Shuja Nawaz: The Threat from Al Qaeda

Highlight - Nawaz

Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, participated in conference on the civilian dimensions of counterterrorism, “Al Qaeda and Its Allies: The Endgame,” hosted by the New America Foundation.

  Nawaz spoke on panel, “Situation Assessment: The Threat From Al Qaeda and the Situation in South Asia,” with journalist Peter Bergen.  A full agenda and links to all videos from the event are available at NAF.


Give Pakistan Modern Military Tools

The battle for Pakistan has finally started in earnest along the northwest frontier. After months of warning of an impending attack, the Pakistani military moved into South Waziristan this weekend to stamp out the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which is allied with al Qaeda and allows the terrorist group to operate from the region. The Army bulked up the division entrusted with the task, supplementing it with troops and helicopters from North Waziristan, and local regiments from the Frontier Corps. The aim was to encircle and destroy the TTP in the southeastern third of Waziristan, where some 10,000 well-armed and battle-hardened militants are hiding.

But despite the reinforcements, the force trying to root out the entrenched militants is still not fully equipped or ready for mobile warfare. After more than eight years of involvement in the U.S.-led war against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan still does not have all the weapons or assistance that it needs to do the job right.

The Pakistani forces are facing a more desperate and dangerous TTP. Since the powerful TTP chieftain Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August, the movement’s new leaders have endeavored to establish their own credentials. Their attacks — such as those on the general headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi and on police offices in different cities in the Pakistani heartland — have become more audacious and open.

The TTP-al Qaeda militancy has also become more dangerous due to the active participation of Punjabi terrorist groups. In years past, these Islamist extremists operated under the auspices of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful military spy agency, fighting against Indians in Kashmir. Now, following Pakistan’s attempt at reconciliation with India over Kashmir, they have gone rogue. The Army lacks the capacity and willingness to open a new front in Punjab, where the militants are based in small towns and some cities. But it can do much damage to the Taliban-al Qaeda nexus in South Waziristan.

The Army has attempted to stop the anti-TTP operation from becoming an all-out tribal feud, though. Following the pattern of the offensives into Swat and Malakand earlier this summer, it encouraged neutral Mehsud tribesmen to leave the battle area. Thousands of internal refugees moved south last week, as the Pakistan Air Force pounded targets with F-16s and other aircraft to prepare the ground for the Army assault. Given the complex terrain, it is not clear how successful those bomb runs have been. If the ground offensive slows down over the next few days, it will signal that the militants have dug deep into the mountains and will exact a heavy toll on advancing forces. Some of them, including al Qaeda elements, might even head into Afghanistan to regroup, buying off the area’s Wazir and Bhittani tribesmen along the way. If the going is easier, then it is likely that the al Qadea and the TTP leadership has slipped away to seek refuge in northeastern Afghanistan, leaving behind booby traps and mines and a rearguard to fight against the invading Army.

Co-opting some of the Mehsud was a smart move, but it meant the Army lost the element of surprise. It will have to decide this war by sheer force of will and firepower, enduring heavy losses. And even if it wins the ground battle and occupies TTP territory, it might end up being a short-lived win. The Army is not trained or equipped to “hold” the area. There is no civilian force to police the territory, nor is there a judiciary to provide good governance; indeed, over the past eight years, Pakistan’s government has failed to provide itself with anything other than military solutions to such problems. Both ousted autocrat Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the current government (which has retained the general’s centralized powers) have entirely failed to strengthen their civilian capacity.

The United States too, has failed, most spectacularly in its inability to engage broadly with the Pakistani people, choosing instead to deal with one person or a small group of powerful players at the center. It thus lost its ability to gain public support in Pakistan for the fight against terrorism and militancy. The huge contretemps in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill has further undermined Washington’s efforts to generate good will, and the Amy’s public rebuke of the bill has only added to the mistrust between these two wary allies.

The Pakistani Army’s wariness should not surprise us. Though American taxpayers have given Pakistan nearly $11 billion to cover the costs of its military operations since 2002, Washington has withheld the latest U.S. equipment from Pakistan. U.S. officials wring their hands when asked about more helicopters and gunships, for instance, explaining that sending the latest and unfamiliar U.S. equipment to Pakistan would entail introducing new maintenance and logistical problems. Thus, the only major sources of helicopters to match Pakistan’s inventory of Chinese aircraft are the Eastern European states and Russia. (Fears that Pakistan might divert these weapons system to the Indian border could be met by providing helicopters under renewable leases.)

This severely constrains Pakistan’s ability to traverse the mountains in Waziristan, where the average height is 8,500 feet and roads are few and far between. Pakistan’s land forces, meanwhile, go into battle with half-flak jackets and the Frontier Corps’ Scouts still traipse around in “chappals,” open-toed sandals, in the rough and cold terrain of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Army also lacks the capability of tracking or jamming satellite phones used by the militants.

As the Pakistani military faces such logistical obstacles, militants and their supporters in Punjab will continue to terrorize the public. They will also attempt to unbalance the military and police forces in the hinterland with sporadic attacks. But they face a resolute military that is now finally determined to take the fight to the militants and fight its own fight.

The United States ought to help Pakistan with this endeavor, finding and delivering urgently the equipment that Pakistan needs to fight its own battle for survival, beginning in the mountains of South Waziristan. Time is short. Soon, winter will descend on the border region, and even though South Waziristan doesn’t usually get heavy snows except on the peaks, the winter is very cold and will make an extended battle harder to sustain. We should know in the next week how this war for Pakistan in the wilds of South Waziristan will turn out.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. This essay was previously published in Foreign Policy as “How to Help Pakistan Win This Fight.”

Pakistan’s Government, Not Military, Must Fight Taliban

Rising violence, targeted and random, has become a fact of life in Pakistan today. It threatens the country’s political and economic future—and there still does not appear to be a strategy to stop it.

The fledgling civilian government, composed of a weak coalition of opportunistic parties, has conceded to the military responsibility for organizing campaigns against insurgents who have set off a wave of attacks across the nation over the past two weeks.

The latest military campaign in South Waziristan, launched Saturday, is a good example of the disconnect between the government and the military. The government has ceded all strategic authority to the army, and without civilian leadership, no military strategy can succeed there. It also reflects the continuation of a pattern that began soon after the Pakistan People’s Party government succeeded the autocratic regime of President Pervez Musharraf last year. The then new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, briefed the government opposition leaders on the deteriorating security situation and asked them to provide him with direction. He had to wait four weeks before being told to proceed with plans for clearing Taliban militants out of the Swat Valley.

The government eventually came up with slogans for countering terror and violence with “the ‘three Ds’ strategy of dialogue, development, and deterrence,” as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the World Economic Forum at Davos this year. But there has been little evidence on the ground of a practicable road map for achieving these goals.

Meanwhile the chart of death and destruction has been rising rapidly. This year, the number of fatalities reached 8,375, up from 189 in 2003, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal that tracks such figures from public records. Some 22,110 people were killed over the past six years, including at least 2,637 security personnel, 7,004 civilians and 5,960 terrorists or insurgents. The rise of the Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan, a loose umbrella group of tribal factions based near the Afghan border, has added a new measure of danger. The Tehrik-e-Taliban also has ties with regional groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in the settled areas of Pakistan with the Punjabi militant groups (which were once trained by Pakistani intelligence to operate against India in Kashmir). These groups have begun targeting the army, culminating in the bold attack on army headquarters in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, earlier this month.

The army is now in the middle of its offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban stronghold in the Mehsud territory of South Waziristan, a rugged and forbidding terrain where battle-hardened al Qaeda regulars have bolstered the group’s numbers. It will be a tough and costly battle. If the army destroys the nucleus of the insurgent leadership in South Waziristan, it will have won a respite from the violence.

But the war will not be over. It is likely that Tehrik-e-Taliban and al Qaeda franchises in the Punjab will continue to wreak havoc in the hinterland cities where ineffective police cannot protect the population. As a reaction to the Waziristan campaign, the government this week closed down schools and other institutions that could be likely targets of attacks. And while the army will be able to clear centers of militancy, as it did in Swat earlier this year, it will likely not be equipped to hold the territory or build the local economy.

That is where the civilians need to step in. To date, they have been largely absent, and the militants are feeding off the local population’s discontent with lack of governance and economic opportunities. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, for instance, where economic and social indicators reveal the region lags behind the rest of the country, female literacy is no more than 3%. Most of the so-called youth bulge there, some 300,000 people aged 16 to 25, is unemployed.

There does not appear to be hope on the horizon. Almost no U.S. assistance has reached the ground in these areas. It is also unclear whether the latest U.S. aid package of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years, passed by Congress last month, will trickle down to the needy. It probably won’t, unless the U.S aid machinery is overhauled.

In the absence of robust civilian counterpart organizations, the army may need to be brought into the aid delivery loop initially, with due safeguards for monitoring the use of the assistance. Road works, dams and other infrastructure projects in Federally Administered Tribal Areas could rapidly provide employment to idle youth and drain the Taliban’s recruitment pool. But so far none are planned. In North Waziristan last year, army commanders told me that they had expended their annual medical supplies just three months after setting up medical camps to treat civilians in remote locations.

Pakistan’s government must meet local needs and create jobs to address the causes of violence. At the national level, Mr. Gilani’s government needs to focus sharply on delivering services and providing justice—not concentrate on clinging to power. If he fails, the democratic experiment may be threatened yet again, as it often has in Pakistan’s fractured polity, where violence spawns civil unrest and then military intervention.

The U.S. and other friends of Pakistan must continue to support the development of an inclusive political system that allows all Pakistanis to participate in determining their political future. The family enterprises that dominate local politics and thrive on graft and preferred access to state resources cannot be supported. The U.S. would also do well to widen the aperture of its involvement in the region by bringing India into the picture. The strong, newly elected Congress Party-led government in New Delhi has the capacity to reduce potential tension on its neighbor’s eastern frontier, allowing Pakistan to devote more troops to fighting militancy in its western region.

Longer term, if peace breaks out between India and Pakistan, the dividends will be widespread in both economies. Greater trade and a greater exchange of travelers will likely reduce hostility and shift the emphasis from military spending to civilian development and growth. That is the real answer to the growing violence in the region. But first, Islamabad has to take the reins.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.  This essay was previously published as “The Battle for Pakistan” in the Wall Street Journal.  

Ashraf Ghani Event Transcript

Back to Rescuing Legitimacy in Afghanistan


  • Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
  • Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Chairman, Institute for State Effectiveness; Former Presidential Candidate of Afghanistan; Former Minister of Finance of Afghanistan

October 15, 2009

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Thank you and welcome to the Atlantic Council.  I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO.  First of all, I want to thank Shuja Nawaz and his South Asia Center for organizing this extremely important session in the aftermath of the election cycle in Afghanistan.  And it’s especially important as the situation in Afghanistan becomes increasingly perilous.  And there are also still questions about what happens next in the electoral process

But it’s a particular pleasure for me to introduce the speaker.  And I’m not really sure which of your guises to introduce you in, Ashraf, but certainly you were a candidate in the presidential elections in Afghanistan.  Some people would say you ran an unsuccessful campaign; I would say it was a successful campaign but you didn’t win

You’re one of the most capable public servants anywhere on the planet.  You happen to be Afghan, which gives us a unique chance for you to reflect from two perspectives because you’re one of the few people who so intimately knows what really is going on in the ground in Afghanistan – what are the forces really at work.  But then you carry the additional burden of knowing how Washington works.  And there are very few people who have those two skills, so it’s quite an honor for us to have you here

You’re intellectually honest, you’re conceptually brilliant and you come here in many guises, but one of them is a keen analyst of the current situation.  You would have come here before the election as a dual passport-holding American and Afghan but one of the sacrifices you made to run for office was to give up your U.S. citizenship, so I’m horrified to hear that you’re here on a single entry U.S.-Afghan visa.  So the Atlantic Council will go to work on that, but we certainly have to rectify that


The current war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history – oh, I must add to that, as well, that you were a dark horse candidate for U.N. secretary general, and this gets to the point that you’re an actor who is respected around the world and you’ve dealt with situations far beyond your own region, but also you have profound knowledge of the regional connections.  The current war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history.  That’s a sentence one shouldn’t forget

A fragmented and divisive debate is occurring in Washington, D.C. as the administration ponders on the way forward – some might use the word “agonizes” rather than “ponders.”  Regional complexities, the attack of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the siege at the army headquarters in Pakistan have only raised the level of risk for key stakeholders.  In addition, the United Nations has cited a significant level of fraud in the recent election, and that poses major obstacles going forward as the international community thinks over its options in re-engaging with whatever Afghan government might emerge

With this in mind, we’re delighted to welcome Ashraf, Dr. Ghani, to the Atlantic Council to share his assessment.  I would like to thank the Institute for State Effectiveness, Ashraf’s institute, and the South Asia Center for helping arrange this event at the council.  The South Asia Center launched early this year and is one of the fastest success stories the Atlantic Council can point to that has already made quite a mark in town under its director, Shuja Nawaz.  It’s serving as an important form of dialogue between the decision-makers in South Asia, the United States and Europe.  We are committed, as Shuja is, to waging peace on the subcontinent

The South Asia Center has hosted the opinion leaders, key officials and ambassadors from the subcontinent over the past few months.  It also interacts with many of our other programs because the issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan also get to our NATO work and our international security work

We had Sec. Gen. Rasmussen here at the Atlantic Council who focused on Afghanistan in his first major address in the United States in his new job.  Sen. Lugar, on the same day, spoke to the issue as well.  This is yet another opportunity for the council to initiate constructive debate on this.  So Ashraf, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to host you and we look forward to your remarks.  (Applause.

ASHRAF GHANI:  Fred, thank you for that very generous introduction.  It’s always a pleasure to be here and to be among friends.  Legitimacy is in serious distress in Afghanistan.  So therefore, it needs rescuing.  I am going to make five sets of remarks:  First, this is not a pessimistic view.  There’s an opportunity for focused thinking.  Two, the costs of a fragmented U.S. approach have become clear and now there’s a call for clear thinking.  Three, Gen. McChrystal’s plan is truly strategic, but limited to security.  Fourth, getting politics right matters.  And fifth, we need a plan of action to rescue legitimacy

So first, the election process heightened the crisis of legitimacy.  No one is going to call this election fair or legitimate.  The United Nations dropped the ball and a group of Afghans deliberately stole the election.  The international community was told in very clear terms both by Afghan civil society and by actors as to what was going to happen and at what scale, and they ignored it.  Lessons to be learned in the future is that the United Nations cannot be entrusted to conduct free and fair elections.  There needs to be a different way of doing this

Second, there is now consensus on the strengths of the insurgency both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Until near eight months ago, we could have been in denial regarding the strength of the insurgency and could have gotten ourselves to think, oh, that’s a passing phenomenon.  Now, with the news that you’ve heard this morning and all this week, the issue regarding the nature of the threat that is posed is crystal clear and cannot be ignored.  Three, it’s very interesting that Saudi Arabia is, for the first time, publicly offering an anti-al-Qaida alliance.  Prince Turki’s op-ed is a very significant marker in this regard

And fourthly, governance is critical both to legitimacy and security.  The issue of governance in Afghanistan was ignored for 5 years continuously by Washington, by NATO and by the rest of our allies.  They kept under the delusion that corruption was a passing phenomenon, corruption as general, and what could you do about it

Now it is clear that bad governance is going to cost American and European lives as well as Afghan lives and we need a different approach.  So because of this, we now cannot ignore the nature of the problems.  For many years, there was no consensus on the nature of the problem.  The good news today is that there’s clarity regarding the nature of the problems

Two, the approach of the United States to Afghanistan has been fragmented during the last 8 years.  So what are some of the tensions?  First, there has been lack of clear clarity on goals, on rules and on resources.  The Bush administration never defined a clear goal for Afghanistan.  It did not put a set of rules in place to direct its interventions and it under-resourced the war because it was fighting another war

Two, there’s been an uneasy balance between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  The first orientation, of course, was counterterrorism.  Because of it, the United States made alliances with so-called warlords because in a counterinsurgency approach, population really does not matter.  Who are the Afghan people to matter in the equation?  And the decisions were made very deliberately to ignore the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people and focus on a set of alliances that would get the job done.  The problem was that it did not get the job done

