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Afghanistan: The Road Ahead

Aired September 9, 2010 - 16:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Where were you when you heard the news?

Where did you stand on the decision to invade the country blamed for harboring terrorists who helped plan 9/11?

And nine years later, how do people in Afghanistan view what's changed since then and what hasn't?

On CNN, this is the hour we connect the world.

Well, welcome to a 60 minute special program -- "Afghanistan: The Road Ahead," live on CNN International and online at

Well, it's a country that's long been seen as a graveyard for foreign forces. And yet, from Washington to Islamabad, to Moscow, New Delhi and beyond, the world has a deep interest in the fate and fortunes of Afghanistan.

Tonight, we'll speak to top Afghan politicians and, indeed, to the man on the street about their country's infrastructure. We'll get perspective from American and British historians about their countries' roles in securing Afghanistan. And joining me in London will be one of the few men who can lay claim to having interviewed Osama bin Laden.

Well, all that coming up, along with a live report from Kabul, as anxiety increases about the potential backlash if, as promised, a preacher in Florida goes ahead and burns copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11.

First, though, Barbara Starr takes us back to 2001 and the original ambitions behind the war in Afghanistan.


BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): September 11, 2001 -- within moments of the attacks, the U.S. plans war in Afghanistan.

GENERAL HUGH SHELTON, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready.

STARR: October 7th, President Bush addresses the nation.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

STARR: The strategy -- shut down the Taliban and al Qaeda. Special Forces fight alongside friendly tribes in the north. U.S. Army Rangers parachute into a southern air field. By November, the Taliban are on the run, Kabul falls.

In December, the U.S. bombs Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. He feels across the border into Pakistan, when the U.S. fails to block his escape.

March, 2003, the military's attention shifts to the war in Iraq. Even now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recalls...

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: With the invasion of Iraq, our attention and our resources were diverted. Afghanistan became a second tier priority for troops, equipment, security.

STARR: But in May, 2003, then Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, sounded like mission almost accomplished.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of -- of stability and stabilization and reconstruction and activities. The bulk of this country today is permissive, it's secure.

STARR: But in June, 2005, it's evident violence is growing.


STARR (on camera): This Afghan-US fire base has just been rocketed from a position near the border with Pakistan. U.S. Army forces here have just returned fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our labor and social affairs.

STARR: On the streets of Gardez, with the local governor and Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry.


Barbara, you need to hear this.

STARR (on camera): Yes, sir?

EIKENBERRY: He said -- I asked him about this election and he said the people are more excited. And I asked why and he said because it's going to be more exciting because there's more competition.

STARR (voice-over): The governor is later assassinated.

In September 2006, a security disaster -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says his troops will leave the volatile border region if tribesmen cut their ties to militants. The Pakistani troops withdraw, but militants operate openly. Fighters flood across the border into Afghanistan. The U.S. spends years encouraging Pakistan to crack down.

In 2009, the Obama White House tries to reestablish focus.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies and the Afghan government have ridden -- risen steadily.

STARR: The president says he has a strategy.

OBAMA: We have a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

STARR: In June, 2009, there's a new commander, General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal says he needs more troops and calls for a massive counter-insurgency effort aimed at providing security for civilians -- a strategy far beyond defeating al Qaeda.

OBAMA: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan.

STARR: December 2009, President Obama orders an additional 30,000 troops into war.

(on camera): General McChrystal has now been replaced by General David Petraeus, the man credited with making the Iraq War strategy work. Now in its ninth year, the Afghan war has about 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground. It began with just over 1,000.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


ANDERSON: Well, nine years later, then, what has changed?

Well, our correspondent, Atia Abawi, is on the ground for us now and throughout this hour in Kabul -- Atia, how would you describe life for the people of Afghanistan today?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Becky, it was really bittersweet looking at Barbara's story right there, because I can't stress to you enough the hope that was filled in the hearts and the minds of the Afghan people back in 2001 when the international community stepped into Afghanistan. They had this hope for change, this hope for prosperity. They wanted Afghanistan to succeed in the world.

And quickly, after the war in Iraq began, it became the forgotten war. And the Afghan people started to lose hope. And now there's just a flicker left, nearly nine years into the war, Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the war -- the world. It's one of the most corrupt countries in the world when it comes to the government.

And what's interesting now is back in 2001, the Afghan people were excited for change, a change from the Taliban. But now you're seeing some Afghans in different provinces and village -- villages going back to the Taliban, because they see it as the lesser of two evils when it comes to their own government, because they don't trust their government. They see this corruption.

So now, more and more, you're seeing more Afghans turning to the Taliban because they're afraid of the other opportunities that they don't like -- Becky.

ANDERSON: And you will be with us throughout the hour.

Before I let you go at this point, it does remain to be seen whether the pastor of a Florida church drops his plans to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 this weekend.

