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tv   Steve Coll Directorate S  CSPAN  February 11, 2018 8:02pm-9:08pm EST

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good evening. i'm the co-owner of politics and prose. on behalf of the entire staff, welcome and thank you for coming. it's quite a treat to have speed with us to talk about his new book. this is the first time steve has had an opportunity to do standup talking about the book. steve of course is a legend in journalism. to proceed the big picture and his skill at presenting the narrative of something he spent 20 years at the "washington post" including a stint as a financial reporter as the correspondent ahead of the sunday magazine after six years he was the managing editor of
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vapor. after leaving the post a decade ago, he served as the president of the new america foundation that took over as the dean of columbia university journalism school. he also continues to work as a journalist on the staff of the new yorker magazine and along the way he's written revealing books about some important subjects of the involvement in afghanistan and the bin laden family and exxon mobil. he is one of two pulitzers for explanatory journalism and another in the 2004 for his book ghost for. the book recounted the history in afghanistan from the soviet invasion in 1979 to just before the 9/11 attacks.
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it's not just american players but afghan pakistani and other key figures. it is a appalling saga of missed opportunities and mistaken assumptions and misguided strategies and individuals. aimed at enlarging the sphere of influence. please join me in welcoming steve. [applause]
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i don't mind if you turn around and leave at a certain point. c-span is with us. i haven't given a talk about this book so you are going to get a trial and i'm going to learn about what works and what doesn't and there will be lots of time for your questions. i'm glad you could come out in the next of the stock market crash resignation of a white house official for allegations of spousal abuse and the
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imminent shutdown of the federal government. as brad said, the title of the book refers to the covert action arm of the inter- services intelligence directorate's principal pakistani intelligence service. although the united states has struggled with the intentions and activities in afghanistan, really from the beginning of its war after the september 11 attacks it isn't as if it were in history to the united states because we collaborated with isi during the 1980s to defeat the soviet occupation of afghanist afghanistan. it was during the 1980s with american and saudi subsidies and
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the guns and the technology and the power that came from supporting the mujahedin that they grew into a state within the state within politics and regional policy. it's commanded by ab embassy, whether it is directly in power or indirectly. and again the service has maybe 25,000 people working in it, some are military officers into some civilians on the foreign diplomats inside of the intelligence and capital over the world, sometimes about the pakistani dissidents from the military threats and it's divided into directorates like this one for analysis, there is one for eavesdropping and it refers to that covert aid such
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as the caliban and other groups fighting in kashmir and sometimes referred to by the directorate inside pakistan. so, the war in afghanistan but is now in its 17th year began in 2001 as they are read in proposition to disrupt al qaeda in the midst of uncertainty about what they are becoming next. they missed 9/11 and fear they are about to miss another one. part of the tensio tension of gn was to disrupt al qaeda to get whoever might be planning a second attack thinking of something other then that attack it wasn't much of a plan for after the war it was barely a plan to execute the war and after the fall of the islamic emirate, in december of 2001 the
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question of why we do. weaver. what we intended to do evil into confused strategies least with contradictions and formed by illusions that neither the bush administration or obama administration proved able to resolve. one of the central questions in the world for anyone that has been involved in working on it was why the united states and nato was willing to accept support for the taliban even when the covert action about the sanctuaries in the country directly undermined american interests that cost american lives. there was a character in the book who the cia ran center and when he was there the last time i think that he rotated around 2011 visiting congressmen and
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other officials that would go in and see him and talk about the war and it was referred to as his outward power. she told everybody address the sanctuary and we win the war or we don't and we lose the war it is that simple. and it had seemed that simple. and yet neither administration or the obama administration could find the will or the way to address it. it failed to achieve the goal and why are we still there.
