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Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai Pleads for Peace in the Streets of Kabul

May 30, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Hundreds of Afghan troops patrolled the
streets of Kabul
today to prevent further unrest. Yesterday, violent anti-U.S. and anti-Western
protests erupted after a U.S.
military vehicle was involved in a deadly traffic crash during morning rush-hour
in Kabul’s
northern suburbs.

The heavy cargo truck was part of a U.S. convoy traveling from Bagram Air Base, the
main U.S.
military facility, into the capital, when its driver lost control. The truck
plowed into a dozen civilian cars at an intersection, killing at least five
Afghans.

AFGHAN CITIZEN
(through translator): An American convoy came, and I tried to park my car on
the side, when they hit my car and turned it upside down.

KWAME HOLMAN: Coalition spokesman Tom Collins today explained
what triggered the crash.

COL. TOM COLLINS, Coalition Spokesman: An initial
investigation has determined that a mechanical failure of the vehicle’s brakes
is the cause of this tragic accident. The convoy was on a logistics mission in
support of our efforts to help the Afghan people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday’s riots were the worst since the
fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Within minutes of the crash, angry mobs
began stoning the convoy and then headed into the center of Kabul, where some looted, ransacked and set
fire to several buildings, including a compound belonging to the aid group CARE
International.

From among the hundreds of protesters who took to the
streets came chants of “Death to America.” Afghan and U.S. troops said they fired warning shots into
the air to control the crowds, but some witnesses claimed U.S. troops fired on civilians.

AFGHAN YOUNG MAN (through translator): People were killed by
U.S.
troops. They shot two people; they were American.

AFGHAN YOUNG MAN: They are killing. They’re killing people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Eleven people were killed; nearly 140 were
injured. Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday pleaded for calm.

HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan (through translator):
We will recognize as the enemy of Afghanistan these people who do
these things. You should stand up against these agitators and not let them
destroy our country again.

KWAME HOLMAN: The outbreak in Kabul
follows an upsurge of fighting in the south over the past month between a
revived Taliban and U.S.
and NATO troops. Some 350 people have been killed, including more than a dozen
civilians, in a coalition air strike on suspected militants in Kandahar last week.

Currently, some 22,000 U.S.
troops and 8,500 other foreign soldiers make up the coalition forces in Afghanistan. And
in the coming months, NATO peacekeepers are expected to take over more security
duties from a shrinking number of U.S. troops, especially in the
south.

"Death to America"

JIM LEHRER: More on the anger in Afghanistannow from Ali Jalali, interior minister in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. He'snow a professor at the National Defense Universityhere in Washington.

And Barnett Rubin, director of studies at the Center onInternational Cooperation at New York University.He served as a consultant to the United Nations on Afghan issues and frequentlytravels there.

Mr. Jalali, "Death to America," why would Afghans beyelling such a thing now?

ALI JALALI, Former Interior Minister, Afghanistan: Well, these are somekind of a spontaneous reaction to an incident. However, this does not mean thatthe people of Afghanistanare against the presence of the U.S.forces or international community, because they do realize that, only with thepresence of the U.S.forces and the international community, the country can be assured thatstability will return to the country. Otherwise, the country can slip back intochaos.

JIM LEHRER: But those people, the hundreds of people whostarted throwing rocks and all of that, just because of a traffic accident?

ALI JALALI: Well, this is not only traffic. A trafficaccident triggered something which is more, you know, related to the socialfrustration, criminality, and also manipulation of the situation by interestgroups and groups hostile to the government, to turn a protest into riot, intoviolence, and where some criminals actually went on a looting spree.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rubin, how do you read what happenedyesterday?

BARNETT RUBIN, Center on International Cooperation, New YorkUniversity: Well, I think that it was a number of different things that cametogether.

First, of course, there was a reaction, a spontaneouselement, both in reaction to the traffic accident, but that symbolizedsomething more, which is the resentment that Afghans -- that's been building upin many Afghans.

In other words, what Afghans said for the last several yearsis, even though we've always rejected invaders, we will accept the U.S. and thecoalition forces if they are here to help us, but not if they're here to useour country for their own purposes.

The fact that they have seen far fewer economic benefitsthan they expected, that the military vehicles are constantly going throughKabul and cause many more accidents than this -- although not fatal ones likethis -- is a source of irritation, and it symbolizes for them that the U.S. isusing the country at the same time that, in Kabul City, they have no moreelectricity than they did when the U.S. came in.

Second, there are some political groups that did takeadvantage of this. This accident took place in an area that is under thecontrol of certain commanders who have recently been demobilized and who belongto a political group that has been pushed out of power. And there's someevidence that some of the demonstrators were organized by that group.

Finally, in recent weeks, the clergy has been preachingrather strongly against the government, in particular since the case of theAfghan who was reported to have converted to Christianity, who was spirited outof the country. And they claim that this showed that the government with a nolonger Islamic. So there are a number of factors converging.

Frustrations boiling over

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, that there's more herethan just one thing, Mr. Jalali?

ALI JALALI: Yes, I agree with Barney. I think, you know,sometimes you talk to people and they believe that they are frustrated with theslow pace of development. They had high expectations in 2002 after the downfallof the Taliban.

However, Afghanistanreceived far less funds for reconstruction than many other nation-buildingefforts around the world, including Kosovo, including East Timor, and former Yugoslavia.On the other hand, in some parts of the area, it took the internationalcommunity two years to realize that the ISAF or ISAF war should being expandedto other parts of the country.

