D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
One year after a major policy review sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the Obama administration and its allies are evaluating their success. While there have been measurable achievements on the ground, a looming 2011 deadline for withdrawing troops has cast a pall over strategy and Afghans’ spirits. We discuss the way forward, and how the Middle East’s history can serve as a guide.
- Amin Tarzi Director of Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.
- Mark N. Katz Senior Fellow at the Middle East Policy Council; Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A year ago, President Obama ordered 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in an effort to quickly quell violence, reassure Afghans and bolster Afghan security forces. At the time, the president said troops would start coming home in July of 2011, but a year on, that date is looking a lot more squishy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe president is expected to keep his promise, but he walks a fine line between both pleasing a war-weary American public and staying as long as it takes to finish the job. Now, the president and his NATO allies who met in Lisbon over the weekend are looking to 2014 as their target date for handing back full control to the Afghans. But as we look ahead to the next four years, how do we use the lessons of past conflicts to chart our course?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to answer that question and many of yours on Afghanistan are Mark Katz, senior fellow at the Middle East Policy Council. He's also professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Mark, good to see you again.
MR. MARK KATZThank you. Good to be here.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Amin Tarzi, thank you for joining us.
MR. AMIN TARZIThank you.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation that you can join, too, at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there or shoot us an e-mail to email@example.com. Do you think it's realistic to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan next year? The number again, 800-433-8850. Amin Tarzi, allow me to start with you.
NNAMDIWe're seeing what appears to be contradictory messages coming out of the Obama administration and from our NATO allies. On one hand, they're saying there's been enough progress on the ground to begin turning security control over to Afghans by the spring. On the other hand, we're hearing that combat troops will stay in the region until 2014. What do these messages mean and how are Afghans interpreting these messages?
TARZIThere are two different questions. Let me go for the first, please. Afghanistan is a very diverse country. It's 34 provinces and even within each province there are local areas...
NNAMDISomething we often forget.
TARZIRight. So there are parts of Afghanistan right now that combat is taking place as we speak, actual combat. There are parts of Afghanistan where you can walk pretty freely. There is one particular province where a woman actually is the governor. Things are much smoother. So this is the key point here. Full control to Afghanistan or partial control does not mean all of the country. There are areas that will go first slowing into Afghan control. There are areas may go faster. The idea of 2014 -- and even that, if you read the fine lines, and even President Obama's, that is the targeted date.
TARZIAnd after that, there'll be a NATO/U.S. -- and we are a part of NATO, a connection with the Afghan government mainly as a support basis. So it is not a -- I know we usually, especially in election years, we like to have a specific date.
TARZIIn a war, you cannot predict that. So there's -- if some confusion is in there, it's because this is a very dynamic situation with different actors, not only on the ground with Afghans, but also different actors helping NATO, outside of NATO. You know, and Lisbon, as you mentioned, it wasn't just a NATO country. There were 20 non-NATO members who have either troops in Afghanistan or interests there. So this is the issue.
TARZIThe second part of your question is very important. What do the Afghans see? The Afghans are, to put it very plainly, they're very confused. Their confusion stems, number one, from 30 years of warfare which is either with foreign powers, Soviet Union, and then now NATO, but also internally. So it's a very -- if you look at Afghanistan as a human being, it's very traumatized. I mean, beyond the wounds that it has, it's very traumatized. And they see this as a -- I don't know. They're about to abandoned again.
TARZITherefore, they've become more and more insecure in their positions and insecure in their future. Therefore, they become more corrupt, one of the things. There are other things. The second issue is, Afghans also think of this as conspiracies. They're seeing all these things. They know everything. They are the countries that went to the moon. I'm talking to you -- what we hear in Afghanistan.
TARZITherefore, they may have something else behind all these messages.
NNAMDIThere's another conspiracy, another plan that they have that they are not revealing to us because these are very, very powerful countries and we are but a small poor country.
NNAMDIMark, in retrospect, was the Obama administration's loud public deadline of withdrawing troops by 2011 more of a hindrance than a help this past year?
KATZI don't really think so. I think that the current policy that we've seen of increasing the number of troops, but announcing a date by which the U.S. will start to withdraw is a compromise. As Bob Woodward wrote in his book "Obama's Wars," essentially the president and those around him would like to withdraw American forces from that war. The American military want to stay in. So what we have is something of a compromise. And what it reminds me of is partly of the Bush surge, in other words, sort of one last push, you know, before it was obvious that the U.S. would have to withdraw.
