm extremely worried.
I'm panicked, because just the extent -- the number of people who are contaminated in India and the fact that the world is interconnected means
that the cases that we saw in India are already spreading in the rest of Asia. From the rest of Asia, they are not going to stay there.
There are already cases of the Delta variant, as it's now called, both in the African continent, in the U.K., of course, and in France, for example,
in continental Europe. So it is coming. It is more contagious.
So, therefore, it will spread more. And for countries in Africa which are not vaccinated, but also much less prepared than India in terms of their
health care system, this could be a complete, complete nightmare.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And--
DUFLO: And I think we -- in this pandemic, we have very -- gotten our timing wrong so many times.
I think, if there is one lesson that, as the world, we should try to take from the Indian experience, is, we need to be very. And for Africa, that
means, of course, accelerating vaccination, but also getting ready for, what are we going to do if, when and where an outbreak takes place?
To limit the outbreak, while allowing people to survive, that means financial help to mitigate the outbreak by ensuring that people have
medical care, and to support the economies in the country in this crisis.
DUFLO: And I don't see that happen with the degree of urgency that the situation and the Indian nightmare calls for.
GOLODRYGA: And when I said 2 percent have been vaccinated, that's 2 percent have just received their first dose of a vaccine in Africa.
And you're so right to point out not only the necessity of vaccines, but also the infrastructure there and the health care systems that would enable
vaccines to be able to be given to citizens.
From a global poverty perspective, we have seen a huge rise in the number of people around the world who have fallen into poverty during the
pandemic. Well, just one statistic says, relative to 2019, an estimated additional 108 million workers are now extremely or moderately poor.
What are the first steps that need to be done to combating this? And is enough being done and focused on this issue alone, Abhijit?
BANERJEE: I think -- I think it's -- I think the answer is obvious.
This happened because these countries essentially got no help during the big first round, where there were lots of lockdowns, and the economies were
hit. The rich countries spent roughly 20 percent of GDP shoring up their economy. The poor countries spend 2 percent of GDP. So they did much less
of the shoring of the economy.
People lost their livelihoods, because, for example, if you are -- if you're a vendor, and all transportation is shut off, then you can't vend.
And so it really is -- it's very -- it was a kind of predictable outcome. We knew that this was going to happen, because so many people in the
developing world live at the very margin of survival.
And, to be honest, we did very little. I mean, we just let it happen. We know that we could have spent 1 more percent -- this was 20 percent vs. 21
percent of all the collective GDP in the OECD -- and that would have made a huge difference to the poor in the world.
GOLODRYGA: And yet we continue to see the suffering there right now.
Esther, just from a financial lifeline standpoint, right, and social protection programs, we have seen a drastic change in some of the most
developed countries, and including the United States, as to how the public views them.
We had food lines in this country and cars lined up for miles at food banks within just a matter of weeks, when the government shut down. If anything,
when you look at the amount of stimulus and protection programs that are going into the economy right now, Biden's program will cut child poverty in
Do you think that this is something that's a changing point moment for the country, in particular the U.S. but also developing countries too? Are we
going to be looking at these social lifeline programs differently?
DUFLO: It could be the case, because what really happened is that, during the pandemic, in rich countries, suddenly, everyone saw themselves as
potentially at risk of losing their livelihood, even if they had before assumed it would continue.
And the rich countries stepped up very quickly to protect people's way of life in a way that was seamless and that preserved their dignity. They
didn't have to jump through any hoops. For example, in continental Europe, it was done through furlough, which is completely painless, and even in the
U.S. with very generous unemployment insurance checks.
So, maybe people -- and that's actually one of my hopes, is that people will retain the feeling that nothing so terrible happened. And, of course,
something terrible was happening to the society with the pandemic, but the social insurance actually cushioned people and helped them. And they
continue to look for work and to be active in societies.
So maybe we can keep and maintain that spirit as we are thinking about redesigning social policy and social protection for the future.
The problem is that that was not extended to the poor countries. This generosity that a developed country were perfectly happy to bestow on
themselves, they didn't think that that would also apply to poor countries. And many poor countries put in place an infrastructure to quickly deliver
financial help to their citizens, via, for example, electronic money that people have on their telephone, and did that very quickly and very
The country of Togo is an example of really managing to set up a wonderful program in a couple of -- in literally three weeks, but then they had no
money to actually fuel it. And that is something that is disheartening. And that is something we can change today.