So gradually but systematically, the shift occurred towards a doctrine of counterinsurgency.  The U.S. Army, among the actors on the ground in Afghanistan, has been a truly learning organization.  There is nowhere a matching record on the part of the civilians but the Army has changed fundamentally and for the better.  The skills that the Army is bringing to Afghanistan are very impressive now, and they have learned the hard way

Third, but as much as the Army has improved, USAID has declined.  So the problem of a dysfunctional foreign aid bureaucracy that is captured by Beltway firms through a contracting mode is becoming very clear.  Gen. McChrystal is now highlighting the question of international corruption with as much significance as Afghan corruption

And here is precisely the problem:  The Army is being asked to step into functions that civilians are supposed to be performing.  Some estimates indicate that 25 percent of the U.S. Army in Afghanistan are doing civilian jobs.  Because the Army simply takes orders and does what it’s told – that civilians cannot be ordered to these locations, the rules and regulations are very different

And last observation here:  The administration’s strategy from March 2009 has been rendered obsolete by events.  That strategy was not a strategy because it was a set of desirable objectives without the hard choices that were necessary to give people on the ground a map to the future.  The security component was quite well worked out.  That’s why it provided the basis for very novel thinking on the part of Gen. McChrystal.  But the political and governance components were a wish list.  And because the decisions were then not made, now, the decisions have to be made

And then this brings us to the newest major event, which is Gen. McChrystal’s plan.  This, I would describe as a document that is truly strategic but confined to security because that is his mandate.  But it is not a U.S. strategy; it is an ISAF strategy.  And the distinction between an ISAF strategy and a U.S. strategy must be very clearly grasped

Why is this report so important?  Because the public debate is just focused on numbers.  The report needs to be appreciated for the depth and novelty of its thinking.  First, the threat of insurgency, the document argues, is enhanced by a predatory government and ISAF’s own lack of adherence to COIN.  No other actor on the ground has made as succinct and as honest and as comprehensive an analysis as Gen. McChrystal

So first, the threat of insurgency is very real.  It’s not underappreciated.  In the past, this was continuously the trend.  Nobody wanted to hear bad news.  Two, the Afghan government is viewed as predatory and, therefore, part of the threat.  And Afghan political brokers are viewed as part of the threat.  I’m glad that the argument that I made as part of the 10-year plan in the Atlantic Council is now reflected in this thinking.  And three, ISAF is not adhering to COIN.  So ISAF’s first priority is to actually accept and practice COIN

And the second major observation, of course, is that the heart of counterinsurgency doctrine is politics because without a political framework, counterinsurgency cannot succeed.  The first prerequisite of counterinsurgency is a government that is committed to governing.  Very simple to state; extremely complex to do.  That’s how Vietnam was lost, but Malaysia succeeded

But here is the problem:  The military thinkers can highlight the need for the political framework; they cannot do it themselves.  And hence the tension, the inherent tension, in this paper.  Where is the political component?  Where is the governance component?  And how are they going to be aligned?  So the number of troops could be more or less depending on what assumptions you make about politics and governance

And because of this, the last key observation is that both international governance and Afghan governance are constrained to the implementation of COIN.  The way foreign aid in Afghanistan is organized is not assisting the mission of the military.  The way the Afghan government is organized is not assisting the mission of the military.  And now, the military grasps this as the constraint, but it needs other components of governance to bring this forward

So therefore, we get to governance and politics.  First is the gap – to notice the gap.  The McChrystal report is yet to be matched by an equally clear paper on governance and politics from the United States’ side or from NATO’s side.  Until that type of paper is produced – or papers are produced – there is going to be this additional burden on the security doing all the thinking, but on the ground, being constrained

In here, again, we are finally having the goal very clearly identified by recent U.S. thinking.  And the goal is restoration of Afghan sovereignty as the mechanism of an exit strategy.  If international forces are to exit from Afghanistan within a defined period of time, then the goal has to be restoration of Afghan sovereignty

And the first criteria of that is the Afghan government has to have control over its territory – some form or shape.  Here, the difference between governance and politics is governance is about how.  How do you get things done?  Not what do you do or why do you do them, but how do you do them?  And civilian capability is remarkably thin on the question of how.  What they want to do is to say what they did in Iraq or what they did in Bosnia, but not how to do things in Afghanistan.  This requires considerable novelty in thinking

And governance – politics – so we come back – now requires three levels of thinking and three levels of clarity.  First, what are Washington’s politics and what are Washington’s political aims?  The 1-year framework in the McChrystal report is not dictated by reality in Afghanistan; it is the schedule of the political calendar in Washington.  And that’s the reality within which one has to think, but this should not be confused with the pace of time on the ground

Second, is the national politics of Afghanistan – because tomorrow, most likely the Electoral Complaints Commission is going to make its decision known.  And either way, there is going to be a field of immense tension and uncertainty resulting from that discussion.  So we need to get the framework

And three is the region.  This insurgency – a lot of COIN is based on the doctrine of a national government opposed to a nationalist insurgency.  This insurgency is very clearly regional in context, and now we need to get the regional dynamics of politics right.  And that, of course, is its own complexities

Now, in terms of the civilians, the point that I’d like to make is that it’s quality that matters, not numbers.  Forty strategic thinkers are much better than 4,000 inexperienced people running around Afghanistan.  Some of the most highly qualified United States personnel who are putting their lives on the line – you know what they’re doing?


They’re digging wells and supervising the building of schools.  We have been digging wells in Afghanistan for 5,000 years.  We have been digging wells for each other, too.  So I think selectivity is really key.  A civilian surge vis-à-vis military is not the right direction.  We need to have a lot more clear thinking and put Afghans in positions of responsibility

Now, this brings me to the key last point of observations:  rescuing legitimacy.  And the core of rescuing legitimacy is to shift the partner from being the Afghan government to being the Afghan people.  Unless the shift takes place to the Afghan people, you’re not going to get legitimacy or stability.  And here is the critical insight, again, of the McChrystal report, resulting from COIN thinking.  If the population is the center of gravity, than predatory and corrupt political brokers cannot be the partners

This is not compatible with COIN in a population-centered approach.  There is a very disturbing report from Helmand province – Helmand is the size of West Virginia, largest province in Afghanistan – written by a young American who works for the Institute for War.  The British conquered the district with immense sacrifice and really, really hard fighting.  Then the Afghan police went in to provide governance and this young American interviewed a number of parents.  And you know what was their largest complaint?  The police was raping their young boys continuously.  And they welcomed back the Taliban with open arms; as they said, that does not happen under them

So we need to get a sense of reality when we are saying Afghan security institutions need to increase to 400,000 in size.  With what quality?  With what governance arrangements and with what type of relationship with the population?  Politics is the art of the possible, so imagination always going to be at play.  The issue here is setting parameters for the Afghan government that are controlled.  Without setting those parameters of acceptability, the confusion will go on.  So certain objectives – for the Afghan government to be recognized as a partner, the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people must take priority

That means that the United States and other partners need to be oriented towards the population and serve as checks on the abusive authority of predatory government.  And here, we need to come back and recognize the opening.  Electoral fraud in Afghanistan is produced a systemic shock.  This is equivalent to what the nuclear industry experienced after the Three Mile Island explosion.  It’s not a job for repairmen; it’s not a question of fixing this valve or that.  It requires understanding that systemic shock has occurred and one needs a systemic answer.  Legitimacy has to be won inch-by-inch and square-by-square.  Otherwise, one is confused

So what are the options and what will be the consequences?  There are four options for government.  One is a coalition government.  Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Karzai get together because they are both the government.  They both ran as government candidates and with government apparatuses.  This will produce a temporary stability, but it would not produce the sustainable results that the McChrystal Report demands

But it is possibly the most likely action, or one of.  But the consequence of this needs to be understood.  How will the Taliban perceive this?  As restoration of the ’91-’96 group that they fought and defeated, and they would like nothing better than to say that they are fighting a restorationist regime.  And what would be the sustainability of this needs to be looked into

The second is the opposite – that an international parallel government is established, that one builds from the current effort in the provinces upwards and essentially ignores the Afghan government.  It is an option, but the sustainability of it of course depends on public support in the United States and in Europe.  This is a 15-20 year proposition, so if people are getting this, they need to understand the timeframe.  It will have parallels to the experience in Korea – South Korea – and it was successful.  So it’s not that it doesn’t work, but the commitment that is required is long-term, and whether that type of commitment can have political support here

The third would be to form a transitional government.  We had a transitional government from 2002 to 2005; it stabilized the country, because transitional governments have very focused mandates, and one key criterion for a transitional government would be that anybody who serves on major positions in it would not be eligible to run for election.  That would end it, because that’s the only way to clean up the electoral process and the institutional mechanisms

And fourth is a national government, which means that a political consensus has to be reached, that short-term sacrifices are accepted by all political actors in order to get medium to long-term benefits.  A national government would be not a national-unity government in the model of Kenya or Zimbabwe, because here, the goals of delivery to the public have to be very specific.  One has to understand that there is a crisis of legitimacy and regaining legitimacy means, a very deliberate process.  So temporal orientations to the future – what do you do?