KATZIt also reminds me of Gorbachev's policy in Afghanistan when he ruled the Soviet Union. That essentially when he came into office what he did was he gave the Soviet military one last chance, you know, two years to get this done. And we saw a greater than ever offensives in Afghanistan, but then when it didn't work, he basically pulled the rug. And I think for the same reason, as the Obama administration would like to do so. And that is that the cost of the effort is enormous and the benefit appears to be increasingly slim.
NNAMDIWell, of course, we all know of the great success of the Soviet effort...
NNAMDI...because right after they pulled their troops out, it took, what, maybe two years before the regime that the Soviet Union had installed was, itself, uninstalled, so to speak, correct?
KATZYes. But there's one important difference. And that is that the Marxist regime actually didn't do so badly after the Soviets left provided that Moscow still sent arms. It was when they stopped sending arms, you know, when Yeltsin came in, that it all fell apart. Now, it may have fallen apart anyway. But I think that this is gonna be the difference. The U.S. is gonna withdraw troops, but it's not gonna cut off arms altogether as we did, by the way, in South Vietnam. So I think that there is a real difference there.
NNAMDIThere's been a lot of debate about whether President Obama's decision to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan in the middle of next year is the right one. But it seems pretty firm so let's talk about the implications and consequences of that decision. First, a natural question following our elections, is the now republican dominated House of Representatives likely to reverse or significantly change President Obama's decision?
KATZI don't think it can. I think that the House of Representatives, you know, on its own has less influence on foreign policy than does the Senate. And I think that once the decision has been made, the Executive branch has an awful lot more leeway. I think it would be very hard for the republicans to do this. And to be honest, I'm not sure that the republican House -- do they really want to continue this? They know that the war is unpopular. Now, they have a constituency that wants to see this continue, but I have a feeling that, the republicans, what they would prefer is for the war to be wound down on Obama's watch. And that they're not responsible for it and then, of course, if things go badly, they can blame the Obama administration.
NNAMDIMark Katz, a senior fellow at the Middle East Policy Council. He's also a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. He joins us in studio to discuss Afghanistan and U.S. policy. Also with us is Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University at Quantico, Virginia. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Was President Obama's troop surge, in your view, effective or not? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIAmin, we've been hearing some mixed messages about progress in Afghanistan. The most recent headlines say we're bringing in heavy artillery, like tanks, in an escalation of the fight against the Taliban. What's your take on that situation?
TARZIAgain, the jury's out. If you look at certain aspects of Afghanistan, people -- I mean Afghan people -- the idea here is this war is not about dismantling the enemy so much as it is also with gaining the trust of the Afghans. As I mentioned earlier, the Afghans are not yet convinced that the Afghan government, as it stands right now, has a firm future and that they should put their lot with. So they are basically sitting on the fence.
TARZIThe idea is to bring the majority of the Afghans to come on the side of the Afghan government, which right now is lead by President Karzai. In parts of Afghanistan, surveys show that people are becoming a little bit more hopeful. Unfortunately, not so much more hopeful about their own government, but on the efforts of the NATO alliance. This you see in the north, even in Helmond, which is a place that the United States is heavily involved, people are looking at the progress on the ground as significant.
TARZIThey see the Taliban there as a distaste for the Taliban. We do not report all of that every day. There is actually things happening on the ground. Not only in the casualties that our position is taking, but also turning away from the -- you know, people are turning away from the Taliban. The question is whether they have a better alternative or they are just going into a void. That is a question that I think will be answered in the next few years because there is progress in that sense.
TARZII think where there needs to be a little bit more progress is on the accountability of the Afghan government. Because if you're giving yourself the trouble of putting your life, your children's lives, in jeopardy, because the Taliban are right there with -- among them and you're supporting a system, you need to know that the system is worth it and secondly, the system will last. That question, I think, is still not answered in the mind of many of the majority of Afghans.
NNAMDISo the loss of the credibility on the part of the Taliban does not necessarily result in an instant gain of credibility on the part of the Afghan government.
TARZINot yet. And this is where the Karzai government needs to seize the day and take it because right now, the tide is turning. However, unfortunately, the election was not a very promising time where people could have looked at the September election and also last year's election. So people have a, if you would, a bad taste in their mouth. Although, the Taliban have become -- as I said, they have become distasteful, so has the Karzai regime, the Karzai government.
