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Q+A: Panel response to James Fergusson interview

Published: 6:34PM Sunday October 03, 2010 Source: Q+A

Panel response to JAMES FERGUSSON interview

PAUL Welcome back to Q + A. Jennifer Curtin, Helen Kelly and Ron Mark are our panel this morning. Let's have a look at what James Fergusson said straight away.

 James Fergusson: I don't think it's winnable militarily. The thing is that the soldiers themselves, the military will always tell you there can be no purely military solution.

PAUL There you go. Wrong strategy, you see. There can be no purely military solution. Do you agree with that?

RON Oh, absolutely. I mean, what needs to be clarified is the political objectives. And around that, the strategy will have to include dialogue and negotiation. Very little is known in this country about the Omani War and the rebellions and how that was dealt with, but the British have proven themselves to be very good - very good - at understanding exactly at what point these conflicts need to enter negotiations, discussions, and when you need to start negotiating with the other side.

PAUL As Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

RON Absolutely.

PAUL That's what he decided about Afghanistan.

ROB And the mistake the Americans made when they went into Iraq is they turned down and ignored much of the advice that was given to them by the British commanders as to how they should be engaging in Iraq. And some would argue that that took a lot longer for them to understand.

PAUL That's a very good point that he made, Jennifer, isn't it, that we may have made a big mistake in the West by combining in our minds Taliban being Al Qaeda.

JENNIFER Yeah.

PAUL That they're one and the same things.

JENNIFER And Al Qaeda's really difficult to get a handle on. It's very cell-based and it's across a number of countries, not just Afghanistan. But I think here the political solution, alongside the military one is really important. And it's not surprising that Afghan people have come in behind the Taliban to some extent, because not only are civilians being killed with the occupation, but their economy is hopeless, the puppet government's corrupt. So unless the civilian get in behind&

PAUL No, there's a couple of things quite wrong. I mean, if the Afghani people don't believe that Karzai is the government, if they think that one day we're going to quit and go, they'll eventually say, 'Well, the Taliban are us anyway. We'll try and improve them.'

HELEN They've also got to sort out the Middle East question. They can't sort any of these things out in isolation of the other. And actually there will always be this type of conflict breaking out all over the place, unless the political strategy across the whole of the region in terms of the attitude to Israel and Palestine and Iraq - all of those things being sorted out as part of that dialogue will be the long-term solution.

PAUL Well, I see Netanyahu, of course, is allowing settlements to go ahead again, and he's taken the wraps off that. No, no, it's pretty hopeless, isn't it? But I don't see the point of even being in Afghanistan. There may have been a point when they were sheltering Osama bin Laden.

HELEN Well, I didn't agree with the invasion of Afghanistan. I think the most interesting thing about that interview was, really, this has been a legacy of missed opportunities in this country to provide a better base for the people that live there, and a sceptic would say that's never been the intention.

JENNIFER This is a country that has oil. We have to think about the geo-politics of this. This is a country that's been relentlessly occupied, not just by US and the coalition forces&

PAUL It doesn't have oil, but it has minerals.

JENNIFER Well, there's oil pipelines that the US were involved in building. I mean, they're a strategically useful place to be involved in.

PAUL Right. He speaks more in his book about the role of the Pakistani ISI - that notorious, vastly funded security service in Pakistan, and how they, very much in the early years particularly, funded the Taliban.

RON Yeah. I think the bigger picture that we need to stop and think about - when I say 'we', I mean the Western world - is how we engage with some of these people. We don't have a very good track record. The support of a corrupt regime in Vietnam led to where it ended. The support of a corrupt regime in Iraq led to where it ended. Supporting the Shah and then suddenly withdrawing all support from the Shah led to what we have and the rise of the Ayatollah in Iran. And we've got to stop and ask ourselves& It is all very well and fine for us as Western nations to get on our high horses and start arguing about human rights, civil liberties, democracy, one vote per person and freely elected governments. Our eyes don't actually understand what we see when we look into their country, and that's the very point he's making. And we need to stop asserting ourselves over them.

PAUL But the difficulty I have& We're going to move on to the week ahead.  The difficulty I have is that it's all very well saying we're going to have dialogue with the Taliban, but why would the Taliban talk to us? They're winning. They just want us to go, and they know we want to go.
Time to look at the week ahead. What story are you looking at this coming week?

HELEN Well, clearly this is a big week in local-government elections, and there'll be lots playing out of that - people trying increase the turnout, people trying to get people to vote - and obviously this coming weekend we'll see the results, and I think that's the big story. And then the supercity analysis will be begin - did the government get what it wanted, and how could it have handled it better? Cos it certainly doesn't want Len Brown as mayor. I do, but it doesn't, and that will be interesting.

PAUL Jennifer?

JENNIFER Same story, really - you know, Auckland becoming a supercity. Although I was in Wellington this week and saw a beautiful sign that said, 'We're already a super city.'

PAUL Very good. And Ron?

RON Well, obviously we've got school holidays, we've got a parliamentary recess, and we've got local-government elections, and I'll get to find out whether I am the mayor of Carterton or not. But, you know, something totally off the radar.

PAUL Hurry up, though.

RON Maori economy entities are having their annual general meetings all over the country. They represent $27 billion of this nation's economy, and I haven't seen much going on in the media about what they're reporting.

PAUL Fair enough.

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