If he does go ahead, Atia, what will the response be in Afghanistan, do you think?

ABAWI: Well, right now, whether he goes on with it or he doesn't, the damage has been done. When those pictures come out, if it does come out, it's going to be much worse. You're not going to just worry about the Taliban and the insurgency going after American troops, because they're already doing that.

You're going to see a new population of Afghans, of Muslims throughout the world, attacking Westerners -- going after the Westerners. You're going to see Afghans here who didn't know what side to go on now going to the side of the insurgency. And I'm afraid that. You're going to see more Afghans within the Afghan Security Forces attacking U.S. and coalition forces. You're going to see civilians out in the streets of Kabul, Herat, Mazar e- Sharif and more danger of just available Afghans on the street who feel that they're being attacked and they're being invaded and what the Taliban have been saying all along, in their eyes, will become true, that the coalition, that the international forces are just invaders that are here to convert them into Christianity, because that is the mind set at the moment and that's the mind set being pushed by the insurgency.

ANDERSON: Yes, fascinating stuff.

Atia, we'll be back to you as we move through the hour.

For the tab -- time being, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Atia Abawi there in Kabul for you.

Well, they never found him in Afghanistan and to this day, he remains one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitives, with a $25 million reward on his head. But as the hunt for al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, continues, a new poll finds a record number of Americans believe it's unlikely he'll ever be captured.

With me now in the studio is Abdel Bari Atwan, author of "The Secret History of Al Qaeda" and also one of those few journalists that has ever interviewed him.

Will he ever be caught?

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, AUTHOR, "THE SECRET HISTORY OF AL QAEDA": It is extremely difficult. It will be by a stroke of luck. I don't think, you know, the people who are pursuing him this time, they have any clue where about he is hiding. You know, before the 11th of September, there was only one address of Osama bin Laden, there's Tora Bora, Tora Bora High Street, the first cave on the left. Nowadays, you know, you don't know where he is, whether he is in Yemen, whether he's in Somalia, whether he's in Pakistan, maybe in Iran or North Africa.

This is the problem. I have a feeling that he is outside that part of the world. They are looking for -- for him in the tribal area of Pakistan. I don't know, I have a feeling that he could be in Yemen, for example; maybe in Saudi Arabia. He is a very, very cunning man. He's -- he's not easy to -- to actually to follow.

He never used these electronic devices. He never used these telephone, you know, like mobile phones or something like tele -- telephones or -- he's caring about his personal -- his security by himself. He doesn't rely on anybody else.

So that's why, actually, he -- he -- he's stayed over nine years without finding any clue where about he is.

ANDERSON: Nine years on the run.


ANDERSON: I guess the question nine years on is how much does he really matter these days?

ATWAN: Not a lot, you know, because al Qaeda is transformed. It is not a pyramid built organization as it used to be, with one address, as I said, in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda now is a flat, loose organization that field commander -- young veterans, field combat -- commanders are more, actually, important than Osama bin Laden. They are the ones who are running al Qaeda -- the day to day affairs of al Qaeda.

So you have those young commanders and, you know, they are more radical than Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda is decentralized now. They don't go back to him to actually receive any instruction or orders.

You know, he isn't hiding there. He is enjoying being -- traumatizing the lives of those people who are trying to capture him. So those field commanders, the new generation of al Qaeda more dangerous, more vigorous than the old one.

ANDERSON: And not necessarily in Afghanistan.

If you had to make an educated guess -- and you spent some time with Osama bin Laden, of course...


ANDERSON: -- in Afghanistan.

But if you had to make an educated guess, how many supporters or active members of an al Qaeda group would you say are active in Afghanistan today?

ATWAN: Yes, at least maybe 1,000, 1,500.

ANDERSON: That many?

ATWAN: Yes, that many, yes, because, you know, many of them left Iraq to Afghanistan simply because their life was extremely difficult in Afghanistan because of AUDIBLE) troops there. So they took refuge in Afghanistan.

ANDERSON: So when American officials tell us that there may be as few as 6,200 -- Leon Panetta saying that -- he's given us that very number just recently, you think that is -- that underestimates...


ANDERSON: -- the force in Afghanistan in 2010?

ATWAN: The Americans always are underestimating the situation, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq. When they say 50 or 60 or 100, it is a joke. I'll tell you, Becky, you know, if you look at the situation on the ground, who introduced the suicide bombing in Afghanistan or a suicide bomber?

It is al Qaeda.

Who actually introduced the road bombs -- the roadside bombs?

It is al Qaeda.


ATWAN: Because al Qaeda actually imported the experience or exported, actually, the experience of the Iraqi National Guard to -- or the Republican Guards to the Taliban, to the people there. So they are there. They are fighting with the Taliban and they are actually giving a huge service -- intelligence service, also military service, tactics, to -- to Taliban. That's why you can see the surge or -- the death of Americans this year, 503. Last year, 523. The total, 300 -- sorry, 1,300 in total since 2001.