NNAMDIMark, the brutal Afghan winter is now upon us and the fighting tends to die down during these cold months. Will this lull in fighting blur the reality of the situation on the ground as allies make plans for withdrawal?
KATZWell, I think not for long. I think, you know, everyone knows this is coming. Every year it comes. And everyone knows that in the spring there's going to be new growth, as they say, new growth in conflict. But I think that one thing that we do point to is that the allies are getting tired. In other words, many of the allies, they join in this effort not so much because they were gung-ho about fighting. They didn't expect the conflict to last this long. They came there mainly to please the United States government. They wanted something from the U.S., therefore they joined in this conflict.
KATZAnd it think that what's happened is that as the conflict has become unpopular in their countries, and this is, you know, far more advanced in this process than here in the United States, that these governments can't keep their forces there. And so they're going to have to leave. And so more and more, I think that the effort is going to become a U.S. effort.
NNAMDIWe got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on Afghanistan. But you can still call 800-433-8850. Do you see Afghanistan as another Vietnam debacle for the U.S. or not? 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing the situation in Afghanistan and U.S. policy and inviting your calls. Where do you think the U.S. military and his allies should focus their resources moving forward in Afghanistan? You can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, and Mark Katz, senior fellow at the Middle East Policy Council and the professor of government and politics at George Mason University.
NNAMDIAmin, we talked earlier about the movement of heavy artillery like tanks in the escalation of the fight against the Taliban. I'd like to pursue that and also a point that Mark was making earlier about the Soviet withdrawal. What do these texts represent to Afghans, progress or are they an ominous reminder of the Soviet occupation and withdrawal in 1989?
TARZII think, you know, the Marine Corps is receiving some M1 Abrams tanks and specifically where the Marines are fighting. You have to look at the terrain. These weapons have been -- the fighting forces on the ground have deemed them necessary. They are not necessarily something -- an escalation. You can even see them as a de-escalation of more reliance on ground forces rather than air force, more reliance on close combat rather than long-range artillery. So, yeah, main battle tanks have this image everybody looks at them as escalation in war. But necessarily, they may actually be much more precise.
TARZIAnd secondly, yes, there is a message that comes to their opposition that these are, first of all, they have, you know, there's an image of tanks that they're here to stay. And secondly, that they are more ominous looking than somebody coming from the outside. However, the issue here is not image, the issue is not anything but the fact that they would be more effective on a flat ground, where these two provinces or one province specifically is. I don't, you know, I know people talk a lot about it because of image of the tank in our popular culture. Beyond that, I would not read much.
TARZIAs far as the Soviet issue and the tanks are concerned, I think much has been made to draw parallels between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the current situation. I happen to be actually in there when the Soviets were there, so I can tell you a little bit of personal issue. There are many, many differences. And with all the problems that we have an image, and the problems in conveying our messages. I was just telling Professor Katz that there is a new survey that 92 percent of Afghans in Southern Afghanistan don't even know about 9/11. So that is something, a shortcoming in our collective effort to tell them why we are there. If they don't know about 9/11, then our being there has a different message than us going there because of that.
TARZIBut all of that, and I travel to Afghanistan regularly right now, the Afghans, by and large, I'm sure there are pockets here and there, by and large, never make that connection because the Soviets were seen as an occupying country, an atheist occupying country that came in without any reason to their country. Whereas, the U.S. presence and the fact that we are not -- you know, the fact that Mr. Karzai comes up and says things that are totally against our grievance shows that and maybe in a way that's very bad and the sense that shows that Afghans have their own way, they have their own independence and they see that the efforts of the United States is not to prolong its stay, but rather to make the Afghans masters in their own land.
TARZII think that image, of course the Taliban totally go against it. If you read the message that the Taliban just sent right after the Lisbon agreement is that, you know what, this is all nothing unless the foreign troops leave. They want to draw that connection. But by and large by the Afghans, I can tell you that it is, thankfully, and I say thankfully, it's not there.
NNAMDIBut you do seem to think it's significant that 92 percent of Afghans in Southern Afghanistan have never heard of 9/11, and so they may not see the United States necessarily as atheist, but they may simply see it as an occupying force comparable to the Soviet Union.
TARZICorrect. I think on that one, as I said, what we call in the military side, IO, information operations or just media. On the media side, I think we collectively, not just the United States, all our allies and the Afghan government have done, I would -- if I'm a professor, I'll give them a C plus at best.
