Wednesday, October 18, 2006

US Afghanistan expert speaks out on Pak-sponsored terror

For close to three decades, ever since Pakistan lost the 1971 War, Pakistan has carried out a vicious campaign of Islamic terror against innocent Indian men women and children.

This has continued in a 1000-year-old tradition of Radical Islamic violence against Hindus and Buddhists that has led to the complete destruction of Buddhist and Hindu civilizations in Gandhara (Afghanistan), Central Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir.

Inside Pakistan itself, a 50-year campaign of Government-tolerated torture, kidnappings, murders, extra-judicial killings, forced evictions, intimidation, and forced conversions have reduced minority Hindus from 18% of Pakistan's population in 1950 to a vanishingly-small 0.1% today.

Pakistan has managed to skillfully lie about its Crimes Against Humanity inside its territory and in India (and more recently, in Afghanistan) for several decades, but at last the truth is coming out.

American expert on Afghanistan Sarah Chayes exposes the truth about Pakistan-sponsored worldwide Islamic terror in an interview to Rediff:

The Rediff Interview/Sarah Chayes
'Osama is not in Pakistan'
October 06, 2006

When Sarah Chayes entered Afghanistan in October 2001, she was a reporter for the respected US radio station, National Public Radio, on assignment to cover the last stand of the Taliban from their stronghold of Kandahar.

But as her understanding of Afghanistan and its people and the US military occupation grew, she was drawn more deeply into the unfolding drama to rebuild the devastated nation.

So overwhelming was her commitment that when her NPR stint ended in 2002, she laid down her microphone for good and accepted a position in a nonprofit agency called Afghans for Civil Society, founded by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother. Being based in Kandahar, she had tremendous access to key players in the postwar government and forged not only unparalleled relationships with the Karzai family, but also with tribal leaders in the erstwhile Taliban heartland, the US military and diplomatic brass, and with leading figures in local government.

The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban is her gripping and dramatic account of history in the making with all of the perverse turn of events of the US government and armed forces aiding and abetting the return to power of corrupt militia commanders and warlords, and the resurgence of the Taliban supported once again by Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview on the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes told Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa that Pakistan's support for the Taliban never stopped, and describes Washington as pretty naive to have assumed that it would. The first of a five-part interview:

In your book, you strongly criticise the United States for not coming down hard on Pakistan, which you say continues to actively support the Taliban. Are you convinced that Pakistan has gone back to arming and sponsoring the Taliban?

It never stopped. And, it was pretty naive of the American government to assume that it would stop. This has been their national policy for the last 30 years to exploit an extreme religion to advance a regional, tactical agenda.

I don't believe Pakistan is behind 9/11, but I do think that for 30 years they have been using religious extremism in one form or another in their kind of power game in the region, and I don't think they ever stopped.

Even though there seems to be an appreciation in the Bush administration and the US Congress that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf seems to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, officials seem to imply that they can only go so far in trying to come down hard on him because Musharraf is the only game in town. I believe he is playing a very clever game in that regard and that's exactly how he wants them to feel.

I live in Afghanistan and I am not the Pakistan person in the US State Department. But if I were in the American government, I would work very hard on developing an alternative. It's not that I would remove Musharraf or bomb Pakistan. That's not what I mean. I don't believe in violent regime change every time you get into an argument with somebody.

But I would really seriously staff up -- it's the American expression and it means, you put your staff to work for coming up with a new policy. I would deeply research how if we decided to be tough on Pakistan rather than roll over basically, what it would look like? What would the likely response be? How would we counter that likely response? Who else inside Pakistan has something interesting to say about the direction their country might move forward in? I would like to see the American government do that and I haven't seen it.

This is the answer I have always received, that, well, who else is there? So that means they are not working on alternative types of policy. It doesn't mean that you support somebody else instead of Musharraf, but what would it look like if we started tying benefits that we are offering to Pakistan to really concrete results, not just on the Al Qaeda front, but on the Taliban front. Because that is how they (Pakistan) are buying the United States off. It is by turning over Al Qaeda operatives.

