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James Steinberg: Afghanistan update and India, Pakistan conflict

James Steinberg served as Deputy National Security Adviser during the Clinton Administration. Now the head of Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, DC., Steinberg has held positions at the U.S. State Department, The Markle Foundation, the Rand Corporation and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Steinberg served as national security counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy, and is the author of "An Ever Closer Union: European Integration and Its Implications for the Future of U.S.-European Relations." The opinions expressed in this transcript are those of James Steinberg, and are not necessarily shared by CNN.

CNN: Welcome once again to Newsroom, James Steinberg. Thank you for being with us today.

JAMES STEINBERG: Glad to be back. I look forward to your questions.

CNN: With the new interim government in Afghanistan now in place, what role will the US and the coalition play in ensuring that government's success during the next six months?

STEINBERG: There are many important questions that remain about the role that the United States and the international community will play. The U.S. continues to focus on tracking down any remaining al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and that means that the U.S. will maintain some significant military forces for this role for the forseeable future. At the same time, the international community, under the leadership of Great Britain, is beginning to deploy a modest size stabilization force to help with security in the Kabul area, and the task force may be extended to other parts of the country in the future.

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The other dimension of the international effort will be on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. This is an enormous task, as there are millions of displaced Afghanis who will need help with food and shelter in the coming months, and a long term reconstruction effort that could cost upwards of $20 billion over the next five to10 years. It remains uncertain just what share of that funding the United States is prepared to commit. Finally, there is an important role that the government in the region can play by resisting the temptation, which has been all too prevalent in the past, to intervene in Afghanistan in support of factions there who are sympathetic to the interests of one or another of the neighboring states.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Should the U.S. be concerned with the increase of tensions between India and Pakistan and work for a solution to Kashmir?

STEINBERG: The escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan is extremely worrying. The latest round, of course, was triggered by a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, which but for an accident of timing, could have had much more serious consequences in terms of possible injuries to very senior Indian officials. The Indians believe that the attacks were the work of a radical group which they believe has the protection and support of the Pakistani government, and the Indians have therefore demanded that the Pakistanis move to shut down this group. The Pakistanis have said that they would take action if the Indians provided them with evidence of the group's responsibility, but thus far, India has refused to do so, and instead, has been threatening to take action of its own against what it believes are terrorist camps inside Pakistan. This has led both sides to mobilize forces on their borders, and has already produced some skirmishes.

The United States must play a role in helping both sides avoid this escalation of the conflict by seeking to provide some kind of objective assessment of the evidence of who was responsible, and if India can produce that evidence, put pressure on General Musharraf to take the action that he said he was prepared to do. In the longer run, both sides must restart a political dialogue on Kashmir. The United States should support that effort, but it is certainly not in the cards in the near term for the United States to actually try to mediate the differences on how Kashmir should ultimately be resolved.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Could a third party be responsible for the attacks on Parliament? Who would have the most to gain from a war?

STEINBERG: At this point, we have not seen all of the evidence concerning who was responsible for these attacks, but there is certainly reason to suspect that radical Islamic groups which have been active in Kashmir and who may have believed that the crisis in Afghanistan gave them an opportunity to increase the pressure on India to restart political negotiations over Kashmir. If that was the calculus, however, it is likely to backfire, because the Indian government believes that the U.S. example of holding the Taliban responsible for terrorists in Afghanistan strengthens their ability to put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on alleged terrorist groups who are either based in, or supported by, the Pakistani government.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is the possibility of the U.S. taking on Iraq causing unrest among the Middle East countries?

STEINBERG: There is certainly a great deal of anxiety among both governments and the people of the Middle East about U.S. intentions vis-a-vis Iraq, although the record of Saddam Hussein, both with respect to his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and his cruel oppression of his own people is very clear. Nonetheless, the plight of the Iraqi people is something that deeply concerns many people in the Middle East, and they fear that those people would be the victims of any future military effort. The challenge for the United States now is to refocus the world's attentions on the dangers that Saddam Hussein poses, and to try to strengthen international support to prevent him from posing a further threat. There is considerable debate within the administration as to whether Saddam Hussein can be contained, or whether it will be necessary to use military force to overthrow him. But that is something that at least for now will be strongly resisted by most governments in the region.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If [minister of defense, General Mohammad] Fahim stages a military coup, will we support Karzai militarily?

STEINBERG: The United States and the rest of the international community has a strong interest in seeing that the government that was created by the Bonn agreement to succeed in Afghanistan. The peacekeeping force that is now being deployed under the leadership of Great Britain could play a role in trying to discourage any attempts by the various factions to overthrow that interim government, but it is likely that any efforts would involve political pressure and perhaps providing supplies to the interim government rather than direct military intervention by the U.S. or the international force. The United States will be very leery of committing U.S. troops to try to resolve fights between the Afghani factions, should they arise.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?

STEINBERG: I just want to wish all of you in the chat the best holiday wishes, and I look forward to talking to you all on New Year's Eve. CNN: Thank you for joining us, James Steinberg.

STEINBERG: Thank you.

James Steinberg joined via telephone from Washington, DC. This is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, December 24, 2001.


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