NNAMDIMark, as a professor, what lessons, you've mentioned some already, but what other lessons can we learn from the Soviet withdrawal in 1989?
KATZWell, I think that I've had to go back actually. The question you ended on just before the break, in other words, is Afghanistan going to be another Vietnam?
KATZI would say, not necessarily at all, nor will the experience be like the Soviets had in Afghanistan either. You know, we're used to thinking, U.S. forces withdraw, the government they're defending falls. But, you know, there's another case of an insurgency. Egypt intervened in North Yemen. I was there for five years in the 1960s. They, you know, did very, very badly. Egyptian forces left and the government they were defending thrived, succeeded. Now, in a certain sense, you know, this is not obviously guaranteed to happen either.
KATZBut I think that, in fact, as my colleague mentioned, the Taliban's almost, you know, frantic desire to dispute the NATO announcement that the forces are going to leave, what this shows is that this is actually what they're afraid of. In other words, the heavy Western presence is a great target, in other words, a great source of complaints. If, in fact, the West withdraws, what this means is that people focus on the Taliban. Now, of course, there has to be a government that's fairly strong in Afghanistan, in Kabul, and this is something we don't have yet, hopefully that the Afghan government will get its act together.
KATZBut I think that the Taliban understands that, in fact, the wisdom of the Obama administration's approach that a smaller Western presence in Afghanistan will actually help focus the Afghan mind on what it is they don't like. And they don't like an awful lot about the Taliban and they experience their rule before. And so I think that this is, you know, not simply cutting runners as it's portrayed to be. I think that there's a -- that the real, I think, lesson here is that we cannot over-learn what happened in Vietnam or over-learn what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan. That history is not destined to repeat itself if one, in fact, understands what happened before and one can avoid what happened.
NNAMDIThe lessons of history. Thank you. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead please. Brian, your turn.
NNAMDIYes, go right ahead, Brian. You're on the air.
BRIANThank you for taking my call. Yes, my comment is, it just seems that despite our best efforts and our desires to really help the Afghan people and country that the corruption was in the government. The fact that we have to pay so much money to essentially the Taliban -- they want us there because we're their, you know, meal ticket. And I think if we leave, it would upset them for other reasons as well as what's just mentioned, but because we're their source of income. And we're just continually supporting something that can't be won. And I think we need to focus on other ways non-militarily to support them.
NNAMDII want to go back to Amin Tarzi for a second because you made the point earlier that the lack of security is what feeds the corruption.
TARZIYes. As I said, if you look at Afghanistan as a psychologically traumatized body or a nation, what is happening is not that the Afghans are thieves. What is happening is when you a regime whether it's communism, Islamism, communism without Soviets, communism with Soviets, Talibanism, and at the end, what happens is that the majority of the people suffer. So what happens, people by and large -- and this includes government officials. I'm sure there are some people who are just crooks, but the majority want to survive.
TARZINumber one gift in Afghanistan you can give somebody is their daughter or son if he's an out. Unfortunately, that is the number issue. Number two is cash. So what they do, they want to have a parachute, even those who stay don't think the system remains for long. They have seen what can happen, the violence. Let's not forget there's a big difference between the Soviets. The violence that the Soviets did in Afghanistan, I know people don't talk about it, it's unheard of. I mean, when you make toys that are bombs so it can maim children, that's all I can say.
TARZIThat's what they did, psychological warfare, so it wouldn't kill, but it will maim children so that people would look at them and it will keep people busy. It was a very vicious war. And then, the Afghan Civil War was even more vicious. So the liberties are very much alive in their minds. So what people do is people hold whatever they can for the day that system does not work. And I think the panacea or the turning point in Afghan situation is when people, the majority -- a majority, think that the system would last. And then, they will invest in it more than escaping from it.
NNAMDIBrian, thank you very much for your call.
BRIANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Where do you think the U.S. military and its allies should focus their resources moving forward in Afghanistan? You can also send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow. Here is Suzanne in Arlington, VA. Suzanne, you're on the air, go ahead please.
SUZANNEThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I'm the mother of a 23-year-old member of the Virginia National Guard who's been trained as a combat engineer to locate and disarm IEDs and land mines. The government paid him $10,000 to go into the National Guard and he will be going to Afghanistan in 10 months. I am the wife of a man who was injured in the Vietnam War and the helicopter crashed and he's been receiving a first lieutenant pay, 60 percent of it, absolutely tax free for 40 years. When we talk about the cost of the war, we need not just talk about our treasure and our blood now.
