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Ahmed Rashid: Obama's Options In Pakistan

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid discusses the challenges facing President Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His most recent book is Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.


Other segments from the episode on October 1, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 1, 2009: Interview with Ahmed Rashid; Commentary on the television show "Mad men."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Ahmed Rashid: Obama's Options In Pakistan


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. President Obama inherited the war in
Afghanistan, and now he has to decide on a strategy. General Stanley
McChrystal, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, warns
that the mission there will likely fail without a significant change in
strategy. He’s asked for 40,000 more troops.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports sending more troops. Former
Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed skepticism that more troops would
lead to success. Vice President Joe Biden has proposed an alternative plan that
would involve concentrating on air strikes against al-Qaida cells using special
forces and missiles.

We invited Pakistani journalism Ahmed Rashid to give us his analysis. He lives
in Lahore. He’s been a frequent guest on our show since 2000, when he published
his book “Taliban.” He’s covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for
about 30 years. His latest book is “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the
Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.” He has an article in the
current edition of the New York Review of Books titled “The Afghanistan

Ahmed Rashid, welcome back to FRESH AIR. General McChrystal has warned that
we’ll fail if we don’t have more troops in Afghanistan, but in order to win or
have success and not fail, we need to define what winning is, what the mission
is, which is one of the things President Obama is trying to do now. What do you
see as the options there - of the optional goals for the United States and NATO
in Afghanistan?

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist; Author, “Descent into Chaos: The United States
and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central
Asia”): Well, I think if the commitment slows down in any way, I think the
Taliban will take Kabul within six months to a year, and the situation will
deteriorate enormously. The Taliban will then seek local allies: Pakistan,
Iran, possibly China, the Arab Gulf states. And we will be back to the 1990s,
where of course the civil war in Afghanistan was fueled by neighboring
countries with various proxies.

Now, I think the McChrystal plan is, basically, he’s asking for more troops on
the basis of the new counterinsurgency strategy that was introduced into
Afghanistan last year by General Petraeus, who had introduced it in Iraq
earlier, where it has been quite successful. But the problem in Afghanistan is,
as far as the U.S. military, is that you can’t implement this counterinsurgency
strategy with the numbers of troops that you have. They’re just too few. So
that’s why I think primarily the demand is for more troops.

And his other main trust, of course, is that there has to be a civilian backup,
as there was in Iraq at the end, in other words more civilian experts,
technocrats coming in to build capacity in the government and carry out
development, invest in agriculture. Some of this has already started. I mean,
Richard Holbrooke has hired - the ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan
Richard Holbrooke, has hired a number of civilian technocrats who are already
starting programs on the ground.

But all this is going to need some more security, more troops, more money and
more time. And I think in Washington, the question of time is the most critical
thing because the Democrats, you know, don’t want to be in the midst of a war
during the congressional elections next year, and the Republicans would like to
see the Democrats bogged down.

GROSS: Well, let’s get back to something you said right at the start, which is
that if we pull out troops, or if we don’t put in more troops, you think the
Taliban will take over Kabul within six months. That’s a pretty dire
prediction. What makes you say that? What evidence do you have that that would

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, already they are all over the country now. I mean,
in the last 18 months, they have spread to the north and the west, where they
were never there before. Now, at the moment, certainly what is holding them
back from taking major cities - they would like to capture Kandahar in the
south of the country, which is the second-largest city in the country and which
is their political capital and then their spiritual home. What is keeping them
at the moment is obviously the firepower of the Americans and NATO, their air
power, the artillery, the troops that they have on the ground and also the fact
that there has not been yet a public upheaval against either the government or
the presence of the Americans and, in fact, most Afghans don’t want the Taliban

But I think the big fear is that if the Afghans see that the Americans are
somehow slackening, and NATO is slackening in its commitment, and they’re just
going to do a holding operation - which is exactly what Bush did for so many
years when he was preoccupied with Iraq - and the Americans are just going to
do a holding operation, I think a lot more Afghans are going to start - get off
the fence and side with the Taliban, not out of because they like the Taliban
but out of fear, out of terror, out of being, you know, wanting to be on the
right side at the right time because Afghans are great artists at making
decisions as to be on the winning side.

GROSS: So from your perspective, what do you think the goal should be in

Mr. RASHID: Well, Terry, you know, I believed right from the beginning that
there was a minimal state in Afghanistan. We should remember Afghanistan was
never colonized. So you never had the kind of British empire, French empire,
build-up of justice systems and parliaments and all the rest of it that you had
in countries, neighboring countries like India, like Pakistan. Afghanistan was
never colonized. So the state built itself, in a way, and there was a minimal
state, and its most successful period was actually from about 1920 to the
Soviet invasion in 1979.

