‘US hasn’t turned a blind eye to cross-border terror’

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Robert Grenier
Robert Grenier, Former CIA officer Photo: Ishan Tankha

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Why did the US invade Afghanistan?

Before 9/11, there was no serious debate about sending US forces to Afghanistan, though there was a report linking Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to the two US embassy bombings in 1998 and we knew that they were planning another attack. When 9/11 happened, all that changed. It was so shockingly devastating that the US government was determined to not only ensure that al Qaeda never struck the US again but also do something about the entire phenomenon of terrorism.

With the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan around the corner, you recently said that not much has changed in the past decade.

When we went into Afghanistan, a civil war was going on. The Taliban was in control of 90 percent of the country and there was no effective opposition. Now, we have a government in Kabul that is not inclined to provide a safe haven to terrorists. But we haven’t really gotten very far in addressing the core US policy concerns. Because much of the country is not under the government’s effective control, the Taliban holds sway in many areas. Some say that the Taliban would not be willing to host terrorists, but I have seen no such indication. So things have not changed all that much.

How can you justify trampling upon someone else’s space?

I don’t think anyone can ignore the circumstances. In a sense, Afghanistan under the Taliban was a primitive and lawless country that was being used as a base for terrorists. We needed to do whatever it takes to sort it out.

Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan. The US has a track record of poking its nose into others’ business.

Iraq is an interesting case because the Saddam Hussein regime had been placed under UN sanctions. The global community saw Iraq as a threat, primarily because of its WMDs. There was a perception in the US that the UN has taken this unprecedented action and the Iraqis have not complied, so the presumption was that they still had WMDs or had the capability to reconstitute them. Washington’s perception was that, even if no one else would uphold the letter of the UN law, we have important national interests there and we will do it. But should the US be arrogating this kind of responsibility for itself? We would be very cautious about doing that again in the foreseeable future. So, in Libya and Syria, the Obama regime eschewed a direct military role.

America’s reasons for invading Afghanistan and Iraq stack up against Pakistan as well. Are you turning a blind eye because they hold the key to the Taliban?

Our relationship with Pakistan has been a complex one. We did turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons in the 1980s because we needed Pakistan as a platform to force the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, it has become necessary for the US and Pakistan to work together but that cooperation has not been across the board. Pakistan is concerned that India could use Afghanistan as a platform to move a hostile agenda. Our ties with Pakistan are borne out of similar interests, but it isn’t fair to say that the US has turned a blind eye to cross-border terrorism.

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