SUZANNEBut the fact that so many of these young men who come back with horrendous injuries that would have died on the battlefield in Vietnam or going to be leaving for 40, 50 and 60 years, drawing on our resources. So I would like to see us get out tomorrow, it simply is not worth anyone's son's life. Being a warlord is an acceptable career path in Afghanistan, Let them destroy their own country. It is not worth my son's life or anyone else's. That's what I have to say.
NNAMDIMark Katz, I think Suzanne's sentiment is fairly prevalent among Americans now, whether they have children involved in Afghanistan or not. How does President Obama and the Congress of the United States persuade Suzanne otherwise?
KATZWell, I think that President Obama essentially believes Suzanne. I think that President Obama understands Suzanne's pain and that's why she -- that's why he wants to withdraw our forces. I think there are an awful lot of people, however, who feel that, you know, because we sent forces there, we cannot withdraw them until victory is achieved, whatever that is. And I think that, going back to the point that Brian made, the earlier caller, that is in fact the Taliban doesn't want us to leave. That they are, in fact -- they're having to be paid off by contractors so that the U.S. military can get its supplies.
KATZYou know, it's counterintuitive, but that our heavy presence in Afghanistan helps the Taliban and a diminished presence would actually hurt it. And I think that it is counterintuitive in that -- and so it's very difficult for an awful lot of people to grasp this very simple point.
NNAMDIAllow me to pursue Suzanne's argument for a second. Were we to withdraw, were the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan, what would be the possible consequences for the U.S. in particular and the campaign against terrorism in general?
KATZWell, I think that the conservatives are right in one sense, in other words, that if the U.S. leaves, Taliban gains strength. There will be a perception that America is weak and that this will in fact embolden, as the term as always used, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, I would like to point something out and that is in 1973 the U.S. left Indochina. In 1975, the communist came to power in South Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Laos. And during the 1970s, there was an upsurge of Marxist revolution in the third world. In 1989, communism fell. In 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart. I think that what we saw was that, you know, when the U.S. appeared to be weak, what happened was that the other side believe that it was victorious, got itself over-extended.
KATZThere are sort of many reasons why communism fell, certainly the fact that they were so heavily over-extended, you know, helping these weak Marxist regimes very much hurt them. And I think the same thing would happen. In other words, that our leaving Afghanistan, on other words, it won't help al Qaeda any more than it already is. Al Qaeda can attack us from Pakistan, from Yemen, from Somalia, they don't need Afghanistan, although they might want to have it. What I think, though, is that with the U.S. leaving, then people will focus on what the threat is. In other words, no one -- a lot of people don't want the Taliban.
KATZYou know, we're not the only ones who oppose them that suddenly the neighboring countries, Russia, India in particular, Central Asian countries, they have to worry about the Taliban. And I think that what, in other words, we don't have to have a stark choice, you know, stand with a huge number of troops leave altogether, then we can help other people help the Afghans help themselves, help the neighbors as well. That we can share this burden a little more, it seems to me.
NNAMDISuzanne, thank you very much for your call. Amin, you argue that the key to stabilizing some of these regions in Afghanistan is Afghanistan's local government and more specifically elections to the district councils. Why are these councils so important in your view?
TARZIAfghanistan, as a country, is currently has a constitution that is very centralized. Centralized on one person, the chair of the president. The nature of the Afghan government system, you know, unfortunately, a lot of people in this town who think of Afghanistan only in post -- either post-Soviet or post-Taliban. This country has had a history. It has had governance. Yes, it had a central government and it worked. I know it appear, and sometimes people don't look at it, but we forgot that model. We collectively are not talking about the United States alone. When we sat this international community plus international agencies in bond, the vision of Afghanistan was a vision that did not fit the realities.
TARZIHowever, with the constitution, the current constitution, there are provisions that will allow power from the center to be distributed to the periphery, if you would, to the smallest governance system of Afghanistan which happens to the district. And this is according to the Afghan constitution. Those district councils have never had an election from the day Afghanistan has had many elections, now two parliamentary, two presidential and there is something called provincial councils, they have had elections. The districts have never been elected. Therefore, what I'm arguing is if you apply the Afghan constitution, you know, some people talk about decentralization, we have somehow used the Afghanistan also as a lab. Sometimes people say, you know what, it's all about tribes.