You start from the results that you need to deliver and work towards them.  None of these options is a desirable option, but they are the only feasible options.  We are not in Afghanistan now in a period to think about desirable.  That was 2002, it was missed; that was 2005, it was missed; it was beginning of 2009, it was missed.  It’s how to make – to rescue something out of a flawed process, not to arrive at a green field and put any design that is desirable

And here I want to conclude with two observations.  First, gaining the trust of the population will require delivery of services with increasing transparency and accountability.  This means tackling corruption front and center.  Otherwise, the Afghan population has no interest to engage.  Afghan population is reverting to habits that it has honed in for 5,000 years – survival.  They want to protect themselves from a predatory insurgency and from a predatory government, so they will change the color of their coats or their flags depending on who controls the village that day

But if one wants to gain them to the side of the government and the international community, then one has to focus on them and their understanding of how legitimacy – and here, it’s important to say that the Afghan public still is desirous of a deep engagement with the United States.  The United States is still much more popular than the Afghan government.  It is not the level of popularity of 2002, which was 96 percent, but it’s still in the 60s.  It’s not Egypt or the rest of the Arab Middle East.  And this type of outcome can be achieved if hard choices are made in a timely manner

Particularly for the government of the United States, it’s time to make strategic choices.  Our strategy is about choice; it is not about desirables.  So if hard choices are made and the consequences clearly understood, then I think one can really get progress, but if those hard choices are not made, then conditions would not be conducive to rescuing legitimacy, but on the contrary, diving deeper into a full-blown crisis which would be both national, regional and global.  This presidency’s future in part rests on getting Afghanistan right, as does the future of my people, so I hope that the right choices are made.  Thank you.  (Applause.

MR. KEMPE:  Ashraf, it’s rare that I can say that you’ve over-expected expectation, but you over – you over-accomplished expectations.  I thought that was a brilliant presentation, and thought provoking, not only for us in the room, but I think it should be thought provoking for the Obama administration.  You closed with a strong statement – “this presidency’s future in part rests on getting Afghanistan right.”  Clearly, the future of your country does

I’m going to ask you a couple of questions, and then I’ll turn to the audience for questions as well.  The four options you’ve laid out, would you like to pick one of those?  Which one of these do you think is most doable, and how do you do it?


MR. GHANI:  My answer for this is that every single one of them is doable.  You know, I am now not speaking as an actor, but as an analyst, and the question – when I reformed the Russian coal sector in Russia or advised on China or advised Nepal, I put options.  It’s not for me to say which option should be, because that’s advocates, and a lot of those would be seen as me wanting a position in the government.  And I have made it very clear I’m not willing to serve

I’m willing to put a framework, because I am highly controversial and if I pick the position, they would immediately say, oh, he wants to become the chief executive officer.  That’s not the way legitimacy is going to be rescued.  But the consequences of each can be drawn; each as a feasible thing.  It depends on different resources, different capability.  For instance, option two, creating a parallel international administration, is feasible provided there is a 15-20 year commitment to it.  Is that politically feasible in Washington?  Only Washington can answer

MR. KEMPE:  Well, let me put it a little bit more provocatively.  If the presidency, if the Obama administration and if the presidency’s future in part rests on getting Afghanistan right and if these are the four only feasible options, and if my analysis is right that the Obama administration at this point in its considerations isn’t thinking of any one of these four, then, ergo, the Obama administration is going to get it wrong and therefore the presidency will go down on the back of Afghanistan

MR. GHANI:  Yeah.  I mean, the way to rescue is to – the two of those options.  A national government would rescue this presidency in terms of stability.  Their objective would be an agreement, time-bound, over how to restore Afghan sovereignty.  And here, it’s really interesting

You know, I campaigned in the heartland of the Taliban and I wasn’t killed.  Because one of the reasons I wasn’t killed was that I was arguing that I was going to shut down Bagram and all detention facilities in Afghanistan – international detention facilities in Afghanistan – within 3 years.  They loved it, and – but the interesting part was that nobody said why less than 3 years?  That’s the realism of the Afghan people, because to change the Afghan penal institutions to a credible manner is a project that is not going to be achieved in less than 3 years.  Afghans understand sequence, but they want to be assured that there is a process that meets their goal

If a national government were put, it would have these series of objectives – you cannot have 150 objectives.  That’s a recipe for getting nothing right.  I used to teach a course at the World Bank on how to do the right conditionality, and we would start the day – it was a two-day exercise.  With 150 conditions, we will end up with five.  Five meaningful conditions are far more significant than 150 meaningless ones, because the other party will pick the easy ones and then say we have done 60 percent

So within that, what do we need?  You’re a brilliant journalist and analyst; put yourself 10 months from now.  If you were back in the Journal, what story would you write to say that things were going right in Afghanistan? Or Christina?  I would like to get 10 of you together to tell me what – how you, as very experienced journalists, would judge success and orient the effort in that way, because that is how you produce success.  And the key to that is because you go and interview the Afghan public, and they will be the source of the judgment

The easy part in Afghanistan is that there are so many problems that you can actually pick your successes quite easily, because the key now is to assure the population that there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a pathway for moving forward, that uncertainty can be managed.  So under a national-government option this can be done, and it would save a lot of American lives and a lot of troops.  Because the troops numbers, for instance.  The troop numbers are arrived now because there is an assumption that the Afghan police is criminal, to put it bluntly, and the Afghan army is weak

But we have 135,000 demobilized officers who know every inch of the ground.  Politically, nobody made the decision to bring them in.  You could actually create a security force that is trained in counterinsurgency, only it was trained by the Soviets in counterinsurgency.  It’s quite nationalist in composition.  So the minute one shifts to the how part, one can get a lot of things right, and it produces stakeholders

So a transitional government would be an equally feasible proposition because it would have two tasks: hold the election; hold a clear – you know, an election that meets the criteria of free and fair, or at least credible, secure and inclusive.  That would require something like two years.  The second would be to reach out to the Taliban for a political agreement so that they would participate in the election.  A lot of insurgencies finally have to end up in the political domain

MR. KEMPE:  But what you clearly are saying – when you say, corrupt political brokers cannot be actors, you’re clearly saying, then, Karzai cannot be an actor

MR. GHANI:  Karzai can or cannot be; depends on how you construct the system.  The problem that – is that in the last five tears, Karzai was treated as the Bush administration as the sole government of Afghanistan.  He told me a story.  He was coming I think to Camp David, and the U.S. ambassador prepped him six hours on the way on the plane for a series of very hard messages, saying, you know, you really need to reform, Mr. President, President Bush is going to tell you.  And when he met with President Bush, President Bush tapped him on the shoulder and said, I understand your difficulties, don’t worry.  When he came back, there was zero commitment to change

So messages matter.  And the issue is not the person.  We focus too much on a person.  You know, I worked with Karzai from 2002 to 2004, and the way to manage him is to give him options and timelines, but the Bonn process, the way we had constructed, it had very tight timelines.  So you could not postpone a decision.  No decision got postponed by a week, but the minute he became an elected president, he would sit on a decision for 2 years.  Realism is not to say that you ignore every reality.  Karzai is now a force, and a force that can further violence.  So how to bind and bring them together is important

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  I’m going to ask one more question and then turn to your questions, and please identify as you ask them.  This question will have two parts, and I suppose it has to do with how we handle things in the U.S. domestically

You did write a 10-year framework for Afghanistan for us at the Atlantic Council before the election, which I think – it’s still on our Web site, I think we have some copies outside.  But it’s really worth reading, because it steals the thunder of those who say, Afghanistan just can’t be fixed; why are we there?  It lays out how it can be and it lays out why it can be and what resources and economic factors it has, so let’s lay that aside

Here’s the question:  You said politics is the art of the possible.  The framework – the Obama administration has to deal with, for better or worse, is shorter because he’ll be re-elected and he has to show some progress in Afghanistan soon.  Is it possible to achieve anything you’re talking about, or is the American political system sort of gravitating against that?


The second part of that is, you were talking about McChrystal’s report not being accompanied by a report on governance and politics.  Who should be doing that report?  Is anyone doing it?  Is it Holbrooke?  Is it the U.N.?  Where should that report be done and is anyone working on it?


MR. GHANI:  On the first one, a lot can be done within a year.  A year is both a very short time and a very long time.  The most critical part is the following:  Decide on a set of achievable goals, not on a set of unachievable goals.  The United States has a habit of setting itself up for failure because it sets such ambitious goals that then, it criticizes itself for not achieving them

The goals have to become feasible.  Tell the public, both American and Afghan, that these are the goals and you are going to achieve them.  Then, as you achieve them, tell them again that you’ve achieved them.  And repeat the cycle.  That’s how we managed Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004 and everybody was giving us credit

A set of constructs can still be met.  For instance, a third of the population lives in cities.  Transforming six municipalities is not rocket science.  I can do it in my sleep.  But if you got six municipalities to say things are really going right – and it’s as simple as, at times, paving 400 kilometers of roads in Kabul.  Because then they will say something is visibly happening to change my life.  Or providing X number of trained people to be hired on $2 a day

When cost of 1000 U.S. soldiers for a year is $1 billion, $400 million public works is a very small price if one can avoid those numbers.  So these tradeoffs can and must take place.  This is why the “how” part really matters.  I think precisely because now, Afghanistan is a domestic issue in the United States, it is likely that critical decisions will be made soon.  So that’s the – my reading, because if it were not a domestic issue, the way it was not under President Bush, the decisions would have not been made

Precisely the decision-making moves to high gear when something moves to the domestic agenda.  So getting this war right – it’s, for better or worse, President Obama’s war.  And his credentials in the security field depend, now, on getting it right.  You’re second –


MR. KEMPE:  The McChrystal report in a governance and political sense

MR. GHANI:  Yes, the governance and political sense, it will have to be Amb. Holbrooke’s office.  I think they’re working on it.  But we hope that it will come soon, and it would have the matching clarity, and then the synthesis that needs to take place.  That synthesis can only take place in the National Security Council

Peter Rodman’s book on presidential decision-making is enormously interesting because he reviewed it from President Nixon all the way to President George W. Bush.  And he makes one point:  The bureaucracy here is too complicated and risk of stalemate is too high unless the National Security Council intervenes and manages an issue that matters to a president

So I think our friend Gen. Jones is going to be in the critical position of making those strategic choices.  And once they are made, then the rest of the bureaucracy can be aligned with it.  But Congress, also, has a very significant role.  For instance, reform of U.S. foreign aid is a very long-drawn process.  We cannot hope that it will be achieved within 2 years.  But treating Afghanistan as a pilot for reform of foreign aid is a very practical idea

Gen. McChrystal says that ISAF operates with a cultural poverty, in terms of resourcing.  But actually, I would rephrase it and say that it operates with a culture of inefficiency.  American current aid in Afghanistan could be made six to nine times more effective with two to three changes in congressional mandating authorities, both for USAID and for Department of Defense.  So money can be made a lot more effective if there were certain changes

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you very much.  Please

Q:  Barry Schweid, Associated Press.  Did I hear you right – you expect the electoral commission to report tomorrow?


MR. GHANI:  That’s my expectation

Q:  And do you think they will have found sufficient fraud to suggest a runoff election, and does a runoff mean that top two finishers, or – that’s what it usually means

MR. GHANI:  Yes, the answer has three parts.  The first is, my understanding is that an announcement is likely tomorrow or the day after.  Two, the current understanding is that it is likely that they would not declare President Karzai the winner.  They would not declare President Karzai the winner

But that means that the electoral complaints – there are two commissions, for the sake of people in the room.  There’s an independent election commission that is staffed completely by Afghans and there is a panel called the election complaints commission.  And the majority of the latter are international

An Afghan who was very closely allied with Mr. Karzai resigned two days ago and made a horrible scene on television attacking the foreign machinations, et cetera.  Peter Galbraith has argued, very strongly, I think today, that the signs are that the electoral complaints commission would have disqualified enough votes to bring out a runoff.  A runoff, under Afghan constitution, means a contest between the two top contenders

MR. KEMPE:  And that would be President Karzai and Abdullah


MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Please

Q:  What would you think if the United States had, as its number one strategy, a Marshall Plan concept for Afghanistan focusing on increasing the standard of living of the people, and brings in our allies in Russia and China to help in that effort?


MR. GHANI:  That’s what I’ve been advocating, so the plan that you would see – the 10-year framework – is very much based not just in terms of the money of the Marshall Plan, but the design of the Marshall Plan.  And here again, the article that Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia wrote is very significant.  It’s the first time that a member of the royal family has made a very strong argument that al-Qaida is the enemy of Saudi Arabia, Russia and China and he’s calling for an alliance of those powers to be mobilized against al-Qaida

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, sir.  A lot of hands up, so I’ll go as I’ve seen them.  So I’ll do my best

Q:  Thank you, I’m Christina Lamb from the Sunday Times.  I’ve been traveling, as you know, to Afghanistan since Russian times and I find it eerily familiar now, going back to Afghanistan, to those days back in the ’80s, where the Russians just controlled district centers.  And it feels a very similar situation.  How do you – or how does the international community convince Afghans that they’re really there to help them when the Taliban seem to have been so effective, now, in convincing people that this is yet another foreign occupation?


And on top of that, I just wanted to say that I thought your point of people being caught between a predatory government and a predatory insurgency is so true of the situation.  When you go into villages, everybody that you talk to say that they’re on the fence, but they’re caught between Taliban who come in and terrify them and a government, which is usually in the form of police that want bribes.  And it seems to me that one of the other big problems is that many of the people that you talk to in those villages have no jobs, and there are many, many people sitting around with nothing to do

MR. GHANI:  Well, thank you.  And of course, you’ve known Afghanistan and reported on it for many years.  There’s two lists of things.  One is really irritants, and it flows from the mixture of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency

You know, I talked to hundreds of thousands of people, particularly in the South.  The number one issue is, under Islamic law, a house is a haven – nobody can enter it.  And Special Forces enter – and not only enter; they enter in the dead of night and they take people from their beds and they bring dogs to boot.  Dogs are considered dirty

The reason this is an irritant is that, you know, if 4,000 people need to be arrested, there are multiple ways of arresting them.  This actually does not solve anything.  Dropping a one-ton bomb on a village is not the recipe for winning minds and hearts.  But the good news – the part is that Gen. McChrystal crystal clearly understands this and is arguing this.  This is where I’m arguing that the U.S. Army has been a true learning organization and has understood

The number of colonels now in the U.S. Army that really have a wide strategic expanse of thinking is incredibly impressive, compared to 8 years ago.  So there’s been thinking along those lines.  These irritants needs to be – I want to cite a conversation very briefly.  I had two journalists, George Packer and Clive Crook, at my house with 100 students

And the first 45 minutes were horrible.  The students started screaming.  They accused the British of running drugs, the Americans of supporting the Taliban, et cetera, et cetera.  Incidentally, President Karzai has just made similar remarks and Amb. Ikenberry has just rejected it.  But 45 minutes in, I think George asked, so do you want us to leave, then?  And all of a sudden, the mood changed.  No!  You know, if the U.S. is not here, we’ll tear each other apart.  So the issue was, then, it’s a difference

So part of it – this is an incredibly strong battle for legitimacy.  If the Afghan public is to be convinced that this intervention is different, then it comes to the how of the intervention.  They have to – so what’s the primary issue now?  Security.  You’ve probably reported on how many Afghan businessmen have been kidnapped.  There’s $18 billion of Afghan money in the last 5 years that has migrated from Afghanistan to the Gulf

Yes, we have an immense problem of unemployment – 54 percent, probably.  But the money that is supposed to solve this cannot be secured because no Afghan businessman now comes for more than two days to Kabul, and during that time, does not want to reveal his whereabouts.  So they operate.  Believe it or not, Afghan money is going to Turkmenistan and Iran for investment because we’ve failed to create the living environment.  So getting those things right, as you probably recall – Afghans can prioritize very easily, whether it is at the village level or the national level

What is required is a national partner that can act on the basis of priorities that Afghans see, not on the basis of priorities alone that they feel that the Afghans need.  If that matching takes place – and that was the genius of the Marshall Plan – then one can bring the two parts together

MR. KEMPE:  Please, right here in the front

Q:  My name’s Arnold Zeitlin.  I was the first resident Associated Press correspondent in Pakistan with a mandate to cover Afghanistan.  Barry, good to see you again.  You mentioned that a government has to have control over its territory.  If the Taliban controls most of the territory outside of Kabul, one, is it the government?  Two, is there a fifth option, which is ceding control to the Taliban and its allies?


