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Ahmed Rashid Offers An Update On The Taliban
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The situation in Afghanistan is changing. Could this be a turning point?
The Taliban's top military commander was captured a few days ago. The
U.S. military and the Afghan army began a major offensive on Saturday,
fighting the Taliban in one of their strongholds, Marjah. It's in
Helmand Province, which is considered the poppy producing capital of the
world, key to the processing and the funding of the Taliban.
My guest Ahmed Rashid is a journalist who lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and
has covered the region for about 30 years. He's the author of the
bestseller "Taliban," which was published before 9/11. His latest book
is "Dissent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Central Asia." Ahmed Rashid is on a visit to the U.S. We
caught up with him in New York.
Ahmed Rashid, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Tell us what you know about
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was just captured.
Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist; Author "Dissent Into Chaos: The U.S. and
the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia"): Well, I knew
him in the 1990s as a co-commander for the Taliban. He helped conquer
northern Afghanistan, very quiet, soft-spoken man.
But after 9/11, his stature rose. He remained loyal to Mullah Omar. They
both retreated back into Pakistan, and he was then virtually given
control of the day-to-day running of the Taliban insurgency once it
started in 2003 and was responsible for the provision of logistics,
supplies, ammunition to the Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan from
Quetta, the Taliban base in Pakistan.
And about last summer, in fact, after General Petraeus and several
American officials had threatened that they would use drones to attack
the Taliban leaders in Quetta, most of the Taliban leaders, including
Mullah Omar and Mullah Baradar, moved to Karachi, and they were running
the show from there. And it's there that he has been arrested.
GROSS: And did he also write a code of conduct for Taliban fighters that
kind of changed their messaging?
Mr. RASHID: Yes. I mean, he was generally considered to be a moderate,
more-reasonable Taliban. And I think he was responsible for the ousting
and deaths of several very hard-line Taliban commanders who carried out
brutal human rights abuses against Afghan civilians, especially Mullah
Dadullah, who was very ruthless, particularly in 2006, 2007.
Many of these Taliban commanders were either removed from their position
or killed. And Mullah Baradar then issued a code of conduct for the
Taliban which, you know, has been adhered to, to some extent, even
though they do kill civilians, especially with their suicide bombings.
But I think they are trying to be more careful than they were before,
and that's probably due to Baradar.
GROSS: So how do you think Baradar's capture affects the Taliban's
military operation, since he was the head of it?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think the very big question is why now? I mean, why
have the Pakistanis now arrested him? Because his whereabouts were
certainly known to the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI, for
many, many years. And if it means that the Pakistanis are now serious
about reining in the Taliban, well, of course, that's a very positive
step. That's something that NATO and the Americans have wanted all
However, speculation from Kabul - and I've been speaking to officials in
Kabul - their speculation is somewhat different. The first is that, you
know, the Americans, the CIA could have discovered his whereabouts and
then, you know, insisted that the ISI arrest him.
The second thing is that it was very well-known for several months now,
and I knew this personally, that Mullah Baradar was actually in touch
with the Kabul authorities, holding talks with them through â not
directly, but indirectly through his representatives. They were meeting
in Saudi Arabia, and he was also meeting with Kabul representatives in
Kandahar, the major - the second city in Afghanistan.
Now, one speculation is that these talks were moving forward, and
perhaps the Pakistanis arrested him because he was talking to the Kabul
authorities above and beyond the Pakistanis, who are very keen to make
sure that any dialogue that happens between the Americans and President
Karzai and the Taliban take place with Pakistani mediation, Pakistani
brokership, if you like.
GROSS: So what kind of information do you think that interrogators are
trying to get now from Baradar?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I don't think that â I mean, obviously,
there's going to be a mild sort of interrogation, if he knows where
Mullah Omar is or Osama bin Laden or anyone else. But I think he's going
to be treated very well because I think in the long term, what both the
Americans and the Pakistanis would want out of him is to use him in
negotiations with the Taliban leadership.
I mean, one speculation is that now that he's been arrested, he could be
used much more effectively to negotiate with Mullah Omar and others
because he could be allowed to meet with the other Taliban leaders, he
could meet with Kabul authorities, he could meet with the Americans, et
cetera. So I don't think he's going to be, you know, tortured or
anything like that. I think he's going to be kept in a safe house. He's
probably going to be interrogated about, you know, other leaderships, et
cetera, and certainly the Americans will pursue him about the
whereabouts of al-Qaida.
But I think this arrest will mean that we may well see a speeding-up of
the negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans and others.
GROSS: Well, what kind of credibility would he have as a negotiator if
he's been arrested by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence? I mean,
isn't he kind of tainted goods right now in the eyes of the Taliban?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, this is all speculation. We really
don't know, Terry, as to what exactly happened and why. But I mean, if
he has been arrested, this is a kind of way of telling everyone that
look, you know, I didn't surrender. I was forcibly arrested. So it kind
of keeps him clean, in a way, as far as his fellow Taliban are
Perhaps he wanted to come in. I mean, this could have well been even a
gesture from himself, saying, you know, the best way to have me promote
negotiations is to bring me in in such a manner so that my reputation
remains clean. I'm still considered to be under arrest, an enemy. So
this would enhance his negotiating ability.
GROSS: You know, the interpretation you're giving this is so different
from what I've been reading in the newspaper, which is that, you know,
his arrest signifies that now Pakistani intelligence, which has
distrusted the CIA, is willing to cooperate and work together to bring
down leaders of the Taliban.
Mr. RASHID: Well, I don't discount that theory. I mean, that could be
very possible. And General Kayani, the head of the Pakistan army, has
given four or five very public press conferences to the local media in
Pakistan, indicating that there is a change of heart within the
Pakistani military and the ISI towards the Afghan Taliban.
Remember that the Afghan Taliban have been in sanctuary in Pakistan
since 2001, so this could very well be the case. But I think what we
need to watch for is what the response from Kabul is going to be. If the
Kabul response is celebratory and happy and congratulatory to the
Pakistanis, well, then, you know, clearly they have supported this
action, and they don't mind it.
If it's very muted, then you can presume that the Kabul authorities are
upset because they were already involved in negotiations with Mullah
Baradar, and this arrest has stymied those negotiations.
GROSS: So since Baradar was the head of the Taliban military operation
in Afghanistan, do you think that his arrest had a crippling effect on
the military operation in Afghanistan?
Mr. RASHID: I think in the long term, it could have because this whole â
the last few months of speculation about, you know, whether the Taliban
are actually talking to the Kabul government has rested on the fact that
there are very strong indications that the Taliban are getting very
tired. The commanders are tired. The rank and file are tired. They're
having problems finding suicide bombers. They're having problems finding
fighters to go in.
So, you know, I think what Mullah Baradar perhaps is representing is one
section of the Taliban who feel that this war has gone on long enough.
We are Afghans. We are patriots. We are nationalists. We need to make a
settlement with the Kabul authorities before the Americans may start
leaving in June 2011, as President Obama has indicated, and we don't
want to be manipulated by outside powers anymore.
In other words, we don't want to be manipulated by the Pakistani
intelligence or by Iran or by anyone else. I mean, it's better we make
some kind of power-sharing arrangement with Kabul.
GROSS: Now, even General McChrystal, who is the head of the military,
the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, has basically said this
isn't going to be won militarily. So were you surprised by the major
offensive that's going on now in Marjah, Afghanistan, which is the
largest U.S.-led military offensive since 2001?
Mr. RASHID: First of all, I think, you know, when - last year, when this
whole reassessment was - of the military situation was done by President
Obama and General McChrystal and General Petraeus, I think there has
been an acknowledgement by the U.S. military that the Taliban cannot be
defeated militarily. And that was a very significant, I think,
conclusion, because, of course, that has affected the tactics and
strategy that they're now pursuing.
Now, I think the strategy that the U.S. military's pursuing is,
basically, of talking and fighting at the same time. In other words,
they want to pressure the Taliban. They want to show that the American
Army, the Afghan army - which is also involved in this offensive - have
clout, and they will pursue the Taliban wherever they can. And at the
same time, they're not averse to secret talks with the Taliban. The U.S.
military's already supporting this policy of reintegration - that is,
bringing in Taliban commanders and fighters and foot soldiers who might
want to surrender and putting together a package of incentives which
could include an amnesty and some compensation and send them home,
basically, after disarming them.