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there was a fact checking phase of what the book's scope was going to be. we are probably not going to have a pentagon paper i hope this is the closest thing we have. and i thought that is at least an aspiration for the buck and a way to think about it. apart from the central problem were surrounding the central problem of pakistan and its relationship with the ability to access support and geographical sanctuary in pakistan one is the problem of the war aims at different phases and second is
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our failure of the relationship with hamid karzai. third is the illusion of the counterinsurgency war in afghanistan and for this the failure of american diplomatic and political strategy in the war. a lot of the sections delete code sanctions took place in the eisenhower executive office building next to the west wing and the narrative keeps going back to that room. they are remarkable all-day sessions with the representation often in the morning intelligence agencies would come in and the analysts wil would to brief the facts of what the template and controls it with
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the government controls, here's a democracy of the war and the estimates about the men under arms and usually they would leave the room and policy makers would debate what do we do now and it was remarkable to go back and excavate the best i could without access to all the notes and records and substantial access to what was discussed and written. it's sending young american men and women to think through what are the vital interests that justify the sacrifices and in a number of the reviews, they
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really worked on the problem and settled on two. for example in the obama administration's first review, they found to interest two intet could justify the sacrifices that were being contemplated. one was al qaeda and its affiliates because of the threat across borders of additional terrorist attacks beyond those that were already relevant and less publicly pronounced because it was so sensitive that the security of the nuclear weapons. dozens of terrorist groups you don't want them to fall in the wrong hands. okay, so al qaeda and pakistan nuclear weapons but remember it's 2009. neither of the problems is located in afghanistan at this time they'd al qaeda left afghanistan and have gone to
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pakistan to survive the campaign in the fall of 2001. they did not only gone over to pakistan, but they wind up with local groups and inaugurated the worst fears of terrorism that pakistan has ever known, destabilizing the country and of course pakistan weapons were not in afghanistan. notwithstanding the mismatch, the surge of troops on hundred thousand soldiers. they were sent to afghanistan because of the rationale that in the triumph, it would come back which is a plausible concern. the second problem in the review occurs to the present day.
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it's a menace and a threat, a relatively finite group and membership under 2,000 at least in the region. are they in an affiliate of al qaeda danger this as al qaeda on what basis they didn't participate in the attacks it isn't even clear from the best scholarship that the taliban knew about the plot and obviously they were complicit. they had created a sanctuary for al qaeda and refused repeated requests to do something about al qaeda, but after the fall of the television government, what did the revising caliban posed by way of a threat across borders to the united states and its allies? this was a question that all of these reviews in the conference room on the fourth floor of the eisenhower building but never settle.
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they were a part of afghanistan and we are not in a position to fight the war against them, but they were not able to persuade many of the civilian decision-makers including those like the secretary defense that had a plan that made sense in terms of cost and outcomes that were likely to be achieved. at one point they got into an argument. they came back with a big paper plate with all of the statements over the years saying we are going to defeat them. okay, well i guess that we should say something.
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something. and eventually they came out of the regime with to degrade the tablet and reverse its momentum. for the control over th of the s nuclear facilities which was crucial, the more it became, the more it destabilized pakistan spilling over. there are dozens of militant
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groups. during the last review of the bush administration in late 2008, president bush approved the kind of analysis that was more or less along the lines i just described in the security council meeting. it will make some difference, but the real problem is in the
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heart of pakistan. the president says can we go there if michael hayden was then the director of the cia and says blowing buildings up in the middle of the major cities is a lot different than an isolated mountain somewhere. they were constrained. president obama couldn't figure out how to resource against the war enough to win it or on the other hand how to define the aim so narrowly. they went forward with the plan to reduce the momentum and the grade of the telegram because they knew that it was impossible implausible. hamid karzai.
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it's become fashionable i think to talk about karzai as someone who turned out to be unstable, consumed by conspiracy theories into the behavior thaand the ben on balance. there was a scene where he goes walking in the garden where if one of his ministers and the minister says to him mr. president they've been unfair to you.
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end of documenting as muc much f what was said in private as they possibly could every time karzai received an american visitor almost from the 2004 until the last day that he was in office the first and last and most emphatic thing that he said was you've got to do more about isi in pakistan. the war is over the border. it would over time, he could not understand why the united states was not able to address this problem. he took it for granted that the u.s. has the pre- military power could force isi to stop aiding the palace and and as time went by, this thinking into conspiracy that there had to be another explanation. and he concluded the u.s. was secretly hoping that isi would destabilize afghanistan to
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justify keeping their military bases in the country. a diplomat in 2013 whose a special envoy and he rolls a theory else not the first time and said something to the effect of by now you've got the documents and materials, literally millions of pages. can you see in the documents any trace of this plan and he says maybe you don't know the plan. [laughter] there'there is a deep steeped in america. another episode that is dispiriting to recount in the fullness of this kind of retrospective reporting was the 2009 election.
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remember this is when hamid karzai was elected richard holbrook came in and was meant to be the special envoy to afghanistan and pakistan. he was immediately estranged from the white house when they didn't appreciate his style, but he thought diplomacy was his way in the washington lingo and he was going to try to shape the selection. he used to say that diplomacy was like shadows a little bit of improvisation that's required and he started to move towards the election date by basically talking to as many potential alternatives to karzai as he could identify. there's a scene where he runs into a brother in kabul and he says you know i think i'm the only person you have not invited to run against karzai.