While he visited Washington, (Pakistan President) Pervez Musharraf explained his agreement with tribal leaders in North Waziristan and said that President Bush is on board with it. What do you make of this agreement that has left a lot of people concerned that he seems to have cut a deal with people who might be sheltering Osama bin Laden, other Al Qaeda leaders and also the leadership of the Taliban?

We say, from a distance, tribal leaders, but what does that mean? Which ones? Who? In Kandahar, I would understand what an agreement like that would mean, but for Waziristan, I don't. The real problem in Afghanistan is not in Waziristan. Nobody who is doing anything bad to Afghanistan is sitting around in Waziristan. It has never been real. There have never been any major Taliban figures in North Waziristan.

I don't think Osama bin Laden is up there either. I believe what is happening in North Waziristan has everything to do with Pakistan. His little genie has gotten out of the bottle there and so there actually are extremist or jihadis up there who are a menace to Pakistan.

I don't think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. I think all of that is a smokescreen -- but that's my own opinion -- and the people who are troublesome to Afghanistan are in Quetta. They are not in caves. They are sitting around in apartments and driving cars that are often licensed with ISI plates in Quetta. So Waziristan is like a red herring.

Is there any chance that perhaps Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and others could be in Quetta?

Not Osama. I think Pakistan has been using Al Qaeda figures as a way of buying off America. If you think about it regionally, they have no reason to like Al Qaeda because the Taliban allowed them to run Afghanistan to get this strategic weight vis-a-vis India. They (Pakistan) basically ran Afghanistan though the Taliban. Not perfectly, but more or less. So that gave them the backyard that they wanted.

Osama bin Laden comes in 1996, and the Pakistani government was probably delighted to get some more money and some more seasoned fighters in Afghanistan. But then Osama bin Laden does 9/11, and the US comes and kicks the Taliban out of Afghanistan. In a way, it was Al Qaeda that ruined Pakistan's nice chess game. So why would they have any positive feelings about Al Qaeda? That is why he (Musharraf) has been turning Al Qaeda people once every two or three months.

What benefit would there be for them to keep Osama? That is the one thing that would make the United States really angry at them and end whatever benefit they are getting out of this alliance. So in my personal view -- I don't have any hard evidence about this -- I don't think Osama is in Pakistan. I believe he went the other way. On the other hand, all the top Taliban people are in Quetta. I know they are.

When you mean Osama went the other way, where do you think he went?

I believe he went out through Iran and is probably in Saudi Arabia or Sudan or somewhere like that. He left moving westwards, not eastwards.

The argument you are making is that if Osama were in Pakistan, it would certainly be to Musharraf's advantage to apprehend him and offer him on a platter to the US because that would really cement the US-Pakistan alliance and make Bush eternally grateful to him?

Exactly. But, the converse is also true. If the United States ever found out that he has been sitting around in Pakistan that would be the one thing that would probably likely have the US really do something punitive to Pakistan.

President Musharraf, who met with President Bush recently, has asserted that both the mujahideen and the Taliban -- at least initially -- came about because of a joint US-Pakistan effort to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and to bring stability to the country.

That's true (that initially the US also supported the Taliban), but first of all, it is false to say that the Taliban were concocted to counter the Soviets. That is historically inaccurate. The person that Pakistan wanted to take over Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and he definitely got the lion's share of the financial support during the Soviet occupation.

So what Pakistan wanted was for him to take over Afghanistan, but guess what, Afghanistan didn't want an extremist, ideological, Islamic regime and he was not able to take over. So it wasn't until 1994 that they invented the Taliban and the Soviets were gone by then.

It is really disingenuous and ahistorical to say that and the fact that that he (Musharraf) is saying it means he has something to hide. It is accurate to say that both Pakistan and the United States were seduced by extremist ideology as a counter-force to the Soviet community ideology. But after the Soviet Union didn't exist anymore, that's when Pakistan invented the Taliban. I mean, I am being schematic but that's when they got involved in creating that force.

This is the same kind of religious extremism in Kashmir they were exploiting during the Kargil crisis. If you misinterpret history that way, then it's difficult to trust the substance of what you are saying.

So it is not just to keep its finger on Afghanistan through the Taliban, but as you say in your book in quite an explosive charge, it is for some kind of strategic advantage vis-a-vis a growing India and to undermine New Delhi, which is fast becoming an influential regional power and forging this strategic partnership with Washington?

