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New Jewish Lobby Seeks to Shake Up the Status Quo; Karzai Takes The Oath Of Office, Vows To Take On Corruption, But Can He Actually Achieve Results?

Aired November 22, 2009 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: This week, we tackle two major turning points in two of the most critical places on earth for U.S. peace and security.

Hello, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program. It's been an interesting week for President Obama. He's back from his trip to Asia but staring at the same problems that he left behind. Obama has made peace in the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan his top foreign policy priorities, but policy on both is now on shaky ground. The administration has been undermining President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan from the start, but top U.S. officials were there in Kabul this week when Karzai was sworn in for a second time.

He used his inauguration address to announce a crackdown on corruption, and he pledged to shift the security burden to his own troops in five years. But can he do it? We have an exclusive with a key Karzai ally, the Afghan interior minister, and a fascinating counterpoint from one of Karzai's main rivals.

And then the Middle East. With the peace process hopelessly deadlocked, can a new Jewish lobby here in the United States shake up the status quo in Washington, put its stamp on U.S. policy and rival AIPAC? J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami sits down with me for the first time for a face-to- face debate on U.S.-Israel policy with a member of the old guard.

And we begin with J Street. Take a look at who addressed its opening national conference.


KING ABDULLAH II, KING OF JORDAN: Mr. Ben-Ami, friends, I am delighted to have this chance to say a few words to you tonight. Let me congratulate you all on this important gathering. Your theme says it all - - driving change, securing peace. For too long, we have not driven change. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict goes on into a seventh decade. Peace has not been secured and neither side has security.


AMANPOUR: King Abdullah of Jordan is one of America's key allies, and never before has an Arab head of state addressed the national conference of a major Jewish lobby. So is the balance of power about to shift?

I sat down with Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, and David Harris, the executive director of the AJC, the American Jewish Committee. We did invited AIPAC to participate, but they declined.


So thank you both, gentlemen, for coming here. Let me ask you first - - you're talking about safeguarding the democratic state of Israel. Surely, all the Jewish pro-Israel lobby groups share the same goal. Why now a different and a new one?

JEREMY BEN-AMI, EXEC. DIR., J STREET: Well, I think that the sense of urgency has never been greater to address the single greatest threat that Israel faces to its future as a Jewish and a democratic state...

AMANPOUR: Which is?

BEN-AMI: ... which is the demographic reality that within a matter of years, there will be more non-Jews than Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. And at that point, Israel really can no longer remain both Jewish and democratic. Therefore, to avoid that, we have to find some way to get to a two-state solution and do it as quickly as possible.

AMANPOUR: And why is that different than what the AJC or AIPAC advocate? How is it different?

DAVID HARRIS, EXEC. DIR., AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE: I think what's similar is the fact that we support a two-state settlement and we understand the urgency of the search for peace. I think where we differ, though, is in the belief that Israel as a democratic nation has the capacity within its borders to make the decisions that will ultimately determine its future.

AMANPOUR: In other words, no interference in what the government says.

HARRIS: No, I would say, rather, that the country itself, through a lively press, a parliament and a government, will make its own decisions about where its borders are to be and how they should be drawn.

AMANPOUR: Why is there such a hornet's nest that started now because J Street has opened up its storefront in Washington? Why is AIPAC so angry that it wouldn't even come and join us?


AMANPOUR: I mean, let me just -- let me just put up the quote...

HARRIS: I have enough trouble representing AJC.


AMANPOUR: Let me just put up the quote and see whether you agree, since they said you shared a perspective. So when we called and we asked Josh Block, who is the spokesman, he basically said of J Street, and we have it on our wall here, "They are not part of what I would call the pro- Israel lobby. J Street is fringe and far to the left and thus you" -- that means us -- "should pair them with someone far to the right." He also went on to say that, They believe in imposing their views on Israel and they are an ideological organization. That's what they say about you.

Do you think that J Street is far to the left, that it's an ideological organization that's seeking to impose false views or false policies on Israel?

HARRIS: Look, Christiane, first of all, I'm here.

AMANPOUR: Which is good.

