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Voices Of The Mumbai Terror Siege: Police Taped Chilling Phone Conversations Between Suicide Terrorists And Their Pakistani Handlers

Aired November 15, 2009 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

Today we are bringing you something truly extraordinary, a view of terrorism in 360 degrees. In the aftermath of most terrorism attacks you hear from the victims, or first responders, the police, just as we did with 9/11 and this month with Fort Hood. The question that reverberates after the attacks is, why? Why did they do it? Rarely do you hear the answer from the terrorists themselves. And you never hear from them while they are in the act of committing terror.

Today you will. Next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, here in the United States, marks the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks. The attacks were remarkable in just how devastating and just how simple they were. Ten young men from the Pakistani countryside, some assault weapons, a few explosives, and instructions simply to kill. That's all it took to completely paralyze and terrorize one of the world's great cities for 60 hours, to kill more than 170 people, and wound more than 300 others.

The 10 men spread out to hit multiple targets in mostly two-man teams. They slaughtered innocents of the city's main railway station, two five-star hotels, a Jewish center and a bar.

Those attacks hit home for me, literally. You see, Mumbai is my hometown. My mother still lives there and has an office in the Taj Hotel, site of the most spectacular attack. Luckily she was out of town for the entire siege. Earlier this year I took part in a remarkable HBO documentary "Terror in Mumbai." It will air this coming Thursday, November 19th, on HOB.

The film takes us inside the mind of a terrorist. It does that because of a combination of good intelligence and sheer luck. You see, the Indian intelligence service had managed to sell some SIM cards, some phone cards, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror group responsible for perpetrating the Mumbai attacks. The intelligence service was hoping to listen in on phone calls made by members of this up and coming terror organization, which is a sworn enemy of India.

On the first night of the attack, Indian intelligence agents hit pay dirt. They checked the frequencies and soon discovered they could listen to the terrorists in Mumbai talking to their handler in Pakistan. They heard it all, a total of 284 calls. Listen to this chilling conversation as one of the terrorists attacking Mumbai's luxury Oberoi Trident Hotel, Fahadulla, talks to his controller across the border, a man known only as Brother Wasi.


CONTROLLER: How's it going Brother Fahadullah?

GUNMAN: Brother Abdul Rehman has just died, praise God.

CONTROLLER: Oh, really? Is he nearby?

GUNMAN: Yes, he's next to me. May God accept his martyrdom. The room is on fire. They are showing it on TV. I'm sitting in the bathroom.


CONTROLLER: You mustn't let them arrest you, remember that.

GUNMAN: God willing. God willing.

CONTROLLER: Be brave brother, don't panic. For your mission to end successfully you must be killed. God is waiting for you in heaven.

GUNMAN: God willing.

CONTROLLER: May God help you.

Fight bravely, and put your phone in your pocket, but leave it on.


CONTROLLER: Fahadullah? Fahadullah?


ZAKARIA: Fahadallah had just died for his cause. Of the 10 Pakistanis who went to Mumbai on this terror mission, nine were killed. That was what was supposed to happen. They were told to go to Mumbai, kill as many people as they could, and die in the process themselves.

One terrorist didn't. Muhammad Ajmal Kasab. Kasab and his cohort killed dozens at the main train station in Mumbai, but he survived. And then he talked to Indian investigators about it. Listen in again to a side of terror you've rarely seen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people did you kill?

MUHAMMAD AJMAL KASAB: Don't know, kept firing and firing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who were you supposed to kill?

KASAB: Just people. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was supposed to kill people there.


KASAB: Whoever was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't you ever ask, won't I feel pity for these people I'm killing?

KASAB: Yes, that's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, did you ask?

KASAB: I did but he said you have to do these things. You are going to be a big man and get reward in heaven.

I asked, have you done these things, too? He said he had. I thought, well he's done it, I should do it, too.


ZAKARIA: We will watch more of this material and analyze the mind of a terrorist in just a moment.

A word of caution, as hard as some of this has been to watch, it does get harder.

ZAKARIA: The Taj Hotel is the iconic landmark in Mumbai, India's commercial capital. It's a world class five-star hotel, where India's powerful and wealthy visit and where president and prime ministers stay; and so it was one of the two prime targets for the 10 Pakistani terrorists who arrived by boat on November 26th last year.

Let's listen in again to the terrorists, in Mumbai, talking to their handler in Pakistan. This time they have just walked into the Taj, killed anyone in their sights, then gone up to the upper floors where the guest rooms are.


GUNMAN: There are computers here with high-tech screens!

CONTROLLER: Computers? Haven't you set fire to them?

GUNMAN: We're just about to. You'll be able to see the fire any time.

CONTROLLER: CONTROLLER: We can't watch (INAUDIBLE) aren't any flames. Where are they?

GUNMAN: It's amazing. The windows are huge! It's got two kitchens, a bath, and a little shop.

CONTROLLER: Start the fire, my brother. Start a proper fire. That's the important thing. You must start that fire now. Nothing is going to happen until you start the fire. When people see the flames they will start to be afraid.

My brother, yours is the most important target. The Taj Hotel is (INAUDIBLE)


ZAKARIA: So you hear the tension between the young Pakistani gunmen, who have never seen anything like this in their lives, the opulence of the Taj, and he wants to take it all in, and his handler, who is determined that he do his job and destroy the hotel rooms and make sure that the world sees that.

Brother Wasi (ph), the remote controller of the terrorists, understands that in this day in age unless it is seen on TV around the world it has not happened.

Now let me bring in Reuel Marc Gerecht. He was a specialist and the CIA's director of operations who concentrated on Islamic terror. Now he's a senior fellow with the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies.

You've watched the whole HBO documentary. What was your dominant impression, reaction?

REUEL MARC GERECHT, FDN. FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY: Well, you know when I -- it's a very good piece. And I have to say that when I watched it, I came away thinking about one banality of Islamic jihadism, and also its tenacity.

I mean, these young men were obviously -- are obviously very simple young men. And their deaths, which they sought, the killings that they committed, were obviously expressions of their religious sincerity.

ZAKARIA: What's striking to me is in three months we learned that it's three months of training that these kids get. These are peasant boys, and they are conditioned to have no sense of remorse, no sense of humanity about the people they're killing. Is it that the training is so good? Is it that -- how do you desensitize people that quickly?

GERECHT: Once you've sort of got the imbibed the idea of jihadism, once you've imbibed the idea that you can, through the process of takfhir (ph), that you can more or less exile people from a moral universe that you live in, it's not that difficult, I think, to get young men to kill.

Whether they feel remorse later on, if they live, that's a different issue. But if you do powerfully believe that your death, the people you kill, are a pathway to heaven it is in itself a righteous act. That violence is, in fact, an indispensible part of your relationship with the Almighty, then I think you can do these things and not feel terribly guilty about them.

It's been extremely difficult for the Muslim community in the Middle East to fight against it. I mean, we've seen it happen. I mean, in Iraq, for example, the jihadism there that slaughtered thousands and thousands of Iraqis finally did produce a backlash amongst fundamentalists.

I think that's what you have to see in Pakistan, you have to see the religious classes, not liberal Muslims, but the religious classes say, unequivocally, this is wrong.

ZAKARIA: So let's take a look at another clip. The other high- profile target was the Nariman House, the Jewish study center, operated by Chabad, an orthodox organization with missionaries around the world. Brother Wasi (ph) was very quick to remind the two gunmen headed there just how crucial this target was.


CONTROLLER: As I told you, every person you kill where you are is worth 50 of the ones killed elsewhere.


ZAKARIA: Upon entering the center, the gunman quickly killed the rabbi, who ran it, his wife and two house guests. They took two other the hostages. The plan was to use the Jewish center hostages to try to secure the release of Kasab, the man on the stretcher, the one surviving terrorist. The day after the attack began, a decision needed to be made at Nariman Hosue. Kill the hostages or keep them alive. The gunmen in Mumbai called the controller, Brother Wasi (ph) in Pakistan, who decided.


