Pakistan at a Crossroads
With the accelerated US drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, what lies ahead for Pakistan? What remain the greatest threats to stability in Pakistan? How can the international community play a positive role in Pakistan's economic development and political stability? Is there a substantial role for the United States?
Pakistan at a Crossroads
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THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
PAKISTAN AT A CROSSROADS
1000 N, Third Street
Thursday, June 27, 2013
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
President and CEO, Aspen Institute
STANLEY A. McCHRYSTAL
Commander, International Security Assistance Force and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan
Co-founder of McChrystal Group and a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs
Former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States
Director for South and Central Asia, Hudson
Institute and Professor of the Practice of
International relations, Boston University
Journalist and Novelist
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PAKISTAN AT A CROSSROADS
MR. ISAACSON: Now that Jeff Goldberg and Richard Haass are here, we can solve Pakistan. So, we're ready to start. This is not only going to be the most important panel, but it's also the most interesting panel, because if you could figure out Pakistan, we could save the world. And there are no three better people to do it than those on stage.
General Stan McChrystal, of course, needs no introduction about his understanding of Pakistan. I will say he also become a great friend of the Aspen Institute and has helped us start a program on National Service. Thank you, General McChrystal.
Husain Haqqani is --
MR. ISAACSON: Bravo. Husain Haqqani has been a great ambassador from Pakistan but also has a book that's going to explain it to us all, coming out in September-October. And I just told him that's the thing we most need in life, is understanding the relationship with Pakistan for those of us who want to study it. We look really forward to your book.
And as for David Ignatius, I've learned more from his novels about the Middle East than most people's non-fiction. And the good thing about David is you can tell his fiction from his non-fiction. So my friend, David Ignatius, from the Washington Post.
MR. IGNATIUS: Thank you. Thank you, Walter. Somebody said to me once, "David, the only time you really tell the truth is in your novels." So, you know, I'm afraid I'm stuck with that. This is a fascinating opportunity for me as a journalist who follows Pakistan to talk to really the two people I most like to quiz on where that country is going. So I'm really grateful for the opportunity to do that.
And I want to start with, in a sense, the fundamental question that makes all of us care deeply, anxiously about Pakistan and I'd sum it up with a phrase that many Americans use: that this is potentially the most dangerous country on earth in terms of the potential risk of nuclear weapons getting out, of absolutely catastrophic events.
And so I want to ask you to start, and we'll get to somewhat, you know, more detailed questions later. But I'd ask you, General McChrystal, to start in saying, first, do you think that assessment of Pakistan is correct? And second, how over time would you see U.S. policy reducing that danger? What would a relationship with Pakistan 10 years from now look like where we wouldn't say that, we wouldn't say "Pakistan an existential threat" in the same sentence?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Thanks, David. And thanks for letting me be here. I had grown up when I was a young officer reading David's novel and I took great comfort in the fact that when we actually went into the real world, it couldn't be that hard. And he understated it. I think the question whether Pakistan is maybe the most dangerous place for the world, the answer is yes in my view, at least right now. But it's not all Pakistan's fault. It's not a series of bad decisions. Part of it is geography and part of it is history.
If you look at its location, particularly go back to the days of the great game, and then you looked at its post-1947 as an independent nation, its relationship with India has been difficult, but then its neighbors aren't particularly easy to be around either, Afghanistan, Iran and then where it fits in the world. So that's difficult. Then there are a number of underlying problems that are there no matter what. There are economic problems, there are problems with water, there are problems with electricity that can be fixed, but they still are difficult problems that would be for any government in any country and similar.
There are newer problems, an internal set of insurgencies and there are more than one. There is the existence of Al-Qaeda there, which has brought all the attention. But there is the Baloch insurgency. There is the Pakistani Taliban. And then there is internal political challenges that Pakistan faces sitting at this critical position with about 180 million people. The nexus between, obviously, India and then much of the rest of the region. So I think that -- and then of course you throw nuclear weapons on top of it. Even if you took nuclear weapons away, I think my answer would probably still be yes.
But what we need to do is make sure we look at all the factors. Pakistan is like a complex system or a very complex equation I could never solve at West Point. Too many variables. And so if you try to grab one and say the problem is the army, the problem is Al-Qaeda, you way oversimplify it. So I think that as we go forward as Americans to David's point, what we need to do is deal with Pakistan in a very complex way.
One of the things that used to disappoint me is we would go in 2004-2005 to deal with President Musharraf or whatever and we would go in with talking points that said, "Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda, that's the big problem." And Pakistanis who I would deal with on the side, very close friends of mine, would say, "We've got a bunch of problems. Al-Qaeda is about tenth. Help us with all of them so we can help you with that one."
MR. IGNATIUS: So let me turn to Ambassador Haqqani, who has thought as deeply about his country as anybody I know, and ask you first, when you hear Americans say as they so often do "this is the most dangerous country on Earth," what do you think as a Pakistani? Do you share that evaluation? And I'd ask you and maybe General McChrystal could come back in on this. It is sometimes said that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are under much greater control, much better command and control than Americans realize. And to that extent, we should ratchet back our anxiety a little bit, that this is a better controlled system and structure than we think?
MR. HAQQANI: Well, my answer to your first question is that, yes, I do believe that Pakistan is a dangerous place. But my second part of that answer is, but not for the reasons the Americans think it is. The Americans don't get Pakistan. General McChrystal and many other generals, in fact American diplomats, going back to John Foster Dulles, go to Pakistan and hear one side. And they sometimes believe when Pakistani officials, especially generals say, "Well, America must help us solve our problems."
It's not America's problem to solve Pakistan's problem. It's Pakistan's problem to solve Pakistan's problems. And why is Pakistan a problem? Here is the reason. It was a country that was created with very little prior discussion and analysis. People forget there has been an Egypt for 5,000 years. There has been an Iran for several centuries, for millennia. There has been an India for -- Pakistan is only 66 years old. So therefore it has essentially a lot of psychosis more than it has actually threats and challenges; India, for example.