So this increase -- and the Americans tell you about this -- is because of al Qaeda help -- al Qaeda's service to the Taliban.

ANDERSON: Fascinating stuff.

We're going to leave it there for the time being.

We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us, Abdel Bari Atwan.

Well, his show is being streamed on, where you'll find a very lively debate going on online. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so do logon. We'll be checking in on what you are saying all this hour.

Coming up next, fear and intimidation -- that's what many people face on a daily basis in Afghanistan. Why many believe the Taliban have become the lesser of two evils.

Stay with us.

Special connection -- a special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD.

We will be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): My only wish is to have peace and stability in our country. Humans should live in peace, but our lives are like a bird living in a cage.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I wish Afghanistan can become a peaceful country and the crisis go down and to have jobs and opportunities. This is our desire. Our concern are high prices.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have many desires from our government, as in creating job opportunities for poor people and a happy and good future for the new generation. My main concern is high prices and heavy traffic.


ANDERSON: Welcome back to this special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD - - "Afghanistan: The Road Ahead."

Well, the mission in Afghanistan may have changed over the last nine years, but for many working on the ground, the same fears and challenges remain.

Atia Abawi now on the reality of living in Afghanistan.


ABAWI (voice-over): Warning for five volunteers traveling in Afghanistan's Western Herat Province -- campaigning for a female parliamentary candidate. They were brutally murdered by insurgents. Fauzia Gilani says she is distressed by the murders, but she will not let the insurgency win.

"These threats should never be an obstacle for us," she says. "This was a plot by the enemy against me to demoralize me and they thought I would run away or withdraw."

Fear and intimidation is only part of the reason why many believe the Taliban and other insurgent groups currently have the momentum.

HAURON MIR, AFGHAN ANALYST/PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE: We don't have any force in Afghanistan, political force that could counter the Taliban.

ABAWI: The Taliban have become a viable alternative for many Afghans frustrated with their government and an international presence that has yet to deliver on all of the promises of security and prosperity. And many fear that, in the end, the international community will grow tired of the conflict and simply pack up and leave.

MIR: This is the biggest fear among Afghan people, that, once again, Afghanistan will be abandoned. And this is the reason why the Taliban has been able to expand their territory in Afghanistan.

ABAWI: Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, with more people dying from poverty and hunger than the armed conflict, according to the United Nations. And the latest scandal at the largest private bank in Afghanistan, Kabul Bank, where hundreds of millions of dollars was plundered by shareholders connected to high ranking government officials embodied Afghan frustrations.

All the while, a war is still raging. NATO is six months into an 18- month counter-insurgency plan aimed at turning the tide of this nearly nine year war.

GENERAL NICK PARKER, BRITISH ARMY: It's been more complicated than we expected, not necessarily tougher. We always said that the security fight was going to be tough. But we've always said that, very sadly, violence levels are going to go up. It's inevitable.

ABAWI: 2010 is so far the deadliest year for the nearly 155,000 coalition troops on the ground, as it was grimly predicted before a surge of new troops arrived and offenses launched in areas the coalition couldn't reach before. Commanders on the ground are careful not to over promise.

PARKER: I view the future with optimism but it's guarded optimism. We mustn't be over optimistic, because that will send the wrong signals. This is hard challenge and a complex challenge. And we're about six months into it.

ABAWI: In the last couple of months, the focus of both ground operations and a rebuilding mission will be on the southern province of Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban. Success here is, perhaps, one of the last chances to keep support for the war alive among Afghans and the people back home.

MIR: Failure in Afghanistan is not an option. Certainly, the United States could abandon Afghanistan. But the problem is, al Qaeda and the Taliban will not abandon their fight against the United States.


ANDERSON: Well, Ashraf Ghani was the finance minister in the post- Taliban government. He was charged with developing a road map for an economy that would be transparent and accountable. That economy now riddled with charges of corruption.

So what went wrong?

I spoke to him earlier on today and this is what he had to say.


ASHRAF GHANI, FORMER AFGHAN FINANCE MINISTER: The road map for managing the country's economy transparently and accountability, was not followed up after 2005. And that has an international dimension and a national dimension.

The international dimension relates to the threat arising from narcotics because international drug traffickers, in the last nine years, have made, according to the U.N. estimates, about $460 billion to $600 billion out of Afghan narcotics.

Local traffickers have made about $18 billion and 1.7 million farmers have made $6.2 million.

And this has been a major driver of corruption, because it has penetrated the institutions of law and order.

Second has been contracting. Contracting has got both Afghan and local dimensions, but the international dimensions are as problematic as are the local dimensions...

ANDERSON: Right. I want to pin you down on that...