Now, there was 50, 60 years of complete peace, tranquility, development, a
little bit of investment, a little bit of foreign aid from the Americans and
the Soviets because they were both competing during the Cold War. And what I
mean by minimal state is there was a basic infrastructure of roads. There was
electricity in the cities. There was an economy, which was largely rural and
agricultural, and people worked on the fields. There was a small export
industry of fruits and vegetables and nuts and other things. There was a small
army, a small police, and the state was able to have some influence in the 34
provinces of the country that there are now through the governors and the
police chiefs. But now, the state was not able to penetrate to every single
village, but it did - was able to exert significant authority. Now, that’s what
I call a minimal state, in other words a state which is not modeled on what we
know in Iraq or in Pakistan as an ex-colonial state with certain standards and
living and all the rest of it.

I think we need to re-create that minimal state. And the biggest failure of the
last eight years has been to create an economy. The black economy, the drugs
economy, is the biggest economy in Afghanistan. The white economy hardly
exists, and why? Because the infrastructure was not build.

GROSS: You’re saying that the goal should be to build a minimal state. That’s a
hard thing to do. I mean, do you think the goal should be, like, democracy-
building or state-building or just eradicating the leadership of the Taliban,
al-Qaida and other related groups that are a threat to the people of
Afghanistan, Pakistan and other people around the world?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think you have to do state-building alongside fighting an
insurgency, and every year that you delay state-building in Afghanistan - in
other words giving the people jobs and something to look forward to - every
year, the insurgency is going to intensify, and the people are going to get
more demoralized. So you need a civil program, which is what the original Obama
plan stated in March, and it was very welcomed by everyone, a civil program
that must be on par with the military program.

Now, the problem today is that, you know, six months down the road, we have
actually the Obama’s March strategy, which I thought was very productive and a
big shift away from what Bush was doing. We have the Obama strategy now being
questioned by Obama himself. And that, of course, is creating even more
confusion in the minds of the Afghan public and the neighboring countries, and
also, of course, it is raising the spirits of the Taliban.

GROSS: The people in America, a lot of people in America are really worried
that Afghanistan will become a, quote, “quagmire,” and the Vietnam analogy is
being used in a lot of places, in other words that we’ll not only sink in a lot
of money, but a lot of our men and women will die in Afghanistan. A lot of
families will be broken up, and it will perhaps still be impossible to
accomplish the goal. And it will just kind of go on and on and on, making it

more and more difficult to end it. Are you concerned about that? I mean, are
you more confident than a lot of skeptics here are, that, you know, building a
minimal state and defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida are actual, achievable

Mr. RASHID: I still think they’re achievable goals. But I do say that every day
that it’s delayed, it becomes more and more difficult because the Taliban make
up more ground, and as I said, the people on the other hand get more
demoralized. So the quicker we do this, the better it is - the quicker we put
in these resources. Now, I quite understand the feeling, and you can see the
figures. I think it’s now over 50 percent of Americans think that, you know,
the war is not winnable, and the Americans should pull out. Well, you know, my
book and my articles are constantly pointing out that the last seven years have
really been a failure both in countering the Taliban insurgency in the military
side and in the civilian side.

And it’s only now – you know, one NATO official said to me quite recently that
actually this is year one for Afghanistan. We consider this as year one because
this is the first year that there’s a serious plan for Afghanistan. Now, I
think that’s very significant, and I mean – and I think many Afghans think like
that perhaps, that, you know, Obama is seriously trying to address all the
issues which were neglected by Bush. And I do believe that, you know, if these
issues are addressed - but yes, they have to be backed by more troops and by
this counterinsurgency strategy that is now being put in place in which the
population will be defended by American troops and the growing strength of the
Afghan army, and winning over that more-secure population will be the primary
task. So I think, you know, I mean, this is doable, but as I said, the strategy
needs time. It needs two years, three years.

GROSS: My guest is Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. He’s based in Lahore and
is in Spain today, speaking to us from a studio in Madrid. We’ll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid. He’s a Pakistani
journalist based in Lahore, and he’s been writing about Afghanistan, Pakistan
and the region for about 30 years. His books include “Taliban” and “Descent
into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central
Asia.” And he has an article called “The Afghanistan Impasse” in the current
edition of the New York Review of Books.

I’m interested in your opinions on Joe Biden’s suggested strategy. He’s been
recommending, the vice president has been recommending to President Obama, that
what we do is attack the al-Qaida and Taliban leadership with drones, you know,
with unmanned missiles, as well as with special forces as opposed to sending in
more troops and relying on that to, you know, to knock off the leadership,
hoping that that will solve the problem of the terrorist groups there. What do

you think?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, first of all, I can’t agree with this. First of
all, a lot of the al-Qaida-Taliban leadership is living in Pakistan, and you
can’t use American troops to cross the border and go into Pakistan. The
Pakistanis won’t allow it. They’re having a big problem accepting the fact of
U.S. drones, which are killing quite a considerable number of top leaders, but
not all of them, obviously. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is that if we look back to 2001 and the failure to put
troops on the ground for about four years, the Americans had absolutely no
intelligence along this border, with the Afghan-Pakistan border, because there
were no troops stationed there. And around 2004, 2005, when the insurgency got
serious, and more troops did arrive, you had these, what are called forward
operating bases set up along the border with Pakistan. And these bases were
also carrying out, you know, minor development work, building schools, digging
wells, et cetera.

And suddenly, the intelligence improved enormously as to, you know, who was
hiding where, what was going on on the other side of the border in Pakistan. So
what I’m trying to say here is that the Americans have only been successful in
knocking out these leaders in Pakistan and in Afghanistan - they’ve knocked out
quite a few in Afghanistan, too, especially Taliban commanders, mid-level
commanders. They’ve only done that because the Afghan intelligence has been
there on the ground and informed the Americans as to where so-and-so may be
hiding. Now, Biden’s plan will have much fewer people on the ground and much
fewer soldiers on the ground, and the Afghan public will, instead of giving
intelligence to the Americans, will go back to giving intelligence to the
Taliban because they will see that the Americans are not serious, they’re
pulling out of here, they’re reducing the number of bases, they’re not doing
development work that they were doing in our village or whatever.

The key to knocking out al-Qaida is intelligence, and the problem has been that
that intelligence cooperation is growing now in Afghanistan. To put a stop to
it by withdrawing troops or by not sending more troops, I think, would be
hugely detrimental.

GROSS: But if we send more troops, do we risk being seen as an occupying force
in Afghanistan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know, certainly that’s very paramount in
President Obama’s mind, and he’s, you know, very conscious of that, and I think
that’s a question he asks of everyone, at least that’s what I’ve been told. But
I again would say that, you know, the Afghans still expect the foreigners to
deliver on what they want, in other words nation-building: the jobs, the
schools, the hospitals, et cetera.

Now, the Afghans know that as long as foreign troops are there, there might be
a chance that we will actually get our economy going and that actually the
money might come in for doing the right thing economically and socially. If the
foreign troops leave, then we don’t stand a chance in hell of getting anything,
and we will go back to being in the stone age, and the Taliban will come and
conquer us all over again.

You know, just compare Afghanistan to Iraq. In Iraq, you had a major movement
against the American presence. It was not just al-Qaida. It was Iraqi
nationalists, the old Iraqi army. You had, you know, people in the street. I
mean, there were demonstrations, et cetera. Eight years and, you know, a lot of
civilians have died at the hands of the Americans, unfortunately, because of
bombing, but you still have not – you had protests, small protests. So you do
not have a mass movement in Afghanistan which is saying: Americans out. People
still want to reap the benefit of what they see as the troops mean development.
And if the troops go, there’s no development.

GROSS: What kind of partner now does the United States have in President Karzai
now that we know that there seems to have been so much fraud in the election,
and he seems to have been very involved in the creation of that fraud? I think
he’s lost his credibility in the eyes of the United States and in the eyes of
the people of Afghanistan. So if part of our goal is to build a functioning
state in Afghanistan, what kind of partner do we have in Karzai now?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I agree with you completely. It’s been extremely demoralizing
and absolutely tragic that this has happened, considering that in 2004, there
was a presidential election that was run by the United Nations, and it went off
pretty well. Everyone accepted the results. But this time around, you had the
Afghans running their own elections, and you had this massive kind of collapse
of, you know, authority and fairness and getting the vote out, et cetera.

Now, I think certainly, you know, this is a very serious problem, and certainly
I think this is probably one of the factors being discussed in Washington right
now as to what do we do next. Well, I think, again, the Bush period, if we go
back to that, never really put down any benchmarks for the Afghan government
and Karzai. They never put down markers that you have to do this, you have to
get rid of so-and-so because he’s corrupt, get rid of this minister because we
know he’s drug-trafficking, you know.

I think now what we are going to see is hopefully benchmarks and markers put
down by the Americans for Karzai, and he will have to accept this if he’s going
to retain continuous support. I hope there is an awareness in Kabul as to how
catastrophic this rigging has been to the whole of the last eight years, to the
whole effort that the West and the Afghans have put in to try to rebuild their

It has really been catastrophic, and Karzai has to row back now pretty swiftly.
And I think we might see signs of that the moment the election result is
finally declared. At the moment, actually, the Election Investigation
Commission is still counting what it considers to be bad votes. Once the
results are announced, I think – I mean, there are two or three things the U.S.
could do. They have to set benchmarks along with the international community.
There’s going to be a conference at the end of this year where the whole
international community will probably be setting out a program for Karzai to
follow. There will not be any acceptance of warlords or drug traffickers and
all the rest of it in the Cabinet, as there were during the Bush period.

So in a sense, I think international toughness, and of course the stick will be
that if you don’t do this, some of the best aid programs may be halted or
postponed for a certain period of time, and we will announce that it’s being
postponed because you, Mr. Karzai, are not implementing so-and-so and so-and-
so. So the Americans can use that as a stick.

GROSS: It seems like it’s going to be kind of hard for Karzai to straighten out
now because from what I’ve read, it sounds like part of the way he won was to
make deals with warlords, and those are deals that he probably has to make good
on when he resumes his presidency. So if he’s made deals with warlords that he
has to make good on, how does he not make good on them? You know what I mean?
It’s like if he’s that deep into it, how does he pull out?

Mr. RASHID: Well, actually, you know, in 2004, he made very similar deals with
exactly the same kinds of warlords, and a lot of them were kept out. People who
were inconvenient were kept out, and he can repeat that. You know, I mean, he’s
a great master of promising the same job to 300 people and then picking
somebody who he hasn’t promised the job to at all. I think there will be
enormous pressure on him to drop these warlords. And I think he’s conscious,
too, that he needs more qualified - and technocrats in the Cabinet, ruling the
provinces as governors and police chiefs.

I think he will be able – I don’t think that is a major issue that he has to
fulfill the demands that any warlord might – he can give them minor
(unintelligible). He can promote development in their areas. He can give them
money for development or whatever. But I think he will be capable of holding
them off as far as political posts are concerned in the government.

GROSS: Ahmed Rashid will be back in the second half of the show. He’s the
author of “Taliban” and “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.” I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Pakistani journalist Ahmed
Rashid who we frequently call on to analyze what’s happening in the region.
He's covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for about 30 years and is the author of
the bestseller "Taliban." His latest book is "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and
the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia." His article "The
Afghanistan Impasse" is in the current edition of The New York Review of Books.
We’ve been talking about the challenges President Obama faces in deciding on a
strategy for Afghanistan.

I've been reading, in the last few days - in The New York Times and the
Washington Post - things that sound like hopeful signs that al-Qaida, the
Taliban and other linked extremist groups are losing power and losing
influence. Let me read you a couple of quotes. The first is from the Washington
Post and this was reported yesterday, that the "U.S. and international
intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-
Qaida network, along with increased use of targeted air strike and enhanced
assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced al-Qaida
effectiveness and in the past year over a dozen senior figures in al-Qaida and
allied groups in Pakistan and elsewhere have been killed."

And The New York Times reported on Sunday, "Many students of terrorism believe
that in important ways al-Qaida and its ideology of global jihad are in
pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as
operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts; and more
important, with its tactics, discredited in public opinion across the Muslim

And then a quote, someone who formerly headed the CIA's Strategic Analysis
Program on Political Islam - and he said, "They’re finding it harder to
recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money. Al-Qaida is losing its moral
argument about the killing of civilians." And he says that this is in part
because a lot of countries with Muslim civilians have had Muslim civilians
killed by these terrorist attacks.

So these seem like hopeful signs, like the terrorist groups are on the wane.
What's your perception of that?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I would agree with what you’re saying about al-Qaida, but I
wouldn’t agree with the Taliban at all. The Taliban is very much a mass
movement. Al-Qaida certainly has been knocked around a great deal by the drone
attacks; they’ve lost a lot of very senior people. But let me say a few things.
Over the last two or three years, what we’ve seen is that al-Qaida has very
cleverly given off a lot of the work that it used to do itself; they’ve given
it off to the Pakistani Taliban or the Afghanistan Taliban.

Now what do I mean by that? For example, in the last six months we’ve had these
numerous examples of Europeans coming for training in the tribal areas of
Pakistan: Germans, Norwegians, Spanish, French. Now who has been training them?
It’s been the local Taliban. Now previously - and maybe there would be one Arab
instructor who would come in for a few days or something - but mostly it’s been
Taliban who house the - who train, who give them, you know, the weapons to
train with, who take them into battle for battle experience, whatever.

