updated 5/10/2009 12:10:13 PM ET 2009-05-10T16:10:13

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Our issues this Sunday:  The president calls it the most dangerous place in the world.  The front line in the war on terror is now the rugged frontier lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It's where al-Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban have come back with vengeance in the years after 9/11, and where the White House has decided to surge more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops.  This week, an unprecedented White House summit with the region's leaders and a warning.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States are linked.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Is it America's war or their war?  And is it winnable?  With us exclusively this morning, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Then, insights and analysis on why these two countries now represent the most pressing national security challenge to the Obama White House.  With us, Steve Coll of The New Yorker magazine, former longtime foreign correspondent and senior editor of The Washington Post and author of the best-selling book "Ghost Wars" about Osama bin Laden and the U.S. engagement with Afghanistan; and Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent of NBC News.

But first, the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I sat down with both leaders earlier this week after their White House meetings.  Pakistan's President Zardari, in office for the last eight months, is the widower of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.  I began by asking about the Taliban and whether he agrees with the Obama administration that the group represents an existential threat to his country.

MR. ASIF ALI ZARDARI:  No, I consider the philosophy of Taliban as threat to the world, not just to Pakistan and your country, but I feel it's a larger threat.

MR. GREGORY:  Existential threat to Pakistan?

MR. ZARDARI:  Pakistan, the whole world.  They start from the Horn of Africa and come down all the way to Pakistan.  They don't evolve from Pakistan and go up, they come down.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you consider the Taliban to be a bigger threat today than India?

MR. ZARDARI:  I consider it a different--they're--India's a country and Pakistan is a, a...(unintelligible)...we're, we're two states which in fact Pakistan stemmed out of the subcontinent out of India.  So it's a different relationship, it's a different context.

MR. GREGORY:  Is there a war with the Taliban inside Pakistan?

MR. ZARDARI:  There is a war, sir.

MR. GREGORY:  And is it America's war or Pakistan's war?

MR. ZARDARI:  It's a war of our existence.  We've been fighting this war much before they attacked 9/11.  They're kind of a cancer created by both of us, Pakistan and America and the world.  We got together, we created this cancer to fight the superpower and then we went away--rather, you went away without finding a cure for it.  And now we've both come together to find a cure for it, and we're looking for one.

MR. GREGORY:  When you speak like that, it doesn't sound as if you consider it Pakistan's war, you consider it America's responsibility.

MR. ZARDARI:  No, I think it's a joint responsibility.  I think it's the joint responsibilities of all the democracies of the world.  That's why we made this Friends of Democratic Pakistan, so we can bring most strength to the situation.  You've got to admit that you all have been trying to battle it for the last eight years.  The--all the...(unintelligible)...world powers have been trying to battle it for the last eight years in Afghanistan and nobody's come out of victorious yet.

MR. GREGORY:  And so you say there is a commitment on the part of Pakistan to fight the Taliban now.  How many troops, how many Pakistani troops do you now have in the western part of your country battling the Taliban?

MR. ZARDARI:  Three times the amount of troops you have battling them in Afghanistan.  That's 125,000 we have on ground.

MR. GREGORY:  And yet the administration--you have a military force of roughly 660--650,000 men.


MR. GREGORY:  Has the administration said to you there should be more fighting men in the west?

MR. ZARDARI:  There is a point of view that more men might improve the situation, but that's something that's still disputed by our military analysts.  We don't think that more--presence of more troops there--you must remember, 650-personnel strong army doesn't mean they're all infantry.  That's the fighting brigade of the infantry, that's the teeth of the army.  So they're not all infantry.  They're tank drivers, they're truck drivers, they're other--gunners, etc., etc.  So we have an infantry of 250,000, out of which 125,000 happens to be in those mountains.

MR. GREGORY:  So you have a sufficient number of troops fighting the Taliban.

MR. ZARDARI:  We think, we think they're sufficient.

MR. GREGORY:  You appeared on Capitol Hill this week, and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Howard Berman, said this, speaking of you.  He said, "He did not present a coherent strategy for the defeat of this insurgency.  I had a sense of what they're doing today," he said, "I did not have a sense of what they plan to do tomorrow." What's the strategy?

MR. ZARDARI:  So, well, he didn't even ask me, so that's OK.  But I'll tell you what I've got planned to do.  We, we've been loving...(unintelligible)...in, in America, my wife was loving, and we were of the view and always have been of the view that democracy is the answer to the problem.  Like somebody said, it may be--not be the best form of government, but it's the only form of government.  Now we've got democracy.  Democracy needs help.  It needs a little more help than we've been getting in the past. What the American public and people at large do not understand is for 10 years you have given $10 billion to a dictator, but you've given them for the war in these mountains.  So it's actually reimbursement for the money spent; after all, 125,000 troops moving in logistically, otherwise do cost.  So you've been paying back...(unintelligible)...into Pakistan for the expenses occurred as such.  But we need to support democracy.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. ZARDARI:  We need to support the country, we need support--we need to support the systems.  And we've been involved for the last 30 years.  It's not 10 years.

MR. GREGORY:  But is that a strategy for cracking down on the Taliban insurgency?

MR. ZARDARI:  Sure it is.  Sure it is.  The stronger my institutions are, the more the youth I employ, the less fodder they have.  The more poverty goes down, the less fodder they have to recruit from.  That's the strategy.  What else can--what--there is no scientific theorem to that.  And if there was one, if you had a strategy, you would've done it in a, in 10 years.

MR. GREGORY:  But there's a military question, which is, is Pakistan capable of dealing with an insurgency, capable of mounting an effective counterinsurgency when the orientation of your military's primarily been to fight a big enemy to the east in India, predicated on the idea of some kind of deterrence?  Are you able to mount a counterinsurgency strategy at this point?

MR. ZARDARI:  Sir, we've been in this war for the last seven years.  But if you see the record of the one year that the democratic government of Pakistan, the PPP government and its allies has been there, we've done more to damage the infrastructure of the Talibans or the--or these miscreants, whatever you need to call them, than ever before.

MR. GREGORY:  And yet there are some who say that the strategy has not borne fruit.  You went in--so people understand, you went into an area north of Islamabad, the Swat Valley, and you essentially made a deal with the Taliban, which is they would put down their arms if Islamic law could be applied, could be implemented there.

MR. ZARDARI:  Incorrect.

MR. GREGORY:  Incorrect.  Tell me what's correct.

MR. ZARDARI:  The correct position is that we came up with the formula which was that there would be speedy justice there known as...(foreign language spoken).  Nothing to do with Sharia law.  It's been interpreted by--as Sharia law by them.  And then that didn't work.  But we had to get the population to be with us.  The population was fed up with them and was fed up with the fighting.  Some--the provincial government came up with this idea that let's go for a peace deal and let's get the people involved.  They tried it.  It hasn't worked.

MR. GREGORY:  But when you made this deal, when you actually signed this deal...

MR. ZARDARI:  The parliament signed on this deal.  The parliament recommended me--to me to sign.

MR. GREGORY:  Were you against it?

MR. ZARDARI:  I was--yes, I had a position against it.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Why?  Why did you think it was misguided?

MR. ZARDARI:  I thought that it won't work.

MR. GREGORY:  You think it was abdication to the Taliban?

MR. ZARDARI:  No, it's not abdication.  I thought that the Talibans are not rational people.  I don't think there's any good Talibans.  The world does, so that's a defensive opinion.

MR. GREGORY:  But so you think there's no negotiating with them.

MR. ZARDARI:  I don't think there should be a negotiating with them at the moment.  Maybe one day when there is enough, we've done enough.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. ZARDARI:  Then always--there cannot only, only be war.  There has to be a--the parliament has come up with a strategy where there's the three D's: dialogue, deterrence and development.  So we have to go into dialogue by the will of the people, which we did.  It didn't work.  Now we've got to do the, the deterrence phase where we are fighting.  And then once we've calmed the situation down in--then we'll go to the development stage to give them the ownership, give them schools.

MR. GREGORY:  You have the fighting that's going on in Swat.  You have the Taliban insurgency there.  That insurgency has also spread into Punjab, to the state of Punjab.  I don't have to tell you, that's where half of Pakistan's population is.  And it has lead to some dire assessments by analysts who look at your country with a critical eye, including a former adviser to General David Petraeus who helped him with the insurgency in Iraq, and he said this: "We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state," because the Taliban insurgency has so destabilized Pakistan.  Does he have that right?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think you--he's had other positions wrong before, so--and having said that, we have a threat, yes.  Is the state of Pakistan going to collapse?  No.  We are 180 million people.  The population is much, much more than the, the insurgents are.  But we do have a problem.  We have a problem because it's been there.  It was like I said, it was a monster created by all, all of us.  We got together and we didn't--we forgot to make a cure for it.

MR. GREGORY:  Can you survive politically?

MR. ZARDARI:  Of course.

MR. GREGORY:  Is it possible to defeat this insurgency without U.S. soldiers fighting by your side or at least training your soldiers in Pakistan?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think we need to find a strategy where the world gets together against this threat, because it's not Pakistan specific, it's not Afghanistan specific.  Like I said, it's all the way from the Horn of Africa. You've had attacks in Spain, you've had attacks in Britain, you've had attacks in America, you've had attacks in Africa, Saudi Arabia.  So I think the world needs to understand that this is the new challenge of the 21st century and this is the new war, and we've all got together.

MR. GREGORY:  The question a lot of people ask is are you--is Pakistan really committed to that war?  In The New York Times Dexter Filkins, who, who's reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan, writes this:  "Whose side is Pakistan really on?  ...  Little in Pakistan is what it appears.  For years, the survival of Pakistan's military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game:  assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants--and in some cases actually doing so--while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants.  From the anti-Soviet fighters of the 1980s and the Taliban of the 1990s to the homegrown militants of today, Pakistan's leaders have been both public enemies and private friends.  When the game works, it reaps great rewards:  billions in aid to boost the Pakistani economy and military and Islamist proxies to extend the government's reach into Afghanistan and India."

