Marzieh Hashemi: American geologists say Afghanistan is filled with minerals, from iron ore, lithium, to gold and much more. The values of the minerals are said to be estimated at around a trillion dollars. . . . Would a mineral-rich Afghanistan affect the way that the United States is running its war machine there?
Dilip Hiro: If it’s a question of the American program, there are two parts to it. One is that the United States, the Pentagon, wants to have a big fight with the Taliban — they are sure that they are strong on the battlefield — and then they want to talk to Taliban as the weak party. That’s the first assumption — that’s the way the whole thing is built. Secondly, at the same time, Obama, when he said he would send extra 33,000 troops, also said that the US would start withdrawing its troops, slowly of course, from July 2011. Now, that’s where the problem has come in, because the first assumption, that the Pentagon forces are going to weaken Taliban, establish themselves as the superior party on the battlefield, is not working out. Very simple. In February of this year, the NATO forces, along with the US forces, captured Marjah, the town of Marjah, which has a population of only 55,000; they deployed 15,000 troops; they were able to expel the Taliban, who fought a while and then left; and they said, OK, now this is clear and we’re holding it and this is going to be the model. This is the first one . . . and that’s what we are going to do on a bigger scale in the second largest city of Afghanistan, Kandahar, which has a three-quarter million population. But I’m afraid that particular plan has not worked out, because by now, that is early June, you really have Taliban back in Marjah: by day, it’s the Western forces, the US forces, which are in control; at night, it’s the Taliban which are in control. Therefore, the whole idea, which was put out again in February of this year, that we, the NATO, and the advanced and increased US forces, are together going to go in and capture Kandahar completely, expel the Taliban, and show that they are not going to win on the battlefield, that particular plan has collapsed. . . . The whole American strategy to send in themselves on the battlefield militarily to be able to put down their conditions . . . is falling apart.
Marzieh Hashemi: Mr. Hiro, let me turn to our next guest, Mr. Sabir Siddiqi. . . . How do you see it, Mr. Siddiqi, the recent announcement of massive minerals being in Afghanistan? If it is true, what would it exactly mean for Afghanistan?
Sabir Siddiqi: First, it is good news for Afghans if you look at it from one angle, but, from the other angle, it puts Afghanistan on the spot. Money and power of regional and international players may compete over Afghanistan. . . . But there is some important question: why this report, at this juncture of time? Is the West going to announce and send it to some countries that are going to withdraw their soldiers, call back their soldiers, from Afghanistan? Or do they want to put pressure on the Taliban: that this country is rich, and we and our allies will remain here? These questions should be answered because releasing this type of report at this juncture of time can be dangerous for Afghanistan.
Marzieh Hashemi: What’s your take on it, Mr. Siddiqi. You posed the question that I will repose to you. What is your take on why it has been released at this point in time, because . . . [such] reports [on minerals in Afghanistan] . . . go back as far as Marco Polo time. So, why now is this information being released in your perspective?
Sabir Siddiqi: One possibility can be that they are trying to cover their failures and trying to divert the public opinion from failures in the war to the economy issues . . . . And they may test the trust of the powers in Afghanistan by announcing, releasing, this report, and see what happens: who will remain with them in Afghanistan?
Dilip Hiro is a writer and playwright. His most recent book is Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran. Sabir Siddiqi is a political analyst. Marzieh Hashemi, who was born in New Orleans and moved to Iran in 2008, is a reporter for Press TV. This interview was released by Press TV on YouTube on 16 June 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview.