Monday, February 09, 2009

Fresh Air talks about Afghanistan - February 4, 2009

Fresh Air is one of my favorite radio programs. It is a show of interviews. And Terry Groves is a good interviewer, who has the ability to ask the questions at the heart of the matter, and uses the interview to draw out the story the interviewee has to tell.
This episode revolves around the current campaign in Afghanistan and centers around two interviews. The first interview is with Sarah Chayes (Taliban Terrorizing Afghanistan), a former NPR reporter who was assigned to Afghanistan in 2001, and has stayed there to run an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that is establishing an industry in Afghanistan. The second is with Ahmed Rashid (Taliban Activity Up In Pakistan), a Pakistani journalist. Terry Groves asks them about the conditions they see in Central Asia, what they think about the U.S. troop increase promised by President Barack Obama, and what they think about the future.

Some highlights:

  • Both of them are highly supportive of the idea to add 30,000 additional American troops into Afghanistan.  The biggest issue they both see is the lawlessness and lack of security, and 30,000 additional American troops will go a long way.
  • Both of them are almost fawning in admiration for U.S. General Petraeus, the new head of the U.S. Central Command, for his leadership in Iraq as the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, and for Petraeus' understanding of counter-insurgency.  Listening to them, it reminded me of a Sargeant who unshamingly praised General Patraeus as a scholar-warrior, and this was when Petraeus was just starting in his post in Iraq.
  • Cheyas sees as the most difficult problem in Afghanistan is the corruption in the Afghanistan government. And she sees President Karzai as part of the problem.  It is not just the fact that there is corruption.  It is the severity (not extent) of the corruption that is wearing out the people.  And they remember that it was the corruption among the rulers that made people welcome the Taliban many years ago in the first place.
  • Both of them blame the previous American administration for not pressing the Afghanistan or Pakistan governments to improve in governance all this time.  That one reason for the lack of progress was because no progress was required, the Americans would support the Afghan and Pakistani governments regardless of their progress.
I especially find it interesting that both welcome the additional U.S. military forces in the region.  They both see the U.S. military as the most capable and beneficial force in the area.  And one that has learned much over the past few years.  But they are few in number, and they need other expertise to help the real issue, improving the Afghanistan ability to govern themselves.  Which is not something that is reasonably expected to be a job that goes to the U.S. military.  (of course, they get that job like all other jobs.)
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