Lucy Morgan Edwards, author of The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan (Pluto Press, 2011) was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, yesterday (Tuesday 8th January), speaking as an expert on the situation in Afghanistan.
A transcript of the interview is reproduced below. To check out the discussion on BBC iPlayer, follow this link, and go 1 hour 50 minutes into the programme.
John Humphrys: You think that things are looking pretty dodgy in Afghanistan, you think that President Karzai is panicking a little?
Lucy Morgan Edwards: I think its clear that he’s obviously gone to the US because he needs that assurance that he’s going to have military backup, military equipment for the Afghan national army. obviously there’s still ongoing negotiations about the bilateral security arrangements that were signed in Tokyo last summer, and these still really need to be sorted out. I think that the issue of the detainees, this is one of the most contentious issues, underlined last week when Karzai released something like 80 prisoners, to the dismay of the Americans, and there’s also of course the issue of immunity for American soldiers operating in Afghanistan – underlined by the massacre that took place last spring by Robert Bales, so there are ongoing discussions.
JH: Are we talking about immunity for all foreign forces?
LME: I assume the different NATO countries will be making different bilateral agreements with Afghanistan. Afghanistan of course is a signatory of the Rome Statutes to the International Criminal Court. The Americans traditionally have not signed that, and would have immunity for their soldiers in the countries they’re operating in…This is obviously very difficult for Karzai because when that massacre took place he obviously had to assert some authority, so that he doesn’t look like a puppet for the Americans. This kind of thing is extremely difficult for everyone, difficult for Karzai and very difficult for the Americans.
JH: And what about the prisoners that Karzai… that are being held at the moment. As you say Karzai has released quite a few of them. Are we going to get to the stage where he’ll have released so many that in fact the Taliban will have restored to them a huge number of people who we’d rather hoped had been put away for good?
LME: I think the greater problem is not so much the release of prisoners…Obviously there are people who have been held that Afghans will content have not faced any sort of due process, and perhaps been held for fairly minor offences…
JH: We’re not talking about people who NATO forces…believe are terrorists?
LME: Well maybe the Americans think they are terrorists, and the Afghans believe they are not, and that’s the crux of the problem. I think the crux of the problem is that there isn’t a proper justice system in Afghanistan, there’s no rule of law. These people haven’t gone through any proper trial and yet the fact that they’re still being held in Bagram, which holds something like 3,000 prisoners, is something that’s very unpopular, locally, and really impacts upon the perception that Karzai has any sovereignty over his own people.
JH: The big question here, for many people…is whether once we have all pulled out….whether Karzai can hold the ring, or whether Afghanistan is going to revert to what it has been for so many hundreds of years, and that is a lawless land run effectively by tribal chiefs and vested interests.
LME: I think one doesn’t want to stereotype too much the Afghans as just being a lawless bunch of people who’ve always been fighting one another. We have to understand that back in 2001, 2002, the military strategy was one that essentially gave immunity from prosecution to war criminals. We made those people our partners in Afghanistan. They then took government positions. This has led to the crisis of impunity that you now have, the chaos, the multiplicity of fronts that you now have in the country. All sorts of different militias, private security and so on. Not just the Taliban but even many of these different groups are going to be more of a problem to Karzai than simply the Taliban.
JH: And British soldiers, as we have heard in the last couple of hours, are still being killed there by members of the Afghan security forces.
LME: Again, I think this relates to the failed strategy and unpopularity of what we’ve done since 2001. There was an alternative with something that arguably had a great deal more legitimacy locally. Karzai is somebody who is essentially seen as having been put there by the outside, by the Americans, we didn’t allow the Afghans to follow the plan…to bring back the ex king that was very popular… and we’ve sort of done things our own way, and failed to engage with what is locally legitimate and makes more sense.
The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan
Lucy Morgan Edwards
Explosive inside account of why the West has failed to build peace in Afghanistan.
“A deeply-reported, well-argued and deftly-written account of the opportunities not taken … based on the author’s own deep knowledge of Afghanistan.” – Peter Bergen, CNN Security Analyst and author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda
“A devastating indictment of the intelligence and strategic failures that have led us into the current tragedy in Afghanistan.” – William Pfaff