And the second part of this is what is called reconciliation, which is
strategic talks with the Taliban leadership. Now, President Karzai has
been conducting these talks for quite a long time, nearly a year now,
through Saudi Arabia. The Americans have not got publicly involved in
this, but there's a very big debate going on now, I think, in the White
House about whether the Americans should pursue this talking with the
I think this arrest of Mullah Baradar will probably speed up the
American decision to talk to the Taliban. And I think also the military
acknowledgement that the Taliban can't be defeated is going to have a
big impact on American politicians, too.
GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid, and he
lives in Lahore, Pakistan. He's a journalist who's covered that region
for about 30 years, and his books include the bestseller "Taliban" and
the book "Dissent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Central Asia." Let's take a short break here, and then
we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a
journalist from Pakistan who has covered the region for about 30 years.
He's the author of the bestseller "Taliban" and also of the book
"Dissent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan
and Central Asia."
Now, a couple minutes ago, you said that the Taliban are really tired,
and now you're saying they can't be defeated militarily. But if they're
really tired, and they're having trouble recruiting suicide bombers, why
can't they be defeated militarily?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think they spread too far and too â I mean, they
have penetrated the fabric of not just southern and eastern Afghanistan,
where many of the Taliban who belong to the Pashtun ethnic group, many
come from, but they are now in the west and the north. They've expanded
all over the country. They are able to carry out urban terrorist
So, you know, they are very much rooted in the fabric now of the
country. And, you know, and certainly, you know, they're not popular. A
recent BBC poll said that only 6 percent of Afghans wanted the Taliban
government back. But it's not a question of popularity because they are
a guerrilla force, and they have been able to create fear and terror and
sympathy within chunks of the public who do see them as a force for
So the question is that, you know, militarily defeating them would mean
also killing very large numbers of Pashtuns, which I think would really
be a ruinous policy to pursue.
GROSS: Now, the policy of winning over Taliban fighters, trying to get
them jobs, helping them get money, disarming them, giving them amnesty,
do you trust that people who have been Taliban fighters can be won over
and stay won over as opposed to, you know, getting their job, laying
down their arms and then deciding I'm going to take up arms again?
Mr. RASHID: You know, a lot of Taliban fighters are non-ideological in
the sense that they have been recruited for all sorts of reasons:
revenge, anger at the Americans because their house was bombed, or their
village was hit for money because the Taliban are paying their soldiers
So there's a whole variety of reasons. I mean, I still maintain that the
Afghan Taliban are very much still a peasant army. They're an army of
farmers basically who have been, you know, for the last eight or nine
years in the south and the east of the country. They've been deprived,
or they feel deprived of the kind of development and other things that
the West promised them.
They've been alienated because the Americans in the early years after
2001 were targeting not just the Taliban but basically all Pashtuns,
which alienated a large chunk of the Pashtun tribes.
So I think there are many reasons why Taliban have joined. And
consequently, I think, you know, for Taliban fighters and low-level
commanders to come in is not a big deal. I think they could be brought
in if there was this effective package put together by the Afghan
government and the NATO and American forces.
GROSS: Now, the area where the military offensive against the Taliban,
the major offensive, is being waged now is in the Helmand Province,
which is the province where most of the poppy is grown for opium. And
the Taliban make a lot of money by selling the poppy.
So, what impact do you think this offensive might have on the Taliban's
ability to financially support itself?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, the new military strategy being carried out
by General McChrystal is basically to try and secure the population
centers - in other words, the American military is not going into every
single village in Afghanistan to drive the Taliban out. They're securing
population centers. And as you said, this population center, there are
about 80,000 people living in and around Marjah. Now, that's not a very
large number, but it's an absolutely critical factor in the production
and export of heroin, because a lot of the heroin which is developed and
grown and then manufactured from poppy into heroin in Helmand Province
is exported through Marjah, across the border into Pakistan and Iran.