GHANI: So contract for AUDIBLE)...

ANDERSON: Let's pin you down on that.

What do you mean by that?

GHANI: Military contractors, for instance, in Southern Afghanistan this year will amount to about $800 million. They have completely -- they have been awarded on the -- initially, on the basis of influence. But they have completely changed the politics of localities.

ANDERSON: What do you think the scandal at Kabul Bank and, to a wider extent, these accusations of graft, mean for President Karzai and his Western backers going forward?

GHANI: This, again, was a problem that was known and the -- the signs have been accumulating for three years. There have been 88 banking crises at least since 1970 worldwide. There are lessons to be applied. And a lot of those lessons, unfortunately, have not been applied.

ANDERSON: What would your solutions be?

GHANI: What is critical is to create confidence among small depositors. So in that regard, a government can -- for guaranteeing small depositors can return for careful review of -- of the management of the banks would be important.


ANDERSON: Ashraf Ghani speaking to me earlier on about the banking crisis in Afghanistan and about the very nature of the infrastructure there in 2010.

Well, as our Afghanistan special continues here on CNN, we're going to talk with a retired U.S. Army general and hear what Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt has to say about the Afghan conflict, both its past and its present.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have many wishes, but who can we share it with?

In the 30 years of war, we have lost our trust in our leaders and we cannot trust in anyone. There is no future for this country. Even we cannot make a plan for next year. If the borders open up, all of the people will leave the country.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some young guys believe that the United States is playing the same policy as the Soviets played in Afghanistan and that they are actually our enemy and that they just entered with different uniforms to brainwash the people.


ANDERSON: Voices from Afghanistan there, as we take an in-depth look at the country's past, present and future.

Well, let's delve a little deeper into the U.S. perspective on the Afghan conflict now, specifically that of the military. And we're going to get to Washington for that and Mark Kimmitt, who is a retired U.S. Army general and a former assistant secretary of State.

Sir, we thank you for joining us this evening.

You've heard the voices of Afghanistan there, as we move through the show. The debate about how to prosecute this war and how and when to leave is a constant debate in Washington and around the world.

Has President Obama got it right at this point?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, it is clear that he was right when he made his announcement last December about increasing the troop levels. The troop levels have already demonstrated they have an effect on the battlefield. I would...

ANDERSON: And they have?

KIMMITT: I would question, on the other hand, whether this notion that we'll -- we will be pulling troops out starting in 2011, if that, in fact, as some have said, have given sustenance to the enemy that feels that we can just simply wait them out until that time arrives.

ANDERSON: What's the evidence on the ground to suggest that even what President Obama decided somewhat 12 months ago now is actually effective?

KIMMITT: Well, I think you can take a look at the what's happening down in the south. While you can't sort of score battlefield successes at this time, what you can definitely see and feel on the ground is that the arrival of the additional troops is adding clarity to the mission in the south, that the troops are there to help the civilians. The civilians are starting to trust the increased presence of American troops and coalition troops, that, in fact, this great perceptual battle about who's got the longer patience, who's got the longer determination, the presence of American troops, the presence of coalition troops is telling the civilians, which are really the strategic center of gravity, that they're willing to fight, they're willing to stay, they're willing to provide security to the people of Afghanistan.

ANDERSON: Do you think General Petraeus will convince President Obama any time soon that there is a need for troops to stay much longer than the president is prepared to admit at this point?

KIMMITT: Well, as General Petraeus has said, next year starts a process of reducing troop numbers. Whether he can convince President Obama of the necessity of that, that's a conversation that the two of them need to have.

I think that, hopefully, one would find that in July, 2011, there is a strong analysis and assessment about whether additional troops remaining will be helpful or harmful to the overall process.

Personally, I believe that we're going to need to be there much longer than 2011, that the process for reducing troop numbers will be much slower than we might hope.

ANDERSON: The message from General Petraeus has been, for some time now, that the surge in Iraq has worked, whether you agree with him or not, and that he can prosecute a war in Afghanistan along the same lines.

There are many, many people who disagree with him.

Do you buy his argument?

KIMMITT: Well, I -- I certainly buy the first argument, that the surge in Iraq worked. I -- I think by any measure, the security situation in -- in Iraq is far better than it was in 2006, when the surge was announced.

I have never heard General Petraeus publicly state that he can wholesale lift the lessons of Iraq and bring them into Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. I think he has recognized and has taken into account the significant differences between those two countries and has incorporated those significant differences into his strategy.

ANDERSON: What's the future for Afghanistan?

KIMMITT: My personal view is that this is going to be a battle of will. It's going to be a battle of determination. The side that demonstrates they have the greatest patience and the greatest willingness to stick to both the fight for security and to develop governing institutions, whether they be anti-government or government, will be the side that wins. I don't think this is going to be a quick solution. My personal view is that this is a project more akin to the Balkans, which took almost a decade, than it is to Iraq, which was about a five to six year program.