Now three or four years ago, when we were talking about training foreigners and
Europeans especially, or Americans even, we would be talking about Arabs doing
that - Arabs as members of al-Qaida. Today that job has been kind of, you know,
subcontracted out to the Taliban. I think other things like fundraising, drug
trafficking - I think a lot of the things that al-Qaida was directly involved
in have been given out to other groups.

Now, for example, drug trafficking. Two of the major Central Asian groups, the
Islamic movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union are deeply involved
now in drug trafficking and their whole role in drug trafficking has grown. So
in other words, al-Qaida has given some of that over. Now they may - al-Qaida
probably still gets money from that. They get a commission or they get, you
know, a certain percentage, but the job which was done by Arabs is not done
there anymore. So in a sense, al-Qaida is surviving by doing less and by having
less of a profile.

GROSS: I'm sorry. I'm just still thinking about the idea of al-Qaida
outsourcing to the Taliban.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RASHID: Well...

GROSS: I just think that's so interesting.

Mr. RASHID: It's certainly been happening.

GROSS: Yeah. I'm sure.

Mr. RASHID: I mean, you know, and remember the Taliban don’t have an agenda of
global jihad. They have a very local agenda, which is, you know, they want to
throw the Americans out of Afghanistan and seize power. But they don’t want to
conquer the whole world like al-Qaida does.

GROSS: So okay, so if al-Qaida is outsourcing to the Taliban and the Taliban's
goal is to just take over Afghanistan; but al-Qaida's goal is to, you know,
conquer the infidels around the world - so if the Taliban take power in Kabul,
does that open the door for al-Qaida to expand again and to stop shrinking and
subcontracting, and to just expand and become more powerful?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, certainly over the last eight years the Taliban owe
al-Qaida a great debt also. So it’s two-way traffic. It’s not just that al-
Qaida is able to subcontract to the Taliban. The Taliban had been taken to
Iraq. They’ve learned all these new tactics, IEDs, mines you know, ambushes,
all this kind of successful stuff that al-Qaida was doing in Iraq and other
things - especially, you know, using suicide bombing etcetera, etcetera.
Fundraising, funding, drug trafficking - all these things that al-Qaida were
deeply involved in have also benefited the Taliban to a very large extent.

So if this present Taliban leadership, at the moment - which I think is very
diehard and can not be won over with talks and really wants to seize power - if
this Taliban leadership remains in power and the Taliban movement remains a
undivided movement, then I think the risk would be enormous that al-Qaida would
be back also in Kabul.

Now that is why I think this line of talking to what is called moderate Taliban
but, you know, it's a false word, that. What we mean here is that - can the
Afghans, the Karzai, the Americans, the CIA - can they divide the Taliban
movement, start dividing the movement between those who come into fold - in
other words, commanders and foot soldiers who are not necessarily, you know,
committed to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader's ambitions - can they be won over
with a proper program of reconciliation, etcetera?

So in other words, can you create splits in the Taliban movement and thereby
weaken it? And that really has not happened in the last eight years,
unfortunately. It’s been talked about a lot. Everyone's talking about it but
nobody has actually been able to achieve very much.

GROSS: My guest is Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's based in Lahore and
is in Spain today speaking to us from a studio in Madrid.

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid, is a Pakistani
journalist who is based in Lahore and he's been covering the region for 30
years. His book includes the bestseller "Taliban" and the recent book "Descent
into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central
Asia." He also has an article in the current edition of The New York Review of
Books called "The Afghanistan Impasse."

As you’ve pointed out in your writing, one of the key components to creating
peace and ending terrorists groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, one of
the key components there is India because Pakistan is still in conflict to some
degree with India. A Pakistani-based extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba was
responsible for the Mumbai attacks in India, and so Pakistan doesn’t want to
take all of its troops to fight terrorist groups, it wants to preserve some of
its troops on the India border because they're still feuding. And then there's
the question of Kashmir.

So could you talk a little bit about how you see India fitting into this
equation and complicating things even more, as if they needed to get more

Mr. RASHID: Well, you’re absolutely right in your analysis. I mean there's a
complete standoff at the moment. The two foreign ministers of the two countries
met at the United Nations last week and they failed to make any progress
whatsoever. And we’ve got two very distinct positions. India is saying you must
dismantle and break up Lashkar-e-Taiba because it carried out the Mumbai
attacks. You must jail the leadership. You must put them on trial. We’ve got
evidence that the leaders organized this, etcetera.