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i feel insulted. and of course she got wind of this almost immediately and became understandably upset and paranoid that the americans were out to overthrow him. but he had no authorization to replace karzai and no plan to achieve the goal and to make an episodic and a vivid story short we end up with the worst of both worlds, karzai is elected and beliefs with reasoned that the united states is out to get him and he's infuriated about that and it shapes along with his befuddlement about the inability to coerce them into changing their conduct, his growing estrangement from the u.s..
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i mentioned this walkway to the minister the same one where they talk about the bugatti. he says to his colleague if we can't run the government, and this is after all of these pleadings that the u.s. hasn't responded to. if we can't run the government, we should bring them back to punish the americans and the pin referring to the northern allies. the minister asked do you want this boy to grow up under a taliban regime? i don't want that for my son. if the government collapses, he said, the u.s. will not be threatened, but we will be wiped out and that is what kept him barely the knowledge that they were a dependency and it infuriated him more and more as time went on that he had become on the one hand the americans who visited had to tell him you are the sovereign president of
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afghanistan and we respect you but deal with you as a sovereign and on the other hand every time you object to american counterinsurgency doctrine and its policies, military campaigns were the way that they've gotten involved in the election he was ignored and he understood that he was powerless despite the talk that was repeatedly offered to those changing sides and cutting a deal with isi, bringing the taliban and back. he couldn't act because he wasn't in a position to do so. i've got just 85 or six minutes left to do to other thing two oi wanted to touch on. one was the counterinsurgency campaign that began in 2008, 2009 in earnest. when obama took office after a series of tangled reviews,
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partially endorsed the recommendations of his commanding general's stanley mcchrystal to carry out the counterinsurgency campaign, decided the same time in december of 2009 and announced that he was ordering an additional surge of troops into afghanistan but also announced the date when they would withdraw, so we are going in and going out, kind of a paradoxical announcement, so typical of the strategy reviews and policy throughout. but as a counterinsurgency campaign, the war in 2009 created a real math problems of the doctrine in the typical ideas with a ratio of 20 soldiers and police for every thousand local inhabitants in afghanistan that would have required as many as 600,000 security forces which was an unrealistic number involving the rapid buildup of afghan security forces. so they narrowed the problem by
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determining districts. these are districts intended in countries selected from the south and along the port of pakistan, and the whole population became an overdetermined engineering diagram that burst a language of linguistics frameworks pentagon prefers to explain it's great to make sure the population is attached to the government. ..
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>> and as long as you are willing to keep them there they will hold that but the idea is to give it to them to do something with it. mentioning problem with politics and diplomacy. here is another contradiction unpacking of experience. one after another the top generals will say in public explaining their plan to the afghans and the american people that he's cannot be achieved by military means alone but by far it is the greatest priority. david petraeus said you cannot
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capture and kill your way out of the industrial-strength insurgency. they end through negotiations. with the work repeatedly affirmed there has to be a political solution accommodating some elements of the taliban and with afghan politics. but if the afghan war were settled only by those negotiations with as many defectors as possible, why was this line of action and prioritize year after year? this was a stovepipe war. it wasn't a political or diplomatic strategy then with a lot of this going on and building diary interviewing people in real time but to go back and unpack i found it
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frustrating because if you think of the obama administration's achievements and diplomacy, holding russia and china on your -- and europe over the nuclear program talk about a hard problem they decide to reverse decades of policy despite treacherous politics they worked on it sometimes in secret or semi- secret and got it done. but yet here with all the soldiers on the battlefield so many limbs lost in wounded we did not bring our best game to this negotiation matter how treacherous or difficult a war running on almost automatic pilot so the book tells the
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story of the conflict resolution cell set up in 2010 with the president stronger cement in the white house to secretly negotiate with the taliban to try to bring the war to an end. it was a significant effort with a fascinating story who they were negotiating with these moments with the negotiator comes into bring a letter supposedly from omar on television stationary and it says mr. president i've had to make some difficult decisions with my people to let the talks go forward now you should step up and show some courage that's negotiate. the talks failed for a number of reasons one of which was karzai was not connected enough to the united states to participate as a constructive partner and also to control the talks as a negotiating
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agent not to suggest it would be an easy process but when you read how it unfolded it did not represent that best capacity or tradition of american diplomacy. and the mistakes were so high. i am anxious for your questions so i will wind down. one thing that hasn't changed in the war is august of 2016 just as we are getting ready to turn the war over to the next administration, there was an unmarked white helicopter that went down in the province an area that was like the main isi supply route and shielded
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by all these people you could drive a truck from pakistan without ever breaking cover and that is where the helicopters would flock so the helicopter crashed with a russian pilot and people from pakistan on board with a bunch of supplies the taliban and surrounded it and hustled the pilot and all passengers back to pakistan burned the helicopter disappeared with the supplies they said this is like the isi operation he said no the helicopter was flying in central asia for repairs. [laughter] so the trump administration has come in to take a tougher line on pakistan.
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with this exercise the analytical unit with the district assessments with those of mistreated districts with another indicator indicating taliban control and then to unfurling them and update them every six months. with those 150,000 troops with that prioritization of afghan
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the essential fisher has not changed. that is a stalemate because the taliban and doesn't have an air force or any way to seek u.s. air force. with the american airpower so sometimes they had momentum so as the things move around on the mat they have stayed the same. when the next president is sworn in again in january 21 my sense is that they are still in this war. thank you for listening.
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>> if you could give advice to the next president since this one doesn't seem to do anything. that's like vietnam over again. >> i am reluctant with this history but a couple of common sense answers with a long stalemate and natural response not to do the same thing over and over again to expect
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different results. i think the trump administration has persuaded itself what it is doing differently to withhold aid from pakistan to show resolve loosening the rules of combat even when a stalemate and somehow this resurgence of willpower leads to a capitulation on the taliban. i don't see what the evidence is. it is a feel-good posture like everyone has been to afghanistan with a
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constitutional government to restore their country and afghanistan is at peace with itself or the 20th century that was not imposed by the international community with the afghan effort to recover their country it is still there though. as a different afghanistan i am not adjusting we pack up or go home. to try to get here from a better place to reduce the violence even with the
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pharmacy and environment like this is to reduce the violence. but the powers that shape events in afghanistan with china and russia and pakistan and iran what is the common interest of a more stable, less violent, less toxic less toxic and terrorist invested in the stan and the iran deal with the bush administration carried out in the context so to use all of the levers united states have haven't
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made that agreement cannot be worse where we are now. >> sounds good what are the tools united states could leverage to do something different so to withhold those of 16 what is that leverage you would identify so you
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can't help but think about the question so in my mind 2004 with those after the taliban and leadership and afghanistan many afghans came home to rebuild the international community was united in support of a constitutional government and what happens? there is a scene in the book when the generals are sent to afghanistan to see how that is lightly resourced and determined not to permit large scale reconstruction aid because of the belief we are
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not nation builders but the generals get called to a conference while they are just trying to get to consolidate and say we are going to bore in iraq of course the incentive structure and this is where it is going now. that is one thing that happened to defeat that defeated taliban what is the victim of victory to reconcile with as many of those defeated as possible as germany or japan yes you can hold leadership accountable to identify those war criminals but those foot soldiers and
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the lieutenant so those consequences in afghanistan is our policy was despite some arguments so any candidate was one - arrested there is a study i describe the no with
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the nine nuclear
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. >> that is where the isi you
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would have it
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will not succeed. >> so can you be induced to do a combination ghost for director on iraq to lie 1991 through march 2003? [laughter] two we have time for everybody in line now but no additional questions. >> touching on it 12 years ago what does isi want? is there a way to accommodate that now? in a way facing in vietnam.
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and that is something the u.s. will do. and that is charging the u.s. and then to have them in the country. so with afghanistan what can be done to accommodate? so in very close conversation with the pakistan army again and again the american say what do you want?
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they have to buy over the political assessment and what might work internally and pakistan's involvement makes it very difficult to have that type of negotiation. and then to handle that to obama i went adequate amount into politics one --dash the afghans would say the hell you don't we don't want total
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control so that was one way with the free-trade deal for the united states and to have those goals and the investment of broader disputes with india with the energy deficits address and realistically embrace us and to come in with the imf and fix all that and to look at this paper on this talk but it is impossible. before they could even digest it, there was 2011 and osama bin laden and that whole relationship collapses. it isn't as if they have been grappled with but they are
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always fraught with isolated discussions. >> congratulations on the book , you acknowledge you are writing about a war that is still ongoing and you reference between president karzai had you go about researching a book like this in which documents are you waiting for with the declassification date in the future? >> i have to figure out how to write 100,000 word books instead of 220,000 word books that combination those
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documents that i could obtain from those original sources to provide ballast for contemporaneous authenticity of what was said and what was done and those other documents to obtain through declassification that were subjects and in fact were pretty helpful and having access to my own original written sources from own original sources and then the fourth layer is all the scholarship and to absorb it all. and then to be regurgitated
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and then to absorb everything. and this is ten years in the making. and then to surround the -- from those contemporary documents and where there were disputes about what really happened. so to give you a simple one with more documentation earlier than others so this whole episode when bin laden escaped this is almost entirely based on interviews probably the most thorough account of why we didn't go up to talk bin laden and could we have finished the war against the leadership that early?