MR. GHANI:  Well, thank you for both questions.  The Taliban is not controlling territory like a government.  It is not set up, except with very rare exceptions, actual administrative apparatus.  It has appointed 34 governors as a shadow government, but that is not the model of the Chinese insurgency or the Malay insurgency or the others that really starts delivering some really basic capabilities

The area that they have succeeded is justice.  And they have an ombudsman, interestingly enough, against their own officials, because the number of people who now present themselves as Taliban and perpetuate heinous crimes is increasing because it’s characteristic of insurgencies.  Two, the option depends upon the type of outcome you want and the assessment of what they represent

Q:  So you’re saying it is an option

MR. GHANI:  I’m not saying it is an option.  I’m saying your question implied it is an option.  I don’t want to argue with you that it is not an option, because if you’re thinking of it as an option, then analytically, it’s a possibility.  But the consequences of that option is what needs to be clearly drawn.  Because of course, you know, implied in my talk is the winning – as Gen. McChrystal makes very clear, that this is a time that the Taliban could win

But then what needs to be grasped is, what would an Afghanistan dominated by them look like, and would we be comfortable, both as Afghans and as the international community with that

Q:  Could you expand on that?  What would the consequences be?


MR. GHANI:  The consequences would vary.  First would be whether al-Qaida and Taliban separate or not.  There is a strand of the Taliban that is becoming increasingly nationalist, but there is another strand that is becoming stridently globalist.  The globalist part of it is a threat to global stability; the nationalist part could be accommodated

You know, the warlords with whom the United States partnered are criminals.  Some of the Taliban are criminals; not all of them are criminals the way others are.  So you know, it depends on who within them – because they’re factional; they’re not one, unified Taliban group – which faction would be in dominance and how they would see and how they would engage

And particularly, the issue would be what would be their stance on the use of Afghan territory by international networks?  What would be their relationship in terms of hosting regional insurgencies?  Will they be a threat to Central Asia?  Will they be a threat to Iran?  Et cetera.  These issues need to be asked, and depending on them.  The answer to those issues, hitherto, has been that they would be a serious threat.  Whether that still continues to be the case needs to be looked into

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  The third row there – the two gentlemen, one after the other.  And then I’ll go back here

Q:  Mark Schneider, International Crisis Group.  Good to see you again.  In thinking about the possibility of an election runoff, which may be called for as a result of the ECC decision, how do you get from that point to either of your two options – transitional or national government – given that, that would then either result in a runoff in two weeks with questionable feasibility or at some delayed point?  But how would you then get there in terms of the constitution, et cetera?


And the other is, you mentioned that there hasn’t been a report on the political or governance side of the equation.  And I’m wondering whether you saw the McChrystal-Ikenberry civilian-military plan in early August and what your comments would be about that

MR. GHANI:  Sure.  I saw the report.  That’s not the level of granularity and also, major strategic decision-making.  That’s an embassy-ISAF memo of understanding.  And like a lot of memos of understanding, I think the time has passed; it needs revision.  The goals were not at the level of feasibility

They’re desirable goals, every single one of them.  Feasibility within one year with the political crisis on our hands, I think, requires rethinking.  But the fundamental issues are not at this level; it’s the level of what type of Afghan government – you know, what type of governance in Afghanistan.  That cannot be answered by the embassy

MR. KEMPE:  But I think part of his question is, a runoff election doesn’t result –


MR. GHANI:  No, I’m coming – yeah, I’m coming to that.  On the question of the runoff elections and how do you get to either arrangement, in terms of – a second round is going to be a horribly ethnic contest.  There’s no program that divides the two men.  It’s going to be an appeal to who?  So the way to avoid this and get to a national government is to secure an agreement on a governance framework that both parties and other actors adhere to.  That’s the way to get out of this

You know, one of my points of advocacy during the election process was – as an analyst, not an actor; it wasn’t officially, of course – was, this was a game without rules.  The international community, particularly the United Nations, failed in its role of facilitating a set of agreements:  what constitutes winning, what constitutes losing, what constitutes fraud.  All these things are predictable.  You know, you’ve done this in your reporting.  When you go to a second election in the fifth most corrupt country – or government – on earth, you take some precautions

I think that there is need for an international blue-ribbon panel to look at the U.N.’s record and say why did they get it so wrong and what lessons need to be drawn from this.  So the way to avoid it is to start a discussion on a common program.  Then parties agree to this.  You can have an international convener of the caliber of Lakhta Ibrahim (ph) because he’s widely respected.  We need a figure like that to negotiate, literally, a Bonn II.  But it would be called Kabul I because now, the actors are on the ground

That agreement – that type of intense discussion – would bridge the gap because the contest is personal-based; it is not based on the basis of fundamental differences.  And they have not proposed radical alternatives that can be divided.  So I think here is where creative diplomacy is of the essence.  And as part of creative diplomacy, you put two options on the table.  One, all of you guys vacate seat of government for two years.  It’s a transitional government.  And you bring a group like Moeen Qureshi was brought to Pakistan, et cetera

The minute they see this, they will say, oh, we can’t protect ourselves being outside the government.  So then the option of a national government becomes a feasible one because they start negotiating in earnest, in terms of SIG (ph) but also, they need to take the necessary sacrifices to bring out the type of change.  As a result of this, one scenario is that if the two major contestants agree, then $60 to $80 million more of money and six months more of time is spared.  Because the elections have lost their credibility.  With the same election commission – with the same government of Mr. Karzai rigging the boxes, only the scale of fraud is going to be slightly less problem

And also, given the nature of alliances, in a second round, Mr. Karzai will win.  Dr. Abdullah does not have the chance, statistically, of winning.  The nature of the alliance that Mr. Karzai has put are more powerful.  So – but the key is not to polarize the country – to avoid a polarizing situation where differences then – you know, ethnicity is problematic in Afghanistan; it is not toxic, yet.  The risk is that ethnicity could become toxic.  And if it reaches the level of toxicity, then we have a serious problem on our hands.  But ethnicity will become toxic from elite competition, not from the people-level competition

Because Christina will tell you, at the level of villagers, people come – you know, everybody is married to everybody.  They have a lot of complex sets of interactions.  It is the elite that is using ethnicity in the absence of something else to mobilize.  And the mobilization power needs to be appreciated, but needs to be contained.  We have to avoid Kenya, Zimbabwe and the Balkans.  This is our opportunity to avoid those type of situations.  So it literally is a situation where the international community should not focus on micro-processes, but on large goals

Constitutionally, the issue is, you’re outside of the constitution in the first place.  The term of – Mr. Karzai’s term legally ended on May 22nd.  It is not their constitution.  Article 131 of constitution specifies that if a situation arises where there’s not a provision in the constitution, then the supreme court can essentially legislate.  But we need a political agreement, then, to be endorsed by a legal system, not the other way around.  The supreme court is not respected enough and not independent enough to make this judgment

Article III – or, sorry, Article IV of the constitution again, says, “sovereignty is invested in the people of Afghanistan, but its exercise to its elected representatives.”  So parliament again.  There are ways.  The key is that the spirit of the constitution is more important than the letter because we are outside the letter

