Articles, Blog

Barnett Rubin, “The Afghan Quandary: Should We Leave? Can We Leave?”

February 13, 2020

– Good afternoon. I’m Daniel Benjamin. I’m the Director of the Dickey Center and I want to thank you
for joining us today for a discussion of the
Afghanistan quandary. Should we leave? Can we leave? So the problem of Afghanistan confounds us as we hear every day in the media, at least on those days when there are no impeachment hearings or Iowa caucuses. It is out longest war and
we are in its 19th year. 2300, roughly speaking, American forces have died in Afghanistan and about 21,000 more have been wounded. Over 111,000 Afghanistans,
including civilians, soldiers and militants are estimated to have been killed in
a conflict that has cost the United States nearly
a trillion dollars. Well based on documents
recently made public by this special investigator
for Afghanistan reconstruction, Afghanistan may also rank as
one of our most shambolic wars, incompetently executed
from numerous perspectives. As the times recently reported, Taliban attacks are at a high. In the fourth quarter of 2019,
there were 8,204 attacks, which exceeded the same period levels in every year since
recording began in 2010. 37% of those attacks caused casualties. A majority of the troops, who were recently polled have fought, troops who have fought in Afghanistan were recently polled and thought that the war was not worth the effort. Yet at the same time, the
prospect of a U.S. withdrawal carried with it all kinds of potential unwarranted consequences. The most obvious is the revival
of jihadist terrorist groups who might plot attacks against the West. This might happen in
Taliban-controlled areas which still represent,
there’s still more than 50% of the country is
controlled by the Taliban, or worse still, it could
come after a U.S. withdrawal, that opens the door to a Taliban victory and the collapse of the
government in Kabul. While it has been a
long time since Al-Qaeda had a real sanctuary in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s commitment on
this score is questionable. Moreover in recent years, we’re seen the rise of
ISIS in Afghanistan. Most terrorist activity has been focused within the country and the neighborhood but the pendulum swings between
the so-called near enemy, the local regime and the foreign enemy, the U.S. and its allies. And for those of us who
try to assess this threat as soberly as possible, let’s just stipulate that
all the sobriety in the world is not going to be worth a lot
if the United States congress panics when it sees the re-coalescing of a terrorist presence in Afghanistan. And finally, despite all
the indices of failure in Afghanistan, there
actually has been a lot that has been gained. Life expectancy is up more
than 20 years since 1990, which is an extraordinary increase. Per capital GDP has more
than quadrupled since 2000, even if a lot of that
money represents influxes of foreign assistance. Poverty and illiteracy remain endemic but there are millions
more children in school than there were before the US invasion, and among them are millions of girls who can now go to school and get jobs, something that was out of
reach under Taliban rule. Women’s rights are still no where near where they should be, but it
is a very different universe from 20 years ago. So, are we going to turn
our back on these advances or can they be protected? 82% of Afghans the Pew Foundation found, want nothing to do with the Taliban. Are we going to turn our backs on them? Well, to discuss these
issues today, I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Barnett Rubin. Dr. Rubin, or as he is
more frequently known, Barney Rubin is a Senior Fellow and Associate Director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, where he directs the Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Program. And he has worked at CIC since 2000. From April, 2009 until October, 2013, Barney Rubin was the Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
in the State Department. And if you’re one of those
government acronym people I guess that means you are a SRAS Rep. In the Office of the
Special Representative he worked first for Richard Holbrook and later for Mark Grossman. And if you haven’t read it already, I strongly recommend you have a look at George Packer’s book on Holbrook, which has some really intriguing
and interesting portrayals of Barney Rubin. Holbrook, as Packer points
out, thought Barney had “The merry-eyed smile of Jerry Garcia “and a face like Trotsky”. (audience laughs) You haven’t actually
denied that, have you? – [Barney] I have actually taken a poll. (laughing) (talking off mic) Well, you can add that into your remarks. He is the author, by my
count, at least nine books including most recently,
“Afghanistan from the Cold War “Through the War on Terror”. He has another one coming this summer entitled, “Afghanistan,
What Everyone Needs to Know” from the Oxford University Press. I’m delighted to have Barney here now because I’m hoping he
will spill the beans. The hardcover list price of
that book is $74 right now on Amazon, just so you
know, and I would like to know what gives with that. Barney has been a
Special Advisor to the UN on Afghanistan during the
negotiations of Bonn Agreement which settled Afghanistan’s post Taliban governing arrangements,
and he has advised the UN on the drafting of the Afghan Constitution and on the country’s development strategy. From 1994 to 2000, he directed the Center for Preventive Action and was Director for Peace and Conflict
Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has taught at Columbia and at Yale, though he assures me now that he is avoiding teaching these days. And he holds a PhD and
MA from the University of Chicago, and a BA from Yale University. There’s no one I like listening to more about Afghanistan, even
if it is frequently a dire subject, than Barney Rubin. So I want to thank him. I am very grateful that he has traveled to Hanover in February. Not everyone will do that. And I hope you’ll give him a warm welcome. (audience applauding) – Well, first of all that was, I’m still, that was such a shocking introduction. I had no idea they were
charging $74 for that book. I hope they’re putting it out
simultaneously in paperback. I don’t expect to sell many
copies of the hardcover. Thank you for that introduction. After I left, you know
you said there’s no one you’d rather hear about Afghanistan. That reminds me of something. After I left the government in 2013, I had a burst of energy. And I actually wrote
and recorded a rap song about my experience in
the State Department. I have it on my phone here. Maybe we can play it later. At any rate, and I got, someone blurbed it and they said if you listen to only rap about American policy in
Afghanistan this year. (laughs) Yeah, et cetera. Now the title of the talk is about should the US withdraw, stay or what. And in fact as you may have noticed, during the presidential debates,
the only question really that is asked about Afghanistan, and it’s rare that any foreign
policy question is asked, but it is asked as should we
withdraw our troops or not? Now, I’m sort of going
to answer that question. But when I first, after Holbrook died and he was replaced by Mark Grossman, Mark Grossman came in
and I wanted to sort of read him in to everything we were doing about reaching out to the Taliban and starting negotiations, which was known to only a very few people. So I wrote him an 18-page,
single-spaced paper on the subject giving all the details, background and so on. And I never heard back from him on it. And later I heard he told other people that he wished I would
tell him what time it was instead of how to make a watch. So when you ask should
we take our troops out or should we leave them there, that’s like asking what time it is. Well I’m really not going
to tell you what time it is. But I’m going to give you a little bit of an idea of what kind of a problem it is to tell what time it is. So let me go back. First, troops in Afghanistan. The first thing I want to
say is, I just want to say a few basic things about Afghanistan. And these are relevant not just to people, I think it’s important to say this, not just because they’re about Afghanistan and Afghanistan is our
topic, but because there are certain basic historical
facts about any country that it’s necessary to take into account when thinking about how to deal with it, and which we very often
do not take into account. That is, I’ve been struck often
when I read policy documents that they don’t actually
talk about the country. For instance, Afghanistan is America’s longest war we say. Well actually, it’s a country. But let me say a few
points about the country. First, you see it over there. The first thing you should notice about it is that it is landlocked. It doesn’t have a seacoast. If it doesn’t have a seacoast by the way, that means it also
doesn’t have an air coast. In other words, you can either get to it on surface without going
through another country or by air without going through
another county’s airspace. Now, landlocked countries,
