May 21st, 2009
11:56 PM ET

Amanpour: 'It's time to get serious'

Program Note: Tune in to hear more from Christiane Amanpour on the challenges facing President Obama tonight on an AC360° special, "Extreme Challenges: The Next 100 days," at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/20/afghan.airstrike/art.graves.afp.gi.jpg caption="Villagers sit near the graves of victims of airstrikes in Garni, in western Farah province in Afghanistan."]

Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

President Obama’s biggest challenge will be Afghanistan and Pakistan. He wants to beat back the militants, but all the U.S. commanders and officers I have talked to say that cannot be done by bombs and bullets alone. It must happen in tandem with development and promise of a decent life for ordinary Afghans. The most recent Gallup poll from Afghanistan shows people put their economic woes above all others, including security.

The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan must find a way to battle militants without causing the massive civilian casualties that are dangerously draining support for the U.S. mission and the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The latest poll shows only 1 percent support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to take advantage of that low figure and win hearts and minds.

Across the border, one possible positive side-effect of Pakistan’s offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups, is that it keeps them from pouring over into Afghanistan.

I wish I could persuade others of the vital necessity of nation-building. For some inexplicable reason most American journalists and politicians consider it a dirty word. And yet, wherever you look, successful counterinsurgencies come with successful development strategies.

Take Colombia, the big-bad insurgent narco-state of Latin America. It has practically been transformed over the past few years, by a two-pronged strategy of fighting and clearing the FARC anti-government rebels, followed by building roads, schools, and providing health care for the population. To get rid of the cocaine, they did not just tear up the coca bushes and leave, they provided alternative crops. In other words, the government is trying to provide the people with an alternative economy.

People complain that the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for eight years with little to show. The truth is the U.S. effort has been haphazard and incoherent during most of that time. It is now time to get serious, knowing that a stable and secure Afghanistan in the middle of that volatile region is vital.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Gwen

    Dear AC360 – I am one of your most dedicated fans. I am asking that you stop showing the Abu Ghraib pictures. We have all seen them enough times. I don't see any other purpose for re-surfacing and showing the pictures now other than to give our enemies fuel and propaganda. This is especially important to me at a time when our soldiers are constantly in harms way. I'm sure you can find other backgrounds to illustrate your stories on torture. Please, please, please stop showing the pictures.

    May 22, 2009 at 8:14 am |
  2. sonia from ga

    anderson i can't beleive that you allowed cheny whats her name to totaly disrespect you and shut you up she took over your show and shut you up. it was obvious that she was lieing out of her teeth. her or cheny are yesterday's news. its funny when president bush was president you could say nothing wrong about him because you were disrespecting the commander and chief . oh but when they don't even want to say his name or aknowledge president obama as president then it's a good thing that we debate.. please give me a break .. its obvious that cheny is trying to defocus off the illegall and sorry job he did as vice president ... the amercian people has spoken deal with it . oh and who is newt gingrch a former klul kluz klan that 's afriad to run for president because he knows he cant he is the giant of his dreams...

    May 22, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  3. J.V.Hodgson

    Totally agree with this. It is a hearts and minds issue in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq if those democracies are to survive "after "military intervention by the US ends in any of those territories.
    The one thing I worry about is the incessant desire of American political actions and in many cases media commentary, that all of those people holding extreme views of the Islamic faith must be eliminated, and that sharia law must not be allowed. Western human rights groups are overstepping the mark in some respects.
    Unless those political actions and opinions and media support go away, none of those wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan will ever end.
    Theres hope in Iraq as shiite, sunni muslims will rule overall.
    A major step forward in my opinion is for America to help Islamicists codify the interpretation of Sharia law ,by sect if necessary,Sunni, shiite, Wahabbi's etc and not leave it to individual Immans as is often the case in what are very often in all three nations "TRIBAL" in many respects.

    May 22, 2009 at 6:08 am |
  4. jerry massi

    Christiane Amanpour says President Obama’s biggest challenge will be Afghanistan and Pakistan. He wants to beat back the militants, but all the U.S. commanders and officers I have talked to say that cannot be done by bombs and bullets alone. The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan must find a way to battle militants without causing the massive civilian casualties that are dangerously draining support for the U.S. mission.
    I remember dear Christiane you don’t have any worry about the civilian casualties when USA bomb SERBIA. To the contrary you keep asking for more bombs and accusing SERBIA authority for Propaganda. Did you remember, perra ?