ANDERSON: In Washington, Mark Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army general, with his thoughts for you this evening.

Sir, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us here on CNN.

KIMMITT: Thank you.

ANDERSON: And you can join the debate, if you will, online, on We'll be hearing your views later in the show.

Next, the new, great game -- why winning favor with Afghanistan is vital to other countries' regional aid. We're going to bring you the view from key players, Pakistan and India. Thanks up next.

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: "When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished, but not before." Welcome back to this special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD. The wise old words of Rudyard Kipling, there. We're going to explore the idea of Afghanistan's modern-day great game up next. Once US troops leave, who will have the biggest influence on that country?

First, a quick check of the headlines for you this hour here on CNN.

The US State Department has issued a travel alert, warning of potential violent demonstrations around the world. Protests have already broken out against plans to burn 200 Korans at a Florida church on Saturday. The church's pastor says it's a way to protest radical Islam on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Friday had been declared a day of national mourning in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, to honor 17 people killed there in a car bomb attack. The massive explosion that happened near a market in the city of Vladikavkaz. More than 120 people were wounded.

An Iranian official says Tehran will release one of three Americans that it has detained for more than a year. The Iranian mission to the UN says Sarah Shourd will be released, quote, "very soon." The Americans have been accused of espionage.

Afghanistan has long been a battlefield for strategic maneuvering between countries both near and for. The country is at the crossroads of central and south Asia, and is a vital link to some of its resource-rich neighbors. To the west, it shares a border with Iran, as well as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both of which have vast resources of oil, gas, and coal.

Tajikistan is to the north. To the east, it borders China, Pakistan, and India-controlled Kashmir. It's on this frontier that some of the most intense gambits are currently being played out.

India and Pakistan are in a fight for favor with Kabul. A little earlier, I spoke with two experts on the subject. Akbar Ahmed is the chair of Islamic studies at the University -- American University in Washington. And Shashi Tharoor is the former Indian minister for external affairs. We began by talking about the motive behind India's huge investments in Afghanistan.


SHASHI THAROOR, FORMER EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER OF INDIA: If Kabul has 24 hours of electricity today, it's because Indian engineers were brave enough to construct power lines at 3,000 meters height to bring that electricity to Kabul.

We've constructed roads, we've repaired hospitals, we've set up clinics, we have created schools for girls, and we are in the process of building the Afghan parliament. So everything we're doing is about helping Afghan -- people in Afghan society. We have no political, military, or other aspirations in Afghanistan, unlike, I'm sorry to say, our neighbors across the border.

AKBAR AHMED, ISLAMIC STUDIES CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The political, diplomatic consulates that India has along the eastern border of Afghanistan, which means on Pakistan's western border and, therefore, in a sense, almost overlooking Pakistan.

And Pakistan has been saying, "Why do we need these diplomatic consulate offices right along our borders? Is it to infiltrate, is it to create trouble across the border for us? Is it to play this local variant of the Great Game and, therefore, attempt to destabilize Pakistan? These are questions being asked in Pakistan.

THAROOR: What Pakistan tends to do, I'm afraid, because of the extraordinary influence of the military in their country, is to invent the bogey of an Indian threat in order to justify their own military's rather extravagant use of their nation's pitiable resources. It's a rather sad story.

There is no threat from India, for the simple reason that Pakistan has absolutely nothing that India wants.

AHMED: The army of Pakistan is always conscious that if it confronts India on the eastern flank, and if it has to fall back, it needs what it calls strategic reserve. Strategic depth. And that depth would be provided by Afghanistan.


ANDERSON: Well, either way, the United States sees Pakistan as being central in achieving peace and stability in the region. American special envoy Richard Holbrooke met with leaders in all three countries recently. And on his way back to Washington, he passed through London, and I spoke to him here about the role the India-Pakistan relationship plays in the Afghanistan conflict.


RICHARD HOLBROOKE, US SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: Here's a country which -- in which both India and Pakistan have interests. And unless those interests can be brought into symmetry, and that symmetry aligned with the Afghans, this war could go on indefinitely. So it has to be addressed.

India and Pakistan and the United States, for the first time since 1947, for the first time since partition and independence, have a common enemy, a common challenge, a common threat. And we need to make common cause.


ANDERSON: Richard Holbrooke. Don't go away. Our special on Afghanistan, the Road Ahead continues with a look at how women are becoming empowered through education. And going forward, what the future may hold for women in this war-ravage country. This is a special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson in London. Please stay with us.



UNIDENTIFED MALE (through translator): My name is Parwaz (ph), and I hope Afghanistan can become a peaceful country in the future. And our big concern is in security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): During the past eight years, President Karzai promised many things, but he did nothing. I'm 20 years old, I shouldn't be working, but due to the bad economic condition, my sister, my mother, and I all have to work to pay for our expenses.