Afghanistan, Bolivia, Rwanda and so on,
statistically have certain characteristics in common. They are poorer. They have slower growth rates. And all the indicators of development tend to be lower than on countries that are able to connect
to international markets and so on. Now, in the case,
Afghanistan being landlocked is not an accident of history. It is a design because again,
remember that countries that exist on the map are the result of historical and political processes, not natural phenomenon. And those borders that
you see, not all of which are recognized by the
people who live along them, were demarcated by the
British and Russian empires in the late 19th, early 20th century. At that time, what is
now India and Pakistan was British India, so that was Britain. What is now all those
central Asian countries was part of the Russian empire. So Britain and Russia were
approaching toward Afghanistan and in order to avoid clashes,
which had already started, they decided, they agreed on a treaty defining spheres of influence in the area. Afghanistan, they hived
off part of its territory into British India, which
is what make it landlocked, and it came under the
British sphere of influence. That is to say it was,
its foreign policy was controlled by Britain. They could have foreign
relations only with British India and no one else. And that also determined how
the infrastructure was built, infrastructure which exists to this day. That is the main
infrastructure of the country was built to connect Kabul
in Eastern Afghanistan with modern infrastructure,
to British India. That is to say what is now Pakistan. Now, throughout much of history, Western Afghanistan, Herat
was part of the Horisonn area which is part of the
Iranian civilizational area. Northern Afghanistan
belonged to the Central Asian historical area, and
they had infrastructure, traditional infrastructure
known as the Silk Road, which connected all of them to each other, to China and then west. But the way that Afghanistan
was built under colonialism, it cut it off from those routes and connected it primarily
to British India, that is to say what is today, Pakistan. Now, it’s also, Afghanistan is
the poorest country in Asia. In fact, it is the poorest
country in the world except for about five to eight, depending how you measure
it, countries in Africa. Until recently, until those
gains that Dan was talking about Afghanistan was poorer than Haiti. In the last few years it has
edged above Haiti slightly in the UNDP rankings. Now, what does that mean? You have to think of, because
in order to have a state, to have institutions, you have to be able to pay for them. A country that is that poor,
and you see the problems poor countries have are not because there’s something wrong with poor people. The only thing wrong with
poor is their poverty. But it means that
collectively, they’re not able to finance security
forces and administration, build road and so on. So Afghanistan has an
extraordinarily weak state. In 2001 when we went in
there, the proportion of the national, of the GDP that was going for taxes, was approximately 2%. Now it’s up to about nine or 10%, which has been an
extraordinary achievement. But that’s still a very low proportion of a very low income. And that means that in
order to have a state in Afghanistan that can serve the needs of the War on Terror, we have
to subsidize it very heavily. Now, the state, and in fact the state in Afghanistan, ever since
Afghanistan was structured in this way by the British
and Russian empires, has always been dependent in fact, according to the treaty
between British India and Afghanistan in the late 19th century, the British would supply
the Amir every year with a certain amount
of cash and a certain amount of weapons. When they added the Wakhun Corridor, that little bit of land coming out there on the east to Afghanistan,
they added another 50% to all those figures to
cover the cost of it, administering that area. And that is what enabled the rulers to gain control of the territory. Now, that also means, this not a state that was established through a compact among the citizens in order
to promote the common good and to serve the common good and promote the general welfare. It’s a state that was set
up to defend the borders of a foreign empire. Not to provide services to its people. And that’s why it’s set up
in such a centralized way and it’s so ineffective
at many of its functions. Now today, we are trying
to have that state do many more functions,
to deliver healthcare, to deliver education, to
deliver not just security for its people, but security for us. And that means we have
had to spend huge amounts of money, but the fact is, spending money to build organizations by
paying and training people does not create
institutions in the same way that as taxing people,
to build institutions that themselves are paying for and that they know they
will be able to pay for in the long run. So if we take a difference
between the American Army and the Afghan Army, when someone joins the American Army, they
know they’re joining an institution that has been around for several hundred
years and that even has its own insurance company
that has ads on television that you probably have all seen. You know, the US Army
Association as the homeowners and automobile association. So they’re joining an
institution that will be responsible for them. People who join the Afghan Army, you know you’re joining an institution
that is dependent, well you may not know the detail, but you know they’re dependent
on the United States. To be specific, it’s dependent on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. So how would you like the
security of your country to be dependent on a subcommittee of a foreign legislature, of
people who don’t know you. So then actually, you don’t
have that much confidence in what the future will bring, and rightly because we’re asking this question. And the question is not
only about our troops but also will we continue
to spend billions of dollars to support their troops. So the problem of
sustainability in Afghanistan is really an extraordinary one, and we have gone in and done what we do, because that is what bureaucracies and organizations do,
build the institutions we think we need to meet
the needs that we define without any regard actually for what the long-term effect on this society will be. And in fact, part of the
reason that the neighbors of Afghanistan have so little confidence in what we are doing is because they know it is not sustainable. Now often we hear a
discourse in this country, at least we did before, that
that’s why they’re hedging because they’re not sure we’ll stay. So we have to show them
that we are going to stay. But the fact is, we are not going to stay and everybody knows that but us. So they don’t believe it. So there is no way to convince them that the United States is
located somewhere else. In addition, it’s a landlocked country. So let me go back to what that means in terms of sending troops there. 2001, the United States decided to launch a military operation in Afghanistan which the immediate purpose of which was to destroy the Al-Qaeda
bases and infrastructure that existed in the country,
and to overthrow the Taliban on the grounds that those
who harbor the terrorists will suffer the same fate as
the terrorists themselves. We didn’t have any clear idea at all about what would happen afterwards. I’ll come back to that later. I was, as an outsider, a little bit part of that decision-making process. But, so the first problem
was, how do we get there? Well, look at getting into Afghanistan. It’s a harder problem than landing on the beaches of Normandy
because there aren’t any beaches. So basically you have to go
through Pakistan or Iran. Or you have to go through
Russia and Central Asia, which is a long way. Which means in order,
for the United States to get to Afghanistan, it
has to use supply lines whose security is dependent
on either Pakistan, Iran or Russia. So when you hear people talking
about long-term presence in Afghanistan, remember that
means long-term dependence on Pakistan, Iran or Russia. It doesn’t mean strategic autonomy. And that’s the only thing it can mean. Now, so what do we do? Well, in 2001 we were
actually attacking the group that was supported Pakistan, the Taliban. Pakistan was supporting the Taliban in order to keep India out of the area because Taliban was the group
that Pakistan could afford. It wasn’t very expensive unlike the groups that we’re supporting. To try to maintain some kind of order through violence on the
other side of its border and keep its enemies at bay, give it what’s called strategic depth. But again remember Pakistan didn’t have too much money either. So again, Taliban are run
without that much money. That’s one of their advantages compared to the way we run things. So the first, and they
were primarily concentrated in the southern and eastern
areas of the country which are inhabited mostly
by the Pashtun ethnic group. And the resistance to
them was concentrated in the north of the country, which borders on Central Asia mainly
among Tajiks were leading, which are Persian speakers,
were leading the resistance. And some Uzbek or Turkey speakers as well. It’s much more complicated than that, but this is just roughly speaking. And the core of resistance
inside Afghanistan was in the Panjshir
Valley, north of Kabul, which is a 100% Tajik valley. So in order to try to get
to raise a military force against the Taliban, we
had to get into Panjshir. So how do you get into Panjshir? To get into Panjshir, you
have to go to Dushanbe in Tajikistan and take helicopter. Now Tajikistan had
Russian military presence ’cause it had a civil war. The borders of Tajikistan were guarded by Russian border guards. So in order to get into
Tajikistan, we also established a base in Uzbekistan, one in Kyrgyzstan. The United States had to
negotiate with Russia. In fact Bush negotiated
directly with Putin over that. And the understanding was
that they would help us go and fight our common enemy, terrorism, but the understanding was, once
we finished, we would leave. And that was a difficult decisions for the Russians to make, but they did. And Putin helped us with those bases getting access to Northern Afghanistan. But who had access to
help us on the ground? Iran, and you know who
led the Iranian effort to help us? Qasem Soleimani. Because it was the Quds force
of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that collaborated with the CIA to establish the first
CIA bases in Panjshir, Bagram Air Base and so on. Again because we had a common enemy. At that time also of course
the president of Iran was Mohammad Khatami, and
he was actually hoping this would help with an
opening to the United States. But it ended up instead
with the Axis of Evil in the State of the Union Address a few months later. So the Iranian assistance
was actually very important on the ground and what I
witnessed myself personally, the Iranian diplomatic assistance
was extremely important to setting up the new government. ‘Cause I was at the Bonn negotiations where the new government was set up. And I saw that the two
countries that had influence with the people on the
ground were the United States and Russia, sorry the
United States and Iran. And Iran actually had a
little bit more influence on them politically because
they really knew them. So when it came time to
allocate the various portfolios in the government, and we
had to keep one faction from being a bit too greedy, it was Iran that got them to step back. And the person who led that effort at the Bonn talks was Javad Zarif who is today the Foreign Minister of Iran whom we have recently put under sanctions and don’t even allow to come
to New York for UN meetings. Now, Pakistan of course,
we gave an ultimatum and they war gamed in and decided they didn’t want to fight us. So they allowed us access
through the ground basically. And then once we were
established in Afghanistan, our main supply lines once again used that infrastructure through Pakistan that was the result of the
way Afghanistan was built at the time of British colonialism through the port of Karachi down there on the low right there, up the roads through Peshawar or Quetta
and then into Kabul. Which meant that we were
dependent on Pakistan for our logistics. And the paradox is, if
you want to escalate and send in more troops,
the more troops you send into Afghanistan, the more dependent you are on Pakistan. So when people say we have to fight harder and put more pressure on Pakistan, they don’t realize those two things might be contradictory
because of geography. Because you cannot put that much pressure on your own supply lines. And I’ll give you an
example of what happened. In 2011 there was a clash at the border. Now our troops in
Afghanistan constantly saw the Taliban coming in from Pakistan. They saw them getting supported by the frontier guards and so on. And so they actually,
their emotions ran high. And there was an incident, probably this was an accident where
the United States bombed a Pakistani post and killed
22 Pakistani soldiers. And this led Pakistan to
close, you mentioned acronyms, here come the acronym, close the GLOCs the ground lines of communication which meant we could no
longer supply Afghanistan, through the ground through Pakistan. Now one, this wasn’t very public, but they didn’t close the ALOCs, the air lines of communication. But of course there’s certain things which are very difficult to get in by air, and it’s much more expensive. So we set up the northern
distribution network. And the northern distribution
network was again, a very expensive way of doing it, but through Russia and Central Asia down to North Afghanistan
using Russian railroads and so on. Now, when Donald Trump announced
the South Asia Strategy in August, 2017, the
so-called South Asia Strategy for Afghanistan, part of it was to put more pressure on Pakistan. But we couldn’t put more
pressure on Pakistan as we had in 2011 because
we had now placed sanctions on the Russian railroads
that we had been using to supply our troops through the northern distribution network. And of course as our
relationship with Iran became worse and worse,
we could no longer use our opening to Iran to
put pressure on Pakistan as we had done in the early
part of the war, 2001. Now what happened with those troops? What are they doing? Well as I said, when they went in there, there was a clear mission as
to what they were supposed to do in the first days. But there was no definition of what they would do after that. What constituted victory? And of course, or success,
let’s say success. Well, we had what looked like a victory ’cause we overthrew the
Taliban very easily. Al-Qaeda, left to Pakistan very quickly, where they still are. And it was relatively stable. It was relatively stable
in part because remember, this is not the beginning of the war. The war started for the Afghans in 1978. So it may be the longest war for Americans going on 19 years, but it’s
much longer for Afghans. It’s over 40 years. And many Afghans thought
okay, including many of the Taliban, okay America’s here, now we can end our war. And in fact, most of the
Taliban leaders surrendered. Or they actually reached an agreement with President Karzai the
day after the Bonn Agreement. They just wanted amnesty. But we made a choice at
that time having to do with what our long-term goal was. We decided, we, the Bush
Administration decided, Cheney and Rumsfeld,
that the priority was not stabilizing Afghanistan,
in fact that was not even on the agenda. It was showing that if
you harbor terrorists you will suffer the same
fate as the terrorists. And therefore the Taliban were treated the same way as Al Qaeda,
sent to Guantanamo, hunted down and therefore,
because they’re being hunted down, they could not participate in the political process
that was setting up the new government. Well, for the first several years, it was still, really it
was remarkably peaceful. You could walk around, you could travel around the country and so on. But two things happened. One is the Bonn process came to an end. That is the constitution was written, the presidential elections were held, the parliamentary elections were held, and by then it was clear, the Taliban made several efforts actually to
reach out to the government, and had almost reached an
agreement with them in 2004, but the US refused to
guarantee their security. So well, three things. So therefore they lost any incentive to try to cooperate and
decided to launch an offensive. Pakistan felt that, we had not put much diplomatic effort into the region and felt that we were operating
against Pakistan’s interest. I’ll come back to that. And therefore allowed or encouraged, encouraged the Taliban and supported them in trying to make our
situation more difficult. And we signed a strategic
partnership agreement with Afghanistan. It was signed by President Bush and President Karzai
which provided the basis, it wasn’t a treaty, but seemed to indicate that we were planning on having a long-term troop presence in Afghanistan at the same time that the
insurgency was increasing. And in fact as we had that long-term, as we started to establish what looked to everyone in the region,
we never had a formal policy of having a long-term troop presence. We had a lot people in the
government that wanted it but we never formally decided to do that. But it looked that way to everyone else. And at the same time we
have these troops there and they’re not being effective in suppressing the insurgency. They did get rid of Al Qaeda. They provided security
in urban areas and other. So a lot of things could be accomplished. But they did not succeed
in enabling the government to control the territory and getting rid of the insurgency, establishing
security and so on. So therefore you say, therefore we need to keep the troops there
in order to prevent the government from collapsing and terrorist sanctuaries
from being recreated. Well, the people in
the region look at that and say, so you’re saying you need to keep your troops there because they’re failing. You need to keep your
troops in Afghanistan because they are failing