CONTROLLER: Just shoot them now. Get rid of them. You could come under fire at any time and you risk leaving them behind.

GUNMAN: God willing. Although it's quiet here at the moment.

CONTROLLER: No. Don't wait any longer. You never know when you might come under attack. Just make sure you don't get hit by a ricochet when you do it.

GUNMAN: God willing.

CONTROLLER: Stay on the line. Go on, I'm listening. Do it!

GUNMAN: What, shoot them?

CONTROLLER: Yes, do it. Sit them up and shoot them in the back of the head. Do it in God's name

GUNMAN: Right. Hold on.

CONTROLLER: Do it in God's name.


CONTROLLER: OK, that was one of them, yes? GUNMAN: Both. Together.


ZAKARIA: So there you see in this gruesome light, this particular targeting animus against Jews. What strikes me about it is this is the kind of weird globalism of Wahabism or of the concerns of the Arab world, because I grew up in India in the '60s and '70s. Most Indian Muslims would not even know where Palestine was. I've got to assume the same is true in Pakistan. Now this absolutely casual sense that it is completely all right to particularly target and kill Jews.

GERECHT: Well, I mean, I think that is one of the defining features of modern jihadism, is the ability to take and see the perceived suffering of Muslims globally, whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, the Philippines, and feel it acutely.

Yet for the person in front of you, that you are about ready to kill you, you feel nothing at all. It's a quite striking feature and it's particularly so in that I suspect these young men, if you were to take them away from this savage moment in Mumbai were probably not evil young men. They probably were fairly decent. They probably even have had charitable impulses. But you put them in this context, you give them a mission, you have the right guidance, and they can do horrible things with no remorse.

ZAKARIA: It's almost like it's a brainwashing, an ideologizing. You give them a framework within which all of this seems logical.

GERECHT: Yeah. I mean, it's sort of "The Manchurian Candidate" writ large. The issue is, how do you break it? I think it's extremely difficult, which goes back to what I said about the tenacity of this. Because there is enough history in Islam that you can feed off of it, that you can actually feel yourself becoming sort of part of a heroic pantheon, by engaging in these awful acts.

ZAKARIA: We'll be right back.

GERECHT: All you need is a small group of young men. If they've embraced the dark side, they can do just horrendous damage.


ZAKARIA: We are back with Reuel Marc Gerecht. So let's watch this. In the next call the Nariman House Brother Wasi (ph), the controller, makes clear that somebody else has to die. This time it's not the hostages, but the terrorists themselves.


CONTROLLER: OK, so the thing is, brother Akasha.

GUNMAN: Yes, sir.

CONTROLLER: You've run out of water and you're tired. They know this, too. They are hoping to arrest you once you are weak from hunger and thirst.

GUNMAN: Today is Friday so we should finish it today.


ZAKARIA: So here are these guys, these peasant boys from Pakistan. They're in Mumbai. They've done a lot of this stuff. And the controller says to them, now it's your turn to die. And they listen. He has no control over them anymore really. I mean, they could just say, you know what? I'm going to take my chances. Mumbai is a big city. Maybe I can slip out the back door here. But they don't. They either dutifully either kill themselves, or let themselves be killed by the commandos. It's an extraordinary mental grip this guy has on them.

GERECHT: Why he has on them, and I think also that they, themselves, have on themselves and -- if you really do believe that your death will bring you closer to heaven, that your death will contribute to the protection of the Islamic Woomba (ph), the community of believers, that you are now doing something -- your simple life, your simple life that could be easily forgotten, by these acts of violence, you, in fact, are part of a much larger struggle, I think you can see why these people do that.

ZAKARIA: Now let's finally look at root causes, if you will. How did Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist get involved with this terror group in the first place? He says his father essentially sold him into the group. Listen.


KASAB: He said, "These people make loads of money and so will you. (INAUDIBLE) We'll have money, we won't be poor any more. Your brothers and sisters can get married. Look at these guys living the good life. You can be like them," he said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your dad said this?

