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Afghanistan Ambassador Warns of Worsening Violence

October 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Margaret Warner speaks with Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, about escalating Taliban violence and what is at stake for the U.S.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And we are joined now by Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for coming.

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Thank you for having me.

MARGARET WARNER: First of all, my condolences on this latest bombing.

Following up on what the ministry, your ministry, said today, that it was planned by a state, not a group, are you pointing the finger at Pakistan?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Yes, we do. We are pointing the finger at the Pakistan intelligence agency, based on the evidence on the ground and similar attack taking place in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: And, more broadly, this — clearly, the rate of attacks has stepped up, say, since the beginning of the year. Is your government losing control of this city?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Not really.

Definitely, the rate of the attacks have increased, but, still, the level of the violence in Afghanistan today is 400 percent less than the one in Iraq. So, the — the Taliban and the enemy are focusing more on suicide bombing and roadside bombing, but, overall, when they confront our security forces and your soldiers, they lose a big number.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you disagree with the assessment that General McChrystal did, for instance, about the whole security situation, that it was serious and that it was deteriorating?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Overall, in the country, yes, it is. In the south, we are facing serious security challenges. That’s why we welcome General McChrystal’s assessments, and think that additional troops are needed in order to provide space and time for the Afghan security forces to be trained and equipped.

Long-term commitment

Said Jawad
Ambassador, Afghanistan
Additional troops are needed. The U.S. engagement should be long-term in Afghanistan, does not mean necessarily military engagement.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let's get into that more, because, of course, this takes place as the president and his administration are doing this intensive review of strategy and troops.

So, what would Afghanistan like to see come out of this reassessment?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: A clear commitment to success in Afghanistan. Additional troops are needed. The U.S. engagement should be long-term in Afghanistan, does not mean necessarily military engagement.

We would like to see more investment being made and build the capacity of the Afghan security forces, Afghan police force, and the government to take more responsibility on this fight.

MARGARET WARNER: And how many more troops?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: It depends on how intense the pressure on Afghanistan is.

Today's bombing shows that -- that, really, it's a -- terrorism is a regional issue. And unless we get the cooperation of all the parties involved in the neighborhood, we will need stronger presence of the United States. We will need 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops on the short term.

MARGARET WARNER: And you said for an expended period, you want to see a commitment. What are we talking about here?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: A commitment to build the Afghan security forces to a strength of 250,000, helping the Afghan government to extend its capability to provide service and protection to the Afghan citizen, and for the -- Afghanistan to serve as a partner in a volatile region of the world, where there are nuclear ambitions or there are a lot of threats from extremism, to have an Afghanistan that will serve for the cause of stability.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, if the U.S. were to do this, I mean, you know the strength of the Afghan security forces now. You know all of the problems. What do you think we're talking about in terms of years, in terms of at an extended -- at a -- at a beefed-up troop strength, say 100,000 troops?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: It really depends how much we invest up front. It is truly an investment in building the capacity.

If we continue to do a duct tape approach and under-resource the mission and does not provide the investment necessary, then you will be there for long haul. But if better investment has been made to build the capacity up front, then that pressure will be relieved on you.

There is no shortage of courage or manpower in Afghanistan. There's shortage of skills on the part of our army and police force. And that skill could be created if there is more intense investment.

Switching focus in Afghanistan

Said Jawad
Ambassador, Afghanistan
I think we should not allow a sense of -- of retreat or defeat to emerge from our mission in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you know -- as you know, there's another set of voices inside the administration -- reported -- reportedly, Vice President Biden is among them -- saying really that the U.S. ought to rethink the whole focus here, not try to focus on building up a strong Afghan central government, which they say Afghanistan's never had, stop trying to fight Taliban insurgents all over the country, and focus instead on al Qaeda and its immediate allies, targeting those kinds of terrorists, if they're in Afghanistan or if they try to return.

Now, what do you think of that notion? Does that make sense to you?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: First, it will send a message of defeat of the United States in undertaking in Afghanistan.

