Jun 21, 2021 - Podcasts

The future of U.S. counterterrorism in Afghanistan

Axios political reporter Jonathan Swan sat down this week with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for the latest episode of "Axios on HBO." Their conversation raised questions about the future of U.S. counterterrorism operations in the region.

  • Plus, U.S. bishops and their vote to deny communion to President Biden.
  • And, why we’re dreading more of our social obligations.

Guests: Steve Millies, director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, and Axios' Jonathan Swan and Erica Pandey.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, Justin Kaufmann, Michael Hanf and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]

Go deeper:


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, June 21st. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: the Catholic debate over who can receive communion. Plus, why we’re dreading more of our social obligations.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Pakistan complicates US counterterrorism efforts

NIALA BOODHOO: Axios political reporter. Jonathan Swan sat down this week with Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, for the latest episode of Axios on HBO, and their conversation raised questions about the future of us counterterrorism in the region. Jonathan Swan is with me now. Jonathan, you asked Prime Minister Khan whether Pakistan would allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions, after the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan. And here's what he said:

KAHN: Absolutely not. There's no way we are going to allow any bases, uh, any sort of action from Pakistani territory, uh, into Afghanistan. Absolutely not.

NIALA BOODHOO: Jonathan, we heard you reacting there. You were surprised at his answer?

JONATHAN SWAN: Well, I was surprised he was so unequivocal. He's in a tough position. That line, ‘Absolutely not,’ Was the top trending line on Pakistani social media. It was the front page of their main English language newspaper. So that's what the Pakistani people want to hear. They want to hear their leader say ‘no’ to America and push America out.

The reality is much more complicated. Pakistan is a country that is really controlled to a large extent by the military and their intelligence services and the decisions around national security have historically been made by them rather than the democratically elected civilian leader. So it's still, you know, there are still hopes within the Biden administration that they can come to some covert arrangement with Pakistan, but it's pretty difficult to hide drones and things like that.

This is likely going to come out if they do come to some secret agreement and it really matters because there are limited options for keeping some kind of a presence, a U.S. presence, in the region to keep an eye on terrorists in Afghanistan and to launch operations. And Pakistan has historically been a really important location for that.

NIALA BOODHOO: So what would the implications be if the CIA, if the U.S., cannot use Pakistan?

JONATHAN SWAN: It would harm America's ability to conduct intelligence on terrorist movements in Afghanistan, but also to react quickly if something happens. Now, it's not their only option. They do have other options, some of the central Asian states, but each place is complicated for different reasons. And the central Asian countries are within Vladimir Putin's sphere of influence. So he doesn't really want America setting up shop there. So it's going to be really complicated. The fact is America's pulling out all their military from Afghanistan. Biden's set the deadline of September 11th, way hearing from people who have been on the ground there, that it's going much quicker than that. And everyone that I speak to who studies this area is worried about a civil war in Afghanistan, which obviously creates the conditions for terrorism to flourish and for ungoverned spaces and all of the terrible things that, you know, the last 20 year war has tried to prevent.

NIALA BOODHOO: So what are you watching for next now?

JONATHAN SWAN: To be honest, I don’t think there's a good chance of the Taliban and the Afghan government coming to any kind of a peace deal before the U.S. pulls out. It's pretty hard to see any scenario other than a really bloody civil war and everyone hopes that won't happen, but you've got to kind of look at reality with a cold eye. And that's where this seems to be heading.

NIALA BOODHOO: Axios’ Jonathan Swan. Thanks, Jonathan.

JONATHAN SWAN: Thanks so much.

NIALA BOODHOO: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the showdown between the Vatican and U.S. Bishops over President Joe Biden.

Welcome back to Axios today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said they plan to move forward with a plan that could ban American politicians, namely our first Roman Catholic president in nearly 60 years, Joe Biden, from receiving communion because of his stance on abortion. Joining us to explain the big picture is Steve Millies, director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he also teaches public theology.

Hi, Steve. Thanks for being with us.

STEVE MILLIES: Oh, it's a real pleasure. Thanks.

NIALA BOODHOO: Steve. This proposal isn't coming from the Pope. He recently said the communion is quote, not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners. Why do U.S. Bishops disagree?

STEVE MILLIES: There has been this growing conflict inside the Catholic church that long predates Francis becoming Pope. There's been a desire to draw boundaries inside the Catholic church about who does and who doesn't belong.

We heard this last summer around the political conventions when a number of people were talking about Joe Biden not being a real Catholic. So it's a more exclusive sense of Catholicism that is in opposition to Pope Francis, who has a more inclusive sense. The last thing I would add there is that Pope Francis is much more in step with bishops and Catholics everywhere else around the globe than U.S. Bishops appear to be.

NIALA BOODHOO: So what does this mean for president Biden, other Catholic politicians and relations within the church in the U.S.?

STEVE MILLIES: The document itself will have almost no practical effect. Our national conference of bishops cannot make rules that are applied inside the diocese of another bishop, unless all the bishops vote unanimously or unless Rome approves the document, neither of those things is in any danger of happening.

So it's going to still be up as it is today. To individual bishops around the United States, whether to observe a document that might call for Catholic politicians, not to receive communion, if they are supporters of the Roe decision. But in a larger sense, I really want to say, what's really being lost here is the possibility for a fruitful dialogue between Catholics and public life and their bishops, the church, since the second Vatican council.

And for a long time before, it was always taught that the church and the world are closely interrelated with one another. The church exists in the world. Catholics live in the world and the challenges of democratic government, modern, constitutional systems of government. Those challenges are tremendous.

And we find those challenges when we encounter an issue like abortion, where Catholics have very strong feelings, but the law is not where Catholicism is.

NIALA BOODHOO: Steven Millies is the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he also teaches public theology. Thank you for taking the time to speak.

STEVE MILLIES: Thank you very much.

NIALA BOODHOO: If you've been feeling like life "going back to normal" has been stressful when it comes to social interaction - so have all of us at Axios. In our newsroom meeting last week we had a long zoom conversation about social obligations and wanting to say “no” more often...Erica Pandey writes for Axios’ What’s Next newsletter...Erica what’s going on with our social lives right now?

ERICA PANDEY: Hey Niala. So I talked to some psychologists about it. And mark Leary from duke university told me that our brains have been kind of wired to have about 15 really close connections to survive. And that's why a lot of us, when we were at home with family and friends for the past, year and a half that felt comfortable for a lot of us.

The idea of having to go back and have a copy machine conversation with a colleague who you'd rather not talk to, or get coffee with a friend and catch up. If you're not really feeling it is just so tiring to people. And then another psychologist told me, that, you know, there's this phenomenon where we've a lot of us have, unlearned our social skills So I think, eventually we'll get to back to normal, but a lot of psychologists are saying that as a result of the pandemic, we'll probably reduce our social interactions by 15 or 20% in the long run. And that's one of the most interesting effects of the pandemic in my eyes.

NIALA BOODHOO: Axios’ Erica Pandy. Thank you.

ERICA PANEDY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA BOODHOO: Before we go: today is the first day of summer -- and we hope there’s some joy ahead for you. We’re also celebrating something else this week: tomorrow marks Axios Today’s one year anniversary. We’ll bring you a few favorite moments from the last year -- but we really want to hear from YOU: what have you liked about the show, and what do you want to see us do in year two? Send us a brief voicememo -- including your name and location -- to [email protected]. We’ll play some of your thoughts on Wednesday.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter.

If you want more news before tomorrow - tune into our afternoon podcast Axios Re:Cap.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper