Aijaz Ahmad: The Obama administration has already made two — in my view — very dangerous decisions. One is to send 17,000 more troops right away. And even more dangerous and disastrous in the long term, I believe, is the decision to arm large numbers of militias in various provinces where the Taliban are active. These actions will only destabilize and create a situation much worse for the people of Afghanistan and would make the solution even much more difficult.
Sharmini Peries: Aijaz, what about the strategic review that Obama is calling for?
Aijaz Ahmad: I have a view that would in the United States be considered extreme, which is that, for the last thirty years, starting with the original US intervention in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1979-80, the United States has done enormous damage in both these countries. All of this so-called “Islamic terrorism,” Al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc., etc. are the consequence of that. Because I hold that view, I believe that the strategic review should be devoted to one objective and one alone: how to execute an orderly retreat, for the United States, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, from this kind of engagement, without doing a lot more harm. . . .
Sharmini Peries: So, Aijaz, what you are essentially suggesting here is a slow, thoughtful retreat from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and essentially the region. Obviously this would mean a great deal of savings for the United States Treasury and perhaps might be welcome on the part of the people of the United States who is experiencing an extreme depression in the country.
Aijaz Ahmad: My advice is just get out. One possible way of doing it would be to actually constitute some sort of a conference, some sort of a joint group of regional powers which have great interest in containing Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan, such as Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, and of course India which has great interest in Afghanistan of a different kind, not the kind that Mr. Holbrooke is talking about, Al Qaeda and so on. India would like to see a stable Afghanistan as would all the other countries. But that would involve normalizing relations with Iran, that would involve bringing in Russia as a partner, to work out a solution of that kind — for the United States to retreat and basically hand it over to forces inside Afghanistan, inside Pakistan, and create this kind of regional force to sort out what sort of settlement can now be made, to give the United States the cover to retreat.
Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad is a senior editorial consultant for the Indian magazine Frontline and the author of In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures, Lineages of the Present: Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia, and In Our Time: Empire, Politics, Culture among other books. This program was broadcast by The Real News on 8 March 2008. The text above is a partial transcript of the interview.