I spent some time in Pakistan, but not enough to be able to answer that in a very educated way. But why would they be interested in Afghanistan if it didn't have to do with India? I mean, fundamentally, iit seems to me from what I've read -- and you guys know more than I do --like India has always been their fundamental concern and they are only interested in Afghanistan insofar as it can give them more strategic weight vis-a-vis India.

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai's angry assertion that Musharraf is fomenting cross-border terrorism and meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan totally justifiable? Or is it a case, as Musharraf alleges, of his own inadequacies? Is Pakistan indeed fomenting all these resurgent problems that seem to have arisen in recent months with a vengeance within Afghanistan?

Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. I wouldn't be speaking to you the way I am if I weren't sure of this. Oh, my God! In Kandahar, it is so visible. I went to the border a year or so ago, and I just sat on the border to watch who is coming through the main border crossing. And there were at least half-a-dozen Taliban who came through in less than 10 minutes.

I have so many examples of people who cross into Pakistan and there are Talib. You can have a discussion with them in the taxicabs. It's not just that they have the turban on. They absolutely are the Talib, and even when they don't have the proper papers the frontier guards wave them through.

It is not like they are coming across mountain trails or anything like that. I mean, it is really, really clear. Not to mention a certain degree of other sorts of agitation, like some of the demonstrations that were definitely sparked in an organised fashion. Particularly the one about the Quran being flushed down the toilet in 2005, which was obviously sparked by Pakistanis in Afghan universities.

So Musharraf's argument that he can't help it despite all of his efforts to completely halt all infiltration across the border because its so porous,etc lacks credibility?

Absolutely. There is no credibility, not if you actually go down there and look at what is happening on the border. But let me back up on this question of Karzai accusing Pakistan of involvement and fomenting the resurgence of the Taliban and all that. The only problem I have with that is that President Karzai also has people that he knows have close contacts with the Pakistan ISI (Inter Services Intelligence agency) in his government.

So, although I completely approve of the statements that he's making, and they certainly have their basis in fact, I would love to see him be a little more vigorous in terms of cleaning Pakistani people out of his own government, in particular in certain provinces.

There are things he can do without Pakistan doing anything to reduce their level of influence on what happens inside Afghanistan, and he's been very squeamish about doing that, and I don't know why.

I don't know if he's afraid or what. But that's the only thing that makes me a little bit sceptical about these statements that he's making. He's making great statements, but he himself is not doing what he himself could do to improve the situation.

You have charged that the main reason behind this is fundamentally to acquire strategic depth vis-a-vis India. In this whole simmering and troubling scenario, does India have to play it very cautiously and tread very carefully?

You bet, very cautiously. You know what, the best thing for India to do is to just shut up. It's sort of like the United States and Iran. The United States should shut up about Iran and let the Iranian people get rid of the mullahs and then you can tackle the nuclear situation in a different context.

But if India says the least thing, that gives Pakistan an excuse to say, 'Well, India is meddling too.' That's what I got from a Pakistani taxi driver in Washington, when we got into some of this stuff. He said, 'Well, the Indian consul in Kandahar is arming the Baloch insurgents.' Well, I haven't seen any evidence of that at all.

I've seen evidence of the Pakistanis arming the Taliban, but I haven't seen any evidence of Indians assisting the Balochs. But it's very difficult to argue a negative. How can I prove to this guy that the Indian consul is not? But I would be extremely low-key. I would not even put very much money into Afghanistan, as much as I am grateful to the Indian government for what they have put into Afghanistan, for the buses, for the cold storage in Kandahar.

You know, I actually believe it's not all that appropriate that there be an Indian consul on the border with Pakistan. There's not a huge Indian community in Kandahar. So it's a little bit provocative, and so I would really stay the heck out of it if I were India.

So you are suggesting that New Delhi should have a presence in Kabul and that should be it?

Yes, exactly. For example, you can't fly directly from Kandahar to India. Anyone who wants to go to India has to go through Kabul anyway. I love the Indian consul in Kandahar. I've been friends with two in a row now, and it is certainly a great source of comradeship and good food. I am not sure I would close the consulate now, but if I had been the Indian government, I wouldn't have opened one in Kandahar. I think that's pretty provocative.