Pakistan is refusing to do this. Or rather the military, if you like, is
refusing to do this because the military set up Lashkar-e-Taiba and it's still
the main group which is backed by the Army for fighting in Kashmir and for
mobilizing militant Muslims in India, so Lashkar-e-Taiba remains in tact.

The Pakistani position is we want the Indians to start discussing broader
issues including Kashmir and the Indians have said we will discuss nothing
except terrorism and until you stop Lashkar-e-Taiba, we will not have talks. So
there's a complete standoff and I think the last six months have been you know,
big sort of efforts behind the scenes by again - by Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, by Richard Holbrooke, the special ambassador - to try and get the two
sides together.

But I think now there's increasing evidence that the Indians are now - Indian
intelligence is now presuming that there is going to be another major attack in
India by perhaps Lashkar-e-Taiba or by Islamic militants. And if this happens
we are then really faced a very dangerous situation, because last time it
happened - last year and 160 people were killed in Mumbai, India did not go to
war. India did not bomb Pakistan, India didn’t raid Pakistan, but it warned
Pakistan that if another attack happens, we will take military action. And so
that is why there's an enormous deal at stake here, both for India and
Pakistan, of course, and for the Americans and everyone else.

And for the Americans, given all the - what's going in Afghanistan, the last
thing the Americans want to see is an India-Pakistan conflict or a ratcheting
up of tensions - which, of course, will completely distract Pakistan from
giving the Americans any kind of support in Afghanistan or in intelligence

GROSS: Now we established, earlier, how difficult that's going to be for
America to deal with President Karzai, but they’ll probably put a lot of
pressure on him to respond to the goals that America has set out for a decent
state in Afghanistan. President Zardari in Pakistan - what kind of partner is
he for America in dealing with terrorist groups that are based in Pakistan? I
was reading that President Zardari's approval ratings are something like 25
percent right now in Pakistan.

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, he has been seen as incredibly pro-American, in
fact, possibly too pro-American. Now I think he's been making some of the right
statements. He's been talking about peace with India. He's been talking about
an end to all terrorist groups in Pakistan, all of them, including those who
are fighting in Kashmir. He struck up a good relationship with President Karzai
before these Afghan elections.

He's done a number of good things but, you know, the fact is that policy
towards India and Afghanistan, and even towards the United States, and foreign
policy in the neighborhood is still dominated by the military. The problem is
that he has not been able to get his hands on the real reigns of power, you
know, which is the relationship in the neighborhood. I think if he was allowed
to do what he wanted to do, I think he would personally crack down on Lashkar-
e-Taiba and start talks with India. But he's not being allowed to do that.

The other part of the equation is that there's a very dire economic crisis and
we haven't had much international help in the last one year - although there've
been a lot of talk about giving friends for Pakistan, giving donors, giving
money, etcetera, but actually very little has come through. And there's a very
dire economic crisis and he's getting obviously blamed for that.

And he's very unpopular because, you know, prices are going up and cost of
living is going up, joblessness is increasing, and this has nothing to do with
- well, it has a little bit to do with the global recession, but it’s mostly a
crisis that was building up during the period of General Musharraf, when he was
ruling Pakistan and it's now kind of burst into the open.

GROSS: You’ve been a guest on our show many times, starting in 2000, when your
book "Taliban" was published. And ever since 2001, you’ve been on the show
usually several times a year, giving us your perceptions about what's happening
in your region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the war in Iraq you were
very opposed to the war. You thought it was a bad idea and now you are for more
troops in Afghanistan. And I think to some people that might sound almost like
a contradiction because there tends to be, you know, people who oppose war

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: wars or...

Mr. RASHID: Yeah.

GROSS: know, who oppose American troops in other countries and those who
don’t. And apparently it’s not a contradiction in your mind at all.

Mr. RASHID: Well Terry, first of all, I've been on the air - thank you so much
for, you know, for bringing me on the air so many times. But I don’t see it as
a contradiction. I do believe what President Obama said that, you know, Iraq
was a war of, you know, choice and this is a war of necessity - the war in
Afghanistan. It is a war of necessity. And, you know, just dropping everything
else aside, what I fear very much is that this Taliban model is spreading like
wildfire in the region. I mean, you know, four years ago we didn’t have
Pakistani Taliban. We’ve got now maybe 10,000, maybe twice that number of
Pakistani Taliban. We’ve got suicide bombings every day, every second day in
Pakistan. That wasn’t the case three or four years ago. You’ve got Central
Asian Taliban. You’ve got this model spreading.