to achieve their objective. So they have to keep
trying and failing forever. So what they thought is
actually maybe they’re failing on purpose because they want to keep the troops there. And keeping the troops
there is the actual purpose. Now, they don’t know
that with any certainty but remember when you are planning, when you are doing defense
and security planning, you plan against capabilities,
not against intentions which you cannot read. And having troops on the
ground in Afghanistan gives us certain capabilities. You know because the
logistics of supply them in Afghanistan are so difficult, I think those capabilities
are exaggerated. But you know there are people, in Pakistan I hear a lot of people tell me that we’re in Afghanistan
to contain China. I never heard anyone in China say that. But they do say that in Pakistan. Russia is concerned
that we might try to use the Islamic State or something like that to decentralize Central Asia as some kind of an reprisal against Russia for what it is doing in Ukraine. There has been some
speculation about that there. And in general, Iran of course,
obviously we have people in our government who
actually have advocated bombing Iran, use force for regime change or to subvert Iran one way or another. We have intelligence
operations in Afghanistan that are directed against Iran, in addition to which I’ll
add that Pakistan developed nuclear weapons of course,
which is a core interest of its defense establishment. And it did so through a program which was in many respects, violated the International Regime on Non-Proliferation which we were always concerned would lead to weapons getting into
the hands of terrorists. So the United States has always considered Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as
to some extent, illegitimate. And the symbol of this
is that the United States reached an agreement on cooperation in civilian nuclear power with India during the Clinton Administration and then augmented it during
the Bush Administration. And Pakistan has asked for that. But the United States would never and will never give Pakistan such a civilian nuclear agreement. Therefore Pakistan worries
that at some point, and of course we always
have contingency planning. What if Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fell into the hands of terrorists? We might have to secure them. How would we do that? We would do that from Afghanistan, the same we that we
captured Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. It’s not as simple as
capturing one person, but I’ve heard the two things equated. So Pakistan military thinks
our being in Afghanistan gives us the capacity to go after their nuclear weapons as
well, which as we are more and more aligned with
India, they are concerned we might want to do. So a consensus began growing in the region that the American troops should leave. At the same that there’s still
a consensus in the region that they do not want the state
to collapse in Afghanistan. And they would prefer this government to stay in power. They don’t want the US to just leave and have that nightmare scenario
that Dan outlined recur. But they also don’t want us to be there. In other words, they will not help us stabilize Afghanistan as a military base. So now what is the problem of getting out of Afghanistan? Of course, if we just
withdrew as Trump has toyed with that idea from time to time, without a political settlement then, first of all, actually
that’s not necessarily the most important variable
because I mentioned that it’s a heavily financially
dependent state as well. The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1989. The government continued in power, the government the
Soviet Union help set up, continued in power until
1992, for three more years because during most of that period, it continued to receive food, cash and military assistance
from the Soviet Union. It was only when the Soviet
Union no longer existed and all of that financial
support was cut off that the government could
no longer pay the troops, couldn’t supply the cities
with food and so on, and the government collapsed. So it might be that the flow
of aid to the government is even more important than the presence of the troops. But of course it’s very
difficult to keep the aid flowing politically if
the troops aren’t there. Nonetheless, there’s a whole set of international conferences, not just the United States is
involved, US, Europe, Japan, with pledges of long-term
assistance to Afghanistan. So that might be there. Second, the Taliban is
a powerful insurgency. It is based to some extent, in Pakistan. My view, which is at odds with that of many Afghans is that it is not just a Pakistan proxy. It has certain social roots
in Afghanistan as well. It doesn’t represent
traditional Afghanistan. It’s not like that’s the real Afghanistan and what we’re doing. No, it doesn’t. But it represents something. And one of the things it
represents is a revolt against all of the clumsy
things that we have done including civilians and torturing people. So now we are engaged in an effort at a political settlement
with the Taliban, which we rejected for most of the period that we were there. When I was in the government, my main task was to try to make the case for and try to persuade the government to try to do that and
eventually we did come around to do it. It’s odd in a way that
the Trump Administration is more willing, is
willing to really invest in that more. But that’s because Trump is more willing to withdraw because it
seems he doesn’t really care that much about what
happens in the region. It wouldn’t be that uncomfortable with just withdrawing. And we’ll yet to see if he’s willing to, they almost reached a deal in September and then he pulled out
of it because he couldn’t quite figure out how to make it look good on television. He was planning a Camp David signing and they refused so he
stopped the whole deal. So we’re close to it
again, but I don’t know if it’ll work out or not. Even if they sign it,
there’s still a lot more, you know implementing it
will be very difficult. I can answer questions about
how the deal is structured later if you like. And then you need some
kind of consensus among, a minimal consensus but
a consensus nonetheless among the regional countries
because it’s very easy to destabilize a country like Afghanistan. And if they feel that it’s
posing a threat to them, they will do things to destabilize it. Now that’s where our current policies are really at odds with our attempt to stabilize Afghanistan. Because if we’re putting
maximum pressure on Iran, and Iran believes that we are now bringing maximum pressure to Afghanistan, Iran has no interest in helping us get out of Afghanistan in a stable way. Iran has a very strong, stronger than any other country maybe,
bilateral interest in the stability of Afghanistan ’cause of the length of their border, the relationship between
their societies and so on. Russia is concerned about
American influence there and Russia has started its
own separate peace process known as the Moscow Process. And if we don’t follow
through on our peace process, they will step in in order
to, with their peace process which will rely on the
political opposition to Ashraf Ghani as their
main source of power in trying to get us out of the country. And their kind of consensus has grown up and that’s the basis
for the Moscow Process, among Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan. Now, interestingly
enough, despite the fact that our policies toward Iran and Russia and China are not consistent with what we would need for Afghanistan,
within just the very small realm of policy on Afghanistan, and here I must give
credit to Zalmay Khalizad, who is leading these talks, he has created a diplomatic process in
which US, Russia and China have annunciated on several
meetings in Washington, Beijing and Russia, a common
position on Afghanistan. And they are at this
point, Russia and China are both supporting what we are doing, not disrupting it. Iran is unhappy with it, but they’re not actively disrupting it. The question is whether
that will be sustainable given the direction of our policy. Now, in terms of American,
fine, I’ll get to this, that’s looking at it
in terms of the effect of troops on the region. But let’s look at it another way. From the point of view of
the US security posture in the world. When I hear people argue for
a long-term troop presence in Afghanistan, I often
hear, in fact I heard General Votel say this when he
was the commander of CENTCOM that after all we’ve had troops in Japan for a long time. We’ve had troops in Korea for a long time. We’ve had troops in
Germany for a long time. Why not have them in Afghanistan? Well besides the fact that
none of those countries is a landlocked country
surrounded by countries that don’t want us there, Germany we had an unconditional victory and occupied it. Japan we had an unconditional surrender after use of nuclear weapons. In Korea there’s an armistice. So we don’t have victory, surrender or an armistice in Afghanistan. We’re still taking
