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Zakaria: Afghanistan not a quagmire...yet

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  • Zakaria: War in Afghanistan isn't going well
  • Petraeus and Holbrooke will help in Afghanistan, he says
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 and 6 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria says even though the war in Afghanistan isn't going well, there is still reason for hope

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said that with a resurgent Taliban, a still-flourishing drug trade and a border with Pakistan believed to be home base for al Qaeda, Afghanistan can't afford for U.S. troops to leave any time soon.

"U.S. forces will not be able to leave soon in Afghanistan because the task is not over," Karzai said in an interview on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," scheduled to air Sunday. "We have to defeat terrorism. We'll have to enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet. We'll have to enable Afghanistan to be able to defend itself and protect for its security.

"Then, the United States can leave and, at that time, the Afghan people will give them plenty of flowers and gratitude and send them safely back home."

Karzai's comments come as President Obama plans to send another 30,000 troops to fight what he's called the "central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism."

Fareed Zakaria spoke to CNN about his interview and the situation in Afghanistan

CNN:You've written about your concerns about Afghanistan. Are things getting worse?

Fareed Zakaria: Yes. The war in Afghanistan is not going well. Almost all trends are moving in the wrong direction. But I don't believe it is a quagmire. Yet. We still have time to prevent that from happening.

CNN: What needs to be done?

Zakaria: Well one thing the Obama administration has done that I think is a very positive step is placing two very talented individuals in charge of the issue - David Petraeus and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. However there does need to be an overhaul of U.S. policy. Video Watch Karzai comment on the Obama administration »

CNN: What will that entail?

'Fareed Zakaria GPS'
See Fareed's interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai on this week's "GPS"
Sunday, 1 & 6 p.m. ET

Zakaria: First, do counterinsurgency right. Which means, instead of aggressive and punitive operations, emphasize the need to make local populations feel secure. This is Gen. Petraeus' recommendation.

Troops live among the people, use less force, gain trust, don't overreact to every provocation and be seen as a positive force within the community. Above all, the priority is to get local forces, in this case the Afghan National Army and the police, to do as much as possible, even when the job might not be done as well as by foreign troops.

Second, talk to theTaliban. Before you get upset, let me explain. In America, this has turned into a somewhat ideological debate about talking to the Taliban. Critics rage that this would be doing business with evil people.

But in a country like Afghanistan -- one of the poorest in the world -- politics is often less about ideology and more about a share of the spoils. While some members of the Taliban are hard-core Islamic extremists, others are concerned with gaining a measure of local power, of access to money and clout.

CNN: But weren't they, at least in part, responsible for 9/11?

Zakaria: You know, given that the United States is in its seventh year of war in Afghanistan, it might surprise many Americans to recognize that not one Afghan was involved at any significant level in the 9/11 attacks.

We have to draw a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban. The United States is properly and unalterably opposed to al Qaeda on strategic, political and moral grounds because its raison d'être is to inflict brutality on the civilized world.

However, the Taliban is not al Qaeda. Were elements of the Taliban to abandon al Qaeda, we would not have a pressing national security interest in waging war against them.

CNN: OK, what else?

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Zakaria: Strengthen the Afghan government. The central government is widely seen as weak, dysfunctional and utterly corrupt.

The international community should have considerable influence on this matter because the Kabul government, unlike in Iraq, has virtually no revenue sources other than foreign aid. Unfortunately, so far many of the most corrupt elements in government are allies of the West and have gained a kind of immunity as a result.

We should also have a much more broad-based effort to reach out to tribal leaders, hold local councils and build a more diverse base of support. The goal in Afghanistan should not be a strong central government -- the country is decentralized in its DNA -- but a legitimate government with credibility and local allies throughout the country. This is how Afghanistan was ruled before the wars that have consumed it since the 1980s.

CNN: We've heard a lot about the corruption in the Karzai government. What do you think?

Zakaria: There are no official charges leveled against President Karzai. The criticism mainly revolves around the view that he doesn't crack down on it within the government. We have President Karzai on GPS this week. I ask him about the allegations against his government. He feels a lot of it is politically motivated by the West.

He does admit corruption exists in the country but attributes it to Afghanistan being a poor country devastated by war. As any other third world country, and one like Afghanistan which was completely destroyed by interventions by the Soviet Union, and then the neighbors, and then the subsequent abandonment of Afghanistan when the Soviets withdrew to complete misery and destruction, suddenly this country got so much money coming from the West, suddenly so many Afghans came from all over the world to participate.

Suddenly there were projects, suddenly there was this poverty that turned into some sort of prosperity for this country. Corruption is there, and its in different levels -- there's petty corruption, there's corruption in contracting -- part of it is our problem. Part of it is the problem of the international community and the way they make contracts.

CNN: But shouldn't he do something about it?

Zakaria: He says they are. That they have been studying it and are dismissing corrupt officials, but they are not publicizing it. It's going on on a daily basis, the problem is we don't announce it, and that's why it doesn't become knowledge for those of us in the international community.


So I guess we have to improve on that. But there is serious and systematic work going on in this account.

The new found pressure brought by the Obama administration will also probably cause President Karzai to make some changes in his government.

All About Hamid KarzaiThe TalibanDavid PetraeusRichard Holbrooke

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