By Shane Eric-Eugene Hensinger
Master's candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
(Author's note: Gretchen Peters, pictured at left, is a student in the Ph.D. program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Peters is the author of the highly acclaimed book Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda. An Emmy-nominated reporter for the Associated Press and ABC News, she has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan extensively and has commented frequently on NPR, CNN and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A recipient of the SAJA Journalism Award, Peters lives in Denver with her husband and their family. This is the first of two parts of an interview with Peters on her reasons for attending the Josef Korbel School and her views on the evolving situation in southeast Asia. To read Part 2 of this interview, click here.
Why did you decide to move directly from the MA program to the Ph.D. program?
I'm not really sure to be honest. There's more things I want to study that I can get done through the Ph.D. program rather than study for an MA for two years. I feel like there are a lot of ways in which the modern world is changing from the old Cold War structure. And there are new non-state threats, and I'm not just talking about things like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda I'm talking about criminal organizations that are now multinational the way corporations are multinational, and yet they're not being treated as a foreign policy issue -- they're being treated as a law-enforcement issue.
I think there are aspects of law enforcement, of criminology, that could usefully be brought into the realm of international relations but haven't. For example -- deterrence theory. There's a whole body of literature about this that has never been brought into IR. That's an example of something I find really interesting and compelling and one reason I decided to go for a Ph.D. instead of an MA. In terms of my professional options, when I'm finished a Ph.D. also just creates more options as well.
What kind of options?
It's actually more composed of the level at where you'd start than the actual options. My interest is in either doing more research and policy analysis and policy advice or working for international organizations or entities like NATO or INTERPOL, groups like that, to sort of track global trends. A Ph.D. gives me more options in that area.
Can you give me an example of what you referred to earlier when you spoke about criminal
organizations become multinational?
Sure, an example is the Taliban, who I've watched become more and more involved in criminal activities. As I wrote in my book, they've moved from just taxing the drug trade in Afghanistan to now becoming actively engaged in drug labs, exporting heroin and more.
This is very similar to the FARC or Shining Path in Peru. If you look at places like Mexico where you have drug gangs along the border -- the Juarez cartel or the Sonora cartel or the most interesting one in my opinion -- La Familia Michoacana -- the group that's now going around beheading people and hanging signs in squares next to beheaded bodies that say "this is divine justice,? they're essentially like a drug cartel turning into the Taliban, right next door in Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Justice, in one of its biggest clamp downs ever, just arrested more than 300 people working for La Familia in the United States. And so a lot of these criminal organizations, which are also political organizations, are globalized. This needs to be studied more extensively. I just don't think there's enough research in this area.
Is that what inspired you to write your book?
What inspired me to write my book was the fact that it seemed like there was this 13-ton gorilla in the room and no one was talking about it.
Maybe deliberately and I think in some cases definitely deliberately. There were definitely cases where the U.S. military didn't want to get involved. I can't tell you the number of cases where U.S. officials would say 'Well we don't want to get involved in another messy drug war' and I'd be like, "Too late."
I mean -- we can pretend it's not a drug war but that doesn't seem to be a very effective way of going about things. So for me it was like the more times I went around the U.S. embassy or Bagram Air Base or places like that and talked to U.S. officials and they said they didn't see any connection between Afghan officials and the drug trade, the more pissed off I became and the more I was determined to get as much information as I could and document it as carefully as I could. I'm concerned; I'm very concerned these guys are saving up for something.
Saving up for something?
Saving up for something big. There is evidence that some of the groups like Al-Qaeda in Pakistan are starved for money, that's what the U.S. Treasury says, but my guys in Pakistan don't agree with that. They seem to think Al-Qaeda in Pakistan is well supplied and have moved into co-opting Pakistanis.
Al-Qaeda has said since the 1990s that their goal is to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction -- WMDs -- and use them against the United States. They've said it repeatedly. They've tried on repeated occasions to use bombs with chemical components. So I can only assume that is their aim. There's no evidence they're living large -- no Pablo Escobar-like mansions and cars.
But chemical weapons are not expensive to produce.
Chemical weapons aren't expensive to produce -- that's true. But nuclear weapons are.
Nuclear weapons are also difficult to assemble, store and transport.
But if you're as crazy as some of these people it's my assessment that could be one of their goals. There's definitely a criminal element that's associated with this that's just in it for the money. But there's also an element, a group of wacko ideologues who I'm not convinced are not looking for nuclear weapons.
We discussed this in our International Terrorism class. One professor at Korbel feels
it's more likely Al-Qaeda wants to acquire a nuclear weapon for defensive purposes
-- to keep the United States from attacking them. I would find that more believable,
or for one to be used to destabilize Pakistan, than for use in a terrorist attack
against the United States. Al-Qaeda is not entirely irrational.
They're repeatedly stated over the last couple of years that their goal is to destabilize Pakistan so they can establish a beachhead.
They're succeeding, aren't they?
Pretty well. Actually I think the Pakistanis have decided they've had enough of them. The recent polls indicate that the Pakistani public is horrified by the violence. Osama bin Laden was extremely popular in Pakistan back in 2002, after 9/11. Now they're down in the single digits. They have like a 9 percent approval rating.
The military has begun an offensive after them and there's been an explosion of these sorts of tribal posses in the Swat valley and the tribal frontier areas, which are rising up and essentially fighting off the Taliban and the other extremist groups on their own. And in addition to that, in the urban areas you have this lawyers' movement. And some quite interesting, but still very small, student movements which to my way of thinking are all examples of civil society trying to improve governance in Pakistan.
How developed is civil society in Pakistan?
It's small but where it exists it's relatively developed. I always tell my Pakistani friends that they have two problems. One is that they have a small percentage of extremists who make a lot of noise but their biggest problem is they have a large number of moderates who don't make any. And I think what we saw at the end of martial law in Pakistan was a large number of moderates making noise. I had the privilege of living through that and watching the lawyers and the students and civil society, who are much more like us -- Americans -- than they are rural Pakistanis, coming out on the streets and saying we're not taking this anymore. It was really amazing to see that movement come out of nowhere.
Your book was amazingly, exhaustively detailed and researched. Every book should be
but yours was particularly well-documented.
A lot of that's because of the local guys I worked with. I worked with six local reporters, some of whom are helping me on a paper I'm working on now. They did all of the heavy lifting, in part because I was pregnant twice during the whole process so that made it harder for me. And I'm not particularly inconspicuous in the border areas anyway -- six foot tall blond women wearing hiking boots tend to stand out.
Did you wear a burka?
I did put on a burka in vehicles sometimes when we would travel. I did whatever the local guys wanted me to do for safety reasons. A lot of reporters are really cavalier about these issues, safety issues, which pisses me off because they risk the safety of those they're working with. When the Afghans or Pakistanis tell you it's not safe to do something they're not saying it's not necessarily safe for you, they're saying it may not be safe for them -- in the end. And that was something I felt very strongly about. When they said 'we need to do it this way, I'd say sure, that sounds like a good idea. I trusted my guys and that's really important -- to be able to trust the local people you work with.
In Part 2, Peters discusses the power relationship between India and Pakistan in more
detail. Click here to move to Part 2 of this interview.