MR. ZARDARI:  I think it's an old concept, an old theory that he's talking about.  And what billions are you talking about?  Like I said, a billion dollar a year?  That's not even--altogether, this aid package is not even one tenth of what you gave AIG.  So let's face it; we need, in fact, much more help.  We are responsible, a responsible state.  We've brought democracy back, it's a young democracy.  Accept it, it was not me who was aiding the dictators of the past.

MR. GREGORY:  Is there a view, however, in Pakistan that the Taliban should be kept around for a rainy day, as it's been said, as a bulwark against Indian influence in neighboring Afghanistan?

MR. ZARDARI:  I don't think so.  I don't think so.

MR. GREGORY:  You don't think that was part of the past at all?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think in--it was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and the CIA created them together.  And I can find you 10 books and 10 philosophers and 10 write-ups on that, of what all you didn't do.

MR. GREGORY:  Fair argument, certainly, a lot of people would agree with you. But did the game change after 9/11 to a point where the U.S. decided to root out this threat and Pakistan was straddling both sides?

MR. ZARDARI:  You tell me.  I was imprisoned by the same dictator you were supporting.  You were supporting a dictator who...

MR. GREGORY:  You're speaking of General Musharraf.

MR. ZARDARI:  I'm speaking of General Musharraf.  In fact, I lost my wife on his watch and I has--I spent five years in his prison.

MR. GREGORY:  But, Mr. President, you know well that there is a widespread belief that your military and your intelligence services still have these same sympathies for the Taliban.

MR. ZARDARI:  I wouldn't agree with you.  I think General Musharraf may have had a mind-set that I--to run with the head and hunt with the hound.  But certainly not on our watch.  We don't have that thought process at all.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.  There's been a question about the security of that arsenal.  You've assured the world that those nuclear weapons are secure.  But I wonder why you're continuing to add to your stockpile, add to your arsenal at what is described as a pretty fast rate when there's so much instability in the country?

MR. ZARDARI:  That's, that's, that's not a fact.  It's a, it's a position that some people have taken.  We, we're not adding to our stockpile as such. Why do we need more?

MR. GREGORY:  So you're not adding to your nuclear arsenal at all?

MR. ZARDARI:  I don't think so, no.

MR. GREGORY:  You don't--do you know?

MR. ZARDARI:  Even if I did, I wasn't going to tell you.

MR. GREGORY:  There is a view that--in the intelligence community in this country that it does not know where all the nuclear weapons are within Pakistan.  Why not share that information so there could be a joint strategy to keep those weapons secure?

MR. ZARDARI:  Why don't you do the same with other countries yourself?  I think it's a sovereignty issue and we have a right to our own sovereignty. It's a sovereign country.

MR. GREGORY:  Who's in control of Pakistan, you or the military?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think the military is in control of their hemisphere and I'm in control of the whole country.

MR. GREGORY:  Can they overrule you?

MR. ZARDARI:  No.  I can overrule them.

MR. GREGORY:  Haven't they overruled you in the past?

MR. ZARDARI:  No.  We've gone to their position and they've come to our positions.

MR. GREGORY:  But you still have final say?

MR. ZARDARI:  The parliament has final say.  It's the parliament that forms government, and I am a product of the parliament.

MR. GREGORY:  But why is it when you wanted your intelligence chief to go to Mumbai you were overruled by your military?

MR. ZARDARI:  No, it was not overruled by the military.  They thought it was too, too soon.  And eventually we've offered for the intelligence chief to meet.

MR. GREGORY:  There's a lot of discussion about additional aid, as you've been talking about throughout our conversation, for Pakistan, $1.5 billion for five years, a total of $7.5 billion.  But as you know, there's discussion about putting some strings, some limits on that aid based on performance by Pakistan.  Do you disagree with that policy?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think it's doubting an ally before you go into action together.  If we are allies--and we, and we understand, it's an accepted position that you--we cannot work this problem out unless Pakistan, Afghanistan and America are on the same page.  How do you go and take an ally along by saying, "OK, I don't trust you," from the first day?  It's not a, a good position to be in.  So I feel that we shouldn't have any, any kind of conditionalities.  We should have a result, a result-oriented relationship where I should be given a time line and I'll give you all a time line so we can both give each other time lines and meet the time lines on, on the, on, on the positive.

MR. GREGORY:  In terms of U.S.-Pakikstani cooperation, there are drones that fire missiles and target Taliban and other extremists, al-Qaeda figures, within Pakistan.  Do you consider those to be effective?

MR. ZARDARI:  I would consider them to be very effective if they were part of my arsenal.  I've been asking for them, but I haven't got a positive answer as yet.  But I'm not giving up.

MR. GREGORY:  Where is Osama bin Laden?