ANDERSON: All right. You're hearing voices there from Afghanistan. Some call it gender apartheid, what females under Taliban rule were forced to endure. From dress code to mobility, employment, and education, they were systematically discriminated against, marginalized, controlled, and restricted.

Now, almost a decade has passed since the Taliban were driven from power, and women are finally regaining their voice in society. CNN's Jill Dougherty takes a look at an education program helping to bring about a little empowerment.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a training laboratory for midwives in Herat, western Afghanistan, students prepare for an emergency. A breech delivery. In a remote village, this baby might die, and so might its mother. According to the UN, Afghanistan has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world after Niger.

Twenty-three-year-old Farzona Osmani (ph) knows just how deadly childbirth can be for women in her country. "During the time of the Taliban," she says, "we lived in a very distant village. A woman was extremely sick, but we didn't have a nurse there. Someone said, 'if we don't take her to a doctor, she'll die within two hours.' But we couldn't find any nurses or midwives. She died, and her baby died, too."

Farzona (ph) resolved to become a midwife and work in small villages. She's now a second-year student in the Midwifery Education Program, funded by the US Agency for International Development.

"Too many women lose their lives every day," she tells me. Nine years ago, under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work outside the home or to receive an education. Then, there were only 400 midwives in all of Afghanistan.

Now, there are 2400. But the acting minister of health tells me Afghanistan needs to almost triple that number. And she hopes to do that within the next three years.

SURAYA DALIL, ACTING MINISTER OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Maternal mortality is not solely a health issue. It's a developmental issue, it's an economic issue, it's a social issue.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Six hundred fifty young women now are involved in the midwife program. Some have a high school education, others left school at 14 or 15. They all must master techniques that can save the lives of women giving birth and their babies. They learn health care basics, like hand washing, crucial in a country where many people lack knowledge of hygiene.

If a mother dies in childbirth, her child often dies, too. The health minister says every hour in Afghanistan, 15 infants die. So these student midwives often learn how to recognize and prevent diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria. They learn computers and study English.

Agito Amine (ph) is 20 years old. She's about to complete her first semester. Like many of her classmates, she thinks Afghanistan's sky-high maternal mortality rate is just one of countless challenges facing women in her country.

"Someone has to start helping our women," she says. "They were deprived, and they still are deprived. We need to do something for them. They don't know anything about their rights."

In two years or less, these young students will be helping women in cities and villages across this war-ravaged country to bring new lives into the world. They'll be professionals with valuable skills in a nation where even now, most women are unable to get an education or a career.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): Under the Taliban, women couldn't even work. And now, they can. How does it change their lives?

DALIL: Tremendous. It's a tremendous change. It's a tremendous change. Those girls, those women that you have seen, will be a role model in their communities.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Bringing change to the most vulnerable women of Afghanistan at a time they need it most. Jill Dougherty, CNN, Herat, Afghanistan.


ANDERSON: We want to take a look now at a face which has come to represent the plight of Afghanistan's women. This is Bibi Aisha, a young wife who was left to die after her ears and nose were cut off by her husband. Well, Bibi says her mutilation was an act of Taliban justice for the crime of shaming her husband's family. But this wasn't ten years ago. This all just happened last year.

Our Atia Abawi met 19-year-old Bibi in January and following her progress as she flew off to the US for reconstructive surgery seven months later. Well, the UN estimates that nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan's women face some sort of domestic abuse. This in a country where there are fewer than a dozen women's shelters.

Let's bring back Atia Abawi, who is standing by in Kabul. As you saw just then, Atia was the reporter who told Bibi Aisha's tragic story. I know Bibi's now in the States. What do we know of how the surgery has gone?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, I do keep in touch with Bibi. I -- actually, when I was back in the States, I talked to her on a daily basis. And the surgery hasn't happened yet. They're waiting for her to really adjust to the American lifestyle.

She went from a culture shock, coming from Oruzgan province to the city of Kabul. And she was here for several months, made a family with the women's shelter here. She was ripped apart from there, and took -- taken to America. She wanted to go to America, but right now, it's taking time to adjust.

And the doctors are waiting until she adjusts. It's going to be too much of a mental strain at the moment to go through such a process with the surgery. So, it's going to take time but, hopefully -- and I'm sure all over the world, there are people that are praying for her, and I think what she would want right now is for those prayers to continue.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. You wrote in your blog back in August of this year that, and I quote, "I was reminded that this free-spirited young woman was born in a society where, for women, freedom of expression and freedom from abuse is a rarity." Will things get any better any time soon?

ABAWI: Becky, I wish I could say yes. The most heartbreaking thing for me when I go and see the women out here, when I see them in the villages, I can't even tell you how much it breaks your heart.