casualties and we never know if there might be more of them. And we’re surrounded by people
that don’t want us there. So that’s one point. Second point is, it’s not 1945 anymore. In 1945, the US was producing
50% of the world GDP. Now I believe the figure is 25%. But even more relevant
to Afghanistan is in Asia the figures are more stark. When the United States went
into Afghanistan in 2001, the GDP of the United
States was four times the combined GDP of
China, India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan,
which is almost nothing. Now with the rise of China primarily, but also the rise of
India, the American GDP is just 20% more than the combined GDP of all of those countries. That’s an indication of the decline of our relative power. Whatever Donald Trump said at the State of the Union message last night, he talked about our absolute power,
of course what he said, a lot of what he said wasn’t true. But nonetheless, we do have
a lot of absolute power, but our relative power is declining. And when your relative power is declining, that is not the moment
when you want to expand your military footprint
to areas of the world that are difficult of access. So it’s true that we want to try to end our operations there in a
way that does not reproduce the reasons we went in there. There are ways of doing that. But it’s also true that from a so-called grand strategical point of view, it doesn’t really make
sense for the United States at this point in its history, to be expanding its military
footprint into Central Asia, especially on the grounds of
fighting against terrorism because after all, there are terrorists in a lot of different countries. We cannot have the doctrine that wherever there are terrorists we must have permanent military bases. We have to at some point
agree to rely on cooperation with other countries. We are just as likely to
be, the attack on 9-11 was not actually planned in Afghanistan. The leader of the organization
that carried it out was in Afghanistan, but
it was planned in Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Hamburg. And the pilots were trained in Florida. So they don’t need to be in Afghanistan. There’s no reason to
think that Afghanistan is, you know they could be in
Syria, Iraq, Yemen, anywhere. They’re unlikely to be Iran
because despite the fact that we call Iran the leading
state sponsor of terror, it does not sponsor
that type of terrorism. So I think that, there’s
certainly a rationale for a negotiated withdrawal
which would involve both the supporting domestic negotiations in Afghanistan and a diplomatic process, which would of course
be a calculated risk. We can’t be sure that
everything would come out well. But I’ve got news for you. Even if we keep troops
there, there’s no guarantee that everything will come out well. I often encountered, I
had an encounter once with Hillary Clinton at the NATO Summit in Chicago in May, 2012
in which I caught her on her way out of a meeting with President Zardari of Pakistan. And she knew, I’d been talking to her for several years about this
through Holbrook and so on. She said I understand why you think that a politician solving is so
important in Afghanistan. She said but I’m just
skeptical that it will work. So I said, well your
skepticism is well founded. But you should be equally skeptical that the military strategies will work. And do you know what she said? She said, “Duh”. And that is also I think the reaction of many people who are well-acquainted with our operation in Afghanistan to the revelations in
the Afghanistan Papers. They’re not really very surprising. The question is, are we going
to keep on doing something over and over again just
because we’re failing at doing it? I don’t think that’s a good choice. Thank you. (audience applauding) – We’ll go over there. – Okay. – I think you’re over here. You’re over there. – Okay. – Okay, thank you very much. Makes one optimistic about the world. I wanted to ask you, and it’s very much in line with your final remarks. Having watched the US
military in Afghanistan, it’s been said that we
didn’t fight one war for 19 years, we fought
19 wars each for one year. Or there have been variations on that one. And I’m curious if you would agree with that estimate, that we might have had a better outcome if we
hadn’t rotated officers or adding troops as much as we had, if we had actually acquired
real local knowledge. I’m curious what your evaluation. I’m guessing you think that we weren’t going to get it right no matter what, but I’m curious in what way
you think that is the truth. – Well one time I was talking to Doug Lute at the White House who was I think, I think this was in the
Bush Administration, so he was the Iraq Afghanistan War Czar instead of the Afghanistan
Pakistan War Czar. And he told me they
were developing a tool, a web-based tool that would all the tribes and ethnic groups of Afghanistan on it and where they’re located and so on, so that a when a military
went into a region, they could just log on and they could, they would have situational awareness. They would know who was there. So my reaction to that is any strategy that requires the United States Army to understand Afghan tribal politics is a strategy that will fail. And that is because you
can’t understand that, it’s not a matter of one year, two years, three years, four, you can’t understand it without like devoting your life to it or being there. I wouldn’t claim I
understand it, you know? And it’s the kind of knowledge that only the local people can have. And you know, I don’t really even know if it’s a criticism. Okay, the United States
government doesn’t know much about Afghanistan,
doesn’t understand Afghanistan. Really, why should it? Why would you expect it to? You know, there’s nothing
in the constitution about building up capacities
for understanding Afghanistan. It can’t. That’s why we ought to
conduct foreign relations in a different way. That’s why it’s a good
idea to be more restrained in certain respects. So I mean I was involved, I’m not against the whole policy of peace-building. I was involved in it and so on. But I think that in a
way the danger we found, you know actually it’s what
John Quincy Adams said, going abroad in search
of monsters to destroy. You know, if you look for
monsters, you will find then. But sometimes it turns out,
but there not all the same even if they appear to be monsters to you. You know, the Taliban and
Al Qaeda are not the same. We could have dealt with
them quite differently. But we didn’t, for various reasons, some understandable,
some less so, we did not. In addition to which, you
talk about the military. It’s not primarily a
military struggle in my view. Because if you think what is
it actually on the ground, control of territory is
a way of measuring it, but actually it’s control of population and of assets and use of force can have only a limited effect on that. You have to have
infrastructure, the knowledge, the ability to punish and reward and so on that you get from being
a functioning state. In other words, it’s the side
that administers the best and governs the best that
is most likely to win. All that the military operation can do is give you the chance to try to do that. But it can’t enable you to succeed. And that’s where we have
had the most difficulty. – So if you were advising
the Bush Administration in December of 2001. – [Barnett] I was. – Well, we won’t rub it in. – [Barnett] (laughs) I don’t
say they took my advice. – Yeah, so what would you
have said should be the plan because as we all know, we went in and we lost Bin Laden at Tora Bora. We settled into an
occupation and immediately started spending our
time, and I don’t mean we ’cause I thought this was a stupid idea, but getting ready to invade Iraq, completely took our eye off the ball. Let’s just stipulate
that we would not have gone after Iraq which had no connection with Al Qaeda, et cetera. And I’m pretty sure
that was where you were. But what would have told them about what was achievable and
what should the metrics be and how long should we be there? – I can show you a video of the moment when we ruined everything. It’s a video of. – Can you attach that to the rap song? – (laughs) I should, I should actually. And actually I’m realizing talking to you that I should carry
around that video with me. It’s a video of Donald Rumsfeld giving a press availability at the Pentagon on December 7th, 2001. And he’s being asked
questions by reporters about these reports that the Taliban and the new government,
the two-day old government in Afghanistan have
arrived at an agreement. Which was true. That is Hamid Karzai, who
was there at the time, had reached an agreement with Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Taliban, that the Taliban would
hand over the remaining four provinces that they controlled without a fight in return for amnesty and being able to live
in dignity and safety. That was pretty much all there was to it. Unfortunately no text has survived, so we can’t prove this. It’s just people’s memory. But I’ve interviewed people