DUFLO: And there is a joint appeal of many, African president and the French president, for using basically money creation at the world level to
allow African countries to access just even a fraction of the type of financings that we had in the rich countries.
And I think it's very, very important the world goes behind that proposal.
GOLODRYGA: We constantly hear the phrase never let a good crisis go to waste. And this would seem an opportune time to address some of the
inequities around the world.
Unfortunately, many times, they fall on deaf ears. But that's why it's so important to have people like you continuing to sound the alarm that this
isn't just one nation's problem; it's a global problem.
Esther Duflo and Abhijit, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
BANERJEE: Thank you.
DUFLO: Thank you.
BANERJEE: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, joining me from that G7 meeting in Oxford is Britain's health secretary, Matt Hancock, who is hosting today's summit.
Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us.
Let me just get your reaction to the U.S. announcing that it will be donating 75 percent of its excess vaccines around the world to countries
that are in need right now. Is that something that the U.K. will be following suit and doing as well?
MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: Well, of course. This is absolutely something that we're looking to do as well. It's something we
have been talking about here in Oxford in England, as the G7 health ministers have been meeting, to talk about how we get the whole world out
of this pandemic.
This isn't over until it's over everywhere. I'm standing in Oxford, the home to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. At the moment, about a half-a-
billion doses of that vaccine have been delivered at cost, so no charge for intellectual property. And that's been a critical part of the response so
far in low- and middle-income countries.
But it's only part of it. We haven't -- we're nowhere near there yet. So there's a lot of work still to do.
GOLODRYGA: And no doubt the vaccine rollout has been a relative success in your country, especially when you consider what was transpiring in the rest
of the E.U. and lagging behind there.
More than 75 percent of residents in U.K. have received a first dose, which is why organizations like UNICEF are calling on the U.K. to release 20
percent of your vaccines to be donated around the world. Is there a number, a quantification you can give to the amount of vaccines that you will be
HANCOCK: Well, the first thing is that, by making sure that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is available at cost, with no charge for the
intellectual property, that means that that contributes to the vaccination of all those who receive it.
And it's an important part of the U.K.'s response, and much bigger than any direct contribution that we can make. Of course, when we have excess doses,
we will look to what we can do with them. The U.K. has a proud history of supporting development across the world and supporting countries across the
world, as does the United States.
And that's something that we will absolutely be working on. But we don't have those excess doses yet. We have got to get the second doses into
people who have had those first doses. As of today, 50 percent of all adults in the U.K. have now had a second dose, including, I understand,
this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson got his second dose.
So, we have got to deliver at home and we have got to deliver around the world. And the approach we have taken is to make sure that this -- the
vaccine that we supported the development of, the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, that vaccine is produced now in 20 different locations globally.
So, it's not just that it's made in the developed countries and then shipped out. It's being made everywhere to be able to vaccinate people
GOLODRYGA: You mentioned I.P. rights.
And, as you know, the President Biden is in favor of a temporary lifting and waiver of I.P. rights in order to get the vaccines into more arms
around the world. There had been hesitancy from the U.K. and the E.U. as well.
HANCOCK: Well, not from here.
You see, from the U.K.'s point of view, more than a year ago, we struck this agreement, when the vaccine development here at Oxford university was
-- then we did the deal with AstraZeneca to be able to distribute it. And we did that with no charge for the I.P.
So, in a way, the approach that we have taken from the U.K. has been to waive those I.P. rights right from the start. And so I can understand the
case that President Biden is making. And I have -- we have seen since that some other companies have said that they won't charge in low-income
So, Pfizer, for instance, have now said that they will deliver a billion doses this year and next at cost in low-income countries. And so that's the
approach that we have taken in the U.K., to do this without changing the law, to do it in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, to get
those, in the case of the vaccine developed here, half-a-billion doses out of the two billion that have been delivered, delivered globally.
So, in a way, we feel like we have acted, and we have done this and got on with it. And I can understand why the president's made the call that he has
on this. Of course, intellectual property rights are important, because they incentivize investment.
HANCOCK: And we do need to have vaccines potentially for variants in the future. So we have got to make sure that we work with the industry that can
But, nevertheless, it's just so important for all of us to get the vaccines around the whole world.
And, as you mentioned, half of the country has now been fully vaccinated; 75 percent have received their first vaccine. That is great, and the
country desperately needs -- needs at least some incentive to get out in the world that has been on lockdown for much of the year.