MR. ZARDARI:  You all have been there for eight years, you tell me.  You lost him in Tora Bora, I didn't.  I was in prison.  In fact, my wife warned America about Osama bin Laden in '89.  She rung up senior Bush and asked, asked of him, "Are you destabilizing my government?" Because he paid the then opposition $10 million to do--overthrow the first woman elected in Islamic country.  So we knew that he was your operator.  And...

MR. GREGORY:  But you're not actively looking for him?

MR. ZARDARI:  I think the world is looking for him, and we are part of the world's lookout brigade.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you think he's alive or dead?

MR. ZARDARI:  I've said before that he--I don't think he's alive.

MR. GREGORY:  And you believe that.

MR. ZARDARI:  I have a strong feeling and I have sole reason to believe that, because I've asked my counterparts in the American intelligence agencies and they haven't heard of him since seven years.

MR. GREGORY:  Mr. President, thank you very much for your views and good luck with your work.

MR. ZARDARI:  Thank you, sir.

MR. GREGORY:  Coming next, seven years after 9/11 and the war rages on with the insurgent Taliban still controlling parts of Afghanistan.  Can the government regain control?  And the tough issue of civilian casualties due to U.S. air strikes.  Some harsh words from President Hamid Karzai.  Our exclusive interview from earlier this week is next.


MR. GREGORY:  Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  Mr. President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. HAMID KARZAI:  Happy to be here.

MR. GREGORY:  President Obama talked about the deterioration in Afghanistan during a speech back in March.  This is what he said.

(Videotape, March 27, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA:  The situation is increasingly perilous.  It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on. Insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies and the Afghan government have ridden--risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  So here we are seven years after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  Another American president is committing troops to Afghanistan, 21,000 additional troops.  By this summer there'll be 68,000 U.S. troops.  My question:  Is it too little, too late?

MR. KARZAI:  Well, a very important question, indeed.  When we began in 2001 with the arrival of the international community in Afghanistan and the two--the Afghan people and the international community joining hands, we together defeated the Taliban and the terrorists and al-Qaeda in less than a month and a half.  Subsequent to that the Afghan people would, as we established the interim government, would come in large numbers, hundreds of them, to my office and ask for more international forces in the country, in their villages, in their towns, in their districts.  That didn't happen at that time.  So in that sense, the arrival of more forces is late.  It should've happened then, six years ago, and we should've paid attention then, six years ago, to the sanctuaries, to the training grounds, to the--those financing the terrorists.  It's a bit late.  But as we all know, it's never too late for a good thing to do.

MR. GREGORY:  With 21,000 additional troops, there's a question of what can be gained.  But the issue of civilian casualties as a result of U.S. air strikes, how much damage does that do to the U.S. effort?

MR. KARZAI:  A lot of damage.  This is something that I've been engaged with with our allies for at least six years now.

MR. GREGORY:  And you talked to President Obama about it.

MR. KARZAI:  Oh, very, very much.  For as least six years now, in different ways and different forms.  The Afghan people are allies of the United States. The Afghan people want this effort together to succeed.  The Afghan people see that the presence of the international community in Afghanistan brings us plenty of good things.  But Afghan people also want to have their children safe.  The Afghan people say we are fighting together with you, shoulder to shoulder against terrorism, that we are part of the struggle; that we are not--our homes, our villages are not places for terrorism and that they should be safe.  It's an important thing that America recognize that civilian casualties are the biggest concern of Afghanistan and a damage to the effort against terrorists.

MR. GREGORY:  When President Obama addressed the American people and announced more troops going to your country, he raised a very important question, which is what is America's purpose...

MR. KARZAI:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  ...in Afghanistan?  Dexter Filkins, veteran war correspondent, has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan thoroughly for The New York Times, writes in the current edition of The New Republic this, and he starts with a question:  "What can be won in Afghanistan?  Driving around the country, as I did recently, one is constantly overwhelmed by how little has been accomplished there.  In December 2001, the country lay in ruins.  Today, it is still pretty much the same place.  ...  Today, Taliban fighters move freely across the countryside, and in some places they have set up a shadow government.  ...  After eight years of neglect, the Afghanistan state is a weak and pathetic thing." Pretty strong words.  Why is that the case?

MR. KARZAI:  Very wrong words.

MR. GREGORY:  Wrong.  You say it's wrong.

MR. KARZAI:  Very wrong words.  Pretty strong, wrong words.  It isn't like that.  In 2001, Afghanistan did not have a single kilometer of paved road. Today Afghanistan has its ring road completed, nearly 3,000 kilometers and above.  Today we have many of the roads in the cities paved.  Today we have health services, which were only to about 9 percent of the Afghan population in 2002, reaching nearly 85 percent and over of the Afghan population.  The rural developing program of Afghanistan goes to more than half of Afghanistan's 40,000 villages.  In 2002, we had 4,000 students in Afghanistan universities and only three or four universities.  Today we have 75,000 students in Afghan universities, 14 public universities and, and many private universities.  In 2002, the 4,000 students that we had were all boys, men. Today, nearly 40 percent are girls of the 75,000.  Today we have thousands of Afghans studying abroad, at least 1,000 each year in India and hundreds in Europe and America.  We have experts return to Afghanistan.  I met with them three months ago.  The country is a lot better.