who were in those meetings and both Karzai and people who were on the Taliban side at the time and it seems pretty well confirmed. And the reports were
coming out at that time. And Rumsfeld said, well
this isn’t confirmed. We don’t know. Anyway he said, we’re not going to have a negotiated settlement. I think our policy is clear. So they actually undermined Karzai. They supported a different,
another warlord there to take over Kandahar
and they started sending the people to Guantanamo. So it meant that we, I
won’t tell you a lot, immediately I’m being
flooded with memories of what happened to different
leaders here and there. But I won’t tell you all of that. But you know we didn’t
have to send the Taliban to Guantanamo and treat them
the same way as Al Qaeda. They had stopped fighting us. They weren’t fighting us. They didn’t think they could
defeat the United States. They maybe have changed their minds. But at that time, they didn’t think they could defeat the United States. And it was an opening. They didn’t know what kind
of system would be there. It was a process that they
could have participated in. But instead we actually
gave them no chance but to flee to Pakistan and fight. So that was the biggest error. – [Daniel] So your advice would have been, let’s count this as a victory
and we’ll go home soon? – Yes, first of all we
would never had needed such a large footprint if we had supported a political settlement. Now of course, who knows
if it would have lasted, if it would have worked and so on. But I think there was a consensus even among most Taliban at that time. They didn’t want Al Qaeda back. It was against their
religion to arrest them and turn them over to us. But it’s not against their
religion to tell them to stay out. And at that time, you
know Al Qaeda basically had destroyed what the Taliban had done and they knew it. And most of the leadership,
from what I’ve been able to glean, did not agree
with Mullah Omar’s decision. So there was not like,
nobody in Taliban was saying, oh, we have to bring back Al Qaeda. They didn’t want Al Qaeda to come back. They wanted to live safely
in their Afghanistan. – So you know the Taliban as well as pretty much anyone in the United States. And you had some of the initial
conversations with them. Do you think that the path
that has been laid out of the US-Taliban agreement followed by a Taliban-Afghan government negotiation has a shot at working and
preserving those things that we think are critical? That is to say the absence of terrorists, the preservation of a
democratic government and a basic human rights there? – Well first of all, the biggest threat to all of those things is
not a political settlement or the withdrawal. The biggest threat is, because Afghanistan had all those things before
the Taliban even existed. The biggest threat is that
the country is so poor and so weak institutionally. And it’s surrounded by countries that are at odds with each other. So that’s why a negotiation
process of some type and international support is necessary. As far as the way the
process is structured, the fact is, it’s not the way
I would like to structure it but it’s the only way that
it’s possible to structure it because as they say in the military, the enemy gets a vote. And the Taliban position
is that they will not talk to the Afghan government until they reach an agreement with the United
States on the troop withdrawal. So it would be much better
if the Afghan government was directly involved in the talks now. But the choice we actually have is between having them structured
the way they are now or having no talks. So I think this is better. Now, as far as preserving the gains that have been obtained
by at least portions of the population, again,
right now one of the things that’s happened is there’s
a pretty good university that we’ve established, The American University of Afghanistan. And the Taliban attacked it viciously and killed some of the
students a couple years ago. I just talked to a woman who was studying there at the time, she just wrote me, sent me a paper she wrote and you know, she has nightmares and so on about it. And now the school might be closing. But it’s not in danger of closing because the Taliban attacked it and there’s a lack of security. It’s in danger of closing
because the US Congress seems to want to cut off its funding. So the same thing is true of many things, that we could you know, now girls and boys could both go to school in Afghanistan, but we’re paying for those schools. So the same for healthcare,
because the country is just so poor. So if we, of course
they are paying for some of those things because we are paying for the security by and large. So the biggest danger is withdrawal of the financial assistance
that the country needs. Now in terms of maintaining
all of those things, it will be difficult. Well first, they’re not
all quite as wonderful as we say now. But I don’t know that there’s
a way to guarantee them because they’re built on
things that by their nature are not going to be permanent. But, it is also true that there have been permanent changes in Afghan society, as a result not only of our aid money but 40 years of war. But one of the things that our presence has actually accomplished,
as has been the expansion of education and of telecommunications. And it’s really remarkable
to see the younger generation that is educated now. Remember it’s been a
generation, like 20 years. So there are kids who were
in elementary school then who are now graduating
from major universities all over the world and
are now quite skilled. So the kind of skills gap that was there when we went in is not as serious anymore. And it’s a connected country. You may remember, under the Taliban and before the Taliban
under the Mujahideen group, under the Mujahideen rule,
you know it was very hard to get any information about
what was going on there. People would go in
underground and take videos and then sneak them out. And then a couple weeks later,
you would hear something. But now of course you’ve
got millions of cellphones connected to the internet. So anything happens, you see
a picture of it immediately. In fact there have been charges that, Russia has charged for
instance that the United States or somebody is taking
ISIS fighters from Syria and flying them into
Afghanistan by helicopter. So I asked the foreign minister
of Afghanistan about that, and he said well, they come
to us and tell us this. But we just say to them,
everybody in this country has a cellphone with a photograph. Bring us a photo of one
of these helicopters. And so far they haven’t. Although when I said that to the Russians, they said, if you want a
picture of a helicopter, I’ll bring you a picture of a helicopter. (laughing) So that doesn’t mean that
everything will work out because we have seen in many countries that when a younger
generation becomes educated and skilled but the
employment opportunities are not available for them,
they may become radicalized. There will be emigration. So it’s unpredictable. When given the indicators, just
if you’re a social scientist you just look at the
indicators in Afghanistan you’ll say, well there’s
no way this country is going to be actually stable. But it does not have to be a threat to international peace and security. It does not have to be a country where 5,000 or 10,000, however many it is, soldiers lose their lives every year. – So the image you’re conjuring in mind is the last couple of scenes
of Charlie Wilson’s War where it’s fundamentally about whether we’re going to
be there for Afghanistan in terms of providing the
financial where with all to keep this thing rolling for a while. – [Barnett] Yes, so you mean the scenes where he’s talking about schools and such. – Yup. – Yeah, not just the
schools but also the state. Now they do have, the current
government does have a plan to make Afghanistan self sufficient. But of course that plan
won’t, it won’t fail but it won’t work either,
you know like most plans. And it’s going to require
aid for quite some time. And it requires a lot of political work because again, as a landlocked country, to develop its economy
it has to reach markets which means it has to develop
what is called connectivity. And this is the region of the world with the least amount
of intra regional trade and the worst indices on connectivity. So there are major efforts underway now, like the Chinese Belt and Road, which we have some objections to, Indian and Iranian attempts to build ports that it will link India to Iran and then to Central Asia
and Afghanistan and so on, which are very important. But that requires not just money, but a lot of diplomatic effort in order to get the
agreements that you need. Now, I don’t know that
the United States will, is the right country to
make that diplomatic effort. But I would say unfortunately the emphasis that the Trump Administration
now has on promoting rather than trying to mitigate
great power competition, is liable to make that more difficult. – That’s the perfect
segue for my last question and then we’ll turn it
over to the audience, which I that if you’re
looking at the region, wouldn’t you have to guess