But in terms of the new variants and even the continued cases, we continue to see a spike, I believe up 22 percent in just the last week in the U.K. I
know so many in the country are eying that June 21 date when the restrictions will be lifted.
Are you worried that, given the new variants and the rise in cases, that that may be too soon?
HANCOCK: Well, we haven't actually made the decision yet.
We have said that the remaining restrictions will not be lifted before the 21st of June. And we will set out over the next couple of weeks whether the
data justify that. So we take the approach in the U.K. that we set out when things will remain in place until, and then we follow the data as to
whether it's safe to make those -- to lift those restrictions.
Now, the big change, of course, is the vaccine. So, cases, the number of cases doesn't automatically lead to hospitalizations, and, sadly, deaths,
as it automatically did in the past, because we have broken that link. But it's not completely broken. So we're watching this very, very carefully and
watching the data.
GOLODRYGA: And you mentioned deaths. We have to acknowledge 128,000 residents and citizens of the U.K. died from COVID. That is the largest
number in the in Europe and the E.U.
Looking back, obviously, there were so many lessons to have been learned. And we have learned so much about the disease and the virus since then. But
looking back to your actions in particular -- and I'm referencing the 30,000 or so who died in care facilities, the elderly who had been
transferred from hospitals without -- as one aide to Prime Minister Johnson said, without being tested for COVID, to a care facility.
Some are suggesting that you bear responsibility for that as well and for those deaths. What is your response to that? Do you bear that
HANCOCK: Well, we have all had to learn about this virus all the way through, haven't we, because it didn't exist before. It's unprecedented as
And the challenge has been to protect people as well as possible based on the information that we knew and the resources we had. So, you mentioned
the testing. It's absolutely right that, in the U.K., we just didn't have the testing facilities that we needed at the start. And we had to build
And one of my jobs was to build that testing capacity. And, as we have built that capability, and as we have learned more about the science of the
virus, so we have been able to improve our response. And that's been the task really, constantly to try to learn as much as possible.
But, Mr. Secretary, I mean, we learned early on that it was the elderly who were most vulnerable and most susceptible and those who needed to be tested
right away. I understand that the hospitals were inundated.
But if the elderly were being transferred to care facilities without being tested, isn't that a major lapse? And isn't that something that should have
been a major priority?
HANCOCK: Well, they weren't able to be tested because we didn't have the testing capacity.
But, of course they were isolated in order to reduce the risk of transmission. And the data show that this was not the main root of
transmission. And all countries around the world had significant challenges with care facilities. The U.K. was no different to that.
And so it was something that we all collectively had to learn -- how to how to deal with. For instance, we didn't know as much about the asymptomatic
transmission of the virus early on. And we had to learn that.
So, yes, it's true that the U.K. had a tough time. But, thankfully, now, with this massive vaccination program--
HANCOCK: -- that's one of the fastest in the world, thankfully, we are coming out of it now.
GOLODRYGA: Well, the elderly and the care facilities both in the U.K. in the U.S. and around the world saw so many deaths. And, obviously, it's
something that we owe those families at least an explanation and some hindsight, looking back and trying to figure out how that happened.
Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
HANCOCK: Thanks for having me on.
GOLODRYGA: And now to Afghanistan, where, in just over three months' time, the last U.S. troops will be heading back home, putting an end to America's
But the fighting won't be over. In a new and troubling report, the United Nations is warning an emboldened Taliban poses a severe and expanding
threat to the Afghan government. It adds, the Taliban believes it can return to power by force, if necessary, and that it still remains close to
al Qaeda. That is a claim that the Taliban is denying.
Joining me now from Helmand with the view on the ground is General Sami Sadat, a commanding general in the Afghan army.
General, thank you so much for joining us.
Let me just begin with the obvious. U.S. troop presence there is leaving in just a matter of a few weeks. Is the Afghan army prepared for that?
MAJ. GEN. SAMI SADAT, COMMANDING GENERAL, AFGHAN ARMY: Thank you, Bianna. Good afternoon.
Yes, we are. We're already planning responsible withdrawal for the U.S. forces. We have given control of many of the U.S. facilities. I think a
very few still remain. And those will be completed in the month of June.
In terms of the combat readiness, we're already conducting 100 percent of the operations on the ground and 98 percent of air operations in
Afghanistan. So, yes, we're ready.