    May 22, 2009 at 5:44 am |
  5. Jim


    You are right. You cannot win against an insurgency if you bomb innocent civilians. We need the right weapons. And our best weapon is to show the populace that we are for them–for a better life for them. I think they will respond to that. But we haven't shown them that yet. Hopefully the new commander will get the support in Washington and Kabul to make that happen. You also do not win by having laws in a country that legalizes the rape of a wife–you lose American support. So both the Afghan and American governments must support a win-the-hearts-and-minds strategy–both for Afghans and Americans. It will take time. But remember where Al Queda planned and executed the attack against America. We need to win in Afghanistan.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:14 am |
  6. Dave from Canada

    Actually Mike from NYC is not about 'Central Asian energy supplies" it is about Islamic extremism,it is about ideology whether you support our efforts at reforming Afghanistan or not.

    It is about little girls who gets acid or boiling water thrown in her face because she attends school. Imagine that! A female who is seeking and education! Further more a child! Outrageous! It is about this and more...and yes Mike from NYC it is our business and it has been since 4 planes broke through a quite September morning back in 2001.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  7. Sean

    See the movie "Charlie Wilson's War"?

    Last two minutes covered the problem we have had from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Lebanon. There is a reason that immigrants stream into the USA. Everyone wants stability, safety and economic opportunity. If we can't help them get it at home, the smart ones will try to come here. (And like a lifeboat, we can't take everyone in)....


    May 21, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Russell


    It is well past time that your round table of so-called experts include a few folks on occasion from the middle and southern fly over states to be part of the dialogue... One look at the same folks over and over (Fayeed, Gergin, Christianne,, etc) and one could write the script of answer, etc prior to the round table discussion. Same old, defined and group think of these continous guests.... It is a though, no one else in the USA can or should be included on these many dicussions for a more well balanced and differing view points ...

    May 21, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  9. lorraine


    You are exactly correct – people need security and peace in their lives and are willing to do anything. Jesus knew that peace was the answer over violence – help the people have respect, incomes, food and safety for their children and they will drive out the terrorists. Lets help the people and they will destroy the terrorists. War has not gotten us anywhere except more killing – nation building is the answer. How do we convince our US government to try this plan – how can an ordinary American who was against the Irag war do anything to influence our congress to help support such a plan. If we do not we will have another vietnam and a greater threat to our security.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:30 pm |
  10. Yazan

    I think that you have to understand the mindset and the level of intellect that a normal Afghan has. Warlords are being voted to the Afghan parliament not because people like warlords, it is because people are illiterate and they don't even know that they are entitled to certain rights from the government. More precisely: When people elect the majority don't even know what elections mean. They don't know that the person they elect is their advocate and representative....

    My point is: Democracy only works in highly educated societies.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  11. Timothy Andersson

    During Pakistan and Taliban issue I noticed that Mr. Farid Zakaria was completely out of focus as he was not in the garden as compared to other participants. Mr. Zakaria is thinking that United States is bestowing money to Pakistan like flowing water which is not true the fact is that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches and only the people of Pakistan know how to combat Taliban and American-Aid has got different meaning in the local population with no trust. I got shocked how such a learned man Farid Zakria was so biased in his opinion. Pashtoun never thought that Punjabis are or will take their space. Even Anderson noticed that Mr. Zakaria was talking with complexity. I believe that all other participants talked to the point to solve the matter. We need to think that Talibans are fully backed and supported by other hostile countries against the United States interest. The biggest question is where the Talibans are getting their FUNDINGS and we need to uproot that.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  12. Russell

    National election was approx. 53% to 47% ... hardly a huge major mandate by the American people for Obma. If Hilary Clinton had not misread the caucaus stgaes at teh front end of primary, she would have been the party's nominee and most likely US President today. Huge miscalculation by the Clinton's on discounting the all day long caucaus in Iowa, etc. where young, college people could and were recruited by Obma group to stay and filibuster the caucaus votes and win those states , although while- towards the end Hillary dominating the states where it was secret voting that she won almost every state and falling just short for the nomination ...

    May 21, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  13. Sarah, Richmond, VA

    Considering that we haven't really been there for 8 years with a true focus, this is just another example of a Bush/Cheney mess which we have to overcome and start with a new perspective on what is going to work and stay focused and clean up the horrible corruption which is happening within the government.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  14. Russell

    Now, they want to justify "nation building" when they were literally going crazy under the same Afghaniststan/Iraq/Pakistan approach by Pres. Bush. Can we call this what is is, since their man in now President ..... call it a 180 degreee chage from their political/campagin rhetoric to today's reality check of actual governing. Hypocrisy for the Dems/Liberals was and currently as was expected.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  15. denese Winchester

    Christian and this Fareed guy seems to have a better understanding of whatt happening in Afghan and Pakistan. Maybe they can become advisors to the politicians,

    May 21, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  16. DawnL,CA

    The Afghans need hope for a better life. They have had it rough-Russians & Taliban.Help them build roads, schools, electricity which will give them jobs. Stop throwing our money around without getting a return. Education & the internet will allow them to see into a future for their country.