JIM LEHRER: The what?

ALI JALALI: ISAF, the International Security AssistanceForce...

JIM LEHRER: The coalition force, the security force?

ALI JALALI: Yes, the security.

The south was neglected a lot. The south is actually thehinterland of the Taliban. Until now, recently, there was only one base, U.S. forces 3,000, in Kandahar, but those other troubled provincesclose to the Pakistani border did not, you know, have a deployment ofinternational forces, and Afghan police and Army capacity is very limited.

So, therefore, during the past four years, where theexpectation was very high, and people saw less change in their lives.

JIM LEHRER: Than they expected?

ALI JALALI: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Rubin, that thereality for the people on the ground, for the Afghans, has not met theexpectations that they had four years ago when the U.S. came in there and pushed theTaliban aside?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, absolutely. I was in Afghanistan at the end of March,early April, and I definitely felt this kind of very negative atmosphere in thepeople that I was talking to.

And another aspect of what happened yesterday was the veryinept reaction of the police and the ministry of the interior, which Mr. Jalaliused to be the head of.

The interior minister was reported to be extremelyindecisive. The police disappeared from many areas. And I should mention thatthe president himself also disappeared from the scene for several hours untilhe finally issued a statement at 7:00 p.m.

So it was not only the outburst of anger by demonstratorsand the manipulation by some political groups; it was also the incapacity ofthe government to deal with this situation.

A corrupting influence?

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rubin, what about -- I also read a piecetoday which suggested that there's some growing resentment among the Afghansthat has to do with Western workers, as well as troops, having brought a lot ofdrinking of alcohol, prostitution, and all of those things with them, andthere's resentment growing on that. Is that a legitimate complaint?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, without judging its legitimacy, itcertainly is a complaint.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

BARNETT RUBIN: The Afghan constitution says that thegovernment is supposed to fight against all intoxicating substances, includingalcohol, but alcohol is freely available in many establishments in Kabul because the powerfulWesterners there want it. The government won't do anything against it.

So that symbolizes to people that the government is notreally sovereign, is not enforcing its own Islamic laws, it's not enforcing itsown constitution.

There are so-called Chinese restaurants all over Kabul which are well-knownto be houses of prostitution. They operate with impunity, and both rich Afghansand also some Western contractors, who are not bound by the rules of themilitary, frequent them.

And, again, this is a subject of very strong preaching inthe mosques about foreigners having brought moral corruption to the country. Andwe see in some of the targets of the demonstrators yesterday, which includedWestern restaurants, and guest houses, and so on, that this was a part of thesentiment they were expressing.

JIM LEHRER: What's your feeling about that, Mr. Jalali?

ALI JALALI: I agree with Barney that this is a source ofresentment in Afghanistan.However, I will add this: that most of the alcohol, most of the illegalactivities are done by illegal power-holders, warlords, militia commanders.

During my tenure as minister of the interior, all what weconfiscated, the smuggling of these materials were sponsored, were protected bywarlords. So therefore it is not something that came by the Western countriesor the Western presence there.

However, the kind of a -- the atmosphere in Afghanistanafter the downfall of the Taliban created a sense in people that they can doeverything. You know, democracy means different things to different people in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

ALI JALALI: And, however, while Afghans went and voted andsupported the creation of democratic institutions. However, this process wasnot supported or sequenced by other forms of development that would bringpositive change to the level of the people, so they voted, but they didn't seechange in their lives.

And all they saw in this democracy was all these negativethings, as Barney alluded to. So when they think of democracy, a liberaldemocracy, they see these symbols of the democracy.

Creating a partnership

JIM LEHRER: Well, the obvious question to ask you both thenis: What can be done about this? Does something dramatic have to be done? Or,if not, is this thing going to get worse and worse and worse?

ALI JALALI: I usually say that the international communityshould realize that Afghanistancannot be stabilized and pacified on the cheap. So far, it has been on thecheap.

And on the other hand, yes, the capacity is very limited in Afghanistan.However, a serious review of the situation is needed. And I think, unless allthese concerns of the people -- unemployment, education...

JIM LEHRER: I know that 40 percent of the people in Afghanistanare unemployed; is that right?

ALI JALALI: Yes, this is true.

JIM LEHRER: Forty percent?

ALI JALALI: Most of the people who participated in theseriots were unemployed young people.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rubin, same question. What can be done aboutthis?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, on the other side, I think we have totake a fresh look at the U.S. military deployment there, not whether it isnecessary -- I think it is necessary -- but the U.S. and coalition forces arethere under the right of self-defense, which was certainly legitimate rightafter September 11th, and are operating without any agreement with the Afghangovernment.

But now we have helped the Afghan people and the UnitedNations set up this government, elect a president, elect a parliament. They'renow choosing a new Supreme Court, reformed their administration, reformed theirpolice, which Mr. Jalali was part of, build their new army.

So it's time for our relationship to have a new basis. Andthat should be an agreement that recognizes the sovereignty of the Afghangovernment, an agreement about the status of the U.S. forces there, which would bedebated by the parliament.

Of course, there's a risk that they might take decisions wedon't like. But I think it's a risk that will be very good for us to takebecause, once the parliament agrees to our presence there and their agreed-uponrules, then they will have much more ownership and a sense of partnership withus.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.