TARZIOh, no. It's all about decentralization. Why not make it federal? Some people even have these weird ideas, which will drive Afghans crazy and divide the country. I don't know what rights we have to divide other countries. But anyway, those things, when you put all of it together, makes confusion. It's not a lab. I think what we need to do, and we heard about history just now, look at Afghan history. As I say, this country has had -- has been there quite long, was never very prosperous, but there was a system. And if you look at that and apply the modern constitution, the current constitution, to allow people in the districts to have a say, I think what happens, you see the people change because, right now, people in districts seem that they have no voice.
TARZIWhen they have no voice, guess what? The first thing in Afghanistan, I wrote my dissertation in Afghan judicial system, is the issue of justice. If you cannot go to a place where an injustice has been done to you and you cannot be addressed, you are frustrated. You don't see a government. What they see right now is the Taliban. Most people go to the Taliban court, which seems very harsh to us, but it answers their problem. And if -- you know, if you have these elections, what happens is at least you allow the people to have a say in the government from bottom up, not top down.
NNAMDIOn to Jen in Washington, D.C. Jen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENThis is a really great discussion, Kojo. And I'm glad to see some of the ideas that are being expressed are looking at getting away from the military. And I think that it's telling that your panel has men on it, but it's interesting that the ideas that they're expressing are essentially feminine. I don't want to say feminist, but feminine. And if one is speaking through an anthropological lens.
JENAnd if one does look at this situation through that lens, it's a question of for women, and where are they in this conversation? What is the goal to address? I mean, my impression is that these women are very isolated, and so getting them information and informing them of -- allowing them uncharted access to information would seem to be kind of a crazy science fiction way to do it, but the medium is the message.
JENGet them access to information such as they can see a bigger picture and encourage them to form societies that are self-sustaining and...
NNAMDIAllow me to have Amin...
JEN... (unintelligible) agricultural.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Amin Tarzi and Mark Katz both respond because you're dealing with fairly complicated cultural and religious issues here. I read earlier that President Hamid Karzai's wife happens to be a doctor, but you don't see her publicly a lot. You mentioned that there is a woman who is a governor of one of the provinces in Afghanistan. But I guess what our caller is saying is that the women in Afghanistan hold the key to the future, Mark Katz.
KATZI think Jen raises a very important point, and it's partly because the Taliban is so anti-women, you know. Denied them access to education, didn't want them in the workplace, and this at a time when they first ruled when there were so men missing because of the war with the soviets. And so, you know, it really hurt the country. And so this is something that I think that, you know, the west should have been emphasizing all the more.
KATZThat, in fact, because the Taliban is so viciously anti-female, that the west has a natural ally in Afghanistan's women, if it will in fact do something for them. And I think that, you know, helping provide education, providing jobs and protecting them get these things, that would be vitally important, and then I think that that would make a huge difference in terms of how we're perceived in Afghanistan.
NNAMDIJen, thank you very much for your call. Your last point raises an interesting question that we will discuss after a short break, and that is the whole issue of having the Taliban possibly involved in negotiations in Afghanistan. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. If you've called already, stay on the line, we will get to your calls. If not, you can shoot us an e-mail to email@example.com, or a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing Afghanistan and U.S. policy with Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., and Mark Katz, senior fellow at the Middle East Policy Council. He's also a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Amin, you wanted to weigh in on the issue of women.
TARZIYes, please. I think your listener, Jen, brought an -- I think an important point. Number one, I can tell her I'm a feminist, too. I was brought up by my mom as a refugee here in New York. And Afghan women have gotten more rights since 2001, since the intervention in Afghanistan, than ever in the history before. Number one, there is an affirmative action policy in Afghanistan that makes women one-fourth of the Afghan parliament.
TARZIThat's higher than most countries in the world. It is affirmative action by law, but it allows them to reach where they were not. Secondly, right now when you look at education levels, Afghan women are getting very, very much educated. I don't think you put them back in boxes. The only difference between women and other minorities is, and they're not minority, they're actually a majority, and other people that the Taliban would affect for example, the Shia, is that women do not have weapons.
TARZISo they have a voice, they have the numbers, what they don't have is the force to force their way into the system. Therefore, they need support. That support right now comes mainly from the west, and this is a fact. I think one thing that we have to look at is if there is a change and the Taliban become more and more part of the system, which is not a bad thing in itself if the Taliban accept the Afghan constitution.
