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Massoud Quiam on Obama’s new policy for Afghanistan

KabulPress Interview by Marc Seltzer
Marc Seltzer
Sunday 22 March 2009

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Senior reporter Massoud Quiam has been covering events in Afghanistan for many years. As the new United States President, Barack Obama, is reviewing American policy towards Afghanistan and seeking to develop an effective strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kabul Press? asked Massoud for his comments on the needs of the Afghan people and the crucial issues that the U.S. President must focus on in order to aid Afghanistan.

Quiam was the popular news director, program host, and reporter for Afghanistan’s #1 television network, TOLO-TV. He was recently forced from that position by government pressure on the network, and subsequently fled Afghanistan after numerous physical threats. This interview was conducted from his place in exile.

Kabulpress: Is a change in American policy towards Afghanistan necessary and what is the biggest failing of current policies?

Massoud Quiam: The current strategy is focused too much on war against the Taliban. I think that Afghanistan needs a strategy that covers issues like opium cultivation, poverty, justice and governance, which are as important as the war against insurgents. These issues are fueling the current Afghan conflict.

Despite eight years of U.S. and coalition operations, I can’t see a decrease in opium products. Nine million Afghans need immediate food assistance; about 70% of Afghans are under the poverty line. Bad governance, corruption, and lack of capacity still exist or have even increased in the country in the past 8 years.

Discussions of whether or not the government should engage the Taliban in negotiations are not as important as discussions of reform of the Afghan government. Hamid Karzai’s administration has now led for nearly eight years. It is time for a new effort.

There is no effective difference between Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In order to achieve victory and a stable peace in Afghanistan all insurgents need to be defeated. This includes those operating out of the tribal areas inside the Pakistan border. They are supplying insurgents in Afghanistan and crossing the border as well. The situation in Pakistan is important to Afghanistan’s future. India has been investing in Afghanistan, but has also been subject to attack there such as the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Pakistan’s conflict with India is not related to Taliban and Al Qaeda, but shows that insurgents in Pakistan will cross borders to inflict violence on their rivals.

Kabulpress: What do you believe should be the most important priority of the Obama administration with regards to Afghanistan?

Massoud Quiam: I think the most important thing should be bringing a new team to set up a new administration. The current administration lost the authority by being so corrupt and ethnically divisive. The quality of the current administration also suffered because international support was not well coordinated and followed the wrong strategy. The international community has offered support, but it has not been effective.

I believe the Obama administration doesn’t need to be agreeing to talk to Taliban. Instead, it needs to talk to the Afghan government and tell it how to improve peace by good governance.

Kabulpress: What is the status and condition of the institutions or forces in Afghanistan?

• Government/democracy
Massoud Quiam: The Bush administration brought an artificial democracy to the country featuring a constitution and election for president and parliament members. Now, none of them are working. It is like China’s products — good shape but less quality.

• Army and police forces
Massoud Quiam: There are some good improvements in training of the national army.

Unfortunately, the Afghan police are too weak and corrupt. The reason
rule of law doesn’t exist in the country is because of failings of the police force. The force should not be used to fight the Taliban.

• Al Qaeda and Taliban
Massoud Quiam: First of all, al Qaeda=Taliban; the Taliban take responsibility for all terrorist attacks happening in the country so Taliban are a terrorist group.

There are two reasons to fight someone: You want to defeat completely the enemy, or you want to weaken the enemy to bring him to your own terms. Now, in Afghanistan, the Taliban are not ready to talk; they want to defeat the Afghan government and international forces. But it is the Afghan government with the agreement of the international community calling for negotiations, so who do you think is the winner of the war in Afghanistan?

In many interviews, I asked American, British, and German officials, do
you recognize Taliban as a terrorist group? They answered, no we don’t
recognize Taliban as a terrorist group — there are two types of Taliban.
I think this is the wrong strategy to divide them into two different groups and talk to the Taliban.

I think that the part of the Taliban, who are not terrorists are not a danger, so we don’t need to talk with them; even if we talk with them, I am sure there will be no change, which secures the situation because still the terrorist part is existing and is the main threat.

I think we all need to agree to defeat Taliban and terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan until they are finished, and this is possible by conducting military operations in tribal areas on the other side of the Afghan border inside Pakistan.

KabulPress: What is the Afghan government focusing on at this time?

Massoud Quiam: Afghan government is too focused on the next election, and I think most government projects are related to the campaign. It is not good for a country like Afghanistan to keep the administration busy running for election. There are lots of things to do.

Kabulpress: How would you describe the political opposition to the Karzai government?

Massoud Quiam: I don’t think Karzai has an opposition. There is a party by the name of Jabha Mili but it is a bunch of former jihadis, communists, Taliban and even a former king, appearing some times as an opposition. I believe this is a colony of political figures seeking to achieve their own personal goals. I believe soon Jabha Mili will not exist as an opposition party.

Recent events in India and Pakistan have raised the level of concern in the United States for Al Qaeda and insurgent activity in Pakistan. To what extent are problems in Pakistan creating problems in Afghanistan?

Massoud Quiam: Attacks on Mumbai were not part of al-Qaida operations. This is Pakistani—Indian problems using terrorist capacities in the region against each other. Pakistan has deep concerns regarding ties between India and Afghanistan, however. India is investing in Afghanistan consistent with an anti-Pakistan policy. India was under attack in Afghanistan as the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by Pakistani ISI.

Kabulpress: What other international concerns does Afghanistan face?

Massoud Quiam: Civilian causalities; waist of donated money — from 15 billion donated money, 75% has been returned back to donors in past 8 years; interference of Pakistan and Britain.

Kabulpress: What are the views of the Afghan people related to the Karzai government?

Massoud Quiam: Most Afghans need food and security — just food and security, nothing more. It is not too much a nation needs from their government, but the government can’t even provide this to them.

Kabulpress: What are the views of the Afghan people related to Barack Obama?

Massoud Quiam: Full of hopes and awaiting what change Obama will bring to their lives by setting a new strategy.

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