GOLODRYGA: Obviously, that date being September 11 that President Biden said, many already starting to lose leave before then.
When you hear reports that the Afghan -- that the Taliban is ready to gear up and attack and become more aggressive -- and, obviously, we have seen
combat increase over the last year -- how does that make you feel about what the future looks like without U.S. forces there?
SADAT: I think we -- for me, it's not a surprise that the Taliban are gearing up and preparing for attacking major cities. They're already
destroying much of the infrastructure, bringing more al Qaeda and regional terrorists into their fighters and ranks.
That's no surprise for us. I think we're equally ready to counter that. For the past one-and-a-half year, we have been giving peace a chance throughout
the time. And the Afghan forces remained in defense, while the Doha talks continued between the United States and the Taliban.
Prisoners were released. And the United States airstrikes was limited. The ground forces completely halted. So we're already in charge of the ground
operations and what's happening in the combat zones in Afghanistan.
I think now that we know that the peace chance was wasted by the Taliban, they didn't use it effectively, I think we're also opening up to conducting
ground offensive operations, targeted airstrikes. I'm not worried.
On the contrary, I see this as an opportunity for Afghan forces to stand up to the day and defeat the Taliban. It may take some time. But defeating
Taliban is inevitable for two purposes, the first purpose, the cause in which the Taliban are fighting. As the U.S. troops withdraw, it will be
increasingly difficult for the Taliban to recruit in the village of Afghanistan in the name of jihad. So the very purpose of jihad will vanish
However, the Taliban, being a destructive force, they still have the capacity to wage violence across the country. They tried very hard from the
beginning of May until now, storming 10 provinces of Afghanistan, trying to overtake some 40 cities, like the city of Lashkar Gah, Ghazni, Wardak, and
Kunduz in the north.
But they failed in all those fronts and lost a lot of men. So, now they -- in the last few days, we have seen an increase in VBIED attacks into the
main population areas and cities.
That shows that the Taliban were underestimating the Afghan military as they were preparing for these major assaults.
GOLODRYGA: Is there Afghan military prepared just from a number's perspective? I've read reports that suggesting there needed to be at least
350,000 or more forces compared to the anywhere upwards of 100,000 Afghan - - Taliban troops and forces there. Do you have enough numbers of men to fight back?
SADAT: We do, Bianna. We have enough, more than enough numbers and there are two distinct differences between the Afghan military and the Taliban.
First, the Taliban are in small groups, they are guerilla groups, they don't have a base.
They are mostly mobile. For our side, we are a united unified force who are disciplined. We work in teams. We work based on intelligence and we can,
you know, increase our fighting power by getting air support and more from the Afghan (INAUDIBLE) community and we are also jointly working with our
government, the civilian side of the government, local government and the villages.
So, we have a superior hand when fighting the Taliban. And the Taliban could attack, you know, some cities and highways with small numbers, but
they are nowhere near providing force to attack like in terms conventional warfare to move on and take over a city and establish control or something
SADAT: So, I think that's something that people don't see, but I constantly, you know, see the Taliban not being able to have enough
manpower to overrun a city, or even if they have enough manpower, they don't have the discipline, the plan or the unity of command as it is needed
for taking a large part of the territory.
GOLODRYGA: You seem very optimistic and I have to tell you, it's reassuring to hear. I'm just wondering if that optimism is shared with
others, what the morale is for Afghan forces there because for so many, you hear about fears of going back to the 1990s and the terror of the Taliban,
the murders and the eradication of any sort of cultural music, what have you, women being suppressed. Are you worried about any of that happening
SADAT: I mean, we couldn't underestimate the Taliban being an umbrella organization and having their buddies like Al-Qaida some other regional
terrorist groups as well. I think in the Afghan military, I do not see that worry. I see commitment and resolve and I see constantly soldiers and
officers are working in the new message to embark on new operations and I don't see any worries amongst my soldiers.
So, where I am based, in Helmand, Afghanistan, this is the Taliban center of gravity in Afghanistan, after Quetta Balochistan, which is the Taliban's
strategic center of gravity, Helmand -- northern Helmand especially is the Taliban's operational center of gravity whereby they inspire and give plans
to the rest of Afghanistan for the Taliban to fight.
So, I'm sitting right in here and my soldiers are very high in morale. The Taliban began attacks on the 1st of May as we were the first to get control
of the U.S. base inside Helmand. And in 12 hours of that day, they conducted 81 attacks on our checkpoints and especially concentrated on the
City of Lake Qargha (ph), they failed spectacularly.
And up until now, until the end of May, we have counted around 700 Taliban being dead in their push for Lake Qargha (ph). I think they didn't think
that the Afghan forces were able or prepared or they were misled by some of their commanders to just run into a city and take it over easily.
So, I'm sitting right now with you in the past 24 hours, we have had four injuries, no casualties, thankfully, and it is mostly from that 12 hours on
the 1st of May up until now we're talking which is June. So, the first 24 hours being over 100 attacks and now having, you know, 11 attacks in 24
hours, very ineffective. On the contrary, we are on the offensive right now, clearing villages. And I think special operations, raid ground and
air, night raids as well.
So, I think this is where it gives me optimism, and I see the confidence and the capability the resolve in my soldiers as I travel checkpoint to
checkpoint from battle to battle. I think that's very reassuring. So, reassurance comes from the morale of my soldiers, the commitment and the
success I see on the battlefield in Southern Afghanistan.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. That is reassuring to hear especially given that 2020 was the most violent year there, according to U.N., a 30 percent increase in
the number of civilian casualties alone and 2021 is expected to be even higher. Do you support your government's peace negotiations with the
SADAT: Absolutely. As the military, we always listen to our civilian masters. Of course, it's -- we are working closely with our politicians and
we get strategic guidance from our president with the Mandarin (ph) chief as well. But in terms of what we can do, we are trying constantly to see
what we can provide in terms of, you know, making the Taliban go back to the negotiation table.
Personally, for me, Sami Sadat, I don't believe the Taliban are material of peace talks or negotiations. All I can see is the Taliban only understand
and have acted based on coercion and language violence, I think it's coercion and the military defeat that will put them on their toes and that
will make them talk to somebody who is willing to integrate them into their society.
So, yes, we are supporting the government's effort. But personally, I do not believe the Taliban have honored any of the articles, for example, Doha
(ph) agreement with United States. The Taliban successful breached every single article that was signed with the United States. And I think for so
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I was just going say, for so many they would agree with you. They do not trust the Taliban and so many are fearful that so much of
what the Afghan government was able to accomplish over these past 20 years, writing a constitution in 2004, more rights for women, will now be
threatened once the U.S. leaves and the Taliban takes a larger presence there.
Let me ask you before we leave. You are so accomplished as a young man with a military career. Quickly, are you hopeful of what your future holds for
you there in your country and there leading in your military?
SADAT: Absolutely. If I was not hopeful, I wouldn't be serving the military. I hope that one day, you know, Afghanistan is peaceful where I
am, Bianna. Helmand is beautiful, you know, it's peaceful. Tourism can come and we can go across the rivers and the Kajaki Dam and there is, you know,
mineral mines and the beautiful marble mines where you can construct beautiful houses. So, absolutely. And let me tell you that Afghanistan is
not going back. Go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: I am so sorry. We are just tight on time, but I have to say, I didn't expect to have a reassuring end to this conversation with you, and
it is reassuring for me and I'm sure our viewers as well to hear your steadfastness.
Thank you so much, General. We appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck.
SADAT: Thank you, Bianna. Have a good day.
GOLODRYGA: Thank you. Stay safe.
Well, now we sometimes hear of artists selling the rights to their work, but rarely of them doing the opposite, buying those rights back. Well, this
is exactly what our next guest, the award-winning author and professor, Kiese Laymon, has done. He is rereleasing two books eight years books after
their original publication. One is his debut novel, "Long Division," and another is his best-selling collection of essays with the stark title "How
to Slowly Kill Yourselves and Others in America." Here he is talking to Michel Martin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bianna. Kiese Laymon, thank you so much for talking to us again.
KIESE LAYMON, AUTHOR, "LONG DIVISION": Thank you so much, Michel, for having me today.
MARTIN: Your memoir, "Heavy" was such a powerful work, won many awards and you've got these two books now which have just come out and I am realizing
that, you know, reading them, you actually published then back in 2013. I'm talking about your book of essays, "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others
in America," and your novel, "Long Division."
They were published in 2013 but you bought the rights back and republished them. And I know that it sounds kind of like "Inside Baseball" but it's
obviously so important to you. I have to ask you, why it was so important to you to do that?