So, if you can stop the supply route and you can also stop the supply of
ammunition and guns coming from the other way, from the Pakistani
border, then, you know, this offensive is, I think, very important for
GROSS: Now, don't a lot of farmers in the Helmand Province make their
money with poppy crops? And what's going to happen to them?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know this offensive is going to be a very
strong message about the poppy crop, because on the back of this
offensive, hopefully, is going to also come in a civilian surge - in
other words, experts, both Afghan and American and foreign will be
coming in with free seed and fertilizer and projects to develop
agriculture. This was a critical element that has been missing all along
in American strategy. For nearly seven years, the Bush administration
never invested in Afghan agriculture.
Now, the point is, if the farmers can be encouraged to grow crops which
provide a sufficient income or nearly the equivalent income of opium,
there's no reason why they won't grow it. Perhaps there's going to be a
need for several years that the American's subsidize, for example, wheat
production or fruit or vegetable production, so that the farmers get a
good return, which will satisfy them and make sure that they don't go
back to opium.
GROSS: So, you think that the military offensive in Marjah in
Afghanistan, in the Helmand Province, is part of a multi-prong strategy
to show that the U.S. has military power, that it can use it. But the
ultimate goal is some kind of negotiation with the Taliban, because the
war can't really be won militarily, because the Taliban are too
integrated into the fabric of Afghan society now.
There have already been secret talks going on, and there were secret
talks last spring sponsored by Saudi Arabia that you alluded to before,
and this apparently was at Afghan President Hamid Karzai's request. What
can you tell us about these secret talks?
Mr. RASHID: Well, first of all, let me just say one thing about the
strategy, that I think both the Taliban and the Americans are pursuing a
strategy of talk and fight - that is talking and fighting right to the
And if we look at other â the way other insurgencies ended, I mean in
Vietnam, in Northern Ireland, in Cyprus, this is how they have played
out. Both sides will fight to the last day, until the negotiations have
Now, President Karzai, with all the criticism that he's been facing from
the West, from Afghans about the lack of lack of good governance and
providing services to the people and corruption, one thing he has
pursued very aggressively has been talking to the Taliban leadership.
Now, these talks were indirect talks in the sense that we didnât have
leading members of the Quetta Shura, that is what is called the
leadership council of the Taliban, coming to Saudi Arabia to meet with
basically Karzai's brothers, who were leading the negotiations from the
But these talks did lead to further talks, and senior Taliban leaders
from the Quetta Shura actually came to Saudi Arabia over the autumn,
over this winter, and met with the Saudi officials and met with some
Afghan officials. And, in fact, it has been speculated very strongly
that Mullah Baradar himself was in Saudi Arabia very recently, meeting
with Saudi officials.
GROSS: Ahmed Rashid will be back in the second half of the show. He's
the author of "Dissent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." A new edition of his bestseller
"Taliban" will be published this spring.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross, back with journalist Ahmed
Rashid. He lives in Lahore, Pakistan and has covered the region for
about 30 years. He's the author of the bestseller "Taliban" and "Descent
into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and
When we left off, he was talking about how insurgencies usually end
through a strategy of fight and talk, with both sides fighting until the
talks reach a resolution. He says that might be what's happening in
Afghanistan. The Afghan-Taliban have participated in secret talks with
Afghan officials and Saudis. The talks were held in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. RASHID: For the Taliban and for Karzai, Saudi Arabia is a kind of
neutral venue. And, of course, it has the additional clout of being the
home of the prophet and, you know, a lot of religious connotations which
are very important to the Taliban. Now, Pakistani intelligence has a
long agenda; it wants to broker these talks and it wants to extract
concessions from the Americans and from the Afghan government if it does
broker these talks.
So itâs a very complicated scenario at the moment, where youâve had
Saudi Arabia play a kind of neutral role bringing together elements from
Karzai and the Taliban, do you bring the Pakistanis in? Do you keep them
out? And can you afford to keep the Pakistanis out? Because, of course,
you know, it is the ISI which has the most control over the Taliban
because so many of their leadership is living in Pakistan.
GROSS: Why would the Taliban want to keep Pakistan out of negotiations?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think there's several reasons. I mean I think the
Taliban; many of them are very tired of being manipulated by the ISI
over many years. And secondly, I think, you know, Pakistan certainly, as
a broker, Pakistan, you know, Pakistan would want a certain quid pro quo
from Kabul and from the Taliban and from the Americans.