TARZISo, well, however, they have -- the issue of women has to be something that is always put there and supported by the outside, because as I said, they are the voice -- they are not the voiceless, but they are the weaponless. And the countries around Afghanistan, which right now are jockeying for position in the post-ISAF situation, they all have their cronies, their allies, if you would. Women are not one of those allies.
TARZISo I think -- but the good news again is I'm going back to that survey in Helmand province, which may be one of the most conservative provinces, and one of the birthplaces of the Taliban, Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan. Forty-five percent of the respondents -- they were all men respondents, said that they believe in women's right, and 46 percent want even further women involvement in the government. So there is a change.
TARZIThis is significant, and I think if you want peace, and the long-term peace in Afghanistan, women will spearhead it. They just have to be given a chance a little longer.
NNAMDIYou heard Amin mention ISAF, that's the acronym for the International Security Assistance Force. Mark, how does one strengthen the central government? There's been much talk about negotiating with the Taliban in an effort to bring all parties to the table. What are the pros, cons, and likelihood of this occurring?
KATZVery good question. Even President Karzai himself has talked about negotiations with the Taliban. And I actually think that it's a good idea. Not because I am naïve, not because I think that the Taliban are just idealists or anything of the sort. What I do think though, is that if you look at how a lot of insurgencies have ended, in other words, at a certain point, military operations kind of get you so far, but you have to have some kind of political settlement.
KATZAnd one of the things I think that negotiations can help do -- can help us do, is the split the Taliban. I think that, you know, the Obama administration has recognized that a lot of people who are Taliban fighters, support Taliban, it's for, you know, basic bread and butter issues. The Taliban pays, they get sort of local grievances. In other words, if you can give people an opportunity to obtain their aspirations otherwise, I think there's a lot of people who will take.
KATZIn other words, that if -- there's a lot of people who support the Taliban now that maybe, you know, if you let them become officers in the new Army, if you let them, you know, get government jobs that actually pay, that they're demands will be settled. In other words, not everyone is an ideologue. And so I think that talks are crucial for splitting the Taliban, splitting the -- for turning them against each other and then there are some who will work with us.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, Amin Tarzi, what dangers does bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table present?
TARZIThank you. I totally agree with my colleague that it is necessary to ending it, and yes, it is splitting them. Two points, one, negotiation with Taliban start not by us and our allies, but by the Afghan government in 2003. So it's nothing new. The first thing is that we want to -- we collectively, both ourselves, the international supporters of the Afghan government should have a clear-cut policy what they want at the end.
TARZIYou negotiate for something, not just negotiation for negotiation sake. That's one. Number two is there are certain countries that are very important. Pakistan in number one. The Taliban -- in order to make sure that the Taliban come to the table, and first of all, I go back, who are the Taliban, you know. We use a word -- everybody uses it, but the Taliban are not a monolithic group of people. The word just simply means student.
TARZIActually it means seeker. That's all it means. We have to understand who we're negotiating with, whether these people that are being negotiated with, they actually can deliver, and the splitting issue is important, but if you speak to the wrong people and you're actually not splitting, you're empowering people who otherwise have no power. So the haphazardness of negotiation has to go away.
TARZIRight now there has been many tracks, at least four tracks of negotiation going on. It will be good if these things are more streamlined, lead by the African government which is what the United States supports, and an end is achieved, and of course there will be things you give up and not given. Dangers are number one as what does this mean in the relationship of Afghanistan and Pakistan?
TARZIThat's leads to much more other issues. India -- India is not very happy about any negotiation. For them, you know, any good Taliban -- only good Taliban is a dead Taliban basically. And I'll use an American history note in there. Iran is very weary. Although Iran is supporting the Taliban, Iran is playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation. On one hand they support. On one hand they are very fearful.
TARZIRussian Federation has its own things. So if you're not careful about negotiations, you're restarting the 1990's. As a New York Yankees fan, it will be déjà vu all over again, and that would not be good.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. This time to Esa in Baltimore, Md. Esa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ESAYeah. I have a question for Mark about strategy, but I'd like to chip in on this women's issue. They asked a Taliban member who was captured on PBS, why are you fighting? He said, because the Americans capture and keep raping our women. So the Taliban see themselves as fighting for women as well.
ESABut my question is, I've read a few things these last few weeks that have worried me to think that the Salvador option is now open for implementation in Afghanistan. The Salvador option, nicknamed that by Bush, was that where John Negroponte went into central Asia as an ambassador and set up a death squad called Battalion 316. And with that, he killed 75,000 civilians in El Salvador to blame the resistance.