KASAB: Yes. So, I said, "Fine, whatever."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does he do for a living?

KASAB: He used to sell yogurt and potato snacks in the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much did they give you? Did they put it in your account?

KASAB: There is no account. They gave it to my dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much did they give him?

KASAB: I don't know. Maybe (ph) a few hundred thousand.


ZAKARIA: To me, that was fascinating because these kids seem like teenagers, maybe a little older, from really the rural parts of Pakistan. Then you ask yourself, what motivates them? And, you know, I assume these people were deeply religious. Had gone to madrasas, things like that. But the picture you get from him, just partly from the way he speaks, but then also this thing he says here. It feels like his father probably had a large family and he decides, well, maybe we'll take this one guy, give him to the gang, the gang will pay me some money, and I'll save the rest of the family. It seems almost mercenary.

GERECHT: Well, I mean, we know the jihadists are a mixed lot. That if you look at suicide bombers in Iraq, for example, that have been captured, or suicide bombers in Israel that have been captured, sometimes you find them that basically have been dragooned into the service.

This young man may be one of those. What is more disconcerting, though, are those that are obviously not dragooned into service. That are sort of like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who to this day is extremely proud of killing everyone on 9/11.

ZAKARIA: But notice he's not a suicide guy.

GERECHT: No he's not.

ZAKARIA: He did not die for the cause.

GERECHT: No, he's not. He got other people to die for the cause. I mean, that is something that one you would hope in time produces more friction within jihadism, is that the people who tend to preach are not the ones who are dying. But again, it is a battle of hearts and minds, but it's extremely difficult. Because all you need is a small group of young men. If they've embraced the dark side, they can do just horrendous damage.

ZAKARIA: Reuel Marc Gerecht, a pleasure, as always.

This extraordinary documentary, "Terror in Mumbai" airs on HBO, on Thursday, November 19th. And then on for a few weeks. Be sure to tune in. We'll be right back.


RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The corruption in that country is incredible! I mean, it's absurd for us to think that we can cure corruption in Afghanistan when a one-party state in China cannot cure corruption in China.


ZAKARIA: As we've discussed on this program, the global financial crisis has shifted the balance of world power, particularly between the U.S. and China. China has weathered this crisis far better than America. So what does that mean for the relationship between these two vast countries? Who now has the upper hand? That question will perhaps be answered shortly. President Obama has arrived in China and meets with its leaders on Monday. To figure out the dynamic of those meetings, and much beyond, I've gathered some superb China scholars here. Roderick MacFarquhar is a professor at Harvard University, Minxin Pei is a professor at Claremont McKenna College; Joshua Cooper Ramo is the managing director at Kissinger Associates.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Rod, when Obama and Hu Jintao, what is going to be the dominant issue?

MACFARQUHAR: I think the main thing that Obama has to do is to impress the Chinese leadership with his firmness on American issues. We remember that when Khrushchev met Kennedy in Vienna, in 1961, he immediately discounted him as a young president who would be a pushover, and the result was the Cuban missile crisis. What Obama has to impress upon the Chinese leaders that he is tough leader who is going to stand by his country's main interests, whatever they do.

ZAKARIA: Josh, you've actually negotiated over the years with some of these Chinese leaders. What is your sense of what they respond to? Is it -- do we need to be strength, toughness?

JOSHUA COOPER RAMO, MANAGING DIRECTOR, KISSINGER ASSOC.: I think there's clear perception in Beijing, at the moment, that, which people even say in foreign policy circles in Beijing, that Obama is weak. Very unusual that Chinese would actually be saying that. But that's their initial read on where he stands. And if you look at the initial process of negotiation so far, it has been a series of concessions, the most dramatic of which was this week when Obama labeled the Chinese as strategic partner. Which was a phrase that means a lot in the Chinese political discourse, and there was meaningful debate in the White House.

ZAKARIA: What other concessions has he made?

RAMO: Well the decision, of course, to put the Dalai Lama visit off till after the trip is one. And you know the decision about how and when to pressure the Chinese on other issues. The most obvious of these would be things like Iran where the policy of the two countries is very divergent.

