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‘Kayani has real power in Pakistan’

Published Jul 07, 2011 09:08am


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“The current Pak-US relationship is based more on verification rather than trust,” Bob Woodward.

Sixty-eight year old Bob Woodward, an associate editor at the Washington Post, is considered one of America’s most informed investigative journalists. In 1972, his disclosure and consistent reporting with Carl Bernstein of the Watergate Scandal led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Woodward, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of 12 bestselling non-fictions, published his book Obama’s Wars in 2010 which focuses on the war in Afghanistan and the internal debates in Washington, Islamabad and Kabul about the war.

In an exclusive interview with, Bob Woodward talks about the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the midst of America’s gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Q: Washington has now confirmed contacts with Taliban for brokering peace in Afghanistan. Had the Americans already contemplated embarking upon a negotiation process with the Taliban or is this a decision made as a last resort because mere military action has not worked?

A: Oh yes, that is the way you end a conflict, isn’t it? In my book, Obama’s War, the Americans say that they won’t defeat the Taliban but will make them a part of the fabric of Afghanistan. A political settlement eventually has to be the end of the conflict.

Q: What is the feeling like in the Obama administration as it prepares to pull out of Afghanistan? Is there a sense of achievement or is it marked with a feeling of regret for not achieving the objectives set earlier in 2001?

A: It is, as the phrase goes, fragile and reversible.

Q: Does that mean al Qaeda will regroup and reemerge in Afghanistan in the future?

A: No, I don’t think so. They will be crazy to return with the deployments and the capabilities the US has in Afghanistan. In my book, I talk of CIA’s 300-man army in Afghanistan, the Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPTs). If the United States had these CTPTs prior to 9/11, it would have perhaps easily driven bin Laden and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan in spite of the protection provided to them by the then ruling Taliban regime.

My assessment maybe wrong as it is based on an “if-question” but the point is you don’t necessarily need a lot of force to keep al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.

Q: In your book, there is a continued fear of another 9/11-like attack on the United States? Do you think that is a genuine concern?

A: Yes, it is.

Q: And you also argue that the Afghan war has actually shifted to Pakistan. How much as the war trickled down to Pakistan?

A: In my book, I quote President Obama saying that the “poison” (war) is in Pakistan. The killing of Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan is the proof of that. The Pakistani military and the intelligence officials continued to say that that bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders were not in Pakistan. It was their official position.

Q: So how upset is Washington with Pakistan after the killing of bin Laden on the Pakistani soil?

A: The US is very upset with Pakistan but it is one of those things that both the countries can’t do much about because they need each other. I think both the countries are being very naïve. They are thinking that when they are working together then there will be a total overlap of national interest. This does not happen in international politics. They have to live with this reality.

Q: Do the Americans hold the Pakistani intelligence services responsible for harbouring bin Laden?

A: Yes that is right. It is already known but what has not been established yet is who at what level collaborated with al Qaeda. People in the US government have said that there is no evidence which can substantiate that Pakistan’s top leadership, President Zardari, army chief Kayani and ISI head Shuja Pasha, directly knew that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan.

Q: Is Washington worried about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear program?

A: Oh yes. That is a real worry. But that is one of those realities that everyone has been able to live with so far.

Q: In your book, you term the Quetta Shura as the central pillar of Taliban, which manages operations and appoints commanders. How significant is the Quetta Shura?

A: The Quetta Shura is definitely a serious issue because it’s the top leadership of the Taliban. It is a part of the potential negotiation. The US has stepped up its efforts in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is real.

Q: Who are the Americans more comfortable talking to, Asif Zardari or General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani?

A: The United States realises that Kayani has the real power in Pakistan. Obama is trying to talk to Kayani about the importance of having a civilian leadership and a democratic government. I am sure Kayani buys that argument.

Q: Is Kayani as popular with Washington as Musharraf?

A: [Laughs] No. Certainly not. Kayani does not have the political ambition that Musharraf had. At least people in the US think he does not want to become the president of Pakistan.

Q: With the announcement of the US roadmap for pull-out from Afghanistan, there is a growing fear of desertion in Pakistan similar to what the Americans did after the end of the Cold War. Is the history going to repeat itself?

A: That is what a lot of people in the United States are trying to avoid because they are aware of the history. During the relationships between the countries, there come times when people get excited about good things happening and they become upset with bad things occurring. At times, countries lie to each other. You have to totally learn to deal with that. The future is going to be a test for both the countries. I don’t think bad things won’t happen but there should be accommodation for both the countries for each other.

Q: Does the United States differentiate between al Qaeda and Taliban or are all of them seen from the same lens?

A: I don’t think the American people can differentiate between the two. The Taliban are not held in the US in high regard because of their extremist practices and they killed a lot of American soldiers. However, the Taliban have not attacked the United States successfully yet although they tried to do so with the failed attempt by Faisal Shahzad at Time Square.

Q: Will diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the US further worsen in the future?