In your book you also criticise the US for playing ball with a lot of these warlords in Afghanistan, which in a sense inadvertently or otherwise undermines President Karzai. What's the basis of this charge?

Again, I saw it. I saw a situation, where Karzai, way back in 2001, had control of Kandahar, the Taliban was gone, Al Qaeda was gone, and so it's like we won. And then US soldiers egged on a warlord to take over Kandahar from Karzai's hands. I saw it happen, and I tried in every way I knew how to reduce the insidious power of these warlord governors, and I had no traction with the Americans. I believe it was mostly just a mistake. It was sort of default.

I don't think it was conscious policy, but it certainly was unbudgable once it started and the problem with that is that now people in Southern Afghanistan are saying, 'You know what, the government and the Taliban, they are both preying upon us. They are both extracting money from us. The Taliban at night are asking for food and the government in the daytime is shaking us down.'

So unfortunately, this policy or default of supporting warlords is what has ended up making room for the insurgency. In other words, Pakistan is creating it, but it's the Afghans who are also unhappy with their government. If their government were honest and not corrupt and not stealing money from them every time it could, they would defend their government. But this doesn't seem defensible.

Is it a given that the Karzai government really doesnt govern beyond Kabul?

Oh! Totally. It doesn't even govern Kabul. They hardly govern the palace.

Is it, because as you allege, there are these Pakistani agents within the government?

Exactly. Both of the warlord variety and there is a Pakistani variety.

So whats going on here? The US is backing Karzai to the hilt but you say he hardly has any control over Kabul, let along any clout and influence outside of the capital?

We (the US) are really stupid. The American government, is in a way, over its head and it doesn't understand that you need to have a really textured, rich, intimate, long-standing local knowledge of places like this before you start running around creating governments. And, the idea that you can have that kind of knowledge of a place like Afghanistan and a place like Iraq at the same time is ridiculous, with nobody who speaks the language, with foreign service officers rotating in and out every few months, and the same with the military.

It's a style of arrogance that to me goes even beyond colonial arrogance. At least during the colonial period, people came out and learnt the language, stayed a long time, they lived with the local population even if in a very hierarchical fashion. It was actually a lot less arrogant than what we are doing now.

You have also not pulled any punches over the lack of sufficient troops for fighting the so-called war on terror, that has now resulted in the resurgence of the Taliban, and pouring in more resources and diverting troops from Afghanistan into Iraq. How much of a major blunder was this, and was the timing completely off?

It was a major blunder to start Iraq when Afghanistan was so fresh. It is a blunder because we -- the United States -- just don't have the human resources. It's kind of an extension of what I just said.

We don't have the human resources to properly effect a transition from a government that is very detrimental to the population of a country as well as to the rest of the world, to a strong, healthy, democratic -- although democratic has almost become a bad word now -- government that takes into account the needs and the desires of its people, with a healthy economy. You can't do that in two different, difficult countries at the same time. We just don't have the resources. So in that sense it was a huge mistake.

Let me ask you something I should have asked you at the outset. What was the rationale behind your book? What were you really trying to achieve?

That's a very interesting question because when I pitched this book, I went to New York and went to publishing companies back in 2002, and I actually didn't know how the story was going to come out. It's not like the story happened and then I wrote the book. I actually suggested the book in the spring of 2002 and what I thought was going to happen was that everyone was going to immediately see that the US policy of backing warlords was wrong, including the US.

I thought it was going to be a really temporary thing that only lasted a couple of months, and then everyone was going to remove the warlords from power, and that's the story I suggested when I said I want to write a book. That everyone is going to gang up on the warlords and I am going to tell the story on how you end warlord government, and I wasn't going to be in it. I said, I am going to choose five to six people and I am going to follow their story through this removal of the warlords. So that's the book that I offered that was accepted.

And, then when I really got serious about writing it in 2004, the story was very different and I had also been in part of the story, and so I had to put myself in it. So, in a way, my objective was different from the book that ended up being written because the story was different.

It is about Afghanistan and it is very deeply about Kandahar, but it is also a metaphor, which is in this sort of international intervention, which the United States is inevitably going to get into again.