that the circumstances for us to remain in the
country are becoming every more difficult because
I think the Iranians now have a lot more incentive to
make our life difficult there. The Chinese are probably happy to make our life more difficult there. Pakistan’s never made our life easy there. I’m just, I think of the neighborhood as becoming even less
hospitable than it has been in an inhospitable past. – Well you’re a counter terrorist guy, so you’re thinking in terms of security. I used to do political economy, so let me put it another way. Because of the expansion of the Chinese and Indian economy,
those countries now have a greater interest in
producing the public good of regional security than they did before. China, in the last few years,
its policy in Afghanistan has changed remarkably from being passive and out of it to being involved
with the peace process, trying to host some meetings, cooperating with the United States on
the peace process and so on. And if you think about
it, it didn’t do anything like that when the Soviets left. In 1989 when the Soviet
Union left Afghanistan, I don’t know if any of
you have been to Shanghai, but you know Shanghai’s on a river. And on one side of the river, at that time it was farmland. And now it’s Pudong, which is
the financial center of Asia. And it’s used in films when
they want to show some place that’s post modernistic. And so that’s a completely different China with a different definition
of its national interest. In addition to which China is of course concerned about Xinjiang in Western China and the Uyghur and has developed this terrible surveillance
regime and camps and so on. But because of that it is also trying to develop a presence in
Northeastern Afghanistan in Badakshan Provence. And believes that the,
and so China now believes that the stability of
Afghanistan is necessary for the domestic stability of China, which puts it in a different way. And I can tell a similar story for many of the countries in the region. – I wish I were a political economy person instead of the gloomy
security guy that I am. So why don’t we open it up, Nelson, sure. Wait, just wait for the mic. We want you to be recorded for posterity. – [Nelson] Great talk. The stuff I read suggests that the current Taliban leadership is far more pragmatic than Mullah Omar and
the circle around him. On the other hand, there’s
a lot of stuff that says let the Taliban win,
or let the Taliban win and women’s education
will go down the drain, lots of things will go back
to being more fundamental. So there is the
complicated way that people who aren’t familiar with the region have to understand what
the Taliban intends to do. And then a second related issue is it seems as if the Taliban
is much more organized, much more effective in winning
district after district. And so if you would assess
how successful they are and whether they’re, it’s just a question of time before they take over. Let me put it, push it as hard as I can so you can respond to those two questions. – Well those are related questions. First, the Taliban
leadership is not composed of radically different people. But you know, if you
fight the United States for 20 years and come out and survive, you have to learn something
going through that process. And they were, the Taliban
leadership originally was an extremely parochial group. Mullah Omar had never been outside of Southern Afghanistan except when went to a hospital in Pakistan once. He never spent the night in Kabul. He went there for a
day once and came back. Now they have millions of refugees. They learn English and Pakistan. They have offices around the world, and they use telecommunications as part of their war making
and they’re very skillful in using telecommunications
and the internet for propaganda purposes and so on rather the people who used to
blow up televisions and tape. And that’s not become
they’ve become more liberal. They haven’t become liberal. But they’ve become more sophisticated and they’ve learned
about other alternatives. So the fact is, when you say,
this is a problem I have. I believe the Taliban have changed. That doesn’t mean I believe
they’ve become liberal. If they changed it doesn’t mean, maybe they haven’t become better or they become like us, no. But they have changed in their own way and they’re much more pragmatic. Now in particular what they learned, and this has to do with the
question of will they win. They learned that if you
want to rule Afghanistan, you need foreign support. It is really not worth trying
to take over Afghanistan if the whole world is against you or if only Pakistan is for you, which you know, isn’t worth that much. Because they may able to, they
can take over rural districts but they cannot run a power grid. They don’t know how to manage
their foreign relations. They can fight, but they can’t manage a modern army or an air
force or something like that. And they don’t know how to run an economy. And now they know they don’t
know how to run an economy. I went to Kandahar for the UN in 1998 and I asked to visit the offices of the local, of the development bank, the Bank-e-Mille Afghanistan which is the National Development Bank. So I went in, there were
three guys there drinking tea. One young guy, he was the head of it, and he said I have no qualifications. So he described what they’re doing. He said the prices in
the bazaar were too high and most of the stuff is
imported from Pakistan. So we decreed a change in the
exchange rate of the rupee. But then suddenly nobody
was importing anything. So it didn’t work. He was puzzled. Anyway, so they know that they have a lot to learn about those things. So that is why they have
put so much emphasis on winning international recognition as part of their strategy. That’s why they wanted these
confidence-building measures that the United States,
because and that is one respect, that
indicates that they are not global jihadists in the sense of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State because they’re not interested in winning
international recognition. They’re interested in overturning the current international system. The Taliban of course, the
Taliban want to operate within the estate structure of Afghanistan even if they would like it structured in ways we would find deeply disturbing. And practically that means that they, that’s why they want to work with others, not because they’ve become
more liberal or accommodating, but because they’ve become pragmatic. They have come to
understand that in the world as it actually exists,
to get the assistance that they need to do the things that they feel are
necessary, they need to reach an understanding with the outside world. – Thank you. Your comments about the
economy were fascinating and the comparison of the GDP, the fact that China and India
perhaps are the best able, most able to fill in financially. What would happen if we did
reduce all of our troops, pulled all of our troops out, and I think in the current thinking in the US, that would also carry
with it the withdrawal of all of our financial support. Who would fill the vacuum
and what would happen if the vacuum was not filled? – Well, if we just all of our troops and all of our financial support, which is not something that
I recommend or support, then I mean Ashraf Ghani, the president of the country himself has said that without the financial
support, the government would collapse, he said within six months, which is probably optimistic. And they would go back to fighting. Nobody would want to,
but they wouldn’t have any choice actually, with each other, yes. And then all the neighboring countries would get involved because they would feel they have to prevent their enemies from taking power and so on. You know, it’s just when you
have a situation of shortage, and people are desperate,
each group bands together to try to provide its own security, self provision I believe
it is known (mumbles). And you get an anarchic situation. So that would be very dangerous. So that’s why I say, that’s why I don’t, to pose the question, it goes back to the way I started
the talk, as it is posed on these TV debates as should
we withdraw our troops or not, is to oversimplify the question, and I’m not just saying
that as an academic who likes to write long papers, though I am an academic who
likes to write a long paper. But because your military
strategy has to be integrated into your political and economic strategy or it will not have the
effects that you’d hope for. – I will consult you the
next time I invite you, for a better title. Although you did say
that’s as good as any. – [Barnett] No, it’s
perfect because they want me to talk about that. – [Audience Member] I have
more of a question with regards to Central Asia than it is with Pakistan. I was wondering what are
your thoughts on the, because my understanding
is that those countries have brutal dictatorships
and because of that there’s a bunch of
radical jihadist networks that are also operating in that side, on that side of the border,
just like they’re operating in the sides of Pakistan,