A: Their relationship is precarious but I don’t think it is going to fall apart.

Q: What is the best way for the United States to engage Pakistan after it leaves Afghanistan?

A: If you read between the lines, everyone seems to be talking about withdrawing by 2014. The United States military, on the other hand, still wants to leave 15, 000 to 25, 000 troops in Afghanistan though this decision has still not been worked out. Everyone knows the perils of a total withdrawal.

Q: To what extent has the Raymond Davis episode and then bin Laden’s killing damaged cooperation between the CIA and the ISI?

A: The current relationship is based more on verification rather than trust. Both the secret services have similar goals in certain areas and dissimilar goals and interests elsewhere. In Obama’s Wars, I say Pakistan is a “powder keg” whose ingredients are political instability, weak civilian control, a powerful army and a strong intelligence system which still has a strategy of cooperating with the US on the one hand and supporting the extremist groups on the other hand. The other ingredients of the Pakistani powder keg include its nuclear program; position between Afghanistan and unresolved problems with India.

Malik Siraj Akbar, a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow based in Washington DC, is a visiting journalist at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).


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Comments (23) Closed

Bhavin Jul 07, 2011 02:45pm
When an American can read all the truth happening in Pakistan, why most of the Pakistani's are in mode of denial and not opening the eyes. very Well Said - "strong intelligence system which still has a strategy of cooperating with the US on the one hand and supporting the extremist groups on the other hand"
Arkazai Jul 07, 2011 02:45pm
It seems another american trying to raise the flag. What i can't understand is a sudden shift in remarks by American politicians and journalists. From "war in Afghanistan2 it suddenly became "War in Afghanistan and Pakistan". The war on terror has costed pakistan $8billion a year since 2001 and yet people around the world think that people in pakistan want this to continue. America has in the past and is currently in present playing a double game as it did in vietnam, iraq and everywhere it has ravaged WAR. No one respects america or its citizens now which can be observed globally. The above Q&A seemed more like a promotion for his book rather than a rationale on this topic. You may have won many awards Bob Woolward but not everytime is watergate time.
Babar Jul 07, 2011 03:07pm
So what do we know now that we did not earlier.
funny Jul 07, 2011 03:25pm
Pakistan is the only country where its news reporters go to foreign country news reporter and ask what is happening in pakistan in respect to military ,ISI and where is quetta shurra, what is the level of relation ship between ISI and CIA.. Pakistanis should know all these in the first place before talking or trusting americans.. IF ordinary citizen dont know what is happening in Quetta or NWFP or FATA these are serious problems for citizens of this country.
Amir Jul 07, 2011 03:37pm
This Malik Siraj Akbar seems to be an American rather than a Pakistani journalist. I fail to understand why our military, political and media personalities can't find their back bone and ask real questions from these experts instead of reading a list of questions given to them by the Americans. Some of the issues that come to mind that are still left unanswered: What was Raymond Davis doing in Lahore? What is the role of hundreds of other like him who are roaming the cities of Pakistan? How can Pakistan trust US if the US government employees are involved in terrorist acitivities inside Pakistan? Why did US never used to drones to target Baitullah Mehsud's infrastructure even though the military requested for the same many times? Why is there no effective control on the movement of militants form the other side of the border in Afghanistan where ISAF forces are in control? Why is it only Pakistan's responsibility to monitor the border area? Why is intelligence not shared with Pakistan if we are supposed to be partners in the war on terror? Why are civilian deaths in Pakistan are considered so casual while any American death is considered to be a horrific act? Till such time that our representatives started having pride in their own nation and started placing the national priorities ahead of their own petty incentives, we will continue to be the target of all and sundry so called experts on the region. God help us all with the likes of the journalists we currently have.
Agha TassavarZulfika Jul 07, 2011 03:44pm
Pakistan is being deemed as "POWDER CAKE" country due to currption immunity of present regime as well as for not asserting the decession making mandate on his own. It sall be proved "IRON CAKE" When the rule of will pervail which is the desperate desire of the whole nation
Raman Jul 07, 2011 04:04pm
No one from Islamic world likes America - outside of Islamic world US is still a champion of freedom and liberty.
Selina Jul 07, 2011 04:15pm
There are many things that many learned scholars, critics and politicians and journalists praise about Woodward's recent book but the criticisms and questions and disagreements outweigh the praise so far. It really is just one opinion. The US is playing a double game with Pakistan as Pakistan is playing a double game with the US. This just adds to the narrative that the US has been creating of Pakistan since 2008, in particular. All the talk of Nuclear security is worrying me. Very recently, the IA watchdog said that Pakistan's nuclear facilities were amongst the best guarded in the world. I think Pakistan and the US should work together in terms of the war on terrorism and eliminate extremists that threaten Pakistan more than the US, but I think it would be senseless for the US to continue to pursue Pakistan's nuclear programme after that. It would be such a pointless, mindless, risky exercise particularly if the US is being pressured by another source. I didn't really like the book.