LAYMON: It was so important for me to do that during last year particularly because death was around me and my students were dying, I
assumed my grandmother was going to die, I assumed I was going to die, and I just started to think about lineage. I wanted the art that I created to
be out in the world the way I longed for it to be out.
Initially, when I through publishing of independent press out of Illinois, I didn't publish those books the way I wanted. And even if I had published
them the way I want it, I had eight years in between to go back and re- think and revise. And I think that this year has taught us, hopefully, the importance of revision. So, I wanted to model that for myself and also, I
just wanted to put the art out there in the world that was going to live longer than me because I wasn't sure that I was going to make it.
MARTIN: May I say, your grandmother did make it. If it's OK of saying that. And so, we're grateful for that. And revision. Why is revision so
important? Revision isn't just ending in your description and your understanding. Revision is so much bigger than that. Why is it so much
important to revise?
LAYMON: One, I'm a teacher, I'm a writer, and I'm an American. And I think when you really look at the history of this country, particularly history
of black folks in the deep south, I think we see that revision and resistance to revision are the why of why we're here.
And, you know, revision is religion to me. It's a practice. It's a practice that is anchored on like ethically reconsidering the ingredients of what
you created, be it in a relationship, a life, a piece of art and, you know, especially after the Trump presidency where this man pushed rigorously
against national, regional and interpersonal revision.
I wanted to double down on what got us here, and that is an assessment of how we got here and a re-thinking of what we can do to be better. I don't
know about that word great, but I know we can always be better, but we cannot be better unless we honestly assess the past and that is what
revisionists means to me.
MARTIN: Well, those who -- people who are familiar with your earlier work will know that you can be unsparing. I mean, unsparing of yourself as well
as unsparing of whatever the subject is that you're writing about. And one of the things that really, how can I say, you are unsparing about is what
those early days of the pandemic were like. On the one hand, coronavirus unfolding. On the other hander connected, perhaps, social justice movements
unfolding. I mean, this has been --
LAYMON: No. Right.
MARTIN: So, how was that for you, tracing both those at once?
LAYMON: It was much more gentle and tender and evocative than it should have been because I sought out my elders. And that's the thing about
everything -- you know, part is because I come from Mississippi. You know, when I wrote "Long Division," I sought out like Jewish elders and I sought
out like actually like black elder elders to talk about their experience as a young people. When I wrote "How to Slowly," the revision of it, I needed
to talk to black folks who lived in Jackson who experienced literal, literal terror and civil rights in the '60s and asked them what this looked
like to them.
You know, and when I interviewed some of them, and one of them told me that this is an awakening, but all awakenings have cost, and I just want all of
the young people to understand like the awakening has cost, but you are committed and you must never, ever, ever go back to sleep. That hit me in
my heart. You know, like -- and this was also around the time Mississippi State flag was changing.
So, those groups of people who fought for like, you know, many changes were in some way not just grieving, but celebrating a victory while warning
young people that the backlash would be harder than anything they've ever experienced. And I knew that, but hearing older people say that in their
voices, some of them trembling with terror and some of them trembling with like joy, it just put me -- it connected me again to that thing I'm always
trying to write to, if I'm going to be honest.
MARTIN: Well, some of your work is deeply personal about things that are not often spoken of -- I'll just say it in the African-American community,
of like the fraught relations that some of us have with our parents, particularly with our mothers, like there's this image of the mother that
some of us have with our own bodies.
MARTIN: That some of us have with our caretaking responsibilities. So, a lot of these things aren't talked about in public. And I'm wondering what
this has been like for you to put all those messages out. And also, I must say, that a lot of times people put those messages out through fiction, but
MARTIN: You say, this is my stuff.
LAYMON: Right. Right. Right.
MARTIN: What does that mean?
LAYMON: That is a great question. You know, I mean, if I'm going to be honest, you know, and you somehow always make people want to be honest, I
think that word that you just described would be impossible if I did not see myself connected to a larger tradition.
You know, we talked earlier about George Floyd indirectly and the musician, Adia Victoria, was talking to me from weeks ago about watching the Floyd
trial and watching one of the experts on stage say, when George Floyd is like, you know, met -- doing his fist like that, when the man's knee is on
his neck, he's trying to breathe.
And she connected that to the blues musicians, the gardeners, the plant workers in the rural south and all across the country who also were trying
to breathe through hands. And I understand how that is partially ableist, but I see myself connected to a larger tradition of people who have been
told, you cannot breathe. And we're going to try breathe. We are going to breathe somehow or another.