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you very much

Q:  Thank you so much.  Fawad Lami (sp) from Voice of America, Ashna TV.  Dr. Abdullah said today that if Karzai is announced again as a winner tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, he – I mean, Dr. Abdullah – will strongly defend himself.  So what’s – and the consequences will be, like – I mean, the government will be responsible for the consequences.  What’s your comment on this reaction?  Thank you

MR. GHANI:  This is irresponsible.  No Afghan has the right to threaten violence.  If violence starts, I’ll accept the position of the minister of the interior in the government and suppress it.  The people of Afghanistan did not enter this election to be threatened by violence by politicians.  We need to really understand the gravity of our responsibility.  Between ’91 and ’96, seven men could not agree; they destroyed the capital city and plunged us into 20 years of instability

Political responsibility means, first, putting people first.  We need, as public figures – and I’m speaking now as an actor, not as an analyst – to realize that our responsibility is, first and foremost, to our people.  Our people don’t want violence.  Anyone who threatens violence has to be disqualified from further participation in the government.  Dr. Abdullah is a respected man.  He has won a place.  He needs to look at the political process.  And anyway, the likely announcement is not likely to be the other side.  So I hope that the question of threat of violence – there are 20 gangs in Kabul that have drawn detailed plans to loot the city

They are looking for the first opportunity – even of a peaceful protest – to start bringing the mayhem.  Kabul is a tinderbox.  Every political actor needs to fully realize that you cannot play with fire because the person who starts the violence will not be forgiven and you cannot control the level of violence

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  And there’s so many people who want to talk – please, here.  And let me take two questions here – one and then also right in front – yeah

Q:  Thank you.  Jon Greenwald, also International Crisis Group.  I’d like to pursue, a little bit, the answer to the question you had before the immediately previous one.  You’ve said that President Karzai’s term of office ended legally last May but he got the supreme court to authorize a continuation

If, as expected, the electoral complaints commission says tomorrow or the next day that there’s going to have to be a runoff – and the great likelihood is, that can’t be done in two weeks; it can only be done after the winter weather is over, so five, six months from now – what would make President Karzai accept the type of scenario you’ve described – that is, a scenario in which he accepts a negotiation on basic, fundamental, national priorities?


Why wouldn’t he simply say, I’m president; I’ll continue as president for six months; I’ll win the election, because as you said, all likelihood is that he will win the election; and he would continue as before?  And is there something that can change that?  Is there a dynamic – a decision that could be taken in Washington or somewhere else?  And if there isn’t, would that be acceptable to the Afghan people?


MR. KEMPE:  Let me pick up one more question.  Please, here.  Thank you, Jon

Q:  Bill Neely from ITV News, British television.  You’ve just said that Kabul is a tinderbox, and I remember you telling me in Kabul in March that the Taliban are at the gates.  Where do you think they are now?  And the second point, which I don’t think you touched on in the speech, is the rapidly collapsing coalition

We have the Dutch leaving next year, the Canadians leaving in 2011, and the Canadians, per head of population, have lost more soldiers than anyone.  Populations in Britain and the U.S. are deeply against this war.  How important do you think all of that is, even if Stanley McChrystal sends in 40,000 more troops?


MR. GHANI:  Thank you, again, for two very – the set of questions.  On the first one – the question of incentive – President Karzai is always focused on tactics, never on strategy.  And that’s precisely why he has flexibility.  When he sees his interest, its state is willing to deal with any party and engage in any process.  Two, he understands the depth of the crisis of his legitimacy

Three, signaling really matters because he understands when Sec. Clinton says that the behavior of the Afghan government needs to fundamentally change if it is to be a partner, that signaling is important.  Fourth and last thing, legitimacy in Afghanistan, now, has two bases.  One is international; one is national.  The Afghan government is squeezed, in terms of its crisis of legitimacy, from both sides, and that’s the opportunity

Because the questions that our colleague made just after you is precisely the indication.  The international will is no – can no longer be taken for granted by Afghans.  And without international support, Mr. Karzai’s government would not last 10 days.  And he keenly understands this.  Whatever verbiage he puts elsewhere, he understands this.  The political crises of the last 5 years, had ISAF or NATO not been present, would have resulted in 10 coups and five rounds of war

So it’s these international forces that have stabilized the situation, to the extent to which the situation – in terms of system, Mr. Karzai would have not been able to exercise unilateral decision-making in the absence of ISAF.  So that’s the irony.  Because boundaries were not put for him, he managed to take a lot more decisions precisely because he was coup-proof

MR. KEMPE:  So in short, the international community has leverage it hasn’t used

MR. GHANI:  Yes, exactly.  It has leverage – substantial leverage.  The public opinion matters enormously because it’s three sets of opinions.  It’s the Afghan public; it’s the European public – European/Canadian that are on a different curve; and then the U.S. public.  If the three converge, that’s the end.  The Afghan public, because it turns its back and just says, this is not our business.  Let the politicians do whatever destructive things they’re doing; we are going to protect our compounds

The mentality in Kabul now, in Herat, Kandahar, it was long ago – and even Mazar – is “protect your compound.”  The government is not capable of protecting you.  It’s not capable of guaranteeing your security on the Ring Road, your freedom of movement and the essential things we take for granted.  So let’s make allies.  The price of guns is increased 300 percent in some locations in the last two months.  So that’s an indication that, you know, it becomes private

Because the key function of the state is to remove the privatization of the use of force.  And that, unfortunately, is going the other way.  Because of this – now, does it matter with 60,000, 40,000?  Yes, of course.  Because I agree with Gen. McChrystal that success and failure are both possible in this moment.  Under certain set of circumstances, if certain courses of actions are followed, failure would result.  But on the other hand, if another set of actions is undertaken, success is possible.  It is difficult, but it is by no means impossible

And the basic reason is, again, Taliban’s popularity is still 6 percent.  The Afghan public remembers the ’91 to ’96 civil war and the ’96 to 2001 – both wars and the Taliban hegemony.  They don’t like it.  They neither like the first half of the decade nor the second half of the decade.  And 70 percent of the population is under 22.  So the images that come from Afghans are not true because these under-22s are all engaged with global fashion – (chuckles) – you know, globalization has touched everybody.  Look at computer courses or look at learning of English

In the last 8 years, Afghans have probably learned English at the rate that Chinese were learning it in the early ’90s.  So there’s an engagement.  Their problem is not that they dislike the West; their problem is that they have not seen a single university in Afghanistan become a real university.  The field of opportunities are not open.  And that’s why success is possible; there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit.  And if that low-hanging fruit were identified and picked, I think you could get a group of stakeholders

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Ashraf.  Let me – yeah

MR. GHANI:  Oh, on the Taliban –


Q:  (Off microphone.

MR. GHANI:  The Taliban are operating in Kabul.  Their main problem in Kabul is finding enough houses for rent.  (Laughter.)  No, this is serious.  Because along the highway, if you move 10 meters from the highway, they have absolutely no difficulty.  But finding homes – houses in Kabul for rent from which to launch operations is a difficulty.  They’re earnestly focused on that

But I predicted, again, you know the number of suicide attempts in Kabul – and I brought it to your attention – and unfortunately, they happened.  I had also brought to your attention that they were going to move in a major way on the northeast and change the dynamic.  And that happened, too

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Let me take – so many people, this is – you can see that people are hungry for learning and you are giving us so much food for thought.  Let me take one question in the front – Roger Kirk – and then one question by the camera in the back.  And I’ll try to get as – we have about 10 minutes left and I’ll try to get as much in as we can

Q:  Roger Kirk of the Atlantic Council.  My question really is, what influence – what is the connection between what’s happening in Afghanistan and what’s happening in Pakistan?  What has to be done in Pakistan to correct or help or not derail the situation in Afghanistan and vice versa?