HARRIS: Thank you. Secondly, I believe in a big Jewish tent. You know, there's the old joke, you know, one Jew, two opinions, and two Jews, three synagogues, this kind of thing. So we are not a monolithic community. We're going to have a range of views.

AMANPOUR: Now, obviously, the criticisms about AIPAC and AJC and others are that you're more concerned, almost, about the government of the day in Israel than about the American government and its policies and priorities and national security interests, that, in other words, what's good for Israel is good for America, rather than vice versa.

HARRIS: I must say I don't quite see it quite that way. I think the U.S.-Israel relationship is critically important to both nations, and it's important therefore to keep the relationship on an even keel. That does not mean that the countries will agree on everything. I know of no two countries, even the closest of allies, even the U.K. and the U.S., that will agree on everything. But on the fundamentals, our goal is to keep the two countries aligned because they share common goals and common values.

AMANPOUR: Jeremy, that's obviously a given, they share common goals, common values. The relationship between the United States and Israel everyone in the world accepts is a very, very close relationship. And yet the prime minister of Israel essentially had to skulk into the White House under cover of darkness. There was no press conference. What is going on, then, with this very close relationship?

BEN-AMI: Well, I think that there's been an eight-year period up until this current administration where the definition of what it means to be pro-Israel has simply been to ensure that you're moving in lockstep between the two countries. I think what the president of the United States has said in the new administration is that we've just been through a period where there's been no gap, and we've made no progress in achieving peace and bringing this conflict to an end.

This is a fundamental interest of Israel. It is a fundamental interest of the United States. It's a fundamental interest of all the countries in the region, and the Palestinian people, too.

AMANPOUR: What are you specifically proposing that's different?

BEN-AMI: Well, the most important thing is whether or not the U.S. will play an active role. I think the process by which we say talks in and of themselves are the end, are the goal, and it's good to have the parties talk and reach a conclusion -- that hasn't worked. Sixteen years, and we've seen the parties unable themselves to reach a resolution. There is the need for help from the outside to resolve this conflict.

AMANPOUR: Are you...

HARRIS: If I may, first of all, coming back to the use of the word "skulking" into the White House...

AMANPOUR: My word.

HARRIS: Your word, I know. It wouldn't be my word, I must tell you. I think the relationship is far better than it appears from the outside.

AMANPOUR: So why did that have to happen?

HARRIS: Well, I don't know...

AMANPOUR: What is happening now?

HARRIS: I don't know, but on the other hand, they met for nearly two hours. And President Obama's time is very valuable. Few leaders get to sit for two hours, as they did. And that came just at the tail end of the most extensive U.S.-Israeli military exercises that had just been completed. And that came also after the U.S. had voted against the U.N.'s Goldstone report, in other words, standing with the Israeli government. So we shouldn't conclude therefore that U.S.-Israeli relations are somehow rocky or in danger of falling apart. Far from it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they're better now than they were, for instance, under President Bush?

HARRIS: They're different, but the tonality is different. But I think the foundation remains the same. But you see, even in the Obama administration and the way it's approached the peace process, it's rejiggering its approach.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about settlements and the very...

HARRIS: For instance.

AMANPOUR: ... very categoric statement that President Obama made on settlements, that there had to be a total freeze as a precondition to restart negotiations.

HARRIS: For instance. I mean, you saw first Prime Minister Netanyahu reluctant to speak about a two-state settlement, but then over time expressed the words. You saw President Obama at first quickly out of the starting gates talking about settlement issues. They're no longer talking about freeze, but rather restraint. But then again, every new administration has to find its sea legs. Every new administration comes to the Middle East, and when they come to the Middle East, they realize there's no linear process of advancement.

AMANPOUR: What do you see regarding the settlement, and the particularly some would say, aggressive Obama administration stance on a total freeze?

BEN-AMI: Well, I think the most important thing that's been a real difference in this administration from the prior one is the engagement from day one. The prior administration basically said, after the failures at Camp David of President Clinton, We're pulling back completely and we're just not going to do anything at all. And for seven years, there was no involvement at all. We saw another intifadah. We saw violence. We saw a real deterioration of the situation.

This administration came in and said from day one, This is a fundamental U.S. interest. We must end this conflict for the sake of the United States, as well as for the sake of the parties. The appointment of George Mitchell, the engagement by the secretary of state and the president have been unprecedented. I think that that...