But on more subtle issues, as well, whether it is economic espionage or cyber warfare. There's any number of very difficult problems between the two sides that the administration has chosen not to confront.

ZAKARIA: Minxin, do you buy this, Obama is weak. There's a danger that he'll be seen as a softy?

MINXIN PEI, CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE: I don't think so. I think that Obama is not necessarily being seen as a weak leader in Beijing yet. But the U.S. is being seen as having a moment of weakness. That is, the U.S. in Beijing is perceived to be a declining power and that is the unspoken theme of this summit, because never has a U.S. President arrived in China, being perceived as dealing with the Chinese from a position of weakness. And that's Obama's biggest challenge.

ZAKARIA: You know this is something remarkable to think about, I mean, you are from Britain, a country that has had a long experience and a very graceful and elegant decline.



MACFARQUHAR: What's that?

ZAKARIA: I said graceful and elegant.

PEI: You said decline.

ZAKARIA: But, but I was talking to a Chinese official a couple -- a few months ago. And he said me, you know, when Hank Paulson used to come here as secretary of Treasury and before as Chairman of Goldman Sachs. They would always lecture us on how our financial system needed to become more like the American. He said, I don't think we'll be getting any such lectures any more.

So there's a certain since of hubris or at least satisfaction of the fact that the American model is in jeopardy. How much does that matter? That our model of capitalism seems to be -- to be working a lot worse than we were claiming it was?

MACFARQUHAR: I don't think it matters so much in China because China has no intention of adopting the American model. which of course includes a democratic political system. It matters in Southeast Asia and other places where they look at China with some wariness.

And Li Guanu (ph), I think spoke for a lot of Southeast Asians when he came to Washington and said you've got to be the balancing against China. So I think that the -- I think that the main thing is this question of Pei Minxin says America seems weak. We think that Obama seems weak to them. I think the main thing to remember, however, for Obama is that China is also weak. China is weak internally, very impressive, they're building is amazing! The response to the depression has been amazingly good. And they are surging ahead. But they have tens of thousands of demonstrations and riots every year. The corruption in that country is incredible!

I mean it's absurd for us think that we can cure corruption in Afghanistan when a one-party state in China cannot cure corruption in China. And so it's a -- it's a weak internal state. It's got many strengths, but there is this weakness, which they themselves worry about. They would say it is weak.

ZAKARIA: What does that weakness mean? Does it constrain them?



RAMO: Yes. One of the things that it means is you really see right now in Beijing in particularly these very intense factional disputes that are breaking out in a way that - you know, I've lived there for eight years now, that I haven't seen in that period of time. And you know, the things that people would sort of quietly say to you in the past now are being organized into meetings, and gatherings, and journals and position papers. And it is a real meaningful ideological split between people who want political reform who believe that more marketization is the route for China, and people who point at the financial crisis and say this is ridiculous. It's a sign that the last thing that China needs is more marketization.

ZAKARIA: And there is a foreign policy element to this, right?

RAMO: Right, because how do you deal with the U.S?

ZAKARIA: You are getting a kind of New Right and a New Left, if you will.

RAMO: Those are actually the phrases that are used.

ZAKARIA: That are used. And what does the New Right want to do in foreign policy?

RAMO: Well, the New Right, there are two issues. The dominant question for the New Right, and really for a lot of Chinese foreign policy thinkers today is, is the conflict with the United States inevitable? That's framing question. How you answer that question determines a lot of where you sit in the Right, Left debate. And that will be a very important part of the Obama trip.

But the New Right view, generally, probably is a more forward leaning and assertive China that watches out for its own interests, a little bit more aggressively and openly than it might otherwise. And so, the Iran question is a very clear example. Because China's very open defiance of what has been a clearly articulated policy from Washington on what the global interest on Iran is, it is an expression of a growing strength what you might think is a harder line inside China.

It is important to think of, the foreign policy is really not a monolith. And it is very much in the process of being shaped. So, what the United States does has a meaningful impact on that dynamic.