You know, be it through blues, be it through the creation of community programs. And so, when I'm talking to people, hopefully, as honest as I
can, I think it would be work that I could not do if I only saw myself up there. I see myself up there, I see Fannie Lou Hamer up there. I'm not
trying to say I'm anywhere near Fannie Lou Hamer. I see Margot Everett (ph) up there. I see Margaret Walker Alexander. So, I see these people who have
been denied breath but who have found creative ways to the breath. And I just try to step into the shadow and breathe in my own way.
MARTIN: I'm thinking about this one -- one of the essays in "How to Slowly Kill Yourself," the book of essays where you write about Mississippi and
you write about some of the behavior of people who are now in leadership there, OK?
So, a lot of people. It's like the governor. It's not just -- it's the governor and his conduct as a student, it's, you know, confederate statues,
it's all of this stuff that is known locally but that perhaps doesn't get into the national conversation, right?
MARTIN: But here's a paragraph that stood out to me. You say, the worst of white folk will not be persuaded. They can only be beaten. And when they
are beaten, they fight more ferociously. They bruise us, they buy us. That is why we are so tired. That is why we are awaken. We are fighting an enemy
we showed exquisite grace, an enemy we've tried to educate, coddle and outrun, an enemy that never tires of killing itself just so it can watch us
LAYMON: I wish that paragraph were not true. You know, at the root of the paragraph, is my grandmother -- my mother always taught me, you have to be
twice as good as white people to get half as much. And what they didn't teach me is that there's a consequence to being twice as good.
And I think that what I'm trying to show in that paragraph is that never ever should we think that we are where we are because we have not done what
they told us to do, which is to be twice as good, not just educationally, but ethically. Be twice as good and committed to our "perceived
And what I am trying to tell myself or remind myself, that in some way, though it's not purely political, this is a political battle. These people
will not be persuaded. I mean, you beat these people and you pray for their children. You do not violently do anything to those folks. B
ut when people double down on telling you that they don't care about themselves enough to harm themselves to harm you and your children, well,
you fight, you do direct action, you organize and you pray, if that is what you do, for those children. Because the children of these people deserve
more than what these parents are giving them, and that is something that we have been told over and over again as black people or black parents and
And I'm not just trying to invert the critique. But at some point, somebody has to ask the question, who is going tend to these white children in this
country? Who will tend to white children? You've been asking us to do it for centuries and we've done it, but we got to tend to ourselves as well.
And that's what I'm trying to do with my art and that's what I think a lot of us are trying to do right now. We get to history. We go to lineage. We
walk in that. We are tired of tending to people who won't tend to their children.
MARTIN: You know, I am tempted to focus on your essays because, you know, as a journalist, they so speak to the moment, but I don't want to neglect
your fiction. "Long Division" is so different. You tell us about it.
LAYMON: Yes. So, you know, "Long Division," if you strip it down, is a story of how black children in Mississippi created -- black children and
Jewish children creatively grieve across generations. You know, that's what it is like on a major level. On the concrete level, it's the story of one
teenager in Mississippi who is attempting to find himself via internet, via the internet celebrity. And there's a story of another Mississippian, a
black girl named Baize who disappeared trying to find herself via her parents and writing.
So, both of these characters have, you know, different manifestation but they're both trying to collectively grieve. They don't know exactly what
they are trying attempting to creatively and collectively grieve, but they're grieving. And I think the characters, including the reader, meet in
the middle of the book. I wanted to make this book a tactile group that you had it turn. It's a workbook. You know what I mean? There's true or false
questions, there's essay, assignments in there.
Again, I wanted to push the genre of the American novel in ways I hadn't necessarily seen while inviting people to the table who hadn't been
MARTIN: A lot of your writing speaks to living in the white gaze?
MARTIN: And navigating your understanding and attempt to find out who you are but to try to figure out who you are while navigating the knowledge
that you are always going to be looked at.
MARTIN: And that you have to negotiate how you are looked at, right?
LAYMON: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: And so, given that that's such an important topic of yours, how did you think about that when you were creating your characters for your
novel? Do they care that they're being looked at? I mean, and how do you feel about that?
LAYMON: They absolutely care. But as young teenagers, they're just becoming aware of the different gazes, right? And they're not sure why
certain perceptively mediocre gazes dictate so much. Do you know what I'm saying?
