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Afghan President: Taliban Should Take Peace Offer; Avraham Burg's Journey From Mainstream To Outsider. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, after decades of war, in an exclusive interview, the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani tells me why he's

making an unprecedented peace offer to the Taliban.

Also ahead, decades of war between Israel and the Palestinians. I talk to the former speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avraham Burg at a time when peace

seems farther away than ever.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

At war for almost 40 years since the 1979 Soviet invasion and with the United States fighting the last 16 years, hundreds of thousands of

civilians dead, has the time for peace in Afghanistan finally arrived?

President Ashraf Ghani tells me that it has. He is reaching out to the Taliban with the best offer they've had yet - legitimization, talks without

preconditions, everything on the table.

But the Taliban is far from grasping the hand of reconciliation. It doesn't even recognize Ghani's government. It says it will only speak with

the United States. But President Ghani tells me that it is time now for them to separate that posturing from reality.

President Ghani, welcome to the program from Kabul.

ASHRAF GHANI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: It's a pleasure to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Well, this is an amazing time. What you have just done, your outreach for peace, your outreach to the Taliban is described by those who

know as the best ever offer to the Taliban by an Afghan president. You have put everything on the table. Why are you doing it and why now?

GHANI: The why of it is because our society is a consensus now. Our women, all ethnic groups, all political parties have converged on the need

to seek peace.

Equally, we have an international consensus that is supporting us.

Plus, a very important event has happened in the Muslim world. The scholars, Islamic scholars, the ulema, are beginning to speak clearly on

condemning bombings, the type of violence that is not rooted in our Islamic culture and civilization.

So, we need to move forward and the other side is the opportunities.

AMANPOUR: You talk about consensus. And, yes, of course, the Afghan people and the region and your international partners want peace. But they

are very divided on whether you should be offering everything, including re-examining the constitution, to a group that seems to have the upper hand

on the ground right now, controlling a lot and active in the majority of the land. And also, for women, especially, who have historically been not

considered equal by the Taliban.

And you, of course, once called them terrorists.

GHANI: Terror is an activity. The Irish, the Good Friday Accord, was it reached with a group that were nice people or a group that were engaged in

destabilizing? So, the important issue is now those want to separate themselves from international terrorist organizations and terrorist activities would need

to be separated through this process.

Secondly, our women have emerged to speak for themselves, to take great public positions. We have ten deputy ministers, five women ambassadors,

three ministers. They're increasingly active. They are going to be engaged in every part of the peace process.

Thirdly, I would question with respect your assertion that they're militarily dominant. For the first time since the departure of the

international troops, we are steadily moving. We have a four-year plan. We're offering this not out of some desperation, but out of courage and

conviction that the violence that is inflicted on our people - the type of violence that they're resorting to is an indication of weakness, not


[14:05:02] AMANPOUR: OK.

GHANI: To kill innocent civilians is not an act of courage.

AMANPOUR: I know you say that. And, of course, it is not an act of courage to kill innocent civilians. However, the facts on the ground,

according to a US military report, just recently said that your government only controls 18 percent of the country's districts. That means the

Taliban does have the upper hand right now.

And furthermore, this group, which calls itself -

GHANI: I would strongly disagree with that. I would strongly disagree with that. I've just had a briefing from again - the US General Nicholson

will disagree with that. This is not the fact.

AMANPOUR: So, what is the fact then? How much do you control?

GHANI: They, in effect, in terms of the number of district, at most - if you even - if you go at a liberal classification, it's 9 to 12 districts

out of close to 400. They've not been able to take a single city, a provincial capital or consolidate the key goals to overthrow the government

or to create two separate geographies has not happened.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me again come back because the UN said that, last year alone, Afghan civilians suffered 10,000 casualties, dead and wounded. And

your capital has come under awful suicide bombing in the last several weeks. A hundred people killed by a weaponized ambulance. Taliban

reaching the most secure hotel in the capital, the Intercontinental.

But, more importantly, I want to ask you to respond to their response. This is what they have said. And I say that they call themselves the

Islamic Emirate. So, "the Kabul process and other such efforts seek surrender from the Islamic Emirate at a time when the Islamic Emirate is

without a doubt a force that has defeated an international arrogant power like America with all its allies and tools at disposal. So, do you believe

such a proposal is logical?"

That's their view of your offer. And the encouragement by Americans to talk to you - they don't even want to talk to you, the government.