If – if this war was to wind down by the – by the Americans, by the West, the
Taliban, I think, would – would inflict enormous damage not just on Afghanistan
by probably seizing power in Afghanistan but they would step up their offensive
in Pakistan also. And it would bring many of these fundamentalist groups like
Lashkar-e-Taiba and other fundamentalist groups who may be fighting in Kashmir,
may be helping the Taliban but not necessarily full – full-blooded engagement
with the Taliban, all these fundamentalists would unite and we would have a
major catastrophe in the region.

And by the region, I mean, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, affecting
possibly Indian Muslims, Chinese Muslims. This is – this is not something
that’s going to stop unless it is stopped, physically stopped, and politically

GROSS: So when you say the Taliban model had spread – the Taliban model in
Afghanistan is a – is a local model. It’s about getting power in Afghanistan
and getting foreign troops out. When you say that model has spread, what does
that mean, what shape does the Taliban take in other countries?

Mr. RASHID: Well, politically the Pakistani Taliban also, you know, wanting
power in – in Pakistan, but they also helped the Afghan Taliban. And the
Central Asian Taliban do the same thing. They would like to have power in
Central Asia and carry out attacks in Central Asia. But they’re also helping
the Afghan Taliban. So Afghanistan is seeing that if Afghanistan could be won
by the Taliban, all the other Talibans would benefit and grow from this. So
there is enormous concentration on helping the Afghan Taliban to win and to
drive out the Westerners and seize power once again in Kabul.

Now, on the other hand, they have local agendas but what they follow is this
Taliban ideology. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean, the Taliban we saw in
the ‘90s in Afghanistan - anti-education, anti-women, anti any kind of economic
development - you know, it’s amazing to think that the Taliban today even,
eight years on after 9/11, they still don’t have any economic plan. I mean, in
all their pronouncements there is no social plan. There is no economic plan.
There is no plan for education.

So the Taliban are exactly, politically speaking, they’re exactly in the same
position that they were 10, 15 years ago, and they haven’t really moved
forward. They haven’t become more modern or more moderate or – you know,
they’re as extreme as they were before. And this would be devastating for
Muslims in this region.

GROSS: Is it too late in a way? I mean, look, if the Taliban model has already
spread to other countries, say the U.S. ups its troops 40,000 more and we
succeed in keeping the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, if the model has
already caught on, has the damage already been done? Is it too late, would we
be thinking all this time – manpower, losing American lives and European lives
in Afghanistan when the model is already out there and the Taliban can – can
maybe still just wait it out?

Mr. RASHID: I think two things. The first thing is that, as I said, all these
Taliban’s second major occupation is to help the Afghan Taliban. Because they
see the Afghan Taliban’s victory as key to the whole region. And if the Afghan
Taliban can be defeated, I think there will be a – a huge ripple effect in the
region, which will reduce the influence of the Taliban. The second point is
that what Obama made in his March strategy, which was the so-called regional
strategy - in other words, you have to get all the neighboring countries of
Afghanistan to work together to resist the Taliban in Afghanistan and also to
resist local terrorism in their own countries.

So that’s why you’ve had U.S. diplomats in the last six months running around.
And also one of the reasons why Obama was very keen to open relations with
Iran, because Iran was critical to – Iran is a neighbor of Afghanistan. It’s
critical to bringing peace in Afghanistan. And certainly before the Iranian
elections and all these deterioration over the nuclear issue and the election
issue in Iran, the Americans were very keen that, you know, Iran could possibly
be a help in Afghanistan. So this regional strategy is something that hopefully
is going to reduce the influence of these local Talibans.

GROSS: Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for talking with us again and be well.
Thank you.

Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Journalist Ahmed Rashid lives in Lahore, Pakistan and spoke to us from a
studio in Madrid. His latest book is “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the
Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.” His article “The
Afghanistan Impasse” is in the current edition of the New York Review of Books.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Maddening 'Mad Men' And Its Redemptive St. Joan


The AMC series “Mad Men” is a drama focused on the world of Madison Avenue
advertising in the 1960s. Now in its third season, the show has won both a
devoted cult audience and countless awards, recently winning its second
consecutive Emmy as Best Dramatic Series.

Our critic-at-large John Powers says it’s a good example of how to do a period
show, and how not to.

JOHN POWERS: There are some TV shows you love and watch religiously. There are
others that drive you crazy — you skip those. And then there’s a teasing third
category, shows that drive you crazy and you still watch religiously. For me
such a show is “Mad Men.”