AMANPOUR: And yet it's gotten nowhere.

BEN-AMI: And yet -- it hasn't made progress yet, but I think...

AMANPOUR: But you think it will.

BEN-AMI: I think this kind of sustained engagement and leadership -- it's probably going to require even more direct presidential engagement. When he gets past the current set of domestic issues that he needs to deal with in the next few months, I hope to see the president travel to Israel. I hope to see him travel to the region and to become personally involved because this is a matter of the utmost importance.

His national security adviser, Jim Jones, at our conference last week, said if he could tell the president to solve one problem in the world, it would be to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There's so many echoes and ripples around the world.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, we're just going to go to a break. We'll come back and pick that right up, as well as other issues such as the one just raised, the Goldstone report. So stay with us.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): President George Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, were trying to push Israel into peace talks with the Palestinians.

JAMES BAKER, SECRETARY OF STATE: Nothing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted by a new settlement every time I arrive.

AMANPOUR: So the Bush administration took an unprecedented step. U.S. loan guarantees for housing in Israel would now come with strings attached.

BAKER: We will support loan guarantees if there is a halt or an end to settlement activity.

AMANPOUR: Those were fighting words.

PRES. GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've heard today there was something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill, working the other side of the question. We got one lonely little guy down here doing it. So -- so...



AMANPOUR: I'm smiling because that was former U.S. president George Bush, as you know, from our documentary "God's Warriors," and David Harris says that he was one of those thousand lobbyists or so working against him at that time.

HARRIS: That one lonely little guy in the White House.

AMANPOUR: Well? Well?


AMANPOUR: The majority of...

BEN-AMI: And you won, I think.

AMANPOUR: They did, indeed. But how good was that for Israel or for the peace process that you won?

HARRIS: It's disastrous. I mean, it's a disaster. I mean, I -- I'll let you answer in a second, but you know...

AMANPOUR: No, you answer it. How -- how...

BEN-AMI: The settlement enterprise is essentially the equivalent of a cancer eating away at the state of Israel. It's a disease that needed to be stopped early, and unfortunately, it's now taking over the chances of Israel's survival as a Jewish democratic state. And so I think it has been a mistake on the part of lobbyists in America who have tried to help Israel and facilitate the continued settlement expansion.

AMANPOUR: And is this the point of J Street? Is settlements the main -- what is the point?

BEN-AMI: The point is to secure a future for Israel as a Jewish and a democratic homeland, and that requires the creation of a Palestinian state.

AMANPOUR: And you've talked about a democracy, David. You've talked about Israel as a democracy.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: The majority of Israelis, as well as the majority of American Jews, do not believe in the expansion of settlements.

HARRIS: Right.

AMANPOUR: So why is this so hard? Why were you one of the thousand lobbyists there beating up on George Bush?

HARRIS: Well, because, first of all, the main issue is one that we have to discuss, Christiane. Why has there been no peace agreement? We're in 2009. Israel is 61 years old. And I believe firmly, profoundly, that the reason is primarily because the Palestinians and the larger Arab world have not been ready to recognize and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the region.

AMANPOUR: I want to raise the latest on Gaza, which is the Goldstone report, which has created another hornet's nest not just in Israel but amongst the Palestinians and in the United States.

Listen to what I asked Judge Goldstone about him having to defend his process.


Are you having to defend your Jewishness?

JUDGE RICHARD GOLDSTONE, U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: Well, not too much. You know, there've been attacks from some on the extreme that have called me a self-hating Jew or -- and even anti-semitic, which are obviously more than ridiculous allegations to make.


AMANPOUR: So there are two points on this. The first is, if the government and policies of Israel are criticized, does that necessarily mean that somebody is criticizing Jews or is being anti-semitic?

BEN-AMI: Absolutely not. And I think that's one of the fundamental problems with the discussion in this country to date that we are trying to break through J Street, is the notion that to criticize the policy of the government of Israel is to somehow criticize the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And it's absolutely not equivalent. And the defensive reaction on the part of the traditional status quo lobbies that attack those who criticize by saying they are anti-semitic or self-hating Jews or other negative stereotypes, they are actually worsening the long-term prospects for support for the state of Israel.