ESAJohn Negroponte was also an ambassador in 2004 when Bush called for the Salvador option, and he immediately went on to say that there's evidence to show that AQI, Al Qaeda in Iraq exists to give cover to Blackwater to plant and kill about 600,000 Iraqis with bombs in mosques and markets and blame the resistance. Now, the last few weeks I've read that General Petraeus, who only got the job because Abizaid refused to become a terrorist and was removed in 2004, was...
NNAMDIWhat does that -- stop for one second. General Petraeus only got the job because what?
ESAJohn Abizaid refused to become a terrorist and start planting bombs in Iraqi markets and mosques, and so he was pushed to the side. Bremmer refused and...
NNAMDIYou're going a little off track here. It seems to me that the fundamental question you want to know is whether there is a conspiracy involving the United States in which Afghans -- innocent Afghans are being killed by the United States in order to blame it on the Taliban, correct?
ESARight. Like it...
NNAMDIWhat do you know about that, Mark Katz?
KATZWell, I don't know anything about it because I don't think it's happening. I think that the, you know, the Taliban are doing their share of killing people. I think that obviously President Karzai and others have pointed out to, you know, inadvertent American killings during our operations have had a terrible effect, so I think that this is the kind of think where you can't keep it secret. It's too clever by half, and I don't think that we doing it.
KATZI don't -- in other words, in our system you couldn't keep anything like this secret, and so I think that it would backfire tremendously. I also -- I just guess I think it's a disservice to our troops and our officer to think that they would be involved in any such a thing.
NNAMDIWe move onto Mark in Silver Spring, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi, yes. Kojo. First of all, it's a wonderful topic, and I want to thank -- the reason I'm calling is because of the three speakers, you're the only person who is clearly an articulating -- clearly articulating some reasonable points of view in your questioning. My comment is that the answers have been rambling, misleading, historically inaccurate.
NNAMDICan you be more specific?
MARKVery specifically, I was very upset because I am in a -- involved working first as a political analyst with the Soviet Union and Russia, and the parallels between how we've gotten involved and our situation in Afghanistan with what happened with the Soviet Union. For those who remember it -- I happen to have been busy at the time doing that stuff -- are so striking and horrifying that when you go to Russia today, you cannot but go there and have them say, why didn't -- people who are friendly to the United States, why did you pay attention to what we did and not repeat what...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, Mark. Could you talk about one specific example of how we are paralleling what the Soviet...
MARKThe very, very parallel, it is not the tanks that brought horror. It was the Russian helicopters, the heavy helicopters that were the symbol of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, and every person -- every night throughout the world that's what people see are the American heavy helicopters coming in and do exactly -- they're just better armored than the Soviet...
NNAMDIHere's Mark Katz.
KATZI'd like to just say that this past March I was in Moscow for two weeks teaching at the higher school of economics. And one of the things that I think is very interesting is that Russians, whether young, old, they look at -- they sympathize with the Americans in Afghanistan, but they are very much afraid that America is going to leave. They fear that if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it's Russia and Russian interests that are going to suffer.
KATZSo I think there -- there's a great appreciation in Russia for the American presence in Afghanistan than perhaps we have here.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from Natalie who is listening online in Georgia. "I think your earlier caller, the woman with the son going to Afghanistan, and a husband who was disabled in Vietnam is surprisingly wrong. We cannot just leave a country in shambles. It will make us more vulnerable. The door would be wide open for anyone, regardless of if they are Taliban or not, to step into our breach and help the Afghans." What do say to that, Armin Tarzi?
TARZIWell, I personally don't think that a irresponsible withdrawal will be good. I think that right now a policy that was announced yesterday, in my view, it's a very wise policy. It helps different platforms. First of all there is an end game. It puts responsibility on the Afghan side that, you know, this is not an ongoing gift from United States. They have to take their slack. I think this is very important.
TARZIIt also shows unity within NATO, because as we heard, some of them may not be -- want us staying there, and I totally believe that a -- we have already put a lot of, you know, American and allied blood there. We, you know, this year we lost 451 American servicemen and 203 NATO. This cannot go in vain, and yes, there is a danger. There is a danger if we are not careful, that danger could hurt us either in our own countries or elsewhere.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Amin Tarzi is director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va. Thank you for joining us.
TARZIThank you very much.
NNAMDIMark Katz is senior fellow at the Middle East Policy Council and a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Mark Katz, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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