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and we did not live those troops up there. there is an oral history of what could i said people saying i argued and others said no you didn't actually. so i really felt i tried to give you the best account of what happened and those factors so i felt this is something that is very specific. >> to go back to one of your earlier books you wrote about tillerson in his own world and
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the most successful person in that world and where he goes from here? >> i am not a state department reporter anymore but when he came up to see where the problems would arise and they have borne out so when you are the ceo of exxon mobil he was in a bubble always flying private planes everybody tells you what you want to hear and challenges your opinion you are the boss. secretaries of state are not the box i have to compete for influence over foreign policy and this white house even if
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james baker but to gain influence and to use the bully pulpit distinctive lee to speak to the united states to stand up and say this is what i think. yes you can clear your speeches but also you are in front of the microphone a lot. it is not unusual to fight with the white house with clinton and obama and they stand up and speak to create facts through your own activity. and then answered questions on the press thinking of
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communication is three-dimensional chess to speak with allies. not just your counterpart which is what an oil company does. . . . . before he became secretary. at exxon mobil they tend to regard the government as a hostile entity. the u.s. government was explicit. they thought the state department wasn't very good, full of diplomats, they didn't
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negotiate very effectively. so, to come in and take over a diplomatic service that you don't have experience with and that you don't necessarily respect is a prescription for what we have seen. >> thank you. >> good evening. when you were doing the research and conducting interviews for this book, what did your access to isi officials like? were there any attempts to mislead you? [laughter] >> to mislead me? [laughter] i would refer you to the footnotes, because i don't want to get into a qualitative discussion about my sourcing. one of my goals -- i try to provide as much transparency as they can consistent with my sources in the footnotes. but one of my broad goals which is true and i'm not saying i got
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all the way there but it's something i thought about every month i was working on in this project. i wanted to provide equal empathy to the perspective of decision-makers and characters in all of the countries i was writing about, so i didn't want the pakistani characters to be any less full or listened to were understood then the americans. inevitably, with systems, i understood the american system better, but i spent a lot of time in pakistan and something of the way things really were. but i could really do is make sure i understood people and their institutional setting in the way they solve the world and why they took the decisions they took. the pledge i struggled with the most is the taliban.
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some sort of intimate life the way i could get the pakistani army high command harmonized and brought up in a big way, but mullah omar wasn't available for an interview. [laughter] >> one more question. >> [inaudible] from a pakistani perspective, there is a lot of debate about the sacrifices in the war on terror. so your comments on this and did pakistan and its leadership [inaudible] and this question might strike you did pakistan ever stand against the u.s. national interest in this whole history of unstable relationships in
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particular in this war on terr terror? >> pakistan accommodated and supported groups that were crossing the border from pakistan to afghanistan to attack and kill american soldiers and destabilize the war the united states was trying to stabilize, so that was the central problem from the perspective. the second question were the first one about the pakistani sacrifice in the war i think is an important one. it's to flush al qaeda out and go into pakistan and start car bombing the cities and go to war against the pakistani state but it was the result against the american invasion.
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do you not see the smoke on the horizon. one of the things they said during this period was i could not afford to take action. for 98% against 2% to 5050. they started running on towards islamabad. there was a genuine sense in washington that the state might collapse. they fought back and gradually regained control but it was only in 2015 if you look at the
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numbers when they are able to get terrorism back to a level that it had been domestically. then 500,000 civilians died in 2015 and 2016. so, that is a part of the 360-degree perspective that you need to bring to this if you are trying to figure out what it means and where to go from here. [applause] please form a line to the right of the table. and audible conversations
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interviewed by author and journalist. what's relevant guest hosts interviewing top nonfiction authors about their latest work. >> host: patrisse for your book is powerful, heart-wrenching, it makes you want to cry and jump up, it's sort of like a little bit of a caged bird sings and monster and something else combined. are there certain books that you have read or thought here is a northstar


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