AMANPOUR: Isn't it time to get over this sort of basic criticism?

HARRIS: (INAUDIBLE) Christiane, because I think -- I think that's too easy a presentation of the issue.

AMANPOUR: But why? But why?

HARRIS: Because there are many people who criticize Israel, including many Jews, including many Israelis, where there is no accusation whatsoever of anti-semitism. And therefore, to suggest that there is, is wrong. There are...

AMANPOUR: But it does raise its ugly head quite often.

HARRIS: But in those cases where Israel is held to a different standard, where Israel's very legitimacy is called into question, where Israel is demonized, then perhaps something else is at work.

AMANPOUR: Well, given the fact that now people are hoping that some peace process can get back on track, what can your organization do? Do you think it can have any effect on this process right now?

BEN-AMI: Well, I think what we aim to do is to open up political space in the United States so this discussion can take place in Washington. As I said before, the parties themselves, in our opinion, are simply not going to sit down at a table and work this out. And for those of us who care about Israel, that's a disaster. So only with a serious American role at the table can this problem be solved. We believe we open up political space in order to allow American policy makers to do that.

HARRIS: There is no country in the world, Christiane, that seeks peace more than Israel, precisely because for 61 years, it has never had a single day of peace. It's almost impossible for others to understand that, firstly. And secondly, the major breakthroughs in peace came about when Israel and its neighbors negotiated directly.

AMANPOUR: But you would agree that when the U.S. is totally involved, there is less war and more peace?

HARRIS: It can help, but it cannot be a substitute for the parties themselves. As I said, the core issue remains, I believe, the question of Israel's very right to a place in the region.

BEN-AMI: And I would disagree. I think that the Arab nations, the Palestinian leadership have made it abundantly clear that they do accept the right of a state of Israel to exist, a state of the Jewish people alongside the Palestinian people. The most important thing that could happen right now is for Israel to take actual steps...

HARRIS: Jeremy, you saw the textbooks that are...

AMANPOUR: This conversation is going to have to continue...

HARRIS: If you saw the textbooks...

AMANPOUR: ... another day.

HARRIS: ... you would realize that children are not being taught that today in too much of the Arab world. And that's the tragedy.

AMANPOUR: We'll continue this. Thank you very much, indeed, both of you.


And we turn to other parts of the world when we come back. President Obama in Asia, rarely at a loss for words. Stay with us.


AMANPOUR: President Obama's Asia trip last week reverberated around the world for all sorts of reasons, including this one in Japan. And critics say that he should have spoken out more forcefully in China, for instance on human rights, and taken questions at a news conference with the Chinese president.

President Obama did become the first U.S. president in decades to meet with the Burma's military junta, who've kept the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 14 years. President Obama did call for her release publicly, even if he did stumble a bit over her name.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are clear steps that must be taken, the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including An Su -- Su Gee...


AMANPOUR: The Obama administration has decided to engage with the military regime to see whether diplomacy will succeed where isolation has failed.

And subscribe to my Twitter feed, where I'm giving you the inside story on what's happening around the world. That's at

And next, the latest word is that President Obama will make his long awaited decision on troops for Afghanistan after Thanksgiving next week. In our second half hour, we tackle Afghan corruption head on.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Here a quick look at the top stories. A Democratic senator says moderates in his party should not be allowed to dictate terms of the health care debate. On "STATE OF THE UNION" today, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown said he believes the final bill should include a government-run public option. Last night, the Senate Democratic health care bill cleared a major hurdle. Supporters rounded up enough votes to advance the measure on to a full debate on the Senate floor.

And students at the University of California Santa Cruz have ended their three-day occupation of an administration building. They left on their own after campus police warned them if they didn't, they'd be arrested. The students were protesting a 32 percent tuition hike. Demonstrations were also held at other UC campuses throughout the past week.

And people in northwest England are cleaning up after massive flooding there. Government forecasters say that more than a foot of rain fell in a 24-hour period in some areas. More than 1,000 homes were flooded and hundreds of people were actually rescued.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Those are the headlines. We'll return to AMANPOUR in a moment.