MR. GHANI:  I knew you would ask the most difficult question.  (Laughter.)  Compliments again, to you, and to your remarkable service

MR. KEMPE:  And as you know, in the administration, one hears from many voices, “well, the problem is not really Afghanistan; the problem is Pakistan” – the greater problem

MR. GHANI:  Well, the problem with that level of thinking is that it always wants to isolate.  Afghanistan and Pakistan are joined at the hip.  You ignore one side – these are Siamese twins.  Either – and radical surgery is not an option.  (Chuckles.)  So you need to address both

The first issue is, Pakistan needs to define its national interests in the context of the 21st century.  Pakistan has failed to do this.  It’s carrying a lot of atavistic thinking from Lord Curzon.  No, it’s true because their notion of frontier, their notion of strategic depth is the notion that Lord Curzon put on the table.  It cannot look at Afghanistan in terms of strategic depth – namely, how it falls back militarily

Shuja Nawaz mentioned a very interesting remark by Gen. Kayani that he said, “I’m looking for strategic depth,” and then Shuja took this deep breath saying, “here he goes again,” but then the general interestingly said, “about economics, about relationships, about reaching out.”  So I think the first issue is that the civil and military components of Pakistan that have never agreed on a coherent way to make the state run need to reach an internal understanding.  Without that, we’re playing at the margins

Second, the security apparatus needs to understand that the actors that it managed for over 20 years have now become a threat to its own fundamental interests and the security of the state they love and cherish – and they do.  That realization is going to become the ground.  Three, we need facilitation to look at the Durand Line as a zone of cooperation and not as a zone of confrontation.  We need to treat this border as a 21st-century border – an open border where some of the poorest and most depressed people on earth live

And neither government is fulfilling the functions of governing.  And hence, al-Qaida’s ideal site to operate on two sides of the border.  And then we need, I think, to bring – Saudi Arabia is in a very good position, as is China.  Two actors that are important in this are Saudi Arabia and China because they’ve considerable leverage and long-term relationships and credibility with the government of Pakistan.  So if the dynamic was broadened to those two, we would be able, I think, to reach a set of understandings

And the economics, in my judgment is critical.  Shaukat Aziz, who was Mr. Finance, and I laid down the basis of cooperation and we had the system of outlines.  He and I could approach each other within five minutes and defuse the crises between our two presidents.  And for 3 years, we did.  Unfortunately, subsequently, that system didn’t work.  Fundamentally, the issue is trust building.  We need to hear that concerns of our Pakistani colleagues, the way they feel and not the way we think that they are paranoid

And they need to hear us as Afghans, not as their colony, not as their future colony, not as their potential colony – no Afghan will accept it – but as a partner.  And this ground for partnership needs to be created.  And there, you know, it’s – we need to do a France-Germany after World War II because the level of distrust is very similar to that type of distrust.  And it really requires some very imaginative thinking, and I think it is possible because the good news is, as societies, we’re remarkably alike.  And you find any Afghan abroad with any Pakistani, the friendships blossom overnight

And that is the basis.  And at least 3 million Afghans now speak Urdu because of the conditions.  So there are lots of cross-border ties.  So if the societal part and the economic part were brought to the pulpit, I think that the threat of the frontier can, first, be contained and then reduced and eventually eliminated

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Ashraf.  We’re not going to get to everyone, I’m sorry, we’re running out of time.  But let me take these two questions in the back from journalists.  I apologize to others

Q:  Nassim Stanazai (ph) Voice of America Afghanistan service.  Sir, you know that in the times of crisis, according to Afghan tradition, they would call or convene a loya jirga.  And as you mentioned, the crisis already exists.  The people lost their trust on elections and there are other crises of legitimacy, as you mentioned before.  Do you think convening a loya jirga can play a good role at this time?  And also, if time allows, I would like to know the role of Pakistan and Iran in the stability of Afghanistan.  Thank you

MR. KEMPE:  And one last question – I think there was – yes

Q:  Yes, my name is Suleiman Danishal (ph) – an Afghan, also – Afghan-American.  My question was, the proxy war between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, and do you think that’s a legitimate way of putting it – that there’s a proxy war – that that’s why they’re influencing Afghanistan?


MR. KEMPE:  So in four minutes, you can handle both of those very simple questions.  (Chuckles.

MR. GHANI:  On the first one, a loya jirga is relevant when there’s a consensus in the country that needs to be ratified.  The loya jirga is not the site of reaching a consensus.  Roughly the way I put it to President Karzai last time we met was, you can have a loya jirga when there’s 30 percent tension in the Afghan village.  Then the loya jirga can solve things.  But if there’s 90 percent tension in an Afghan village, the loya jirga will become the ground for confrontation, not for solution

We will need – if we form any path towards stability – within a year or two, a loya jirga.  But not today, because first, you need to reach agreement politically among actors or no.  And the number is not more than 500.  If you bring 500 critical actors and gather them, you can really hammer out an agreement if you had credible international facilitators and local will.  Then the trust-building mechanism needs to be put in place that reduces the tension among the adherents of these 500 actors – or on top of it, 50

Within that context, once the country is on a path of stability, then you bring the loya jirga.  This is the way we did the two loya jirgas under the Bonn process.  You know, I was camped there 16 hours a day in the two loya jirgas because one thing about an Afghan loya jirga can be said:  It cannot be micromanaged.  There is no power on earth that is going to micromanage an Afghan loya jirga.  It’s a genuine series of things

So how do you prepare for it?  You predict the points of crisis and you prepare an entire range of options so that then the actors can reach out in agreement.  For instance, the second loya jirga, the issue of language was going to be really critical.  So we prepared a set of options and eventually the text that I had written was adopted in the constitution to remove tensions about not declaring one language national but also allowing for a third language to emerge as the official language, depending on context

This completely defused a set of things, but had we not predicted it and fooled ourselves, saying, well, people are going to just accept the text that is in the draft.  So it’s important both to understand the legitimating functions of the loya jirga, but also not to over-exaggerate it as a mechanism of bringing consensus.  Because if you’re having 1,500 or 500 people, or the current composition the way it’s specified in the constitution, it’s going to be very difficult to reach consensus

On India and Pakistan, there is a perception, unfortunately, of a proxy war between intelligence services.  And one of the things that we need to do to remove that toxic effect is to really remove Afghanistan from being the bailiwick of contending intelligence services.  Those two are not the only ones; there are others, too.  But the fundamental problem is Afghan, not the neighbors.  The Afghan political elite has not reached agreement on what are the red lines of national interest.  In a – you know, an Uzbek understands that their national interest is

Iranians understand, despite the religious orientation of their state.  State interest is very clear to them.  So do Pakistanis.  We, unfortunately, have not reached that level of consensus.  So once we reach that, then I think we can deal with it.  The economic side of Indian assistance is very productive.  It is to be appreciated.  And trade relationships are going to be very significant.  The problem is India now is a great power and Pakistan is not, yet their mental models are to see each other – or Pakistanis to see India as an equal power.  I mean, they just need to acknowledge this is a different world

But adjusting to that reality is time – is something that requires time

MR. KEMPE:  Dr. Ashraf Ghani, before I thank you, I just want to say a couple of things.  Ashraf is on the international advisory board of the Atlantic Council and was on it long before I grew to know him in Kabul while you were finance minister

MR. GHANI:  I was finance minister, yes

MR. KEMPE:  And has been on it long before the election.  We did not take away your membership, and so you’ve stayed on it throughout

MR. GHANI:  Thank god.  (Chuckles.)  That was because he knew I would lose.  (Laughter.

MR. KEMPE:  Which brings me to my second point:  We are a bipartisan, nonpartisan organization.  We don’t take sides in U.S. election battles; we certainly don’t take side in Afghan election battles.  And we made that clear when you appeared before.  President Karzai has spoken to a group of young leaders we brought together in Bucharest.  We see this place as a place of debate.  We are most interested in outcomes, and the view we took of the election was, we wanted it to be clean and bring about legitimacy

I think part of the reason this is an important meeting is, I think, we all agree that, that didn’t happen.  We talked about the title today – whether it should be a crisis of legitimacy.  But that’s a very negative way of looking at things.  And so we looked at it as rescuing legitimacy.  And so I want to thank you for doing just what we want to do at this center, and Shuja, who has bravely set this up at a very important time, and that is, bring this kind of rich debate to move the discussion forward, because sometimes it is a little bit of a sterile discussion.  And I think it certainly was not that today.  So on behalf of the audience, thank you so much for taking the time and for enriching our day.  (Applause.

MR. GHANI:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.

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