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The Rediff Interview/Afghan Expert Sarah Chayes
'The US is really stupid'
October 16, 2006
Part I: 'Osama is not in Pakistan'
Part III: 'India should just shut up'
In your book you also criticise the US for playing ball with a lot of these warlords in Afghanistan, which in a sense inadvertently or otherwise undermines President Karzai. What's the basis of this charge?
Again, I saw it. I saw a situation, where Karzai, way back in 2001, had control of Kandahar, the Taliban was gone, Al Qaeda was gone, and so it's like we won. And then US soldiers egged on a warlord to take over Kandahar from Karzai's hands. I saw it happen, and I tried in every way I knew how to reduce the insidious power of these warlord governors, and I had no traction with the Americans. I believe it was mostly just a mistake. It was sort of default.
I don't think it was conscious policy, but it certainly was unbudgable once it started and the problem with that is that now people in Southern Afghanistan are saying, 'You know what, the government and the Taliban, they are both preying upon us. They are both extracting money from us. The Taliban at night are asking for food and the government in the daytime is shaking us down.'
So unfortunately, this policy or default of supporting warlords is what has ended up making room for the insurgency. In other words, Pakistan is creating it, but it's the Afghans who are also unhappy with their government. If their government were honest and not corrupt and not stealing money from them every time it could, they would defend their government. But this doesn't seem defensible.
Is it a given that the Karzai government really doesnt govern beyond Kabul?
Oh! Totally. It doesn't even govern Kabul. They hardly govern the palace.
Is it, because as you allege, there are these Pakistani agents within the government?
Exactly. Both of the warlord variety and there is a Pakistani variety.
So whats going on here? The US is backing Karzai to the hilt but you say he hardly has any control over Kabul, let along any clout and influence outside of the capital?
We (the US) are really stupid. The American government, is in a way, over its head and it doesn't understand that you need to have a really textured, rich, intimate, long-standing local knowledge of places like this before you start running around creating governments. And, the idea that you can have that kind of knowledge of a place like Afghanistan and a place like Iraq at the same time is ridiculous, with nobody who speaks the language, with foreign service officers rotating in and out every few months, and the same with the military.
It's a style of arrogance that to me goes even beyond colonial arrogance. At least during the colonial period, people came out and learnt the language, stayed a long time, they lived with the local population even if in a very hierarchical fashion. It was actually a lot less arrogant than what we are doing now.
You have also not pulled any punches over the lack of sufficient troops for fighting the so-called war on terror, that has now resulted in the resurgence of the Taliban, and pouring in more resources and diverting troops from Afghanistan into Iraq. How much of a major blunder was this, and was the timing completely off?
It was a major blunder to start Iraq when Afghanistan was so fresh. It is a blunder because we -- the United States -- just don't have the human resources. It's kind of an extension of what I just said.
We don't have the human resources to properly effect a transition from a government that is very detrimental to the population of a country as well as to the rest of the world, to a strong, healthy, democratic -- although democratic has almost become a bad word now -- government that takes into account the needs and the desires of its people, with a healthy economy. You can't do that in two different, difficult countries at the same time. We just don't have the resources. So in that sense it was a huge mistake.
Next: 'I thought it would be temporary'
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