I understand that the Pakistanis are concerned about India, but as a Pakistani I look at history -- and of course I know that the American relationship to history is very unusual. It's the only country in the world where when somebody says "that's history" he means that's irrelevant.
MR. HAQQANI: But in case of India and Pakistan it's important to understand. Yes, India has never philosophically accepted the idea of Pakistan, but it has not been responsible for initiating any of the wars with Pakistan. Let's be real about that. Afghanistan is too weak and too poor to attack Pakistan. So most of the problems that Pakistan sees itself in are psychological rather than real. And the real problems are we have not only 180 million people, we are 210 million according to this morning's estimates based on the population growth. Highest population growth rate in that region. Half the population is below the age of 21. One-third of them will never see the inside of any school, forget about madrassas religious schools, any school. They won't even go to a madrassa. One-third of that young population.
One-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Another one-third lives just above it, and yet the country has nuclear weapon. And I'm the only Pakistani who has had the guts, in my opinion, to say that, "Look, the nuclear weapons should have finally made us secure about India. We have mutually assured destruction, so India will never invade us if we really believe India is going to invade us."
Well, guess what? We are now like the guy who keeps buying guns to try and protect himself, and then say, "Oh, gosh, I can't sleep because I'm afraid somebody will steal my guns."
MR. HAQQANI: And so now Pakistan has created this new psychosis that the Americans are going to come and take our nukes away. So the real threat to Pakistan essentially is from a failure to come to terms with its geography, with its history and with having a direction for it as a nation.
Benazir Bhutto, before she was assassinated, had a new vision for Pakistan. And her vision was we will focus inwards. We will put the kids into schools. We will keep the nukes, but we will eventually sign up with some kind of international agreement that will make sure that we are not looked upon as a pariah. We will join globalization. And if American aid is available to us, we will use it like Korea did or Taiwan did. We are not going to live as an insecure nation because that insecurity then makes people think, "Al-Qaeda? Well, how can we use them against our enemy India instead of considering them the enemy?" And that is why we have these interrelated problems in Pakistan.
So, yes, dangerous place, but Americans sometimes don't really get it.
MR. IGNATIUS: So I was worried before, now I'm really worried.
MR. IGNATIUS: I mean you, Ambassador Haqqani, just described a country with a deep psychosis about itself that has nuclear weapons. And, General McChrystal, the question that a generation of American policymakers have been asking is, how do we talk to a country that has this kind of psychosis, this anxiety about its relationship with America, its relationship with India?
So many different ways have been tried. Admiral Mullen tried, you know, kind of embracing General Kayani and making him his best friend forever, BFF Mullen-heart-Kayani. That ended up blowing up. Other kind of tough talk approaches have been tried. You've watched all of them in the last decade. What do you come out thinking as the right way for the United States to address what Ambassador Haqqani rightly said, is a country with this psychosis?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Yeah, let me talk about National Service.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: No.
MR. IGNATIUS: Yeah.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: No, this is great. Here's what I don't think we should do. I think that we have engaged with Pakistan in a spasmodic way. So what happens is, 1971, well, we had a relationship earlier during the Cold War because of Pakistan's geography and the fact that they were essentially on our side made them very good partners there. When we wanted -- when Henry Kissinger wanted to go into China, they were very useful to help him get into China secretly.
But then we pull back whenever we got something else to do or we encounter frustration. And so it's spasmodic. And when we go back in each time, we go back in with a fairly narrow temporal set of objectives. And we try to engage on that without understanding or trying to build the wider relationship. We've done a few really painful things. The Pressler Amendment when it was implemented after the Pakistanis went publicly nuclear stopped the interaction between militaries essentially, and so there was about a decade when Pakistani military leaders didn't come to the United States for training.
Now, how big a deal is that? Well, I would go to Pakistan, when I dealt with Pakistani military leaders, they ran in -- they were layered. Those who had engaged with the Americans had one view and comfort level. Then there was a whole group that had just incredible suspicion and frustration.
I don't believe that what we should do is immediately put our arms around them, and say, "Whatever you do is fine." Nor, do I believe we should recoil and say, "Because you're dangerous and because you're frustrating, our way to not deal with you is to ignore you." It's kind of like covering our eyes and hoping Pakistan goes way. Because when you take your eyes -- your hands off whatever is there still is.
So I think a longer term, more consistent, very realistic policy. As the ambassador said, we can't solve Pakistan's problems, but we are a part, we are an enabler. Sometimes we can be a confidence builder to them to help their confidence with their relationship with India and what not. So I think we can play a significant role.
MR. IGNATIUS: And, Ambassador Haqqani, I'm remembering in the period when you were ambassador it seemed like Pakistan was on the front page every day. And part of that was that you had a kind of, you know, livewire, very high visibility Pakistani ambassador in Washington who was at the center --
MR. HAQQANI: (Inaudible).
MR. IGNATIUS: Well -- you know, so I want you to talk about that. But my question really is this, as we think about a stable, enduring, less dangerous, less neurotic U.S.-Pakistan relationship, is turning the heat down a good idea? If you had to do it again would you turn the heat down, be more remote from the Pakistani and U.S. news media? What do you think about the right way to play that role of ambassador?
MR. HAQQANI: Well, first of all, I think that I didn't do anything wrong. Pakistan's point of view and Pakistan's concerns and American concerns about Pakistan had to be put out there. What we need is an honest discussion. For example, Pakistanis have a legitimate question when they say why has American policy towards Pakistan been so spasmodic.
Pakistanis have a legitimate question when they say that, you know, you sometimes give us private assurances that you do not keep on the nuclear question. Let us be very honest. The Reagan administration turned a blind eye deliberately and then at the end when Pakistan assumed that that blind eye meant we could go ahead with it, they immediately imposed all the sanctions.
Many administrations allow Congress to regulate the relationship rather than being upfront, and saying, "Hey, why are you doing this? This is not right between us." Because they needed General Zia, so they kind of, you know, finessed things with him. And then in the end when Afghanistan was over, the Congressional legislature had to be implemented, hence Pressler. So have an honest dialogue.