MR. GREGORY:  Back in 2003, this is what you said about the Taliban.  They were the ones who provided safe haven to al-Qaeda, these are the people that threatened both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is what you said back in June of 2003:  "I am not worried about the resurgence of the Taliban.  The Taliban movement as a movement is finished and is gone." Were you wrong about that?

MR. KARZAI:  I was not wrong about that.

MR. GREGORY:  But they're back.

MR. KARZAI:  I was, I--no.  It's--there's a difference.  The Taliban as a movement is gone from ruling Afghanistan.  They were the government in Afghanistan.  In 2001 they were the government.  Today they are not the government.  In 2002 they were threatening you.  Today they are not, from Afghanistan.  Yes, they are a threat in the form of the terrorism that they bring upon us, in the form of the violence that they bring upon us; not as an organized political force holding the government in Afghanistan.  That's not there.

MR. GREGORY:  Are they an existential threat to your leadership?

MR. KARZAI:  They're not an existential threat to Afghanistan's government. They are a threat to our, to our efforts towards more security, more progress, more reconstruction and a more peaceful life.  That threat they definitely are, and especially in parts of the country.  That's strongly there, yes.

MR. GREGORY:  The new administration has a slightly different strategy for trying to deal with the Taliban, and it has to do with operations on a tactical level, similar to what was done in Iraq, to try to turn some of these what might be called irreconcilables and bring them into the American fold.

MR. KARZAI:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  This is how the president described it back in that March speech.

(Videotape, March 27, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA:  There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban.  They must be met with force and they must be defeated.  But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion or simply for a price.  These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course.  And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Now, you have called that reconciliation process...


MR. GREGORY:  ...unworkable.  Why do you believe that?

MR. KARZAI:  No.  I, I didn't call the reconciliation process unworkable. And by the way, I agree with President Obama's description of the elements of peacemaking with the Taliban.  Those Taliban who have been driven out of the country by fear or coercion or intimidation by our forces or the international forces, or by whatever other circumstances that they've found themselves compelled to leave the country and take guns against us are the ones that we want to reconcile with.  They are the sons of the soil, they must return.  To be very precise, those of the Taliban who are part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, or those who are in the grip of, you know, intelligence services must not and cannot come to Afghanistan because they will continue to bring violence and destruction and, and, and damage to Afghanistan.  But those who have been driven out of fear or the other circumstances that I described earlier are welcome.  They're the sons of our soil, they're from our country and we want to reconcile with them.  And that's what President Obama was referring to.  What I was objecting to was the international forces directly engaging at local level with the Taliban commanders for reconciliation.  That is the job of the Afghan government.

MR. GREGORY:  Speaking about the Taliban and the defeat of the Taliban and al-Qaeda generally, do you have more confidence today in Pakistan's commitment to fighting and defeating the Taliban than you did under General Musharraf?

MR. KARZAI:  Definitely more, yes.  Definitely there is a recognition the Pakistani leadership and the democratically-elected leadership.  They see very much the same way things that, that, that--as we see; therefore, we have a lot more confidence there.  We had a very good meeting in Washington.  I hope that this will be taken into further steps, meaning implementation on the ground. I'm a lot more confident and a lot more hopeful.

MR. GREGORY:  You are running for re-election, and as you campaign you've had some pretty pointed messages.  You're critical of the United States for civilian casualties as a result of U.S. air raids.  You also were at a rally recently during which you were very clear and you said, "Look, I have made certain demands of the Americans, and if they do not provide additional aircraft, for instance, I'll go somewhere else and I'll get it." You appeared to threaten the administration, and I wonder whether your core political message is an anti-American message.

MR. KARZAI:  It is not.  It is very much a pro-American message.  So the Afghans do want this relationship with America to continue, but of course Afghanistan has a character of its own and an interest of its own and a demand upon our allies as well.  We are, we are your front line in the war on terrorism.  The Afghan people have given everything on a daily basis in the war on terrorism.  We have our police dying every day, at least five, six of them.  Our security forces...(unintelligible)...people.  Our villages are not where the terrorists are.  And that's what we kept telling the U.S. administration, that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, not in the Afghan homes.  Respect that.  Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism and for the, the, the relations with America.  How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?

MR. GREGORY:  And yet...

MR. KARZAI:  And, and, and that's a moral question as well.  We have to be morally on a much higher platform in our force to win the war on terrorism.

MR. GREGORY:  And do you worry, do you worry that the U.S. has not met that standard?

MR. KARZAI:  The U.S. has...

MR. GREGORY:  Have they not met their own moral standard?

MR. KARZAI:  The U.S., the U.S., the U.S. has not met that standard in Afghanistan.  The United States must stand on a much higher moral platform in order for us together to win this war.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me be clear about what you are saying.  Are you suggesting that the United States is waging an immoral war in Afghanistan?