GHANI: Well, certainly. But let's separate posturing from the realities. Every group that is dedicated to violence is going to exaggerate its own

importance in its posturing.

The question is directed to the people of Afghanistan. When a group is so desperate to kill innocent civilians and take responsibility for it, that's

not an act of strength. That is not an act of a group that thinks they're winning or defeating.

AMANPOUR: So, this is what the former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told me yesterday. And, of course, let's not forget he was President

Obama's defense secretary. This is what the American point of view seems to be now.


CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no other way out of this. There is no military solution here. And at some point, the United States

is going to say enough is enough. We've never been in a war this long. And I think Ghani understands that. And I think this approach is the only

legitimate, wise, responsible course of action to take.


AMANPOUR: So, he, obviously, fully backs what you're doing. And I wondered what backing you're getting from the Trump administration. They

have not wanted to talk to the Taliban, even though the Taliban has reached directly to them.

GHANI: The secretary is right. We have to show an end to war. We have had full support and backing from the Trump administration and it's

actually the new South Asia strategy of the Trump administration that has created the enabling environment to move - to both have the strength to

move forward with security reforms and consolidation of security, but also to put the ultimate political solution clearly -

AMANPOUR: And what about the all-important country, your neighbor, Pakistan, which you have called in the past the center of the Taliban,

which the Trump administration has just censored and removed a hefty, many, many hundreds of millions of dollars of security aid for their activities

in this regard.

Without their support, it's not going to work, is it?

GHANI: We have offered a comprehensive discussion with Pakistan. And yesterday, I announced that Afghanistan is willing to arrive at an

agreement on a plan to repatriate the 2.2 million of our fellow citizens that they've been living as refugees in Pakistan, so that there'd no excuse


[14:10:15] Pakistan is at a moment of choice. Its past course of action has resulted in a situation where it is placed in isolation. Its

interests, its state interests, its national interests and its regional interests require it to be connecting in the hope that Pakistan would opt

for the right approach.

AMANPOUR: And can I ask you a question that others have asked you in the past, including you've had questions from CNN about this. Since the

autumn, you have been classifying the key details around your military. The numbers of military and police, particularly those who have been killed

in this ongoing battle.

Why are you doing that? That doesn't show confidence, does it? I mean, a winning side doesn't need to classify the body count.

GHANI: We have not classified the body count. This is totally false. And it's available. And should you want interviews, I would ask the Ministry

of Defense Interior and the National Directorate of Security to the share all the figures with you.

AMANPOUR: I have been interviewing Mr. President for the last 18 years in all your different government positions and now as president. You've been

trying to work this problem for that long.

Is this a last-ditch effort for you? What happens if it doesn't work? What happens to you? What happens to your people and to your country?

GHANI: Well, first of all, no effort for peace is last-ditch. We will succeed. Our past, against all odds, is to be able to do impossible


When the Soviet Union invaded us in 1979, was there anyone in the world that believed that we would succeed, friend or foe? We succeeded, but

subsequently we're unable to benefit from our gains.

When I became president, the overwhelming opinion was that we would collapse within six months to nine months. We are moving forward.

Let us please understand that the absolute majority of the Afghan men and women are under 30. There is a generational change in government, in

society, in the economy, and particularly in culture.

And the younger generation of Afghanistan both own the problems and own the solutions. I was in the City of Herat for four days inaugurating the TAPI

project and its related projects.

The sense of creativity stuns me, humbles me and we hope that they would take a chance that is offered earnestly and for the good of our people.

It's the command of God Almighty, the Allah, to seek peace. War is not the way.

But my firm belief is that our nation will succeed, as we've succeeded against all odds in the past.

AMANPOUR: Against all odds indeed. President Ashraf Ghani, thanks so much for joining me from Kabul tonight.

GHANI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also just weighed in. He strongly supports President Ghani's reconciliation efforts

and he's urging the Taliban to "work with fellow Afghans for an end to our suffering."

Turning now to another intractable regional conflict, the one between Israel and the Palestinians and the one inside Israel.

In nine years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Israel's political left in disarray, Netanyahu has a freehand when it comes to

making policy.

But one prominent Israeli voice refuses to give in to what he calls the groupthink paralyzing Israel's government. My guest Avraham Burg.

He was a rising political star, speaker of the Israeli Knesset. Even acting as president for a short time in the summer of 2000. But, now, he's

out on the fringe, labeled by many a gadfly, pointing an accusing finger at Israel for its failure to bring peace and equal rights to this vital part

of the Middle East.