President Obama is on the brink of deciding how many more troops to send to Afghanistan, and their precise mission. This week in Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top Western officials watched as President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second term, after an election tainted by fraud. Karzai immediately promised to battle corruption and said that he wants Afghan forces to take over from the U.S. and NATO forces by the end of his five-year term.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): I want international forces to have a leading role training Afghan forces. This is our request. Of course, our plan over the next five years is for Afghan forces to take the leading role. A transfer of power to the Afghan army is a priority for us.


AMANPOUR: A priority for the U.S., too. But can Karzai do that, and rid his government of corruption? We have two very different perspectives, a compelling interview with one of the men who stood against him during the election. But first, our exclusive with Hanif Atmar, a close ally of Karzai and head of the powerful ministry of interior.


AMANPOUR (On camera): Mr. Atmar, thank you so much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: Let me start by asking you about the corruption in your country. A recent study has just said that Afghanistan now rates second- most corrupt country in the world after Somalia. What is your country going to do to put a stop to this?

ATMAR: Well, I can't first confirm the findings, but the problem is there, corruption is a systemic and chronic problem that we have inherited from the past.

AMANPOUR: So what can you do?

ATMAR: Now there is an opportunity -- what we are trying to do now is to send a very, very strong message to every corrupt official that the age of impunity is gone. Everybody now is to be held accountable for the authority invested in them.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, Mr. Atmar, that this will happen? Look, you say that you inherited a major problem of corruption and a lack of institutions, but the fact of the matter is that over the last several years things have gotten considerably worse. Worse than when Mr. Karzai first came to office?

ATMAR: This is his top priority, and I have no reason not to believe that the government will not deliver on this key priority.

AMANPOUR: You have just announced a new anti-corruption body. What kind of teeth will it have? Real prosecutorial teeth? Real ability to investigate, and to hold accountable?

ATMAR: There are three pieces to it. Number one is the major crimes task force and the ministry of interior, which is responsible to collect information and investigate. Number two is the general prosecutor who will prosecute any alleged cases. Number three is a special court, anti- corruption court. What is significant about this, that this is the first time in history of Afghanistan that special task force, special prosecutor, and special court have been established to deal with this problem.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about what you specifically are tasked with, and that is security. There are many people who are saying that, in fact, the security has been so bad in Kabul that maybe you, yourself, need to resign.

ATMAR: Well, number one, I don't share that opinion, that security has deteriorated in Kabul. Obviously there are terrorist attacks, at times. Our assessment is of every three terrorist attacks, two are prevented and one unfortunately does happen.

What is quite frustrating, that we've been talking about these new programs and strategies for the past couple of months, but there's been not much progress, primarily because that -- our international partners and Afghan leadership will have to come to a conclusion, and pretty soon, so that we as security institutions can take this agenda forward.

AMANPOUR: So what you're saying is that this decision-making process in the West is taking a long time? What kind of signal do you think it's sending to the Afghan people and to terrorist, as you call them?

ATMAR: Taking a long time is not going to have a good impact on Afghanistan. We need to move quickly. We all have consensus here that our challenging environment is daunting already. We have to take action. We have to fix this. This war is winnable, but we have to show the resolve, the determination, and the ability to make decisions quickly.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that the Taliban has the upper hand right now? How strong do you think it is?

ATMAR: No. They don't have an upper hand at all. What they're probably -- from their own perspective -- good at, killing innocent people.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Atmar, Secretary Gates says they have the momentum and they seem to be winning at the moment. Is that wrong?

ATMAR: Moment and winning, these are two different things. Winning what? Killing innocent people?

AMANPOUR: Winning control.

AMANPOUR: Burning schools, killing teachers? They're not going to win. But they're certainly having momentum because they are resorting to terrorist acts, and terrorism of that sort is difficult actually to stop altogether. But we can certainly reduce it to a size that is manageable.

AMANPOUR: What kind of message do you think the Afghan people get, or even the president of Afghanistan, Karzai, gets when there's so much criticism from very high-level officials in the West, whether it be President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Holbrook, what kind of effect does that have on president Karzai's ability to maneuver?

ATMAR: We are friends of the international community, and we will always remain as friends, and we can certainly take criticism. But criticizing us and not doing anything to support us is not going to be helpful. What we are proposing is, look, friends, we accept part of the blame. But there are also issues that our international friends must also take responsibility for.

The blame game is not going to help. The time has come now for us to work together and to pay our respect for our fallen soldiers. We've got to hold each other accountable, and we've got to move quickly. We do not have time forever to criticize each other. We have only time now to make a difference.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Mr. Hanif Atmar, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

ATMAR: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And as he said, President Karzai has pledged to battle all these things. Behind me is a device we often use, a "word cloud" of President Karzai's speech, it graphically illustrates the words he used most, including security, corruption, international and cooperation. You can see more of this on our blog at

When we return, we'll be talking to a rival of President Karzai, at least during the election campaign. He has doubts about what the interior minister just told us.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now from Kabul is Ashraf Ghani. He was a presidential candidate in this latest Afghan election. He's a former finance minister, and a former World Bank official. Perhaps best placed to tell us what's needed and what's possible in Afghanistan.

Welcome to our program, Mr. Ghani.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Ghani, when I saw you earlier this year, you told me it was no longer just corruption in Afghanistan but whole scale looting. People are telling me now it's a criminalized institution, the government, and governance there. What can be done to change it?

GHANI: First is question of resolve. The 2,000 individuals in positions that have turned the government into a looting machine need to be changed. People of integrity and judgment need to be the appointed.

Second, areas of abuse need to be prioritized. There are a series of tests. The first is what is going to be done with customs revenue? Right now there are indications that is several $100 million might have been stolen from customs revenues at the Kabul airport alone.

Second are tolls in the roads and allowing governors to impose taxes that have no basis in the Constitution, and have not been put in government accounts. So again, this is a clear area. So the list goes on. And then there's the mining issue. "The Washington Post" has an article accusing the ministry of mines of having received $30 million in payment for a copper contract. Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources, and the way these contracts are handled is going to be very critical.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that President Karzai can and will root out these, what you've called, negative forces?

GHANI: The president owes his election to the very forces that are negative. So the first test is, what will he do with his campaign staff, both centrally and provincially.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. One of the things the Obama administration seems to be floating is that if the Karzai government proves incompetent and still corrupt, they would funnel U.S. funds, other international funds to the provinces, to the governors. Is that a good idea? I hear you saying it's the provincials who are also skimming so much.

GHANI: All provincial governors are appointed by the president, by the central government. And some of them have been among the most abusive, in terms of corruption and misapplication of the law, in taking the law into their hands.

AMANPOUR: There have been many allegations about President Karzai's brother, Ahmed. There have been allegations about General Fahime (ph), his vice president. Allegations about the son of the defense minister, bribes and such things. Do you think Mr. Karzai will get rid of any of these people?

GHANI: If he doesn't, then he's going to fail the test of leadership. Kinship and ruling are not compatible. In our history, those who have built states have had to separate themselves from their kin. And unless one meets that test, one cannot rise to become a statesman.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of the Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, who has launched a new anti-corruption unit and told me that ministers who fail the test will basically be booted and held accountable? Is that likely?

GHANI: Well, I think the first issue is that what's the level of corruption -- Minister Atmar is a competent man, but his ministry is among the most corrupt in the country.

The police force is a scandal. It has perpetuated immense crimes. The World Bank and the U.N. anti-drug operation have done a study to show how in detail the ministry of interior was captured by drug interests and other criminal interests. So, fundamentally we need first a functioning ministry of interior. And I hope that the minister, if he is retained in his post, turns inward, as well as outward, and succeeds in objectives that are long overdue.

AMANPOUR: The question is will they? I know we all hope that. Is there any leverage, any breaking -- turning point right now that will encourage them, force them to do that?

GHANI: Yes, of course. The first is your program, the media, the level of scrutiny that Afghanistan is receiving and the issue of corruption is now receiving on the national media, is an immense source of positive pressure.

Second, Afghan society is mobilizing. Afghan society intensely dislikes this corruption because it has destroyed the moral fabric of the society. It's a cancer that is threatening our existence as a nation. So the two sides are finally seeing eye-to-eye. For eight years the international community under the leadership of President Bush tolerated corruption, did not raise any issues where the Afghan public was complaining about it. Now, both the international community and the Afghan public are on the same page. And the government will be squeezed from both sides.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you what Hillary Clinton told the American media over the weekend, coming directly from I think what you're just saying. Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have no illusions. This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about, you know, how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy, and build a more functioning state, and do all these wonderful things. That could happen, but our primary focus is on the security of the United States of America.

AMANPOUR: Holy backsliding, shifting goals, Mr. Ghani. It's almost incredible to hear the secretary of the United States move back from democracy and state building. How do you take what she says?

GHANI: Well, I think, she still said that, state building could happen.


GHANI: That's the critical issue, yes. The reason is it cannot happen without Afghans owning the agenda of state building. But also, simultaneously, we need to recognize that the international community needs to fundamentally change its own practices if Afghanistan is going to be stabilized. Secretary Clinton is speaking to the American public. And there, the justification of course, is to contain the threat or eliminate the threat to the United States. In the process, that threat cannot be eliminated unless Afghanistan is made stable, and it cannot be made stable unless a process of state building begins in earnest.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ghani, many people throw up their hands and say Afghanistan is not governable, Afghanistan is not ripe for democracy. What will success look like?

GHANI: Well, I think the first thing is that it's very easy to talk about the place unseen and a people unmet. The average Afghan strives for a life that is stable, that is secure, that enables her to earn a livelihood and him to put a roof over his head. Our children want education. Our female headed households want jobs. It's about these very, very basic things of human decency.

AMANPOUR: So tell us for the record, do the Afghan people still want U.S. and NATO forces in their land right now?

GHANI: Yes. There's still a consensus in this society that this is the first army in 5,000 years that has come here not to occupy our land, but to become a force for stability, and eventually hopefully prosperity.

People greeted them with flowers and received them with open arms. Why wasn't there any violence in the first three years? Because there was a political process that provided for inclusion and for a hope. We need to regain that sense of initiative, and I think, the analysis that is beginning to place, the identification of corruption, positively the need for good governance and for building institutions is very positive, and we can build on that foundation.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Mr. Ghani, thank you very much for joining us from Kabul.

GHANI: Pleasure to be with you.


AMANPOUR: A legitimate and credible Afghan government is vital to the success of the U.S. war effort there. We spoke to an adviser to the U.S. military and counterterrorism expert Thomas Johnson, about how to stop the Taliban's momentum.


THOMAS JOHNSON, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: I think what we have to do is push down and start operating, both we, as well as the Afghan national army, in the village level where the Taliban are operating 24-7. I think that's been the major lacking in our tactics, operations and strategies.

We have to --this is a rural insurgency. If it does ever become an urban insurgency, that presents a whole new problem. But we have to move down into the areas where the Taliban are operating on a daily basis. That's what we need to do.

AMANPOUR: The truth is, though, that the people of Afghanistan, they want security. It's the one thing they tell everybody who will listen.

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: They would not really go towards the Taliban, and they're not really going towards the Taliban, if the U.S. and other forces would step up.

JOHNSON: Well, I agree. But if we don't offer them security and justice, they'll take it from the Taliban.


AMANPOUR: This conversation will continue online on our website,, where we have a blog post about Sun Tzu's military masterpiece "The Art of War" and its impact on Afghanistan.

Next, our "Postscript", something amazing amid all this talk of war and corruption. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: And now our "Postscript." We want to leave you today with a little slice of something wonderful. We discovered the world of laughter clubs in India and what some day might become a worldwide laughing competition.



ON SCREEN CAPTIONING: These people know something we don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the happiest persons in the world!

CROWD: Yeah!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the healthiest persons in the world!

CROWD: Yeah!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are Laughter Club members!

CROWD: Yeah! Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha.


ON SCREEN CAPTIONING: Today, there are thousands of Laughter Clubs throughout India.


AMANPOUR: The clever man who organized all of this summed it up nicely. People who are laughing are never fighting.

And with this we want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, or we want to wish you Eid Mubarak at the start of the Hajj on Monday, and just a very good week.

That's our report. Good-bye and thank you for watching.