ZAKARIA: So how should we play into this reality of a debate in Beijing? What should Obama do about, for instance, Iran? Should we be pushing them harder to, you know, sanction Iran? To join with us in the Security Council?

PEI: Out of those specific issues the Chinese are very pragmatic. If you want us to do A, what do we get in return? So, of these things, you have to offer us something in return to China. But overall, he has to show them that, don't count us out. We will come back. And if you do not deal with us nicely you will regret it.

I think the Chinese should be given that message, of America's enduring strength. If they do not get that message, then I think internally, the Chinese -- the hardliners, we do not know who they are, but suppose there was such a faction? They may want to abandon their cooperative attitude toward the U.S. and go on a course that could be very disastrous for China, and also very bad for U.S./China relations.


MACFARQUHAR: I think Minxin is right. You know you said that they want some quid pro quo. That's fine. But I think the point about the United States' position, it should not give the quo for the quid. And that's what we've done. And that's what we've done with the Dalai Lama. He didn't have to do that in advance. He's the first person not to have greeted the Dalai Lama when he came to Washington. He said, postpone it. And that was a concession before he needed to make a concession.

RAMO: Same on strategic partner. It was another concession without getting anything in return.


ZAKARIA: And what would you want in return? If you were advising Obama, what would you say is important to get from the Chinese?

MACFARQUHAR: Well it is important to get -- I think, most importantly, what they could do most easily, if they wanted to, and that is collaboration on North Korea. There is no question that they can influence that regime. They have got all sorts of economic means of influencing, quite apart from political means. But they don't want North Korea to collapse. And so they are in a (INAUDIBLE), but that is where they can help most.

Iran, I think -Minxin is right, there has to be some quid pro quo. And what the quo would be, I don't know. That is up to Obama and his advisers.

ZAKARIA: And we will come back to discuss all of this and more.

MACFARQUHAR: The Communist Party in China has now something like 75 million people. And they joined it most of them, because it is a sort of a Rotary Club. It is the way you make connections and go up the ladder.




ZAKARIA: We're back with Rod Macfarquhar, Minxin Pei, and Joshua Cooper Ramo.

Is there a rising kind of arrogance in China, in general, that is they've come out of this economic well, they're rising, they look around, they have -

RAMO: I think there is. I mean, I hesitate -- I hesitate to characterize it as arrogance because it, again, has the kind of -- there's a judge -- there are people that do, there's a judgmental element to that.

I think it is an expression of an honest searching inside China for a path forward. This is a country that is still in the process of developing in this country that has lifted 300 million people out of poverty in the last 25 years, but still has 400 million living on less than $3 a day.

It is a country that's facing a very difficult, political transition in 2012, which is going to follow, you know, no existing precedent, we think. It will look very different. And so all of that creates an environment where people are honestly trying to figure out what's the route forward. And so if you're a strong, developing country, you look around the world and find yourself the last survivor in an economic disaster. Part of you naturally does think, well, geeze, maybe we have figured something out.

But that is combined also with this looming sense that maybe there's some mistake. Maybe you're next. And so this insecurity is producing this kind of searching for a meaningful policy agenda that everybody can agree on. And, not surprising, that's creating a lot of -- a lot of debate.

ZAKARIA: Is there a Chinese model, you think, that they would like to promote around the world?

MACFARQUHAR: I think the problem is, the search, as Josh just mentioned, the search. They've lost the Chinese model. The Chinese model used to be Marxism, Lenism, Maoism thought. That is abandoned, effectively, if not in name. And the result of that is, where as before they claimed to understand the past and be able to predict the future, and lead the country towards it, now they don't have that means.

All they've got is a set of economic managers and some very hardworking Chinese people who have finally been liberated to make money, but they don't know what the guiding thought is. That's the -- that is the vacuum at the heart of Chinese policy. They always used to know before the Cultural Revolution, before reform, now they don't know.

PEI: The irony about the China model is that foreigners seem to know what the China model is, than the Chinese themselves, least of all its leaders, know what the China model is.