But then Pakistan also has to have some honest answers. I mean we can't say, you know, we are not making a bomb and then say, "And by the way, we just tested the bomb we were not making."
MR. HAQQANI: We can't say, "Osama Bin Laden, never heard of him," and then have him found in Pakistan. And I think what we need is more candor in the relationship and I think as ambassador I did bring that candor. It didn't sit well with those in Islamabad who think that keeping this relationship in the realm of shadows, a CIA to ISI relation, a military to military relationship, more functional relationship rather than an understanding of "what are we all about."
Now, look, Korea has received a lot less American bilateral aid than Pakistan has. Pakistan is the second largest recipient of American aid since 1947, $40 billion. What does Pakistan have to show for it? The Koreans have built an economy with that aid because they opened their economy. American officials need to say this to Pakistan.
Every American general who meets a Pakistani general has to say to them, "You know what? The reason why our investors don't come to your country is not because the American government stops them. Your conspiracy theories are wrong. What is right is you haven't created the enabling environment for them to come. You open up, you become less insecure in your way of thinking, and you will reap the benefits.
And that candor has been missing because of the need based relationship. "We need them for sort of having bases against the Soviet Union (phonetic)." Ironically, the Pakistanis never gave the bases. They just gave you one CIA base in Badaber, and the big bases that the American military had been hoping for, you never got them. So you never get that little thing you're going after and you let the big picture actually get spoiled in the process.
MR. IGNATIUS: General McChrystal, we do now have a moment where the page has been turned in Pakistan. We have a new government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has a whole new set of personnel, a new party, a new way of looking at the U.S.-Pakistan relationship we think, some new ideas about India. And I'd be interested in your -- first, your sense of Nawaz Sharif as a Pakistani leader? I'm going to ask Ambassador Haqqani the same thing. And then your thoughts about where this particular opportunities are in this next period with new leadership in terms of the U.S.?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Sure. I do think we're at a pretty important inflection point, driven by a number of circumstances to include the recent election, which was the first election in Pakistani history from a civilian government to a civilian government. They have never been able to complete a term before. And so being able to start a tradition of civilian leadership is critical. Pakistan in my view cannot continue with on-again, off-again military taking over leadership of the country.
I think it's an important inflection point, and I think that if the role of the military can be shaped into something more appropriate. Pakistan's military became viewed by many Pakistanis with great respect, but within the military it became viewed as the essential organization.
We think of George Washington as the essential man. The Pakistani military internally views themselves as the essential bulwark of Pakistani sovereignty, Pakistani pride, Pakistani freedom. And there is much less regard for the effectiveness of civilian Pakistani government than we would like in a good balance.
Now part of that is because Pakistani civilian government has not been impressive. But now I think Nawaz Sharif has the opportunity to potentially like Erdogan has done in Turkey or other leaders have done to reshape that balance a bit. Now he is going to have to do it not just by controlling the military, he's also going to have -- because I believe -- and I may have a different view from the ambassador. When I deal with General Kayani or other military leaders in Pakistan I don't see a bunch duplicitous, dishonorable people. I see patriots who see the world through their lens and are trying to do what's right for their country. It might be different than what might be viewed by others, but I view it as pretty genuine. So he's going to have to shape that in a way that brings those two in better connection.
Now the question is -- I don't know whether Nawaz Sharif can do it. I don't know him personally. I have read the histories of him. When I was spending a lot of time in Pakistan, he was not in a position to be around. But we're asking an awful lot of a guy who has got a questionable background.
MR. IGNATIUS: So, Ambassador Haqqani -- one great thing about Ambassador Haqqani is he knows everybody in Pakistani politics and the chances are that he worked for them at one point in the past. So I want to ask you -- you know a lot about Nawaz Sharif -- what thoughts would you offer about how he can develop a civilian government, make it work, and, in particular, what advice would you have about how to deal with the problem General McChrystal said? How does he speak to the chief of army staff, General Kayani, or his successor and make clear, "This Pakistani military isn't going to call the shots now. We have a civilian government." How does he do that?
MR. HAQQANI: Not with any ease. First of all, we must understand that American generals look at Pakistani generals and see fellow soldiers. Pakistanis, especially those who have been imprisoned by generals at one point or another, look at them as politicians in uniform. So it's a very different perspective.
Nawaz Sharif has to move very carefully. Now, on the one hand, he wants to establish civilian supremacy. President Zardari was a lot sort of slower on that front. He used to move two steps forward, two-and-a-half steps backward sometimes, because he understood that the military does have far more influence. For example, the Pakistani military runs businesses, which the American military does not. Pakistani military runs media and has influence over media that the American military probably does not.
MR. HAQQANI: And --
MR. IGNATIUS: Wait for Snowden next week.
MR. HAQQANI: And so -- and the Pakistani military tells Pakistan's parliament and parliamentarians and politicians what Pakistan's national interest is. The American military is part of the process of defining American national interest, but all of you are part of that process as well. Your politicians are; your media is. In Pakistan, the military wants to monopolize the definition of national interest, and that's my problem with them. That's all. Other than that, they are very decent people. My brother served in the military. My father served in the Pakistani military.
So Generals who think that they can actually determine national interest and they alone can determine it are going to be Nawaz Sharif's biggest problem, and that problem is going to start very soon. As he tries to put General Musharraf on trial, which personally I think is not necessarily a priority. It shouldn't have been a priority. But he wants to do it. When he does that, he will run into some problems with the Pakistani military and so he has to move carefully on that front.
MR. IGNATIUS: Why do you -- just to stop on --
MR. HAQQANI: I think he should focus on --
MR. IGNATIUS: Why did he do that? I mean, that's -- you know, that's a kind of classic revenge play. You know, the man who kicked me out is --
MR. HAQQANI: Yeah.
MR. IGNATIUS: I'm going to go after him and put him on trial for treason. Why did he do that?
MR. HAQQANI: Because he is Nawaz Sharif. I mean, that's who Nawaz Sharif is. I worked with him and when I did not agree with him and left his side, he had a little black mark against my name. And then when he got a chance, he tried to get even with me on that as well.
Look, he is a provincial politician who became national just because there was no alternative to Benazir Bhutto on the popular front at that time. The Pakistani military and the ISI -- there is a case pending in the Supreme Court still. Because the Supreme Court supports him, they don't let that case be decided. But the fact is that he ran for office in 1990 with ISI funding. I mean that's like a presidential candidate in the United States running for office with CIA funding. You would never, you know, let that happen easily, or at least --
MR. IGNATIUS: Not easily.
MR. HAQQANI: And so this guy -- so this guy was the military -- the military propped him up and then he wanted to secure authority from the military, which made him and General Musharraf rivals. So I think he is doing that. I think it's a mistake. I think he should -- his priority should be solving Pakistan's internal problems; the economy, the educational system, scaling down the hatred that Pakistanis learn from their schools, hatred against Jews, hatred against Hindus. India as an -- there is no such thing as an existential threat.
There are threats. There are lasting threats. There are longer threats. But you know what? Nations change their perception of threats. I mean they might have been a time when the Mexicans and the Americans were fighting. Well, guess what? Now the Americans are figuring out how to have more Mexicans work in America. I mean that's how the world moves.
And so Pakistan's this view that somehow India will always be our enemy is a wrong view. We need to open up on that, and those are the things were Nawaz Sharif should focus rather than on settling scores with Musharraf or the army.
MR. IGNATIUS: And just a quick question to both of you. Nawaz Sharif is associated in the past with the idea of opening to India, famous diplomatic opening and the visit to Lahore. So a lot of people have thought that's the area where you might see really significant movement. The relationship between India and Pakistan already is better than I think most Americans realize. What do you think about that? Is there an opportunity to quickly try to do something? What do you think, General McChrystal?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I'll let the ambassador --
MR. HAQQANI: My quick answer to that is that there is a lot that can be done, but for that what is most needed is narrative change in Pakistan. As long as the narrative is that these guys never wanted us to be a country, they'll never let us be a country and they are our existential enemies, there won't be a move forward.
Nawaz Sharif will be pulled back just as President Zardari was. If you remember, Zardari opened up to India in a big way in the beginning. And the way it works is rumors start floating, conspiracy theories start coming. I mean, look, it's sad that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis to this day in opinion polls do not accept the official version of what happened on 9/11. They are conspiracy theorists. They believe that 9/11 was an inside job.
There are people who don't believe the Americans actually killed Bin Laden. They think they brought the dead body with them. I mean, you know, when you have -- and I'm not talking about 15-20 percent of conspiracy theorists that you have in this country as well. I'm talking about larger numbers; 60 percent, 70 percent. That needs to be changed.
So narrative change will have to precede policy change in relation to India, otherwise, we will have a lot of shaking of hands, hugging, some policy decisions and then they will all fall apart within a couple of years. A little incident on the border, some guy gets shot, a bombing incident in India and then it all falls apart. And this time it needs to be built on more solid footing.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I would probably flip it. I agree with the ambassador, but I probably think you need to do the steps first, because I think the attitude and the narrative is going to follow that. I think forcing increased trade. There have been some talk recently about lowering our tariffs on textiles for India and Pakistan on the condition that they increase their trade between the two countries.
I think if you force interaction -- I don't think you first convince somebody to like somebody else and then they are going to hang around them. I think you force them to deal with them and then I think you change attitudes over time.
MR. IGNATIUS: So I want to change gears just a little bit and I want to ask General McChrystal to step back to the time that he was the ISAF commander in Kabul in 2009. As we know, General McChrystal put together a comprehensive strategy that we call the COIN, counter intelligence, strategy for dealing with the Taliban insurgency and stabilizing Afghanistan.
And part of the -- what drove the policy was that if we can get Afghanistan right, we'll stabilize Pakistan as well. And I like to ask you, General McChrystal, to look back at that honestly and critically. We've now had four years of experience with that strategy and I think we'd all be really interested in your evaluation of what went the way you thought it would? What, as you look back, would you do differently? And obviously, where do you think we are now as we head toward 2014 and the departure of American combat troops from that country and, you know, Afghanistan flying on its own?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Sure. First, on the counter insurgency strategy. I had been in Afghanistan for part of every year from 9/11, from 2001 on and I had been commanding special operating forces going after Al-Qaeda. Before I took over in 2009 and I had spent -- but I had spent most of my time in Iraq. I had come to the conclusion from my Iraq experience and the years in Afghanistan that the only way to be successful was not to be just enemy focused and killing people, because the Russians killed 1.2 million Afghans and that didn't work.
And so I became convinced that we had to get something that won the confidence and support of the Afghan people. And I had studied it for years, but it was proven right in front of my eyes in Iraq. I came in in the summer of 2009 and the psychological situation in Afghanistan was devastating. Philosophically, we had been there for eight years and this huge expectation which many Afghans had had that we were going to help sort things out had not been met.
Now, some of them were unrealistic. But the reality was what the West had been able to do was not very effective and what the Afghans had done for themselves was not as effective. And so by 2009 they had grown cynical. They were losing hope and the Taliban were leveraging that to say, "Look, this thing is not going to work and we're about to be back." The Taliban were not popular. They are still not. But the very weak sense of government and weak other institutions, the police and the military, gave this sense of gloom and doom.
So when I took over in the summer of 2009, I thought we had to do several things. I think the first we had to do was change our strategy so that we could implement counterinsurgency. We could start getting the support of the people, actually protecting them. Because if you can't protect them, everything else to them is irrelevant. We needed to change people's confidence. We needed to start making people believe that we could and should pull this off. But the great question mark for me was "did we have enough time?"
America was already tired of it. Our NATO allies were tired of it. Pakistan had grown convinced that we were likely to fail in the region. So we were trying to do this against this big wall of skepticism. And so as I dealt with Afghans, it was really a case, "Can we get people to believe? Can the Mets win the '69 pennant?" That's the question you got to believe.
And we had to first prove we could do things on the ground in certain areas and we had to try to engage people, particularly people like the Pakistanis, and say, "Listen, we can do this. It is in your interest that we succeed, because a Taliban run Afghanistan is a worst possible outcome for Pakistan's stability."
I don't think any of that was wrong. I still believe that that assessment was absolutely accurate. Now what did we do? We went in; we pushed. We went -- I spent a lot of time in Pakistan with General Kayani and other leaders to try to get them to believe.
I think -- maybe I'm Pollyanna -- I think I had them moving to where they believed that we had a chance to be successful. But in one one-on-one moment General Kayani looked me and I laid out my strategy. He laid out his. And I laid out, "This is what I'm trying to do." And he said, "Stan, I think it is right, but I don't think you have enough time. I think it's the only thing to do, but I don't think you're going to succeed because I don't think you've got the time to do it.
You know, what other option did I have, except I had been given the mission. So we pushed it. Where did I think that it fell short? One, I think a heck of a lot of it has succeeded. I think actually Afghanistan is a much better place than a lot of people think. Their big problem is political now. They can solve their other problems, but their big problem is credibility of politics and they're going to have to do that themselves. We can't do that.
But we did make some mistakes. I made some mistakes as we pushed forward. One thing is the American people and others like quick successes. So if you come in and you say you got to believe -- I'd get a call the next and say, "Did you do it yet?"
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: So, no, you just have to believe I can do it; we will do it. Not that it's done. But -- so there was an expectation that if it didn't happen very quickly that it wasn't going to work. And that's one of the weaknesses of sort of the way that we look at things. That was a problem.
We also -- I personally didn't navigate D.C. very well. As we went and asked for additional forces -- when I first got there, I didn't want additional forces. I didn't think we needed them. We did this big assessment, and my staff -- and we played it in all kinds of computer games and everything. And we laid it down and said, "The only way you can pull this off is you've got to have enough additional foreign forces -- read U.S. -- to be a bridge force until you can build the Afghan military up. There's no other way."
And so I knew going to D.C. for additional forces wasn't going to make me Mr. Popular. But I did that. And as we did that, that was very difficult political time, fall of 2009, as you know; new administration, all kinds of reasons. It wasn't a popular war. We pushed that through. But as we pushed that through and were successful in making that argument, I think that there were already people who were skeptical about, "Here we go again. We're going to have another Iraq. We're going to have another Vietnam, whatever they wanted."
And so there was -- I don't think that we were as convincing to all the other constituents and supporters that were as important as we needed to be. So I think that -- I think it's got a great chance right now. Unfortunately, I'm still an absolute believer, but I'm probably biased.
MR. IGNATIUS: Let me -- I want to turn to Husain. But I just want to push back on one thing, which I think many people who like me who visited Afghanistan often in this period would say to you, which is that there was a way in which you were building on quicksand.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Yeah.
MR. IGNATIUS: Because of the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai government. And building on quicksand just isn't a viable strategy. How would you respond to that?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: My favorite movie is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: And do you remember the scene where they go up in the tower and he says, "We built this castle, it sank into the swamp. So we built another castle, it sank in the swamp. And the sixth castle burned down and sank in the swamp. We build the seventh castle and it stayed."
I guess what I'd respond to you, David, is I didn't have a choice. What it was, you couldn't fix every problem at once. We were trying to fix corruption. We were trying to fix the government. But we didn't have a lot of time. So I thought what we had to do was first convince the Afghan people it was going to get better. Provide enough security to convince people, "Hey, it's different this time." I absolutely knew we were standing on quicksand because people believed the money is going out the backdoor as fast as you put it in the front door. But at the same time, it takes a long time to fix those problems. Those are cultural as well as physical.
So we were -- Dave Rodriguez and I, who is one of the officers I admire most, commands AFRICOM now, we used to get in my office and we'd look at each other and say, "Can we do this?" And he was an old West Point football player. He says, "We're going to have to pass on every down and then we've got a fifty-fifty chance."
And then we looked at each other and said, "But this is our mission, and I think we can." So that was the mindset that I had.
MR. IGNATIUS: Powerful answer.
MR. HAQQANI: David, since Afghans are not represented here --
MR. IGNATIUS: Sir.
MR. HAQQANI: -- I have to rise to the defense of President Karzai. Part of the problem is also the expectation of American liberals in particular that Afghan democracy should be like Scandinavian democracy, instead of accepting the fact that it's probably going to be more like Chicago under Mayor Daley.
MR. HAQQANI: And so just cut them a little slack. I mean, here is a tribal society that has come out of so many -- and it's still at war. Look, can you imagine any state in the United States that's been at war for 30 years? It's been at war since '79. One-third of their population was driven into refugeehood. You know, they were refugee.
And so coming back and rebuilding and then rebuilding political organization and getting people together, you know, you have to do it in many ways. Now, I'm not supporting corruption. I've never supported corruption. But I think sometimes the standards by which Afghanistan is measured are a little too high. And I think that in that sense Afghanistan -- I mean, if I was running Afghanistan I wouldn't take money for myself, but I would probably also turn a blind eye to some of the dealings that are happening because I need the support of this tribe or that ethnic group or that political faction.
MR. IGNATIUS: General Chrystal?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I have two quick stories, because I agree with the ambassador. We went on a trip one time down to Kandahar and the place where we met the building wasn't in good shape. And as we're flying back, President Karzai -- just a small group of us in this plane, President Karzai says, "Well, you know, that building wasn't in good shape." Gul Agha, who had been the previous governor there and pretty well known to have a fair amount of corruption, he said he would've never let it be like that.
And one of his ministers said, "Yes, sir, but he would have stolen the money from the federal government to do that." And the president looked at him and said, "Well, we would have just wasted it."
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: So the other story on democracy is I took Senator Levin down to Helmand shortly after the elections in the summer of '09, and everybody was upset because they thought it was huge corruption. Well, President Karzai was going to win anyway. He could stuff the ballot boxes. But the Pashtun candidate was going to win and it was going to be him.
But we went to a village and Senator Levin and I sat in this room with about 50 elders, big bearded guys. So everybody's sitting on the floor. And at one point when he's pretty confident, Senator Levin says, "You know, I got reports that everyone in this village voted for President Karzai. How is that democracy?"
And that was translated and they looked at each other. And then one guy stood up and he said, "I don't get it? We all got together. We talked about it. We decided that President Karzai was the best person for us. Why would we split our vote? We're not stupid."
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I said okay.
MR. IGNATIUS: So let me, before turning to the audience for your questions, ask you the baseline issue that we're all going to be struggling with, which is, as American combat forces leave next year what's Afghanistan going to look like? And by extension, what's Pakistan going to look like?
You hear a lot of people who say that for all that we've done, for all of the planning effort, intense struggle, loss of life that General McChrystal and his forces put in, that Afghanistan is going to go back into a civil war. You hear a lot of people, Ambassador Haqqani, who say whatever Nawaz Sharif is saying that Pakistanis are going to go back to kind of gaming Afghanistan and using it as a rear buffer in dealing with India, and we're going to have the same crazy stuff we had before.
So I want to ask each of you separately to -- you know, let's think out, you know, five to ten years, give me your honest word picture of what that country looks like?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I reserve the right to be wrong.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I think -- and we sometimes use the word "muddle along." I actually think that it's not going to break apart into civil war. I think there are enough things linking that country together now that they will hold together.
It's critical that President Karzai give up power in 2014 to an elected replacement, and it's critical that guy's last name not be Karzai. I think that they will probably be a Pashtun just because of the breakdown of the country. But I think that what happens is some of the institutions that have been built, still immature, some still very flawed, I think there's enough strength.
The other thing I would -- and this I can't support with metrics, but the women that I dealt with in Afghanistan have a tough row to hoe, but they are incredibly strong. And I don't think they have any interest in going back, and the ones that I met are not going to. The young people, the millennials --
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: Yeah, they deserve a hand. The millennials are disdainful of my generation, of our generation. They think that people at our generation have made huge mistakes, been corrupt, et cetera, and they want this generation to move on. And they're probably right. At a certain point you probably have got to move this generation out so that young people who have gotten a different view on things -- and they'll make a lot of mistakes. But I think that what happens -- and I think if Afghanistan holds together, I think it probably still suffers from periodic internal insurgencies, little Taliban, you know, truncated parts of it. I don't think if we're smart that Al-Qaeda goes back there in significant numbers. But if they are and Afghanistan holds together, I think it will be easier to address. So their challenge of course is politics, and in the very long term, economic.
MR. IGNATIUS: Mr. Haqqani?
MR. HAQQANI: I think I share the view of General McChrystal about Afghanistan. I think that in any case the Taliban are now restricted to the Southeast and the Eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, so basically there I think we should stop worrying so much about the fire and pay more attention to dealing with the arsonist. And I think I've already said what I wanted to say in that one sentence.
The Taliban -- I mean, to think that the Taliban are a popular Afghan phenomenon that will resurge is a wrong idea. Somebody supports the Taliban in Afghanistan because they want to have some influence in Afghani politics because of the view that they think that India will have influence if we don't, and that's what needs to be dealt with.
Pakistan is going to be more complex. I think that there are many fault lines in Pakistan. There's an ethnic fault line. I mean, if you look at the election results, Nawaz Sharif has won, but he has won purely by Punjabi votes. He hasn't had the support in any other part -- ethnic group of Pakistan has supported him.
The military-civilian fault line will still remain. And then the bigger fault line that nobody wants to pay attention to is the Islamist versus the modernist fault line. So that is something that needs to be worked out.
I think that Pakistan will have problems. It will have difficulty. If it remains on the democratic course most probably there may be a democratic alternative that will emerge after Nawaz Sharif in the next election that may say, "Enough of beating about the bush. These are our real problems. This is what we are going to do. We're not going to try and conquer Afghanistan. We're going to make friends with whoever is the government in Afghanistan. We will stop worrying about Kashmir right now. Yes, we have a right to it. But we will not try to get it right now. We will start dealing with India. We will grow our economy, put those kids that are not in school into school and move forward." That may happen five years later. But the next five years we will have a mixture of bad news and worse news.
MR. IGNATIUS: So I'm going to --
MR. HAQQANI: You asked me for an honest assessment.
MR. IGNATIUS: I did, and that is honest and helpful.
Let me close this out just by offering a brief comment from the moderator. Ambassador Haqqani was careful to speak of the arsonist without being specific as to who that might possibly be. But if you assume that what we're talking about here is whether the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, will continue to meddle in Afghanistan so as to protect its security interests. It's interesting that the ISI, from what I report, has been working pretty intensively and effectively with the Taliban negotiators who have come to Doha, Qatar to begin yesterday negotiations with the U.S. representative.
It's a broad group. It is representative of the breadth of the Taliban. It has members of the Haqqani network, who are really the scariest people of all, who seem to be included. So that is the work of the ISI. And, you know, if you looked at that take, you'd say that they are, at least now, trying to give this peace process a chance.
On the question that I put to the two panelists, the idea that Afghanistan is just going to fall back in time, which so many Americans have. This idea that this pre-modern country will just fall back into the dark ages. Don't believe that.
You know, in the years that we've been in Afghanistan, it has become a largely urban society. The size of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, all these cities, has doubled and tripled.
MR. HAQQANI: Mazar-i-Sharif.
MR. IGNATIUS: You know, the electrical connections between people and media, the educational -- when I look at the numbers, the one thing I know is it's not going to be same as it was. I don't know what it will be, but --.
So let's turn to the audience for your questions. We have microphones. Rather than ask -- recognize people, I'd ask you, Bob (phonetic) and everybody else, if you just go back to those microphones. And we'll call on people in turn. There's one here and one here. And, yes -- yes ma'am.
MS. PORGES: Hi. Shelly Porges, Washington, D.C. I'm the national finance co-chair for the Ready For Hillary PAC.
MS. PORGES: I would like to -- you know, you've presented on one hand some optimistic viewpoints. On the other hand, some -- perhaps not so optimistic ones. But if you had a chance to ask the president, current or future, for one thing in terms of moving -- you know, making progress in the region, what would that be?
MR. IGNATIUS: Do you want to direct that at one prognosticator?
MS. PORGES: I would love to hear from either one because they represent such interesting, diverse points of view.
MR. HAQQANI: You're the American at the podium.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I think a strategy. I think what we have not done well enough is to be able to articulate how we would like this to come out. And I think we have to be very realistic. You can't make a river go 90 degrees different from where it's flowing. And we have to be very humble about the changes and the impact we have in the region. But I'm not sure we sit down ever and for the American people as well as for people we're dealing with paint a picture of how we like it to come out. Then the pieces start to have logic. I think sometimes we execute pieces without that larger picture. So that's what I would love to see us create.
MR. HAQQANI: My quick one-liner is, don't look so -- don't give the impression that you're too desperate to get out, even if you are. Because when you do that then you're encouraging the enemy. I mean, the Taliban have always said, "We have the time and the Americans have the watches." So when you start saying --
MR. HAQQANI: And that's an American -- it's a political problem here. I mean, the administration didn't have to announce a date for its final withdrawal, et cetera. Because then you're just telling them to -- how long they have to wait. And that the ISI's role can also be just not to actually get the peace process to bring about a result, but to get the peace process going so that while you're withdrawing you don't pay attention to anything else. It could be like the Viet Cong who engaged in a peace process for a very long time while they were sitting and planning with the North Vietnamese how to actually take over Saigon.
So don't always sort of -- you know, optimism is a great thing. But since I moved to this country, I have realized that there's optimism and then there is optimism that is based on realism. And I think the latter is a lot better.
MR. IGNATIUS: Here we are, sir.
SPEAKER: Hi. My name is Amir Sheik (phonetic). I'm an American of Pakistani and Indian descent. And I do a lot of travelling, and when I travel sometimes it's more convenient for me to be Pakistani than it is to be American because there's a big trust deficit in the Muslim world against Americans.
Now my question is related to this. What's the growing role of China in Pakistan? I feel like Pakistan is looking for alternatives than engaging with the U.S., and China, one of its neighbors, is starting to increase its engagement. And if we're talking about economic development and different pathways to resolving some of the conflicts, what role is China playing and what's the U.S. perception on that issue?
MR. IGNATIUS: Great question. Husain?
MR. HAQQANI: My short answer to that is that China and Pakistan have been close since 1950 actually. But the fact remains that the real thing that Pakistan needs is large capital input. And Chinese businessmen make decisions just like American businessmen do. So I don't see large amounts of Chinese money coming just because of -- I mean, it's a great fantasy that you find in the Pakistani press a lot, that the Chinese will somehow come and bail us out. Nobody will bail Pakistan out except Pakistanis making the right economic and other decisions.
China does remain engaged with Pakistan much more closely. But very frankly the Chinese have been advising Pakistan for almost 15 years now to put down jihadis and move on and also to make peace with India. So I think that there is the Chinese policy and then there is this little romance that Pakistanis have about China being great redeemer that will come and help them. And I don't think that the latter is all that realistic.
MR. IGNATIUS: Stan, do you have --?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: No --
MR. IGNATIUS: Bob?
SPEAKER: General, Ambassador, would you address more fully Pakistan Al-Qaeda and Pakistan Taliban?
MR. HAQQANI: Pakistan Taliban is quite obvious. Most people understand it, I think because Pakistan has always wanted influence in Afghanistan. First, they had certain Mujahedeen groups that they supported. When those Mujahedeen groups failed in the civil war, they ended up supporting the Taliban. So that's the Pakistan Taliban connection.
Officially, Pakistan says we have contacts with them, but we do not control them, which may be true. But if that's the case, then Pakistan should not support them at all, because if you have contacts with people who don't listen to you, then why take the responsibility for their actions when you have no control over them. But most Taliban leaders are based in Pakistan. Everybody knows that. And that's how they have been brought to Doha for the peace process. So that is easy to understand.
Pakistan Al-Qaeda, more complicated. There are too many religious and fundamentalist and jihadi groups in Pakistan that the Pakistani state encourages, accepts, and tolerates in different degrees. And could they be the ones who have been supporting Al-Qaeda and not the government of Pakistan? Possibly. But Pakistan needs to deal with Al-Qaeda. Otherwise the fact that almost all major Al-Qaeda leaders that have ever been found have always been found in Pakistan is something that really does cast a shadow on my country, and I think that that shadow needs to be removed.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I don't think Pakistan -- I don't think Al-Qaeda has ever been Pakistani in nature. The leadership has never been Pakistani in background. It is a foreign entity. Now they've been there a long time, so there are relationships, marriages and what not that make it a little stickier than just somebody outside. But they are still a foreign entity that can be done away with.
There are multiple Talibans. There's an Afghan Taliban. There's a Pakistani Taliban. Inside Pakistan the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, is focused really against the government of Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban are focused -- and they're largely Afghan in ethnicity. They're focused against the government of Afghanistan. The ISI, when we talk about the relationship with the Taliban, that's largely with the Afghan Taliban. Now we captured a lot of people. I was in a lot of detainee interrogations and what not, and the least popular people to the Afghan Taliban are ISI.
So when you think about it there is an unholy relationship. There is help. There is -- David is exactly right. They are -- but it's not one of these things where they are best buddies and they watch sports together and drink beer.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: It is very much one of using each other and coercion and threats and what not. So it's very important to understand that. And so it's -- again, it's so complex that it doesn't allow a very short answer.