    May 21, 2009 at 7:05 pm |
  17. Kathryn

    Ms. Armanpour;
    I think that your piece is quite clear and fundamentally sound. I have some questions for you, that may be unusual for a journalist; however, your work and the breadth of your knowledge justifies them in my mind.
    1) What can the ordinary average US citizen do to improve the situation–in a positive, progressive way–for the people in Afghanistan, both at home and oversees
    2) What messages should we be sending to our government–how, and to whom.
    I think that a lot of people feel very concerned about the quality of life and civil as well as personal rights in many, many countries overseas. However, most people do not know what they could do to make any sort of difference.
    Since your piece makes it clear that you feel you know what needs to be done, I would like to know exactly how we as a united people can bring these changes to pass.
    Thank you

    May 21, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  18. mahdi

    the u. s shoud be moe attentive toward the lives of aghan people because they look forward to america as their friend and a generous nation ,so such casualties are counter productive both foe the american and the flegling government of cabul

    May 21, 2009 at 1:23 pm |

    Great article Christiane,
    Anybody who attended Economic and Political Sciences learn this lesson from.
    We must have economic alternatives for people to have good jobs , good health to live on peace!

    May 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  20. Joseph D

    Great broadcast!

    May 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  21. john hay

    I totally agree. Change the motivation, change the outcome.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:21 pm |
  22. RealVote

    To build this country, the approch must be brick by brick. These people have resisted interference in their lives from outsiders for centuries so you can't expect them to change overnight and embrace our way of thinking. Even though they will move slow toward change, they are more likely to sustain that pace of change for their children and future generations.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  23. donnilee

    I love you, Christiane! Many of us have said from the beginning, the problem with Iraq and Afghanistan was the Bush Administration's failure to plan for "what comes after". We never should have been in Iraq, and should have had boots on the ground in Afghanistan much before we did and focused our efforts there from the beginning. But, that being said, now is the time for a new approach, the old strategies are clearly not working. People need to have a viable alternative in order to have any motivation for turning away from extremism and its false but seductive promises. We cannot shove democracy down people's throats, but we can help them and guide them to a better way of life that makes them want to take back their own nation.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  24. John

    Very few nation building strategies work. I say get out now. Odds are high this will end badly.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  25. Greg in Palatine, IL

    Agree. Winning the population over has been frequently stated since the Taliban overthrow in 2001. However, we have yet to see significant progress on that front. Makes one question if we are really committed.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  26. Bob

    All the nation building in the world is not going to stop rampant corruption of gov't/tribal officials. Our soldiers are finding caches of their own American made weapons in the enemy's hands!? The Afghan troops are not loyal to their own cause either. What a mess ...

    May 21, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  27. Michael

    Tough stand against Taliban and nation building are vital for America, Afganistan & Pakistan to succeed. Pakistan should have its civil administration in Wazeeristan so that the influence of war lords, tribal chiefs and Taliban will be marginalized.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  28. SueAnne

    The handshake is stronger than the fist.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  29. Carrie

    I'm not sure why this is still a surprise to people. How many times have various countries tried bombing and killing another country out of existence only to find that desperate people are willing to take desperate measures? Compassion is more powerful than Agression.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  30. Martina Ilstad Germany

    Its not only a big challange for President Obama,i think its a big challange for the whole wold.
    But there will be no chance as long any country support terrorist,or any bombing at the Afgan/Pakistan border
    The best way to get serious is to respect each other perso.way of life and religon. Nobody will win this war with weapons,the only way to stopp this war,is to change peoples minds.
    All people whants to life in peace,so stopp fighting".Give peace a chance" !

    May 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  31. Caleb Galaraga

    Definitely agree. The key to peace, stability and a functioning society for these states is the provision of economic opportunities that will increase their chance of living a better life. It's time that the US uses its muscle to create economies within these countries in a scale and magnanimity similar to their defense tactics.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  32. Mike in NYC

    It's the next round in the Great Game

    Fundamentally, it's about Central Asian energy supplies.

    May 21, 2009 at 10:59 am |