I mean, for example, one of the main Pakistani gripes is that India's
presence in Afghanistan is unacceptable. Now, and it, of course, we
remember in the 1990s when Pakistan was supporting the Taliban regime
India had no presence in Kabul. Now, of course, Afghanistan is a
sovereign country. You can't tell a third country to suddenly leave, but
the Pakistanis want a deal in which somehow the Indian presence in
Afghanistan will be controlled. So there're all sorts of things which
the Pakistanis would throw in, which would not just be about bringing
peace and stability and an end to the war in Afghanistan, but would also
be about Pakistan's own interests.
GROSS: So that really complicates things, that the Pakistanis are
Mr. RASHID: Well, of course it does. And, of course, other neighboring
countries also would throw in a span also into the works. I mean Iran
has enormous interest in western Afghanistan. The Central Asian states
and Russia have interest in northern Afghanistan. Now, for example,
Russia and the Central Asia states would certainly not like to see any
kind of Taliban power-sharing with the Karzai government, if these
negotiations are successful which would bring for example, Taliban
commanders or Taliban governors in the northern provinces, adjacent to
central Asia. So itâs not going be easy because all the neighboring
countries are going to throw in their two bits as to what they want out
of these negotiations.
India, of course, will fight tooth and nail against any kind of
Pakistani involvement and any kind of Pakistani conditionality.
GROSS: If the ultimate goal of negotiations with the Taliban are some
kind of power-sharing arrangement between the Taliban and the Afghan
government and the Taliban becomes an official political party, in what
way is that victory, because it doesnât make the Taliban any less
extreme and it gives them a more official presence in the government. I
mean in what sense is that victory for the United States or for Pakistan
or most of all, for the Afghan people who donât really like the Taliban?
Mr. RASHID: Well, Terry, I donât want to jump ahead of the game. You
know, I mean we are still very much in the initial stages, and how this
will ultimately pan out and how it will end I think is very difficult to
say. But, I mean, I think what ultimately we're talking about is a
compromise. There will have to be some kind of compromise. Now whether
you call it power-sharing or coalition or, you know, giving the Taliban
some kind of rights in their areas, there will have to be some kind of
Now obviously, there's a lot of Afghan civil society; people who
benefitted from the last few years, the small middle class in the urban
areas; woman, of course, who've had, you know, been able to go back to
school and have an education who are very weary of any kind of dialogue
with the Taliban. But I think, you know, when we look at what the
objectives are. The objectives are really to end the war - to end the
state of insecurity in Afghanistan. Now this has to be balance
obviously, with satisfying all the needs and aspirations of the Afghan
For example, when I mean Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State had
voiced, several times, her apprehensions about having talks with the
Taliban unless they changed their attitude on women. Now, I mean she's
perfectly justified and saw Afghan women in expressing those views. But
my own gut feeling, let me tell you is that, what weâve seen with this,
you know, Afghanistan is a tribal society. They have an incredibly
absorptive capacity. It's like a big sponge, you know, they can suck in
all the water and all years and years of fighting and killing.
Weâve seen, for example, these tribal feuds sometimes that go on for
eight or nine generations and then they come to an end and there's a
settlement and one party pays the other or whatever and then, you know,
everybody lives at peace. And weâve seen this since 2001. Youâve had
many - youâve something like 21 or 22 members of parliament who come
from these militant groups, either the Taliban or their allies, who are
sitting in parliament today.
Now they haven't raised issues like, you know, women should stop being
educated or, you know, women should go back to being in the veil.
Theyâve sat in parliament and they're being quite reasonable. They
haven't demanded the imposition of Islamic law. They respect the
Constitution. Now maybe, you know, you can get the Taliban to be
absorbed into the body politic of Afghanistan without too many major
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a
journalist from Pakistan who's covered the region for about 30 years.
He's the author of the bestseller "Taliban" and of the book "Descent
into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and
Central Asia." He's in the U.S. on a brief trip.
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a
journalist from Pakistan who's covered the region for about 30 years.
His books include bestseller "Taliban" and of the book "Descent into
Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central
Weâve been talking about Afghanistan. Let's switch over to your country
of Pakistan. You know, the Pakistani-Taliban took credit for the suicide
bombing in coast Afghanistan on the CIA base and this was a really
important CIA base because it was the one that was the most prominent
one in investigating the extremist Islamic groups. And so it was a very
bad blow to the CIA. Several American CIA workers lost their lives.