MR. IGNATIUS: A question where I'm going to ask you, knowing I won't get it for a one-word answer, do you believe that Osama Bin Laden hid for five years in Abbottabad, Pakistan, without anyone in the Pakistani military or intelligence knowing about it?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: No, I don't believe it.
MR. IGNATIUS: Okay, then I'm going to ask you for a 10 word answer.
MR. IGNATIUS: You don't believe it?
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I don't think -- now, this is my opinion. I'm not backing this up with hard facts. I don't think General Kayani knew that. I don't think that the leadership -- I don't think there was a plan on where he was. But this was 700 meters from the gates of West Point. Now, who knows what's 700 meters from the gates of our West Point. But the reality is it was a very distinct compound. It was like that funny house at the end of the street, where people didn't act the same as everybody else in the neighborhood, in an area where people are not naturally trusting. So somebody facilitated something.
Now, I sort of buy into the idea that the ambassador and I were talking. It probably wasn't an official, but it could be someone who's got relationship with an official who is actually providing the help. And there is a failure to ask questions that needed to be asked. There's a failure to do due diligence.
MR. HAQQANI: A short answer. If you read President Pervez Musharraf's book, he talks about al-Libbi -- Abu Faraj al-Libbi being found in Abbottabad, and he says at that time there were three houses that were Al-Qaeda houses that we discovered. Well, if this was one of those houses, why didn't they keep monitoring it subsequently is a big question.
That said, it is not conducive to my health --
MR. HAQQANI: -- and wellbeing to answer this question and to --
MR. IGNATIUS: You're an American professor now. It's okay.
MR. HAQQANI: Hey, but I'm still a Pakistani citizen, you know. They could -- and that's the only citizenship I have. So I think I've said enough.
MR. IGNATIUS: Sir? Yes, please.
SPEAKER: I'm John Dems (phonetic), Palo Alto. General McChrystal, thank you for your service. And, Ambassador, thank you for your great sense of humor and insight into Pakistan. My question is, you brought it up at the start, 100 nuclear weapons in Pakistan. I'm still scared that it's in a -- 100 nukes in a pretty unstable society. Can you give me any -- scare me more, or give me any confidence or any insights at all?
MR. HAQQANI: I think you are right. I think an unstable society should not have that many nuclear weapons. And Pakistan's nuclear deterrence needs a better concept and better practice. And last, but not least, the real bad scenario for Pakistan would be an Islamist takeover of Pakistan. That would be the worst. Right now, in the hands of the Pakistani military, and General McChrystal knows many of Pakistan generals.
They have a -- I mean, there's no loose nukes in Pakistan. That you need to understand. Pakistan does have a command and control system and it's a pretty stable one. But is the country stable enough? Perhaps no. But then people would argue that is that the only criterion for countries possessing nuclear weapons. And what are your alternatives? You can't go and take them away. You couldn't take them away from the Soviet Union; you couldn't take them away from China. How will you take them away from Pakistan?
So in the end the best course for Pakistan on the nuclear question is for Pakistan developing the trust of the rest of the world, whereby Pakistan can have a minimum nuclear deterrent which ensures its security but takes away the fears that you and I and everybody else has about an unstable country having nuclear weapons.
MR. IGNATIUS: General McChrystal, do you want to speak to that?
GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: That's absolutely the case.
MR. IGNATIUS: Good answer. So we have time for one last question. Sir?
SPEAKER: Stephan Edlers (phonetic). My question is much broader and directed to the general. It seems to me that presidents come, presidents go, we still have the same policy. Call it robust. Call it the continuation of the British Empire, where the sun never sets. Where in your view in the bowels of this government in Washington and elsewhere, where is this continuous streak of military warfare, et cetera, et cetera, coming from? Where exactly are the power levers that can continue our robust approach?
MR. IGNATIUS: Interesting question.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: I think I know where you stand based upon the way you word your question.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: It's in the first floor on the E-ring of the Pentagon. No.
GEN. McCHRYSTAL: It lies in the fact that America has defined certain interests and certain interests in the world, be it the flow of oil, be it the protection or the security of certain allies and what not. We have a unique role in the world and we have identified certain interests. We then make decisions to either use or not use military force in that case.
Now, sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes we think that -- I'm not sure we get the interest wrong. It's kind of hard to argue with some of the big broad interests. But the way we go after them -- you know, you can pick up the poster child for this, the invasion of Iraq, you can ask yourself whether that furthered American interests or didn't. And people come down both sides. But I don't think that it was a cabal of evil people trying to do world hegemony. I think it was a bunch of good people who did an assessment. They came out with a different conclusion then you might or I might or anyone else. That's what I saw.
I never buy into the conspiracy theory in D.C. because I never got in a room where the conspirators were there.
MR. IGNATIUS: Husain?
MR. HAQQANI: Plus four people in Washington, D.C., each one is advancing their own carriers. So them conspiring to do something together to change the world is very difficult to expect.
MR. HAQQANI: But here's what I think. You see, the problem does not lie in America having all this power and being able to use it, in some cases for a lot of good. And I'm giving you a non-American's perspective. The problem lies in the fact that Americans as a nation just do not know how to do things on a small scale.
So, for example, when you go to Afghanistan, you know, you're not just -- you're trying to change everything and -- such as how they run their schools. And so -- President Eisenhower used to talk about the military industrial complex. Now you also have an NGO development complex, you know, that comes up with -- I mean, when I was ambassador one of my favorite complaints used to be that the aid to Pakistan includes studies on how to run schools in Pakistan, which are conducted by Americans called the Beltway bandits. Why should they do that? Why can't you let me be the judge of how to run a school in my own country?
And if that was the case, then you would need a lesser footprint abroad. You would have more friends abroad, and you would be using your military power a lot more, shall we say, methodically, but with less of the fallout that you complain about and everybody feels strongly about.
MR. IGNATIUS: So one problem in having a discussion with former officials is that I always end up -- often end up wishing they were current officials.
MR. IGNATIUS: And so I want to thank them for this.
* * * * *
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