MR. KARZAI:  No.  No.  It's not immoral war, it's the standard of morality that we are seeking which is also one that is being desired and spoken about in America.  In other words, are we the same as the terrorists, are we the same as the bad guys, or are we standing on a much higher moral, moral platform?  Are we better human beings or not?  We must definitely be better human beings in order for us to tell the people that, "Look, those guys are wrong and we are better." And we must show that in our practice, and that practice should be extreme care for civilians and their children and their homes and, and, for the civilians to see us completely distinct and separate from the terrorists.  So we have to be better.  My moral, moral platform has to be a lot higher, a lot more distinct and likeable than the terrorists and the bad guys.  That's what separates us.  Otherwise there'll be no difference, so why should the people care about us or--and not care about them?  Do you get my point?

MR. GREGORY:  And yet Secretary of Defense Gates has made the point that there has to be sustained commitment on the part of the Afghan people and the Afghan government.

MR. KARZAI:  And there is.

MR. GREGORY:  He says this:  "It's absolutely critical that the Afghans believe that this is their war.  it is their war against people who are trying to overthrow their government that they democratically elected." Do you think that's the view of your people?

MR. KARZAI:  That is absolutely the view of our people.  And that's why our people, even when they are bombed, even when they suffer, they still come to us.  They receive me in their midst when I go to, to offer my condolences. They receive the American soldiers, they receive the American officers when a, when an incident like that.  In Farah there was an incident of massive civilian casualties, and the U.S. military officials and the Afghan government went together to the population.  That means the people are still with us.  Had they been against us, they would have not received us, they would have not come to us.  But then, there is a limit to all of that.  Any society will, will, will get fed up with, with, with continued violence and continued casualties.  That is something very, very serious.  And I, and I have conveyed this to my friends in America in all humility and friendship, on behalf of the Afghan people, that Afghans are a straightforward, honest allies, believing in the cause that we have undertaken, and that's why we were able to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in less than a month and a half.  And if you continue to behave the way we are, we will lose that.  And that's, and that's a correct thing to do.

MR. GREGORY:  Before you go, just a couple of other issues.  One of the big issues fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan is the poppy crop, opium.  This is what you said on this program back in 2004.

(Videotape, June 13, 2004)

MR. KARZAI:  This production of, of, of poppies supports terrorism.  It criminalizes the economy.  It undermines institution building in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will have to destroy it for the sake of the Afghan people and also because of...(unintelligible).  We will succeed because we have to succeed.

(End of videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And yet today 60 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product is poppy, it is opium.  It accounts for 93 percent of the world's production of opium.  That's not a very strong record.

MR. KARZAI:  It isn't, it isn't like that today.  When I was speaking, was it 2004, we had only--well, in 2005 we had only three provinces free of poppies in Afghanistan.  Today we have 22 provinces free of poppies in Afghanistan, either completely or mostly, you know, to, to a bigger extent.  Only one province in the country is producing poppies to the quantity that it can make 60 percent of Afghanistan's exports.  So Afghanistan has made progress in, in, in, in reducing poppies in Afghanistan, in eradicating and removing it from, from our, our culture.  But the money that is spent to eradicate poppies and to provide it with alternative livelihoods is something that we have a question about with our allies.

MR. GREGORY:  Finally, this spring you signed a law that makes it legal for Afghan men to rape their wives.  Now, you have said in the past month that you were reviewing that law.  Are you going to repeal it?

MR. KARZAI:  It has been reviewed.  When--there's so much that I can talk about in response to what is there.  It is not exactly as, as is printed in the, in the, in parts of the world media.  But when I heard of this, I called the minister of justice and he told me that there were problems in this law and that it will be--then I instructed the review and amendment of the law.  I called in the clergy in the country, the senior most who, who had a hand in drafting this law, and they'd redo the...(unintelligible)...amend it and redraft it, and even parts of the law removed.  I've already done that.  The minister of justice was with me about 10 days ago to give me the amended law that will be sent to the parliament.  So it's something that we have to do.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. KARZAI:  And we have to correct it, regardless of whether it's...

MR. GREGORY:  So how--just to be clear then, how are you correcting it?  What is permissible behavior?

MR. KARZAI:  But it's, it's, it's, it's--well, it's, it's, it's the--it's not my choice.  It has to go through a legal process and consultation and back to the parliament.  We are a democratic country.  We have a parliament that, that passes laws like that, that debates them and then sends them back to the concerned lobbies.

MR. GREGORY:  But, but are basic human rights part of your democratic values?

MR. KARZAI:  Absolutely.  Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY:  So, so raping of women is a crime in Afghanistan and will be a crime?

MR. KARZAI:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  A crime in Afghanistan, because our religion is extremely, extremely difficult on that.

MR. GREGORY:  So this particular area, the, the ability to rape your wife is something that will be repealed.

MR. KARZAI:  Rape has, rape has...

MR. GREGORY:  Is that--are you saying that unequivocally?