LAYMON: And so, what I'm trying to show in this book is that, yes, black people writ large and black folk in the deep south, we have to move through
this world being watched. But that's not the problem, the problem is that we're being watched and disciplined by people who do not fairly watch
themselves or discipline themselves. Do you understand what I'm saying?
LAYMON: And so, like my -- this book, though it was written in the pre- Trump era, is completely talking specifically to like the creation of Donald Trump, the creation of people who would put a man in an office who
says, I want to sexually assault, to brag about that, and then we are supposed to believe these people and have these people's gaze and dictate
so much about what we do morally and what our children do morally when they've done something we would never do.
We would -- no matter what you say about black folks in this country, I don't care if it was some person that was running reparations, we would
never put a person as a president of the United States/earth who said out loud, I want to sexually assault and grab women by their privacies.
Now, the majority of white Americans and the majority of white Christians in this country have done that. So, what we have to do is think about what
does that to our children. We have to beat these people politically but we also have to take care of their children because that's something that they
have not done.
And as a teacher, sadly, that work can gets tiresome. And sometimes, when I'm taking care of white children, I'm not taking care of the child inside
my heart, I'm not taking care of black children. We don't just have to deal with just their eyes, we have to deal with their lack of ethics and their
perceived lack of morality and then we have to help raise their children.
The sad part is that exactly what my grandmother had to do, and then my mom. And now, sadly, I'm asked to do that. And sometimes, I don't want to
do that. I want to tend to my heart. I want to tend to our heart. I want to deal with like our -- as a way we harm ourselves, it's hard to do that when
these people have doubled down on despicable and forsaken their own children while going after ours. It's just hard to do it. But you know
what? This is our lineage and this is what we do.
MARTIN: We were talking about your grandmother earlier. You were saying that she doesn't have hope now, but she does have faith.
MARTIN: Would you mind telling me a little bit more about that?
LAYMON: I think when you are critical of whiteness in this country, people want to ask if you have hope in whiteness. And whenever I get the question,
I say, categorically, I have faith. I have faith that we are going to this right. And primarily, I have faith that black Americans are going to be
better, right? And my grandmother is sort of like the model for that. You know, whether she has hope or not. You know, she's a Cristian. She believes
die hard in her Jesus. And her Jesus is not a hopeful Jesus. Her Jesus is a faithful Jesus.
And so, you know, she's been alive 92 years. And when she tells me last year that she's never seen it as bad as it is now, that's brutal to hear
for someone who grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi in 1929. But as bad as it is, for her, the day that she realized it was the worst is when Trump
walked with that bible -- backwards bible and put the National Guard on those peaceful protesters.
And so, for my grandmother, she was like, it's not that man, it's that all of these people think that what that man did is OK. I've never seen it like
that, but I have faith that we are going to push through and be better today than we were tomorrow, and I think that that faith, whether you root
it in like Christianity, when in Buddhism or Islam for folks in this country, that faith is partially why we got here.
And I'm never going to leave -- I'm never going to give up that faith even if I know it makes no sense to have hope in the worst of white folks
changing. I'm going to have faith that the best of all of us will get better. I do have that faith.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, what I want to talk about a subject that you also return to, which is love. You say many times throughout the text that
you want people to learn how to love again and you want to teach yourself how to love again. You want to love again, particularly in regard to
family. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
LAYMON: I know at the root of what I want to do in this culture and in this world, like it's revision, but it's also a dynamic understanding of
what we can do if we commit to love as a practice, right? And I think love as a practice necessitates again talking with ourselves and to people we
report to love if we fail.
The problem in this country is, you know, empire, the problem in this country is poverty. But at the root, I think the problem in this country is
that we have not been collectively loved as young people and that we become adults who are tasked with loving, and we haven't seen that model.
So, I just want to do what I can as an artist and as a human being to model a different kind of radical love that pushes outside the bounds, especially
if those bounds are like constricting and dehumanizing and broadens and makes -- debates for more broading (ph). So, like, I want to be better at
loving the people I purport to love. I want to better at loving the things and the people I purport to love. Without that, I have no chance and I
don't think we have a chance as people.
MARTIN: Kiese Laymon, it's great talking with you. Thank you so much for talking with us today.
LAYMON: Thank you so much, Michel, for making space for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: It's a good message for all of us. And that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from New York.