Burg's new book, "In Days to Come: A New Hope for Israel" is his account of his personal journey from Zionist true believer to modern-day Jeremiah.

Avraham Burg, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, is that all right? Is that all where you stand right now? You are a true believer. Your father was there at the creation. He helped

create the state of Israel. And now, you have turned against this with a vengeance.

[14:15:13] BURG: No.


BURG: I don't have this kind of emotions when it - I'm not angry. I have a lot of hopes. I see the problems. I'm upset with the political

situation. I wait for some kind of Afghani inspiration in our region, somebody to come with vocabulary and syntax of peace to a region which is

in a chronic conflict.

Yet, at the same time, I didn't give up. I believe that the opportunities are there and I believe it is possible.

AMANPOUR: But you've written this book and you are angry. You're quite angry at your father for all sorts of things. And you do, in fact, in your

words talk about a period of sanity in Israel that you say expired in 1967. That's decades ago.

BURG: I was born before the watershed; '67 was actually a turning point. Up until '67, the first 19 years of Israel were years in which Israel

slowly but surely moved from a young enterprise into something very promising.

Then came '67 and introduced into our life new dimensions of scatological thinking, of messianic politics, of occupying other people despite their

will, the Palestinian people.

Yes, a certain part, my father as much as so many of my friends and colleagues were and are part of the system. And, yes, I come and I try to

offer an alternative, which says a better Israel is an Israel which relinquishes all of this kind of emotionless, scatological, doomsday


Do I do it with anger? You're a reader. You know better than I do, but I feel seem quite calm when I come to it. I have a good argument. I don't

have to be mad.

AMANPOUR: OK. You have a good argument. But, again, as I said - because people are saying, you're sort of a gadfly now, particularly with the -

sort of the left relinquishing the stage, its voice. Very, very heavily silenced.

The right-wing, Benjamin Netanyahu bringing ultra-orthodox right into the cabinet, is in the ascendancy and it's marching along quite ahead with very

little opposition.

They say if there was a snap poll today, Netanyahu would win again.

BURG: Right. However, the weakening of the - almost, I would say, breaking down of the left camp in Israel has two dimensions.

The external one is it's part of the weakening process of so many liberal democracies around the world. I mean, tell me what's going on here with

the Labour. Tell me what's going on in America with the Democratic Party. Tell me what's going on in Germany with the SPD.

It's the same phenomenon about liberal democracies of the 21st century and we are part of it.

The second has to do with our own private intimate scenery. In Israel, to be a leftie means you're for or against settlement with the Palestinians,

but this is not a comprehensive philosophy.

Being a liberal, progressive, social democrat means separation between church and state, equality for all the citizens, fairness of the game, fair

distribution of public resources. And we, the camp - the peace camp and the social democratic potential camp in Israel forgot about all of it.

And, therefore, in my writing and in my political arguments, I try to say, yes, it is about us and the Palestinians because the occupation is so

malignant. Yet, at the same time, we have to build so many new institutions and approaches for a better Israel.

AMANPOUR: You call Israel the only half democracy in the Middle East.

BURG: Israel prides itself - we have an issue with standards. We like to set the bar so high and then we are so upset when the world comes and says,

hey, you don't meet the standards you've set by yourself.

And I say, yes, we have high standards because the nature, the history, the high call of being a Jew for so many years deprived of political

sovereignty. Yet, at the same time, we give ourselves labels that we have to justify, the most moral army in the world, only democracy in the Middle


And I say it's a beautiful democracy, but it has issues. We're dominant on other people, the Palestinian one, millions of people between the Jordan

and the Mediterranean and depriving them from any possible political rights, this is not a full democracy.

And I say, within Israel, given the issues of church and state, of orthodox hegemony, is not fully democratic and, therefore, we still have challenges

and a lot of work to do.

AMANPOUR: What would your solution be to the principal existential threat, as said, for instance, in the gatekeepers documentary all - to a man and,

of course, they were all men - the former security heads and intelligence heads and military chiefs all say that that situation is Israel's

existential threat.

[14:20:11] So, how would you solve the ongoing conflict?

BURG: First, by admitting that whatever used to be the classical external existential threat is not there anymore for a long while.

I mean, Syria, as much as whatever happens there is devastating, is not an existential threat. With Egypt, we have peace. Jordan is OK. And even

the Iranian issue is not as dramatic as our prime minister would like us to fear of.