MR. KARZAI:  It is not, it is not in the law.  This--it's not in these very sharp words that are described in the Western media.  Even if it is milder than that, it is wrong and it will be repealed, it will be removed and the amendment will be made in this law.  So the Afghan people don't want that and the Afghan people are sensitive about it.  I assure you that has been done.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. KARZAI:  It's something that really embarrassed us when it came out.  We are a lot more aware a nation, a lot more culturally good nation than sometimes we are seen in, in, in the rest of the world.

MR. GREGORY:  So in democratic Afghanistan it is illegal for a man to rape his wife?

MR. KARZAI:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Like hell.  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, Mr. President, thank you very much.  Good luck with your important work.

MR. KARZAI:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Coming next, some perspective and analysis on our interviews with Presidents Zadari and Karzai.  What now for the U.S.?  NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and The New Yorker's Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Ghost Wars" about the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan after this brief station break.


MR. GREGORY:  We are back.  And joining us now, Steve Coll of The New Yorker and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.  Welcome to both of you.

We've had a chance to watch both of those two interviews.  And to frame this discussion a little bit, Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times writes in his column this about Pakistan, and we'll put it on the screen for our viewers to see:  "The United States has just acquired a new client state," he writes, "one with 170 million people, nuclear weapons, and Islamist insurgency and Osama bin Laden.  And that's the good news.  The country is Pakistan, and last week it officially became the Obama administration's biggest and most daunting rescue mission."

Steve Coll, take a moment to explain why it's so important for Americans to take the time to understand this threat in all of its complexity, both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

MR. STEVE COLL:  Well, I think Doyle captured it.  Two primary reasons: Pakistan, and particularly the border area along the Afghan border, is the locus of international terrorist groups that are actively plotting against the United States, Britain, India, governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secondly, Pakistan is a country with the world's fastest growing nuclear weapons arsenal.  If it became a jihadi state ruled by the Taliban, not only the United States but the entire world would be threatened in a profound and, and important way.  So I don't think this is a bet in the sense that I don't think the Obama administration has a choice.

MR. GREGORY:  Andrea:

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  Agreed.  I think it's the nuclear weapons, it's the locus of terror, the border with Afghanistan.  Afghanistan can never be stable unless Pakistan is secured.  The continuing rivalry with India and the fact that Pakistan focuses on India--and we keep telling them, the United States government, to focus on the insurgents, on the Taliban, on the al-Qaeda threat, but they still are so reluctant to move their forces away from India. So you have a regional problem, and that's why this administration at least is taking it on as a regional problem that requires that kind of solution. That's why you have Richard Holbrooke, that this is their main focus.

MR. GREGORY:  And it's important to understand that our history and their history since the middle '70s is that when America averts its eyes, when America takes its eye off of that region, really bad things happen.

MS. MITCHELL:  And you had both leaders telling you, "Well, you walked away. You, the United States, walked away." And it's true.  They're--of course, they have responsibility for their own failures of leadership.  I mean, the most extraordinary thing about watching both of them, David, is how delusional they are about their own responsibility for their countries, how weak they are as leaders.  I think, you know, the administration touts the successes of this week of bringing them together, of forcing them to meet, of having their intelligence chiefs meet with each other, of getting a dialogue moving on, on every level, at every Cabinet department, that was the big success they're touting.  But the fact is when you really drill down and talk to individual intelligence leaders here in the United States, they say they're not going to talk to each other, not unless we the United States go to every meeting and force them to engage, because of this rivalry.

MR. GREGORY:  Steve, what struck you from hearing both of these leaders after their meetings at the White House?

MR. COLL:  Well, I think what Andrea says is important, there was a detachment in both men.  They were both at times very effective analysts of the nature of the crisis under their feet, but neither of them was able to express an affirmative, forward-looking political vision about how they were going to address this crisis.  President Karzai's running for re-election. Where in the interview did he talk about what he wanted to do in his next five years?  How is he going to, through his leadership, address the problem that the Taliban poses to Afghans, not to the United States?  President Zardari, I thought his cancer metaphor about the Taliban was excellent and, and his analysis of the nature of the crisis was good.  But his answer to your question, "What's your strategy?" was, "We have a democracy.  That's our strategy." Well, that's not going to be adequate.  The Pakistan army is up on the front lines in Swat and Buner, fighting a very difficult war.  Refugees are pouring out.  You would imagine the president of a democracy standing with those people who are now at the heart of the war, going to the hospital, standing in the marketplaces saying, "This is our war.  We're taking this place from the Taliban." Instead, there was this air of sort of detachment throughout both interviews that was concerning.

MR. GREGORY:  We, we talked about Osama bin Laden, and this is sort of the tip of the iceberg.  People I've talked to indicate that there hasn't been any actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of bin Laden since 2002, which they say is a prime example of a real shifting of resources to the war in Iraq.  So my question--and, Andrea, I'll start with you--you know, people follow Afghanistan and follow Pakistan and they say, you know, it's the same enemy, things have not really changed, it's just as dangerous since 9/11.  How do we define victory?