It is about this level of knowledge that you have to be willing to acquire in order to do a good job, and, its about continuity. I very deliberately included as much history as I did, which was hard. I had to browbeat my editors because to me that's part of the message. You have to expose yourself to where a country is coming from if you are going to take this kind of action.

Was the title yours?

The title is a joke on the old Taliban religious beliefs, you know, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Punishment of Vice. So I said this government is the government for the Promotion of Vice. At first, I was going to call it the Promotion of Vice, not the Punishment of Virtue. Had I completed the book before my friend Muhammad Akrem Khakrezwal was killed, I would have called it the Promotion of Vice, about the warlords being promoted.

But then he got killed and I had to significantly change the book. I had to add the first chapter, about five at the end, and rearrange some of the middle. Then it was too frivolous to call it the Promotion of Vice, and so it became the Punishment of Virtue.

Are you still running Afghans for Civil Society?

No. I left that in January of 2004. I am running a small agro-business, a cooperative called Arghand, and what we do is actually similar to what India has become very good at: produce high-end products for exports. India does it beautifully with fabrics and also I believe with some soap, which is what we are doing. We are making high-end soap which is sold in the United States and Canada out of a lot of the agricultural products. We extract almond oil, apricot kernel oil, and rose oil, those essential oils and seed oil and from these things we make soap.

Earlier, when you ran Afghans for Civil Society, I believe you founded it with Hamid Karzai's brother?

Correct, with his older brother Qayum.

But now, have you had a falling out with the Karzai family or do you still get along with them?

I still get along with them and I am still deeply grateful to them on a personal level. I've been a member of the family really. But I certainly am critical of a number of the ways that, in particular the president, has run his country. I think he's a decent human being, but I have real policy differences with him and I think it's accurate to say that I have taken some distance from the whole family because I don't want to associate myself with a lot of the ways that they operate.

So it's a very emotionally difficult situation for me, because I love them as humans, and, as I said, I've had the privilege to kind of be a member of their family, and Ahmed Wali, who is the younger brother, has been a bulwark to me when I am there in Kandahar. If I need anything, I've always been able to call on him. But I really do feel on the level of political ethics actually, I've had to create a little bit of distance.


At 1:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah Chayes has been in Afghanistan for nearly five years. Apparently it is that easy to become an expert. Her history is with Peace Corps(like Chris Shayes) and Mercy Corps(the Provisional Authority). She 'left' NPR, but she also often mentioned the ties never go away and she would go back if wanted.

Chayes was 'drawn in' seems to be a lie. Her intent always seemed to be to move in very close with those in power in Afghanistan and it was, supposedly, for her love of the people of Afghanistan; 'So overwhelming was her commitment.' This is an old pattern and I won't say Plame.

The armed forces are blamed for a policy of paying for Afghans to switch to democracy. This policy worked and began to fail when Chayes, with hundreds of millions of USAID(CIA) dollars, ran Mercy Corps and used most of the money to keep the NGO growing rather than getting it to the people. She funded the Taliban just like the armed forces.

Congress and Pakistan? The rewards for capturing terrorists works really well for both sides. The Pakistanis get cash and the US gets its terrorist. Invading Pakistan and running it like Afghanistan with someone like Chayes helping is a mistake. Regime change? The coup attempt happened right after her article and the Governor was also assassinated two days later. Her title and the use of the media to have terrorists respond really has no excuse other than selling her book and the 'insurgency' began right after she began to peddle her book and planned trip to the US.

The new countries forming on the Afghan border are more of a function of her lobbying in Afghnistan than where the Taliban are; the new countries will probably be overrun by the terrorists and their creation is seen as Mushariff finally admitting that the Pakistan military cannot control the border and, yes, Chayes is right. His solution seems correct when put in this context.

US soldiers advocating warlords to take over Karzai seems to come up alot. If this is true, it's historical and probably misinterepreted. Chayes had 'no pull with the US military.' She is losing her pull with Karzai. She has lost her credibility as an honest broker in the region and has only a ngeative effect on the area. She so loves the people....

At 1:52 pm, Blogger Harsh Vardhan said...

Dear Anonymous,

You have made a lot of insinuations with precious little substantiation. Please feel free to provide more details to support what you seem to be saying.



Post a comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger