Ahmed Rashid Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Rise of Militant Islam: Conversation with Ahmed Rashid, author and journalist: 3/26/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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U.S. Foreign Policy

Let's talk a little about U.S. foreign policy as it relates to all of these issues. Reading your book, I made the following notation: from covert policy to no policy, to, today, the military policy. That's my shorthand. Comment on that, and also, try to help us understand what has been our failure in the region, if any.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been overall a trend towards isolation. The Bill Clinton administration intervened in the world only under extreme pressure, either domestic pressure or international pressure. There was really no understanding of what was going on, or a particular interest in what was going on in the outside world, and, of course, even less of an interest in the Muslim world. I think the U.S. just completely missed out on this whole Islamic revival, trying to get these Muslim regimes -- through aid, through pressure, through other means -- to do the right thing. And, of course, the chickens have come home to roost, as they say.

Right now, since September 11th, the U.S. -- for example, in Afghanistan and even in Central Asia -- has been driven too heavily by the defense planners, by the Pentagon, by the military. Clearly, there was a period of time during the [U.S.] war in Afghanistan, when the military had to be in the driving seat. But what you need in this region now is a very multidimensional policy of state building of nation building, and other branches of the government have to come into this -- the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the information services, the Treasury, even.

I do believe that the war in Afghanistan is now over. Yes, there's a mopping-up operation in a very small area of Afghanistan, but this mopping-up operation does not affect 95 percent of the population in the country, even though we are seeing these mopping-up operations carried out on CNN and on the big screen, because American troops are on the ground for the first time. But essentially, you have to bring this into perspective, that this is a mopping-up operation in ten or twenty or fifty square miles of territory.

What is needed now are other elements of U.S. government to come into the driving seat, to support the interim government for reconstruction of Afghanistan, to try and ease the political tensions inside the country. The same is needed in Central Asia, where the Americans now have bases; again, it's a military-driven policy. What is needed here is much greater pressure, combined with incentives. A policy of carrot and stick with the Central Asian regime: "We will help you militarily deal with the threat to your faith, but you have to carry out certain reform agendas. Our aid will be limited or subjugated to certain conditionalities. We want a timetable from you; please carry out certain reforms."

So I think, again, what is needed is a much broader, multidimensional strategy by all the arms of the U.S. government, in order to achieve the primary aim of not only eliminating terrorism, but also stabilizing this region.

One of the problems with American foreign policy is our unilateralist bent. It would seem in this part of the world, where so many external actors have an interest and see this area as a means to the ends of those interests, that there needs to be some sort of understanding that many interests are engaged, and that they have to be brought in. What is the best strategy for doing that?

One of the greatest tragedies of Afghanistan, and, of course, why the civil war has continued for so long, is because of outside interference of all the neighboring countries.

Which goes back in history.

Yes, of course, because Afghanistan is landlocked, it has always been a very fragile state. The Afghans have always had to balance off Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, the Gulf states. The intervention of these neighbors has been hugely detrimental to Afghanistan. The U.S. has publicly taken a position against any kind of neighborhood intervention inside Afghanistan, and this is absolutely vital. But also, [the U.S. must] work with the neighbors. Now, all the neighbors have interests. You can't pretend that these interests don't exist, and you can't just crush them and push them down, otherwise, they will reemerge once the U.S. gets out of the region. So the U.S. has to work with the neighbors. And then it has to work with the coalition against terrorism, which, of course, includes the whole world, basically, but particularly the Europeans.

I can understand the U.S. desire to carry out the military campaign in a unilateral way, so as not to be interfered with, if you like, by other armies and other chains of command, or the United Nations or whatever. But in the postwar scenario, when it comes to reconstruction and development, and ensuring stability and security so that the political process in Afghanistan can begin and a genuine recognized government can emerge, it's absolutely essential that the U.S. work with all the coalition partners.

Next page: Pakistan's Future

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