Yet, when you look inside, you must realize that the fragmentation of the Israeli society and the collapse of its previous value system is something

very, very problematic.

And my offer, in my writing and in my political position, challenging my own camp first, before trying to challenge the right wing, is to say as


Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, every individual should have the rights for the same rights. Let's begin with this. This actually is cause

for us, the Jews, the privileged element to relinquish some of our absolute, total privileges.

AMANPOUR: Are you talking about a one state then?

BURG: Not necessarily. But let's begin first with the individual rights. You live in Ramallah, you have to vote for a parliament, be it the

Palestinian parliament or a joint parliament. That's a different decision. But, first, let's put it on the table that it's not kosher, it's not OK for

any Western democracy like the Israeli one, and this is where we belong and should belong, to deprive the rights of so many millions. So, it's about

rights. It's about the concept of what is right and what is wrong vis-a- vis rights.

The second element goes to the understanding that this space should be assured space. Would it be assured space that because we are married and

we have the same family or just because we have good neighbors and we share the same space, that's an outcome of a political negotiation.

One warning I have for my society, this beautiful formula that everybody is in love of two state solution has expiration date. It is not there


AMANPOUR: What do you mean?

BURG: When we spoke about it first during the 70s, we were well poisoners, trojan horses, stabbing the back of the nation, not just Avraham Burg, OK?

We were not good nicks.

And then, in the years, people say yes, it's a good formula. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu rhetorically adopted it, not practically, but

rhetorically. But it doesn't move? Will it go on forever? The answer is no.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, let me ask you. How does the Trump administration and the equivocation there on a one state or a two state, the moving of the US

embassy, now apparently on a fast track to moving to Jerusalem, Jared Kushner who's meant to deliver the best deal of all and who is already

under his own issues in Washington with all these investigations, what is the American momentum to help push Israel towards a two-state solution or

any kind of peace?

BURG: As much as you called me in your introduction a Jeremiah, which I'm not. I'm trying to prophesize America -

AMANPOUR: What's the effect now? What effect is it having?

BURG: America is in a way not a real player. It's not a real player. I mean, Trump is - it's a strange presidency. It's supporting the right-wing

policy in Israel because of right wing conservative policies over there, but it is far from being perceived as a fair honest broker between the


And in a way, being so bizarre, the presidency, it brings the burden back to the sides. It's us and the Palestinians. Dialectically speaking, it's

very good.

And I believe that what we discuss today, it is not two states or no solution. I hope one day there will be two-state solution. I hope my

leadership will be generous enough to see that that's - Afghani model, the only way to go about it.

But if we're not there, the deliberation is about one state with two regimes, one full of privileges and one not so generous to the Palestinians

or a better one state with everybody is equal.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you specifically about the prime minister. Everybody knows that there are all these allegations. There's all these

investigations. He calls it a witch-hunt.

The first question is, how do you think it's going to end up? Is he going to survive the duration of his prime ministership?

BURG: May I circumvent the question, in a sense I want to defeat him at the ballot box.


BURG: I do want to defeat him with a police station.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well -

BURG: So, whatever he has, I wish him the best and I wish everybody that - no country deserves a prime minister under investigation or in jail.

AMANPOUR: Then, what effect - what has been the Bibi effect? I started to say that he's brought - he's turned the country sharp right. He's brought

ultra-orthodox into the cabinet like never before. He's put an indelible stamp.

[14:25:05] In fact, Bret Stephens of "The New York Times" has said, "Bibi has been for Israelis a pretty good prime minister. For all of his flaws,

few have done it as well as Bibi, which is why he's endured and he will probably continue to do so."

BURG: He is the most omnipotent prime minister maybe we've ever had. He is so powerful, it's unbelievable. I mean, the public support - he is the

king of Israel. Bibi (FOREIGN LANGUAGE), the Bibi the king.

In the eyes of men, he's revered almost as the royal individual. But at the same time, the more power he has, the more personal problems are there

and the lack of confidence and the reluctance to move into history.

So, he's an arch political king, but not such a good historical leader.

AMANPOUR: And we will leave it there and wait to see what happens in your country. Avraham Burg -

BURG: There will be peace in my country.

AMANPOUR: I hope so. As President Ghani said, against all the odds.

Avraham Burg, thank you so much for joining us.

And that is it for our program. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and follow me on Facebook and


Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.