Kashif Jul 07, 2011 04:19pm
Not surprised to read, every american speaks the same language. Am I only surprised to hear when Mr Bob said that 300 CIA personnel in Afghanistan have been very effective and can contain Al-Qaeeda...When you all Nato forces failed to achieve objective in Afganistan in 10yrs... Always putting blame on others for their failures, now its Pakistan
Expat (usa) Jul 07, 2011 04:38pm
One can't contemplate what would happen in case Americans fully withdraw from Afghanistan. Can Pakistan tackle Taliban problem on its own ? I seriously doubt.Zardari government cannot even stop wanton killings in Karachi, how would it stop insurgency on the large scale ?
Honey Jul 07, 2011 04:42pm
We have a bunch of yellow journalists all over, they try to prove themselves more American than the American citizens (More royal than the king).......? God forbid. I feel that its a major factor in creating chaos across the country as well as whatever bad is happening to Pakistan they have contributed very well to it.
Mahesh Jul 07, 2011 04:49pm
You are right Mr. Agha Tassavar. It is unfortunate that our two countries have been ravaged by corrupt political leadership. In India, we are currently trying to bring in a big law within months, draft of which has already been prepared and all political parties agreed to support it. With this, we will be able to have an autonomous body, which will look into complaints of corruption even against prime minister, it will have its own investigation teams without any interference from govt. This law should be there in practice in Winter session of parliament this year though it will be introduced next month itself. I seriously fee, our countries badly need this and they need to look into cases of people who practiced corruption in past too. It does not help that cases older than three years should not be considered. It is national wealth that is looted when leaders practice corruption and they should never be left like that...Economy of Pakistan is in bad shape as is electricity...I hope, and pray, Pakistan too will see better days...Allah Hafiz...
Tajammal Jul 07, 2011 05:03pm
Including India particularly.
Khan Wali Jul 07, 2011 05:08pm
Its Dawn forum my dear! Pakistanis can't give same comments on Indian forums(TOI etc,).
G.A. Jul 07, 2011 05:29pm
Nothing new in this article. One look at Gilani and Zardari and you know right away who is the real power broker. As for the double game, Americans are playing it too. I once read a remark by a Pakistani General that they are not going allow another Cambodia.
AKWazir Jul 07, 2011 05:31pm
US like any other country looks after its long term goals & rightly so.Sadly,Pakistani leadership has myopic vision when it comes to international affairs.Zia pushed us in this game of two elephants fighting, Musharraf made the whole nation hostage for the sake of his personal interest.Like old cliche says that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
monalisa Jul 07, 2011 05:33pm
dear arkazai , do not feel shocked if in near future you find a sudden shift in remarks by American politicians and journalists from “War in Afghanistan and Pakistan” to "War in Pakistan". As you very well know that pakistan has been globally recognized as epicenter of terrorism. Well you are right when you say that America plays a double game & ravaged war but it does that only to the countries which are ruled by military dictators like Musharaf & kayani and shelters terrorists like Osama bin laden.
Mustafa Jul 07, 2011 05:34pm
Its sad to read such interviews by our own journalists and that too from one of the leading news agencies of the country. Are our journalists really so naïve? I mean I already knew the answers to these questions before I even read this interview. Is this what journalism has really come down to in our country?
Ghafoor Jul 07, 2011 05:35pm
Ever considered a remote possibility that the government might be involved in Killings in Karachi as a part of political agenda by utilizing the old trick of intimidation against to political rivals. One does not need to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure this out. This needs to be stopped.
Zuberi Jul 07, 2011 05:36pm
-America should work out easier solutions. Stable Pakistan demand that US should support new political parties not corrupt like PML-N and PPP. This new force should tame Khakees and keep them away from politics. But the problem with this solution is that it is alway very tough for US for working with genuine and honest people ruling in Pakistan - In order to prove to the world that US is supreme power, they end up killing civlians in Iraq, Afghanistan in millions and to terrorise the rest of the asian countries. A new equitable relationship begin with the Formal Appology for this ugly policy after all it was clearly avoidable.
Dr. Asad Sadick, Ger Jul 07, 2011 05:38pm
What nonsense. Kayani has no powers in Pakistan. If he had the country would not be in such a mess. Please dont insult him. Such statements are simply meant to provocate and cause trouble.
Agha Ata Jul 07, 2011 06:46pm
Mr.Bob Woodward said another attack like 9/11 is a genuine concern for the USA. If al queda should attack anywhere in the USA, Houses of Parliament in London,and the Eiffel Tower in France, all Western policies for al quadea would change within hours. Now, the question is why the USA is not doing NOW what they would do when al queda strikes? There efforts are so real, their intentions are so clear, The only difference is that nobody in the West is killed yet. Isn't it often said that al queda should have been attacked before 9/11 because CIA knew their intentions? And is it not right that now the whole world knows al queda's intentions?
askani Jul 08, 2011 03:23pm
A wonderful piece by a Baloch Journalist.