And if I can get a little personal here, my parents left Afghanistan back in the early 80s during the Soviet invasion. I was raised in America, I had an opportunity. And here I am now, reporting for CNN. I was able to express myself, I was able to get an education.

And when I come back here, I'm just shocked, and I'm hurt by the fact that there's so many young girls, there's so many women who can't do that. They're stuck. They're stuck in a prison. One woman compared it to a cage.

And when you do get to talk to these women one-on-one, when they open up to you over tea and cookies, you see that coming out. And you feel really guilty that you have a different life from their lives. The life that they want. They want that freedom, they want an education, they want to work, and they want to help their families.

ANDERSON: Will the forthcoming elections make any difference?

ABAWI: Everyone hopes they will. I can tell you right now, with the Afghan people here, they're very much so disenchanted. They don't think that any kind of political process will make a difference right now. They've seen it before, they've heard the promises before, they are -- they think that it will -- it will not happen.

And as Haroon Mir in that story earlier that you played mentioned, their fear right now is abandonment. They do think that the international community, for the most part, they do think, they can help them. If they build schools, if they build roads, given the opportunity. But right now, they're really afraid that the international community will leave and then, they're going to be here to suffer the consequences on whomever may take over. Whether it be warlords, whether it be the Taliban or another insurgent group.

ANDERSON: Atia Abawi in Kabul. Atia, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

We've been looking at Afghanistan's past and present. Up next, let's take a look at the future, shall we? Can we be optimistic about the road ahead in this war-ravaged nation? Get online at An online debate going on that you are more than welcome to join. We'll check in with that after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching a special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Ask many experts about Afghanistan's future, and there seems to be a common answer. CNN's Nic Robertson now on the big fear going forward.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With every fallen soldier, patience in Britain with the Afghan war thins. A conflict already longer than World War II, and results for a public back home, hard to discern.

ROBERTSON (on camera): British Prime Minister David Cameron says he expects all British combat forces to be back home within five years. And US president Barack Obama says he expects US forces to begin a drawdown next July. The NATO endgame draws closer. But what of Afghanistan's future?

BOB SHEPHERD, AUTHOR, "THE INFIDEL": My impression of the endgame is, sadly, all-out civil war. Now, the Afghans on all sides, they will tell you that.

MICHAEL SEMPLE, FORMER DIPLOMAT: There is an extreme risk of reigniting a civil war in Afghanistan. This is not just a fight between the United States and the international community versus the Taliban. This is very much a struggle between different parts of Afghan society.

RORY STEWART, BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: In the worst-case scenario, what you would find is those two groups coming against each other and fighting, probably, for control of the country.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Three experts. Stewart, a British MP, with a decade of close-up Afghan experience. Semple, a former aid worker turned diplomat, 20 Afghan years. And Shepherd, a soldier turned writer. All share the same fear, a civil war that predates the 9/11 attacks reigniting.

Through the 1990s, the Taliban fought from their stronghold, in the ethnic Pashtun south. By 2001, taking control of all but a tiny sliver of Afghanistan, controlled by the northern alliance. When it came to ousting the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies, US forces teamed up with the northern alliance.

SHEPHERD: We in the west went into a situation and took one side of a civil war that's been festering for 30-odd years now. And, sadly, their are forces in the south and east of the country are trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, who are actually on the other side of the civil war.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Semple and Stewart think civil war can be avoided.

STEWART: I think the reason to be hopeful is the Taliban are not in that strong a position. And they need to recognize that.

SEMPLE: When you sit down and talk with some of the more pragmatic and sensible Taliban about what they are -- what they expect to be able to come into the political system, it's a fairly short list. And it's, perhaps, not even that intimidating. It almost leaves you wondering what's all the fighting about?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): I saw a hint of that this summer when meeting a former top Taliban official, who seemed ready for compromise.

MULLAH ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, FORMER TALIBAN AMBASSADOR: Now America, they have a right from Afghanistan that the territory they are formerly on will not be used against America. They should ask for this right.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Not to be used as a base for attack on the United States.

ZAEEF: The Taliban, and the people of Afghanistan, too, they have to guarantee that.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Stewart and Shepherd remain skeptical.

STEWART: They're not sitting back on their heels. They don't seem to be saying, "The president said he's going to leave in a few months time, the British say they're going to leave in 2015, we'll just sit back and do nothing." They seem to be trying to fight it every step of the way.

SHEPHERD: If I was the Taliban, I would be hell-bent on getting back to Kabul.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Political power?

SHEPHERD: Political power.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Semple thinks President Obama's message of drawdown has hardcore Taliban focusing on their own endgame.

SEMPLE: To construct a narrative which says that if we can just keep the pressure on for one more year, we will, indeed, force the Americans out.

STEWART: We show the Taliban that they're not going to be able to take the country. We probably show them that the international community may be reducing its combat troops, but it's likely to have a light, long- term presence.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): An endgame where, at best, the government makes peace and shares Taliban or, at worst, the country heads for bloody division. And all the while, British, US, and other NATO troops are caught in the middle. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: So, in the weeks, months, and years ahead, can we be hopeful for Afghanistan? Earlier, I spoke to opposition leader and former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. I put to him that may commentators are pessimistic about the country's future and believe that, come what may, civil war is on the cards. Here's his reaction to that view.


ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I would say that, if the situation continues as it is and a thorough review is not done and lessons are not drawn from the mistakes of the past, that's the same issue. But I'm not disappointed. Still, we can save it, provided that we defer to the people of Afghanistan, which are the main stakeholders in this.

We're in a situation where the people are disenfranchised and they are alienated by a corrupt regime and administration and lack of sense of direction on the Afghan side. That's, unfortunately, the scenario that it seems.

ANDERSON: You are no fan of Hamid Karzai, you've made that clear. He seems intent on forging ahead with what he calls peace talks. How much confidence do you have that talking to the Taliban is the way forward?

ABDULLAH: I would say that, unfortunately, Mr. Karzai has lost sense of direction. When he says that he's talking to the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan are confused.

Who are those people which he wants to talk to? What is the goal, and what's the process, and is it to take Afghanistan back to the old days, where Afghanistan became, as a result of Taliban hold in some parts of the county. They help follow al Qaeda. What is it? Is it to reverse all the achievements of the past nine years? The people are confused. And so, it has distanced the people further and further from the current regime in Afghanistan.


ANDERSON: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Now, throughout the show, we've been holding a live, online debate on Hundreds of you have taken part, even soldiers serving right now in Afghanistan are sharing your views with us, and we thank you for those. We're going to hear from some of you coming up next.



ANDERSON: This is your show, of course. I want to get your e-mails, your comments, and your tweets, now, about the war in Afghanistan for this special show, Afghanistan, the Road Ahead. Our digital producer, Phil Han, has been following your debate online and joins me now. Phil?

PHIL HAN, CNN DIGITAL PRODUCER: We've been holding a live, online debate on this topic, and we've been getting hundreds of comments from people all over the world. And the discussion has received lots of very passionate and sometimes even heated viewpoints.

Now, interestingly, we've been getting lots of comments from current soldiers, as well as veterans of the war, and even they are on both sides of this debate.

Gomez wrote, "I'm a member of the military, and I say the war is warranted and worth the fight." An American soldier named Eric, he's written in to say that he's in Afghanistan right now, and "Since when did we forget what we are still fighting for? Try supporting those of us who are trying to do the right thing by supporting our country."

But another solider named SGM H wrote, "No, the war is not worth it. We have painted ourselves into a corner, leaving no way out." And PJB, a soldier who fought in Afghanistan in 2008, simply writes, "I, to this day, believe that this war is not worth it. Period."

We're also getting messages from the wives of many of these soldiers who say that they are paying the heaviest toll. Dawn Ramsay wrote, "As an army wife, I suggest you ask the wives, children, and families of the deceased soldiers. We pay the ultimate cost."

But one of the biggest questions, whether it was right to go to war in Afghanistan in the first place. The responses have varied greatly. Lord Pet writes, "It's a question of necessity, not worth. We obviously needed to invade to get al Qaeda. I don't see room for debate here." And Maybe Ben writes, "This war should not have taken the better part of a decade. No, no way. It should have done -- been done with far less time, cost, and casualties."

We've also been getting lots of comments via Becky's Twitter, which is @beckycnn, and I want to read to you just a few of those right now. Daniel Leto in London's tweeted to Becky, "It's not worth it, wasting too much money and too many lives." Keira from New York's written, "On 9/11, it made all the sense in the world. Now it seems pointless and exhausting."

But this comment, from someone named Lillian is most interesting. "Our opinion is worthless. You should ask the Afghan people."

And you can still have your voice heard just by visiting our website. It's Or you can tweet Becky @beckycnn.

ANDERSON: Thank you, sir. Phil Han for you there in the digital space.

Amid all of the turmoil in Afghanistan, there's one place locals can set up an oasis of normalcy. It's the country's one and only golf course. The fairways are covered with stones, the greens are closer to the browns. The clubhouse is a little worse for wear after being bombed by the Taliban because it used to sell alcohol. And as for the divots, they are rather large, being remnants of landmine explosions.

But while it may not be ready to host a PGA tour just yet, for the Afghan golfers, the Kabul Golf Club provides hope of greener pastures ahead.

We couldn't leave you on a down note. Thank you for watching our special show on Afghanistan -- Afghanistan, the Road Ahead. We'll be back tomorrow with regular programming here on CONNECT THE WORLD. For now, it's "BackStory" with Michael Holmes.