The media just loves this series, which is centered on the Sterling Cooper ad
agency in the early 1960s. The acclaim is easy to understand, for “Mad Men”
goes out of its way to flaunt its importance. It all but laminates your
eyeballs with its style. The show not only makes a fetish of period detail —
Web sites ponder every song choice, every cigarette pack — but the relentlessly
studied way it’s shot and acted often turns its characters into design
elements, which in a sense they are. Most of the characters are less three-
dimensional human beings than concepts — even their darkest secrets feel

The hero, Don Draper, is a type - the disillusioned ad man who’s fleeing his
past. His spouse, Betty, is a suburban housewife who’s going quietly mad. Peggy
is a young copywriter who’s battling sexism with history on her side — women
are starting to rise in the workplace. There’s the deluded bohemian Paul, the
closeted gay Sal, and the agency’s erstwhile boss, Roger Sterling, a privileged
bon vivant who’s being squeezed out by serious corporate types.

The same schematism shapes the show’s vision of history. Like a CliffsNotes for
the early ‘60s, “Mad Men” boldfaces passe attitudes, making it easy for us to
notice — and feel superior to — the era’s sexism, anti-semitism, racism and
littering. Even worse, it tends to hit every historical touchstone like a gong.
It’s not enough for season three to be heading toward JFK’s assassination.
Roger’s daughter has to plan her wedding for that very same weekend.

This would annoy me less were the show not so glum. But for some reason,
creator Matthew Weiner has chosen to depict Kennedy administration America —
renowned for its twist-and-shout optimism — as if it were the Antonioni
administration. As one who lived through these years, I hope that young people
don’t actually think that “Mad Men” captures how things were really like back
then. Here control freak Don returns home from work, joyless as ever, to find
Betty, joyless as ever.

(Soundbite of the TV show, “Mad Men”)

Mr. JON HAMM (Actor): (As Don Draper) What’s wrong?

Ms. JANUARY JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) Roger Sterling called. He
pretended to be calling for you and then he started on me about your contract.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) What?

Ms. JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) Your contract, Don? It was very
uncomfortable. What are you doing?

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) What do you think? I’m calling him.

Ms. JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) Don’t.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Betts, don’t worry about my job.

Ms. JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) Why would I? I don’t know anything about
it? They offered you a contract and you didn’t say a damn thing to me. I had to
hear about it from him. And why the hell won’t you sign it?

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) It doesn’t concern you. You’re taken care of.

Ms. JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) Why won’t you sign it?

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Let me explain something to you about business, since
as usual you’re turning this into something about yourself. No contract means I
have all the power. They want me but they can’t have me.

Ms. JONES (Actor): (As Betty Draper) You’re right. Why would I think that has
anything to do with me?

POWERS: So why do I keep watching? Not for the show’s big ideas but for the
unexpected tendrils of life that sprout between their cracks. The ambitious
accounts man, Pete, giddily dancing with his wife; Sal doing his impersonation
of Ann-Margret; a smarty-pants Brit getting run over by a tractor in the
office; or the bedroom banter between Roger and the voluptuous office manager
Joan, which actually does capture some of the Kennedy era’s erotic brio.

And at its best, “Mad Men” gets to things that feel original. Nowhere is this
clearer than in its portrait of Joan, a kind of female character I’m not sure
I’ve ever encountered before, an impressive woman doomed to unhappiness because
she’s caught on the wrong side of history. Her fate is written on her flesh,
the busty, full-hipped, Monroe-era body that fell out of fashion in the early
1960s and has yet to make a comeback.

Magnificently played by Christina Hendricks, Joan is smart, funny, sexually
canny, and supremely competent. She can play “C’est Magnifique” on the
accordion or save a man’s life by applying a tourniquet as those around her are
panicking. There’s just one problem. Joan has perfected the traditional career
girl strategy of getting a job, having some laughs, then landing a good husband
— in her case a doctor. Then she discovers that her husband isn’t what she
dreamed, and even more unsettling, that the world is changing. Men will now
hire women to do creative jobs in advertising. But because she played the sexy
office manager so effectively, men will never hire her to do them, even if
she’s more talented than the men are.

Caught between the past and the future, Joan is the show’s most complex and
compelling figure. Warm and calculating, angry and ebullient, ravishingly sexy
and distressingly backwards about race, she’s no angel. But she is human.

With Joan, “Mad Men” comes closest to doing what it ought to do. It lets us
understand how people actually lived and breathed during those years rather
than merely telling us what their lives meant and how cool the whole thing

GROSS: John Powers writes the Absolute Powers column at Vogue Daily online. You
can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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