Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Senior Analyst with the Pakistani TV channel Geo TV, and the Resident Editor of The News International in Peshawar, an English newspaper from Pakistan. He’s worked as a correspondent for Time Magazine, BBC World Service, BBC Pashto, BBC Urdu, Geo TV, and ABC News. Mr. Yusufzai has interviewed Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and a range of other militants across the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Here Yusufzai talks from Peshawar, Pakistan with Real News Network’s Paul Jay about the real U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, and notes that the U.S. now has more than 100,000 troops in AfPak fighting at the most a couple of hundred Al Qaeda members, with only 50 of them in Afghanistan.
SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Washington, one of the main topics of debate these days is US policy in Afghanistan. A national intelligence estimate released just before the new year said that the prospects for success of the US military operations in Afghanistan are not looking very good. This contradicted the estimations coming from the Pentagon that talked about success. Now joining us from Peshawar, Pakistan, to give his opinion on just how things are going on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan is Rahimullah Yusufzai. He’s a senior analyst with the Pakistani TV channel Geo TV; resident editor of The News International in Peshawar, an English newspaper from Pakistan; and he has served as a correspondent for Time magazine, BBC world service, and BBC news. Thanks for joining us again, Rahimullah.
RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI, RESIDENT EDITOR, THE NEWS INTERNATIONAL: Thank you.
JAY: So on December 16, President Obama announced his strategic review of what’s going on in Afghanistan, and once again he repeated the reasons why the United States are in Afghanistan. Here’s a little clip of what he had to say.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We are focused on disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
JAY: So President Obama repeated his rationale for being in Afghanistan. Rahimullah, do you think that’s why the United States is in Afghanistan, because of al-Qaeda?
YUSUFZAI: I think maybe initially the Americans came here because of al-Qaeda, because Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were based, were headquartered in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is still arguably alive, and his number two, Dr. [Ayman] Zawahiri, is also alive. They should be in the region. They haven’t been captured or killed. But most of their other colleagues have either been killed or captured, and some have left this area. And the CIA chief was saying essentially that only about 50 al-Qaeda members remain in Afghanistan. Maybe there are about 200 left in the Pakistani tribal areas. So we have not more than 250 or 300 al-Qaeda members, and to defeat them we have more than 100,000 American soldiers plus 50,000 NATO soldiers from 48 countries. We have this large force fighting al-Qaeda, which is in very small numbers now. I think the main fight is not against al-Qaeda now; it’s against Taliban and the Afghan people who are part of other militant groups or Taliban. This is actually basically now a fight for control of the country, for Afghanistan.
JAY: The American argument is that even if they’re relatively weaker now (and they say they are; Obama talks about a certain amount of success, and that’s one of the things they claim), they say that if the Taliban were to regain or the militants were to regain control of the Afghan government, then it would once again allow al-Qaeda to come back and gain strength. Do you think there’s truth to that? Because we’ve also heard the Afghan Taliban saying they don’t want anything more to do with al-Qaeda.
YUSUFZAI: The Afghan Taliban actually have yet to say these things officially. You know, they haven’t said that they will delink, they will dissociate from al-Qaeda. I have this view that Taliban would be willing to discuss the possibility of denying any sanctuary to al-Qaeda in the future. This actually is an issue which needs to be discussed. You know, Taliban should be helped to try to delink from al-Qaeda. But this, to continue fighting them, then they will definitely look for allies, they will look for financers, and al-Qaeda can help them. They actually are fighting a very large force, they are fighting a so-called power in Afghanistan, so they will look for allies. But if there’s no fighting and if there is a political solution, maybe they would have an incentive to try and make an agreement and expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan.
JAY: Now, Rahim, if you look at why US is in Afghanistan, many people suggest it’s for bigger geopolitical, geostrategic objectives, fundamentally, as a base in the region to defend or protect American broader economic and political interests. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham put it in so many words. Here’s what he had to say.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I am hopeful the Pakistani army will be more bold in attacking safe havens across the border that lie in Pakistan. I hope the Karzai government will better address corruption. I hope we can find an enduring relationship with Afghanistan that will make sure that country never goes back in the hands of terrorists. And the idea of putting permanent military bases on the table in 2011, I think, would secure our national interest and tell the bad guys and the good guys we’re not leaving, we’re staying in a responsible way if the Afghan people want us to stay.
JAY: So, Rahim, Senator Graham is openly now calling for permanent US military bases–he’s saying a couple of Air Force bases in Afghanistan. I mean, is this what this war is about?
YUSUFZAI: I think this is what many people were expecting. You know, July 2011 was to be the starting date for the withdrawal of US forces. Now the goalposts have been pushed back; now it is 2014 when the mission would be completed. Maybe there would be a symbolic withdrawal of some troops in July this year. But I think that there’s going to be now fighting for four more years. That is the idea. You keep your forces here, you fight the Taliban, try to reverse the momentum, and strengthen the Afghan government and security forces. That’s the idea. But even now–except Vice President Joe Biden was saying that we have to leave by a cutoff date, which is 2014. But I think that the military thinks otherwise. And even this very hopeful assessment of the war given by President Obama after the review is basically the position of the US army, the Pentagon, or General Petraeus. They actually are claiming a lot of success in recent military operations. So I think that the view here on the ground is that there’s no way that all the Americans troops would be withdrawn, even by 2014. They’re saying that there is so much of heavy investment by the US in trying to expand these air bases at Bagram, at Jalalabad, at Shindand, in Herat, at Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif–it’s not one or two, but there’s a number of such bases, and new constructions are taking place. And that’s why people say that it’s not for nothing. There would be some American military presence. These bases would be maintained.
JAY: Thanks for joining us again, Rahimullah. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.