MS. MITCHELL:  It's the same enemy since before 9/11, when you really think back to how long we've been dealing with this threat.  And victory would have to be defined by having a strong central government with democratic principles.  But you see more and more often people in the administration saying, "We can't find it with these two leaders." So they're trying to figure out a way to layer Karzai after the election.  They don't see an alternative but to have some sort of strong chief of staff under him to try to prop him up, because he hasn't proved able to govern.  Zardari is hopelessly ineffective.  Eighty percent of the popular support now goes to the Islamicist leader Sharif, the former leader, who is no friend of the United States.  But they are flirting with him as an alternative, or the military.  They don't really know what--where to find a stable government.  And that's one of their first challenges, to find a government with which this country can deal.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  So, Steve, what is it that the United States can achieve, and what is the risk of not achieving it?

MR. COLL:  Well, it has to achieve stability and it has to continue to fight al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda's continuing to fight the United States.  The final dismantling of al-Qaeda's leadership is a realistic goal, but it may take some time and it certainly will take some effort.  Stability in South Asia will be more difficult to achieve.  But containing the Taliban, rolling them back and creating conditions for Pakistan's democracy to flourish and for the Pakistani people in particular to start to feel as if their country is going in the right direction; those, I think, have to be the goals.  In the long run, stability in this region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, can't be achieved unless Pakistan normalizes its relations with India, makes peace with India. In the long run, that's the goal.  But in order to even create conditions for that to be pursued, right now the Taliban have to be rolled back.

MR. GREGORY:  But, you, you...

MR. COLL:  This momentum has to be...

MR. GREGORY:  The, the question is, is do you--are you actually capable of defeating the Taliban?  I mean, here in the western part of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding and Zawahiri, his number two, is believed to be hiding, you have the biggest manhunt in the history of the world, the biggest bounty on their heads in the history of the world and nobody has turned these guys in.

MR. COLL:  It's true, he's among friends, and it's also true that the effort to find him has not been as robust over the last five or six years as it should have been.  But look, this is not a war with a purely military solution.  The defeat of the Taliban is really a political project in which they are contained, marginalized and ultimately reduced to a nuisance.  That is what I believe the government of the United States and its international allies is trying to press upon President Karzai, President Zardari, that you need all of your government in this fight.  This is not something just for the Pakistan army.  This is for the civilian administration, this is for the political parties, everyone.  Because in the end, the Taliban aren't going to be eradicated, wiped out like a poppy crop.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. COLL:  They're just going to be converted into ordinary politics, contained and reduced as a menace to the--to Pakistan and the to the United States.


MR. COLL:  If, if, if success is to be achieved.

MS. MITCHELL:  And that's why you had what some people might have criticized as a dog and pony show at the State Department, with 32 people participating--people from every department and Karzai, Zardari, Secretary of State Clinton, Richard Holbrooke--but to try to get them to engage.  Because if there isn't some kind of domestic program for these two countries, particularly Afghanistan where there has been no civilian component to the military operations, they believe that it will fail.

That said, I think it in the short term has to also boil down to the nuclear weapons.  We heard the president saying at his news conference that he believes, he has confidence they are secure.  They don't really have confidence they're secure.  They had more confidence under Musharraf, because they had a general in charge and they felt that the military really did have this relationship where we had a triple key program, we had the, the codes as well as the Pakistanis.  They now are very concerned about those weapons moving around the country.

MR. GREGORY:  Is--in 10 seconds, does the U.S. public have the stomach for a longer, more protracted fight with U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan?

MR. COLL:  I think the U.S. public wonders why we're there.  But the truth is that we have to be there while Pakistan is at issue, its stability and its government is at issue.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we'll leave it there.  Andrea Mitchell, Steve Coll, thank you both very much.

And coming next...


PRES. OBAMA:  And my next 100 days will be so successful, I will be able to complete them in 72 days.  And on the 73rd day I will rest.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  ...highlights from President Obama's night as comedian in chief to the press and official Washington, next on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY:  Before we go this morning, some highlights from last night's White House Correspondents dinner here in Washington, where the president met the press with some comedic jabs and one-liners.


PRES. OBAMA:  Good evening, everybody.  I, I would like to welcome you all to the 10-day anniversary of my first 100 days.  I am Barack Obama.  Most of you covered me.  All of you voted for me.

Now, Sasha and Malia aren't here tonight because they're grounded.  You can't just take Air Force One on a joy ride to Manhattan, I don't care whose kids you are.

Which, which brings me to another thing that's changed in, in this new, warmer, fuzzier White House, and that's my relationship with Hillary.  You know, we had been rivals during the campaign, but these days we could not be closer.  In fact, the second she got back from Mexico she pulled me into a hug and gave me a big kiss, told me I better get down there myself.

In the second 100 days we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first 100 days.  It's going to be big, folks.  In the next 100 days I will learn to go off the prompter and Joe Biden will learn to stay on the prompter.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Just a taste from a the White House Correspondents dinner last night.  And we'll be right back.


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