What does it mean that Pakistani-Taliban took credit for crossing over
into Afghanistan to kill CIA agents and attack this base?
Mr. RASHID: Well, the actual bombing was carried this Jordanian who was
a double agent who the Jordanians thought was working for them and the
Americans but, in fact, he was working for al-Qaida. So I think this was
a plot that was actually put together by al-Qaida. But because it was
all put together in territory controlled by the Pakistani-Taliban, they
were very much part of it.
But what think it shows most of all is that, you know, all these groups
are interlinked: the Pakistani-Taliban, al-Qaida and the Afghan-Taliban.
All of these out of non-Pakistani groups depend on the Pakistani-Taliban
for sanctuary, for safety, for, you know, for getting their money
through, for foods supplies, for everything. So the Pakistani-Taliban
are a very critical part and you can't carry out operations even in
Afghanistan without the support of the Pakistani-Taliban.
For example, I mean the most recent military analysis by the Americans
is that large numbers of the suicide bombers were carrying out suicide
bombings in Afghanistan are coming from the Pakistan side of the
boarder. In other words, they are being brainwashed and trained and
tutored by the Pakistani-Taliban and then being handed over to the
Afghan-Taliban to be used as suicide bombers in Afghanistan.
GROSS: How does the Pakistan government's policy towards the Pakistani-
Taliban compare with the Afghan-Taliban? Is the government going after
one more than the other?
Mr. RASHID: Well, certainly, until recently that has been the case. The
Pakistan army last year took a very decisive decision to go after the
Pakistani-Taliban. And we first saw, last year, the clearing out of the
Pakistani-Taliban from the Swat Valley, which was very close to
Islamabad. And weâve now seen military operations in several of the
tribal areas bordering Afghanistan where the Pakistani-Taliban are
Now until now, there's been extreme reluctance for the Pakistan army to
after the Afghan-Taliban. In the tribal areas the Afghan-Taliban are
based in North Waziristan. Now just a few weeks ago, when General
McChrystal was in town and, in fact, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
was in town as well, the Pakistani army categorically said, we will not
be going into North Waziristan, no matter what kind of pressure the
Americans put on us.
Now that's why I mean this arrest is very important. Does the arrest of
Mullah Baradar in Karachi signal a real change of strategy? Well, I
think the real indicator for that will come if the Pakistan army shows a
willingness to go into North Waziristan, and in particular, deal with
the two elements who are living there. One, are the Arab al-Qaida, who
are known to be living there. And the other, of course, is the Hakani
So far Pakistan has treated the Hakani Network as its own asset. Even
though the Hakani Network had bombed and killed large numbers of NATO
troops, we have not seen any military action against the Hakani Network.
If that happens, then we can presume that the Pakistan military's
attitudes have now changed to the Afghan-Taliban also.
GROSS: So what does the Pakistani government have to gain by not going
after the Pakistan or Afghani-Taliban in the frontier territories?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know, as I said earlier, I mean I think
they would like to use - the Pakistan military and the intelligence had
been convinced for a very long time that the Americans are going to pull
out of Afghanistan. Now this date that was set by President Obama of
June of 2011, which has been talked about as handing over responsibility
to the Afghan army and the security forces and the gradual withdrawal of
the Americans. Now, I donât think an immediate withdrawal or a full-
scale withdrawal would take place but the Pakistanis are convinced that
basically the Americans and NATO are on the way out. And if they're on
the way out, they want to have influence in Kabul and their main proxy
for that influence is the Taliban.
And theyâve hung on to the Taliban for the last eight years. If they
hang on another year - a year and a half, they could well be in a very
strong position to be able to negotiate the return of the Afghan-Taliban
to some kind of power-sharing in Kabul and get a lot of the other
conditionality satisfied as well. I think that has been the primary
strategy of the Pakistani military. And this kind of dual policy of
helping the Americans, I mean theyâve been providing intelligence to the
Americans. Theyâve been allowing all the goods and supplies that the
American forces need to come up from the port city of Karachi and go
through Pakistan and then into Afghanistan - theyâve allowed all that to
happen. So, you know, what the Americans have been very keen about is
that this dual policy - that youâre helping us, the Americans, but
youâre also helping our enemies, the Taliban. What they want is for that
to end. We could be seeing the beginning of that change of policy.
GROSS: So, Ahmed Rashid, how close have attacks come to your home so
Mr. RASHID: Well, I live in Lahore and there have been numerous suicide
attacks in Lahore - very devastating, but most of them have been
targeted at police stations, for example, or the intelligence office in
downtown Lahore. They haven't been that close but obviously, theyâve
been very paralyzing to have these attacks in your own city and for days
afterwards there's enormous security in the city; the police is out, the
army's out, all the cars are being checked, the enormous traffic jams,
people tend not to guard too much to the big bazaars and cinemas, people
just take care.
GROSS: And, you know, youâve written about how there's a lot of
joblessness in Pakistan, now, and especially among the youth, so a lot
of young people are turning toward extremism. And I'm wondering if you
know young people in Lahore who are examples of that, who...
Mr. RASHID: Well, actually it's been very interesting because, you know,
with all this confusion about sort of double dealing with the Taliban
and all the rest of it, after a very long time I've been asked by many
colleges and universities to go and lecture and to try and explain to
them what I feel is going on and...
GROSS: In Pakistan?
Mr. RASHID: In Pakistan and I've been traveling a lot in Pakistan,
talking at universities and colleges and young people. And the very, you
know, and obviously, we talk about the economic malaise. And the first
thing that they're very worried about is that they're all going to come
out with degrees and be very qualified, but, you know, many of them
just, you know, feel that they're going to end up driving taxis, because
there are just not the jobs in the economy for them. And that's because
there's been this huge economic recession, there's been a financial
crisis, there has been a power energy crisis, a lot of factories have
And, you know, in Lahore itself, I mean I just left a few days ago and,
you know, we are having up to 14 hours of no electricity a day. Now, you
can imagine, I mean without electricity, electricity going off every
other hour, how could you run factories and how can people work? How can
computers run? How can you even study in a university or in a college
when you have no light in the middle of winter? So there is an enormous
economic problem and young people are very, very concerned about their
But I think a lot of young people now - I would say that, you know, a
couple of years ago there was much greater militancy among young people.
But now when I go, I get a lot of very sympathetic questions asking, you
know, asking me to explain how I see the situation and where I see
Talibanization going. And the young people seem very worried by
GROSS: Of course, the people who youâre not reaching on these college
lecture tours are the uneducated people who are perhaps more likely to
join the Taliban.
Mr. RASHID: Well, exactly. I mean absolutely. And they, of course, are
suffering more and more, because a lot of these young people are coming
to the cities looking for work, coming off the lands because their farms
are not so productive. It has been a huge blow to agriculture because
the lack of electricity means that a lot of water and irrigation is
pumped irrigation for which you need electricity, and if there's no
electricity, there's no water. So a lot of these young, uneducated
farmers are coming to the cities looking for work, and there's no work
GROSS: So when you look at President Obama's strategy for dealing with
the Taliban and Afghanistan now, what kind of grade do you give him?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think he's had a very positive strategy, because his
political strategy has emerged at the time when the U.S. military was
developing its new counterterrorism strategy, which has been - which was
effective to some extent in Iraq and is going to be probably effective
in Afghanistan. And President Obama's emphasis on economic development,
on agriculture, all these things are a good thing.
I think what the Obama administration has been very undecided about is
to what degree to talk to the Afghan-Taliban. I think they have to come
to a decision, quickly, on this. I think there has to be a united
decision. At the moment, my sense is that there are big divisions
between Defense Department, State Department, The White House, the NSC,
within Obama's advisors as to, you know - and itâs a complicated issue
for them. Because, you know, the left wing of the Democratic Party is
going to say, well, you know, weâve been fighting these guys, they hate
women, why are you making peace with these guys, you know. And the right
wing Republicans are going to say, well, this is a sell out, you know,
to the Taliban.
Now I think, you know, he's got to face political flack from both sides
of the divide in the United States. But I think for the betterment of
the region, he has to come to a quick conclusion about whether the
Americans are going to support this dialogue.
GROSS: Well Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for talking with us again.
Be safe, be well, and I look forward to talking with you again.
Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Ahmed Rashid lives in Pakistan. He spoke to us from New York. A
new edition of his book "Taliban" will be published this spring.
Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new DVD of a music theater piece
featuring Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Composer Robert Schumann And Sting: 'Twin Spirits'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Robert
Schumann. Our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz thinks one of the
most interesting new Schumann commemorative items is a DVD of a British
music and theater piece called "Twin Spirits" about the intense
relationship between Schumann and his wife Clara. Another famous couple,
Sting and Trudie Styler read the Schumann's actual letters and diary
(Soundbite of "Twin Spirits")
STING (Singer, Songwriter): (as Robert Schumann) That even when all my
prayers were turned into scorn and derision, you, would spring into my
mind - you, alone, my beloved girl child. I would find myself asking the
question: Will she one day become my wife? Then, every day between us
lay far into the future. Who made me love you? Who made you love me? And
from whom can one demand and explanation?
LLOYD SCHWARTZ: One of the most moving love stories in the world of
music is the relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann. In 2007,
the British producer David Caird put together a music theater piece
called "Twin Spirits" at London's Covent Garden, in which Derek Jacoby
narrated the romantic and tragic story, with Sting and his wife Trudie
Styler reading passages from Robert and Clara's letters and the
remarkable diary they kept together in the first years of their
marriage. Some excellent chamber musicians and singers punctuate the
readings with excerpts from the works of both Robert and Clara.
(Soundbite of music)
SCHWARTZ: "Twin Spirits" tells the story of Robert Schumann coming to
Leipzig to study with the renowned music teacher Friedrich Wieck. His
daughter Clara was a piano prodigy, by far the most talented of his six
children. Robert was nine years older than her. He lived with the Wiecks
for a year. By the time Clara was in her mid teens, they had fallen in
Here's one sweet story.
(Soundbite of "Twin Spirits")
STING: (as Robert Schumann) Dear, kind, Clara, I have a mystical
proposal that you must grant. Tomorrow night at exactly 11 o'clock, I
shall play the adagio from Chopin's "Variations on 'La ci darem," and
will think intently, exclusively of you. If you do the same thing at
exactly the same time, our twin spirits will meet each other as we play.
Your doppelganger and mine will play together by the light of the full
moon, somewhere over the little gate into Saint Thomas's churchyard. If
I donât hear from you and you hear a string breaking at midnight
tomorrow, that'll be my heart.
SCHWARTZ: Wieck was violently opposed to this romance. Clara's career
came first. He refused to permit the marriage and ultimately the two
lovers went to court for permission. Clara was 21, Robert 30. Wieck
eventually relented when the couple had the first of their eight
children, only four of whom outlived their parents.
Clara was much more famous than Robert, and traveled extensively giving
recitals, which were admired by the greatest musical figures of the
time. She inspired Robert â the year before they were married, he wrote
more than 100 of his greatest songs. And she helped further his career
by playing his compositions.
Here are the well-known British baritone Simon Keenlyside and the
expressive soprano Rebecca Evans in a lesser known but beautiful love
duet "Er und Sie" - "He and She."
(Soundbite of song, "Er und Sie")
SCHWARTZ: Schumann suffered from periodic mental breakdowns, and tragedy
struck when he tried to drown himself. He was institutionalized, but
Clara was forbidden to see him for more than two years, until he was
actually dying. She spent the rest of her life giving concerts and
performing Schumann's music.
In his musical selection, producer/director David Caird is less
concerned with chronology than with finding something appropriate for
each part of the story. Purists might object to the way Caird has
rearranged some of the original music for the production. But in this
dramatic context, I find these new arrangements both tasteful and
effective. Sting, we've come to know, has a serious interest in
classical music. He's also a coolly expressive actor and reader. Trudie
Styler is particularly affecting reading what Clara wrote during her
final visits to Schumann.
The most disappointing element of "Twin Spirits" is the rather
artificial narration by Derek Jacobi, an actor I usually admire. But the
whole enterprise is a compelling and poignant retelling of the story,
and the well-chosen and well-performed music make this an outstanding
addition to the year celebration of Robert Schumann's bicentennial.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix
and teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He
reviewed the DVD of "Twin Spirits," You'll find a trailer at our Web
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