ZAKARIA: Because as far as they're concerned, it's a kind of grab bag of borrowing a lot of market reform from the West, but not so much that it disrupts any -- you know, any specific power and control.


PEI: They are focused on day to day tasks. They don't even look at ideas. I think one of the thing President Obama might want to do is to engage Mr. Hu Jintao, the president of China, in a more intellectual conversation. To ask him where he sees China going? Where China will be 10, 15 years from now? Not just economically, but its place in the world, and also its political system. That would be a fascinating conversation.

ZAKARIA: Well, let's talk about that, because China is up -- you know, is coming up on this transition. As Josh was saying, it's likely to be different. Rod, you've written a lot about this. So you have in China this very unusual thing for a dictatorship, which is that they have now had two or really three successions, Deng Xiaoping peacefully handing over power to Jiang Zemin; and then Jiang Zemin handing over power to Hu Jintao. And Hu Jintao, now likely to hand over power to a new set of leaders, too.

MACFARQUHAR: There's the catch. Deng Xiaoping decided Jiang Zemin would be his follower. And Deng Xiaoping also decided that Hu Jintao would follow Jiang Zemin. The weakness of the Chinese political system, among many, is that it does not have a settled succession system. And that's why there is this factional dispute, among other reasons, in the Chinese polity at the moment. Because what we believe is that the man who Hu Jintao wanted to succeed has been pushed to one side. And another person, from another faction, has been pushed forward.

And we don't know if that, in fact, will be a smooth succession in 2012, or not. But it's certainly the case that there is a growing tension at the top, which wasn't there under Deng Xiaoping, in the same way. Because Deng Xiaoping was always the ultimate guarantor of all-party power. Hu Jintao doesn't have that status.

ZAKARIA: And what is more worrisome, the -- a potential division on the top or these rising protests on the bottom. Because the protests, while there are many -- there are large numbers, it's very difficult to tell what that means in the context of 1.3 billion people. It strikes me that however elite, you know, the fracturing of the elite, that could be quite significant.

PEI: Oh, absolutely. I think when you look at recent Chinese history, the political disasters were all caused by fractious fighting at the top. So if this succession does not go well, a disunited elite can be very, very bad for the Chinese government.

And I want to add to what Rod said. Even though now it appears that the top two positions, three years from now, have been decided, we do not know about the composition of the Politburo Standing Committee. So a lot of ugly - ZAKARIA: The other 10, 20, 30 senior people -

PEI: Yes, the other -- yes, the super cabinet, because it's nine people sitting in the Politburo who decide all the key issues. Seven other people have to be picked. So there can be a quite vicious sort of a competition for these seven slots.

ZAKARIA: Well, now when I interviewed Win Jaou Boa (ph) he said - I asked him, is it likely that China will be more democratic in 20 years from now? He said it will be more open for sure. The political system will be more open. But there doesn't seem to be much movement in that direction.

RAMO: Well, in terms of democracy as we would think of the meaning, one man, one vote democracy, I think that's a leap at the moment. And part of it is as Mr. Macfarquhar was saying, there's not, at the moment, a intellectual construct that lets you get there.

The reason -- one of the -- there are many reasons Beijing is one of the most exciting cities in the world right now. One is that you go out every night for dinner and you're in the midst of these factional debates, which are amazing. I mean just breathtaking the degree in which people are nakedly ambitious for their faction.

But the other thing that's really interesting is, this need to develop a Chinese model for the political system going forward. People acknowledge the party is desperately in need of reform. And you have many of the smartest people in the country now sitting around trying to think what a post-Chinese characteristics model of Chinese politics looks like.

That's an unbelievably exciting discussion. It opens the door to real democracy. But at the moment, nothing is going to happen that jeopardizes the key issue for everybody, which is, the maintenance of legitimacy of the Communist Party of China as the sole possessor of real political authority in the country.

ZAKARIA: Can China be a world player if it does -if it has this cloud over its politics?