like the Taliban and stuff. So how do you see, if there
was a reconciliation process, do you foresee that those
groups would not use the Afghan territory to
further their agenda and stuff? – Well, in the days after the, Uzbekistan became independent, there did
develop an Islamic movement, particularly in the part of the country called the Fergana Valley, which was quite violently repressed by the
government of Islam Karimov. Also in Tajikistan, which
had certain similarities to Afghanistan in that Tajikistan was the poorest Soviet Republic
and it was dependent on subsidies from Moscow. So when the subsidies
from Moscow disappeared, it actually collapsed and it
led to factional fighting, and one of the factions took on more of an Islamic coloring. And they fled into Northern
Afghanistan at that time and had some support from Iran as well. So the Islamists from
Tajikistan actually went back and were integrated through
a political settlement. Islamists from Uzbekistan, many of them ended up in Pakistan in
the tribal territories where they were co-located with Taliban, Al Qaeda and so on. And of course it’s very difficult to get, I haven’t done any of
this research myself. I’m repeating to you things that I read or that other people have told me. So I’m not sure how reliable this is. But it appears that some
of them were pushed out by the Pakistan army
when it had an offensive in that region, under
heavy Chinese pressure, by the way, called
(mumbles) because there were Chinese Uyghurs in that area as well. And they were pushed out into Afghanistan. Many of the went to Northern Afghanistan where there also was
Uzbek-speaking people. Some of them, and some
other Central Asians have apparently also
gone to Iraq and Syria. And there are wildly different estimates about the numbers of them. And then some of them have come back and established themselves
in North Afghanistan. So if you ask the Russians,
they will say 5,000. If you ask some other
people, they will say 200. I have no idea what the truth might be. I’d be more inclined toward 200 than 5,000 but I don’t have any actual evidence. So there is a such a problem. Russia is concerned that since Russia says they’re between Afghanistan and Moscow, there are no real borders they say ’cause Central Asian countries didn’t like to hear that, but that’s
what the Russians say. So they’re concerned that that could lead to destabilization of Russia. And so of course Russia is very vulnerable because of the huge number
of workers that it has, migrant workers that are coming there from Central Asia, Tajikistan,
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. If you stay in a hotel in Moscow, you will notice that all of the staff are from central, all the menial staff are from Central Asia. And there’s been some
reports of radicalization among those migrants. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s true of some of the Diasporas
in Europe actually as well. So it could be, it’s possible. So they are concerned about that. However, one of the
elements of the agreement that has been drafted
between the United States and the Taliban is not
only do the Taliban agree by name not to allow Al
Qaeda to use Afghanistan, but they agree to
continue to fight against the Islamic State. And they have been fighting
against the Islamic State and relatively successfully in some areas. And there’s even talk of setting up some poor nation mechanism for the fight against the Islamic State. And the Islamic State has
been able to anchor itself in Afghanistan because of the weaknesses of state sovereignty
which have been reinforced by the assistance of the insurgency. If the insurgency is
reduced and the government is able to extend its
control more uniformly, and it has a common interest
in fighting against Al Qaeda, it will probably be better able to control the Islamic State as well. As far as within Central Asia itself, I was in Uzbekistan recently. I was there as an election monitor. I went to Russia after that and asked me whether the elections in
Uzbekistan free and fair. I said well, they were fair. (laughing) But things are loosening up
a little bit there slowly. But really there hasn’t
been any terrorist incidents in those countries in quite a long time and it does not appear
to be, I mean vigilance is always called for but
it does not seem to be a major problem at the moment. – One more question. Back here. – [Audience Member] Hi,
thanks for your talk. – [Daniel] Two quick ones. – I wanted to ask you about
the 2012 surge in Afghanistan. It seemed like the US
was using similar tactics and strategies as what we tried in Iraq. And in Iraq it seemed pretty effective at suppressing violence,
at least in the short term. But in Afghanistan, it
wasn’t really the case. You know, Obama spent a
long time consulting lots of people maybe over six, eight, 10 months before deciding to surge. What’s your read in the
first draft of history on why that was largely unsuccessful? – [Barnett] Well, I don’t
know, this might sound a little arrogant, but
I have had the occasion to discuss this with General Patreus. – [Daniel] I thought this was coming. (laughing) – I have the impression
that General Patreus doesn’t understand what happened in Iraq because he thinks it was the success of counter insurgency. What happened was we allied
with the Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, which enabled them to protect themselves from
the Shia-dominated government that we had installed. So we found political allies based on the politics of Iraq. And Iraq of course has oil and is able to fund its state, although
with considerable problems. And in Afghanistan, it
simply was the basic problem of funding the state
and sending more troops to protect the population doesn’t work when the basic institutions
of administration are just not working. There are other things as well. But I think it was basically
a political problem and the rote application of
the counter insurgency handbook to Iraq or Afghanistan is
not a formula for success. – [Daniel] I thought you were
going to say it was because Patreus was appointed to the CIA and wasn’t around to claim credit. (laughing) But we’ll hold that for another time. So we had one other quick question, yes. – He actually, he still
claims credit for the success if you see his comments. – The border between
Pakistan and Afghanistan has been a wild place
every since the Durand line was put in. Pakistan also has another
border to its east with India and I remember reading, and
this was a few years ago, that India has been giving
some, quote, aid, unquote to Afghanistan, rebuilding
government buildings and so forth. Is this India’s stirring
the pot a little bit to bother the Pakistanis or is it, do they have more serious thoughts there? I haven’t followed this up recently. – [Barnett] Do you still have a clearance? – [Daniel] I do. – I don’t so maybe he
should answer that question. I’ll give the unclassified answer. – Okay, you give the
unclassified answer to this. – Well just for anecdotally,
I’ve crossed both of those borders by the way. And in fact very recently
I crossed the border from Pakistan into
India at Wagah, which is quite a spectacle. – Did you see the dancing
troops, marching troops? – I wanted to but I might
have missed my plane to Delhi if I’d done that. So I saw them setting up
for it, but I didn’t see the actual thing. Look, there’s a long history
of Afghanistan-based support for Baluch insurgencies and for Pashtun nationalism in Pakistan. That was not always been by India. Russia and Iraq were doing it at one time, I mean Russia, not Russia,
Soviet Union and Iraq were doing it at one time. There is, as far as I know,
India has given some support to Baluch but mostly from
what I was able to glean it was like they put some
stuff in their bank accounts in Dubai, it was not a major operation. When I was in the government, Pakistan was giving us
information saying that there’s this camp here,
there’s this and that. And we would look and
we’d find soccer fields and never found it. Recently I’m told by
people who are reading current intelligence that there is more, you know of course today’s
India is a little bit different and in recent years India
has become a bit more active doing some things to Pakistan. But so I would be surprised,
and India is by the way playing a really generally positive role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and has good programs there. But they also have been
surprisingly interested in building roads right up
to the border with Pakistan and having people there,
which is only sensible thing for them to do. And on the other hand, Pakistan,
some people in Pakistan, greatly exaggerates the role of India in creating their
internal problems in ways that are frankly not credible. But that doesn’t mean India’s innocent. – Okay, that’s a great place to stop. I want to thank Barney
Rubin for joining us today for the incredibly enlightening talk. And somehow you’ve let
me slightly optimistic, which was more than I was when I began. And that doesn’t happen here often. So anyway, thank you very much. (audience applauding)

No Comments

Leave a Reply