And this message will further embolden the terrorists and extremists, not only Afghanistan, but also in the region. Targeting al Qaeda targets through drones and -- and cruise missile has been done in Afghanistan. After the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa, similar actions were taken.

But it put al Qaeda and Taliban even more closer together. There is close correlation, and there's close relation between Taliban and al Qaeda, as evidenced from the bombing of today. Why would actually -- if it's a Taliban action, why would not they target our ministry of interior, which is just across the street, and target an international target that shows the international connections of the Taliban and al Qaeda and how closely they work with each other?

I think we should not allow a sense of -- of retreat or defeat to emerge from our mission in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you well know, also underlying this reassessment is a concern here that the Karzai government really isn't legitimate. It isn't seen as legitimate by its own people, that it's -- it's widely seen as corrupt, and that the election was considered to be riddled with fraud.

What is your response to that? How serious of an Achilles' heel is this for the case you're trying to make?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Well, first, the issue of the legitimacy of the Afghan government should be determined by Afghan people, not by a foreign capital or a foreign individual.

A lot of preparation went into the election process in Afghanistan. It was not a perfect election and a perfect condition. There were irregularities. There were potential frauds. But there's also processes in place to look after that.

And, if the majority of the Afghans elect their president, that president is a lot more legitimate than having the president being appointed by a foreign individual or a foreign capital.

Responding to fraud allegations

Said Jawad
Ambassador, Afghanistan
Millions of people went out to vote. On the day of the election, rockets were coming in. People were killed. People were -- fingers were cut to go out and participate in the election process.

MARGARET WARNER: But nobody's talking about having a foreign capital appoint the president of Afghanistan, but they -- you said if a president is legitimately elected by the people. But that's the big if, isn't it?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Millions of people went out to vote. On the day of the election, rockets were coming in. People were killed. People were -- fingers were cut to go out and participate in the election process.

So, considering all these challenges -- and more than 6,000 observers, both Afghan and international, participated in this process -- considering all these constraints, in the history of Afghanistan, and comparing to the elections in the region, in other countries, this is the best that could happen in Afghanistan.

If we could improve the -- the security situation, we would have had better outcome of -- sure, that's the target that you are working for.

MARGARET WARNER: So, when do you expect this recount process to be concluded?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Early next week, hopefully.

MARGARET WARNER: And if the conclusion is that President Karzai falls below 50 percent, is he prepared to go through a completely new election?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: This is a requirement by the Afghan constitution. The president is completely ready to comply with what the Afghan laws and constitution require, of course.

MARGARET WARNER: And, on the other hand, if the recount certifies that he did get over 50 percent, then the question here is, what is President Karzai prepared to say and do in a concrete sense to address these concerns about widespread corruption in the government?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: We have heard clearly the message of our friends, both in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. administration and Europe.

President Karzai is planning on having two clear compact if he is elected, one compact with the Afghan people indicating what he's going to do in the next five years, and a second compact with the international community, especially the United States, indicating the mutual expectations that exist between the Afghan government and the international partner, especially United States.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what would you say to members of Congress, particularly a lot of Democrats, who are reflecting the concerns of their constituents?

I will just quote one, Jane Harman...

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: ... who's consider add hawk in the Democratic Party.

And she said, "How can we ask our troops to risk their lives in Afghanistan while Mr. Karzai cavorts with warlords and drug smugglers?"

Now, what do you say to that kind of deep suspicion of this government and -- and concern that -- that their constituents don't want to waste or spend young American lives on that kind of government?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Young American lives are -- are served in Afghanistan for a very noble cause, of making Afghanistan, the United States a safer place.

I think members of Congress, friends of Afghanistan should work harder to shape the public opinion. It's a hard sacrifice when your son and daughter is fighting in Afghanistan. We're very grateful for that. We appreciate this very much.

But now to -- to add to this fuel, and not to support the government of Afghanistan, or find excuses, that is not helpful, neither for the mission of the United States in Afghanistan, nor helpful for those soldiers who are fighting so bravely to make Afghanistan, the United States, and the world a safer place for all of us.

We have to work more actively to strengthen our partnership and shape the public opinion.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Said Jawad, thank you for coming.

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Thank you.