MACFARQUHAR: Of course, it can be a world player because America and other countries have got to deal with China as it is, a major trading power, a major emerging military power and so on, and a factor in various international issues.

But I think the real issue is that the Communist Party of China, you go back to the democracy issue, the Communist Party of China has now something like 75 million people. And they joined it, most of them, because it's sort of a Rotary Club. It's the way you make connections and go up the ladder. And the last thing that these people want, having got there, is to have their perks and power diminished. So, as Josh said, the road to democracy is not something they want to hear about.

One senior Chinese official some years ago, I knew her well, and I asked about democracy. And she said, we've been ruled by peasants for the last 30 years. She meant the Communist Party of China. If we give them democracy, we'd be ruled by peasants forever.


ZAKARIA: On that note, Rod MacFarquhar, Joshua Ramo, Minxin Pei, thank you all. We will be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World?" segment. What got my attention this week, Rio de Janeiro in darkness. In fact, a sizable swath of the entire nation of Brazil was in the dark Tuesday night, as many as 60 million Brazilians without power.

Now, of course, blackouts happen all over the world every day. Occasionally, even in the United States. But this blackout came at particularly bad time. Ever since October 2nd when Rio was announced as the site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, there has been a steady drumbeat of bad news out of Brazil. Most of it revolving around crime in Rio.

During this week's black out, a series of gang muggings was reported outside of the Maricana Stadium, the very place where the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies will be held. Just days after the initial Olympic euphoria ended in Rio last month a major battle broke out between the police and drug lords on the streets of Rio.

This particular battle, which is part of a decades-old drug war, left more than 40 dead and the well-armed thugs even managed to shoot down a police helicopter.

To add to Rio's law enforcement image problems a study released this week found that police in Rio had killed more than 10,000 citizens in the last 11 years. To put that in perspective, Rio is a city of 60 million people. Doing the math, an average of just about 1,000 people are killed by police every year. New York is a city of more than 8 million people. And police here shot 13 people to death last year according to the NYPD.

Now, of course, there was talk in the years and months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, about problems there. Everything from pollution to censorship, to the lack of Western-style toilets. In the end there were some small troubles, but none that marred the spirit of the Beijing Games.

Somehow I don't imagine that President Lula, even though he's the most popular politician in the world, with approval ratings hovering around 80 percent, will be able to get the Brazilian government to solve all these problems with the amazing competence and efficiency the Chinese government did before the Beijing Olympics.

This is a real test for the future. Because if countries like Brazil and India and South Africa want to move into the big leagues, internationally, they have to get their act together on major events like this. Or else the Olympic Committee might beside it's safer to go with cities like, I don't know, Chicago in the future. And we'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our question of the week. Last week I asked you, as we mark President Obama's first year in office, has he disappointed you? Or has he lived up to your expectations? Most of you said, yes, he had lived up to your expectations, but with caveats.

From Uganda, viewer Luke Mugerwa said, "He has not disappointed me yet, but he needs to keep his most important campaign promise. Close Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year."

That, by the way, appears to be the biggest issue for our international viewers.

Viewer George Bertini from San Diego gave a pragmatist summary.

"All politicians disappoint eventually, it's only a matter of degree."

Now, for this week here's what I want to know. On the program today we heard some China experts assert that China in some ways has the upper hand in its relationship with the United States. But do you believe that China is now the world's leading power? Let me know what you think and why.

And as always, I'd like to recommend a book. This one is called "One Nation Under Contract" by Allison Stanger. It's a fascinating book about military contractors, and just how big a role that play in U.S. defense policy. In Afghanistan, for example, government figures indicate that 57 percent of U.S. defense personnel are private contractors. In Iraq, that number is 48 percent.

Stanger argues that these are modern day mercenaries essentially operating for their own benefit, rather than always the U.S. government's, in the midst of very deadly conflicts and complicated situations. A really interesting book about American government and foreign policy. I know you'll enjoy it.

Now, please remember to check out our website at We are adding new content and new viewers every week. And don't forget next up on CNN, Christiane Amanpour. Thanks to all of you.