TOPICS > Nation

Dangerous Land

March 22, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: There were at least two signs this week that Afghanistan was returning to daily life that existed before Taliban rule. In Mazar-e Sharif, interim leader Hamid Karzai led a celebration of the Persian new year, Nawruz, a holiday banned by the Taliban. And hundreds of girls registered for school. The U.N. Estimated primary education had been available to hardly any girls and barely a third of boys. Still, signs of instability and insecurity remain in much of Afghanistan, along with fears that the al-Qaida network that thrived under the Taliban may still be largely intact.

Earlier this week, the U.S. coalition declared victory in Operation Anaconda, the battle in the Shah-e-kot mountain range. But intelligence officials said al-Qaida and Taliban fighters were likely regrouping along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border.

Right now, the coalition soldiers are clearing caves and hunting for al-Qaida fighters on the run. That force will soon be bolstered by another 1,700 British soldiers in what the pentagon calls the “mopping up” stage.

MAJ. GEN. FRANK HAGENBECK, Commander, Operation Anaconda: Operation Anaconda is over. It ended last night, and this morning we exfiltrated the remaining Canadian and U.S. forces who were exploring the valleys south of the Shah-e-kot Valley.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. commanders say the operation killed “hundreds of terrorists.” But some local warlords disagree, saying many al-Qaida fighters actually escaped into the countryside. On Wednesday, just east of Shah- e-kot, gunmen attacked an American base with machine guns and grenades. One American was wounded. The identity of the attackers is unclear. C.I.A. Director George Tenet told a Senate panel this week that U.S. forces need to be ready for guerrilla warfare.

GEORGE TENET, CIA Director: Particularly in the eastern provinces up along the Pakistani border, there are still pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban that we still have to get after. So it’s not done, and you’re entering into another phase here that actually is more difficult because you’re probably looking at smaller units who intend to really operate against you in a classic insurgency format.

RAY SUAREZ: On the peacekeeping front, the Bush Administration is looking for ways for the British to hand over leadership command to Turkey. The Administration is reluctant to back a large enough peacekeeping force to expand the mission beyond Kabul.

RAY SUAREZ: For more, we go to Ahmed Rashid, who covers central and South Asia for the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph. He is also the author of the new book Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. And Ali Jalali, a former Afghan army colonel who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s. He coauthored the book The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahaddin Tactics in the Afghan War. He’s now the chief of the Farsi Service for the “Voice of America.” Both were recently in Afghanistan.

Gentlemen, let’s start, we heard in the taped report about questions about peacekeeping. Is there any peace to keep, Ali Jalali?

ALI JALALI: Definitely there is some peace, compared to the past. However, there are many challenges, which can also cause problems for peace. First of all, the country is not unified yet. The central government does not have control over the entire provinces, all provinces of the country. And plus, the militias are there. The warlords maintain their militia’s private armies. And at the same time there are concerns among particularly Pashtuns in the South that they are not well represented in the government. These challenges can cause problems for peace.

RAY SUAREZ: When you talk about the militias and the warlords, if you were to jump into a truck in Kabul and drive west, drive north, would there eventually be a point at which it would either become too dangerous or impossible to continue forward?

ALI JALALI: Well, there is always risk to move out of Kabul and go to another place, particularly for some people who are more vulnerable to these threats. Therefore, in Kabul, the situation looks normal, because in Kabul you have this international security or peacekeeping forces. But in the provinces, the militias are still in power, and they have checkpoints. And when you go past the checkpoints, many things can happen to you.

RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid?

AHMED RASHID: Well, I think one of the key issues which has not been resolved yet is the expansion of these international security forces from Kabul to other cities. Afghanistan is now entering a very delicate political process which is just starting. The return of the king in the next few days, the meeting of the Loya Jirga, the grand council, in June, and in between there’s going to be, for the first time, a very heated up political process where people will be choosing their representatives to send to the Loya Jirga. A lot of the demands of ordinary people is that, you know, the security force be expanded to other cities. It needn’t be in large numbers, it needn’t be in tens of thousands, but just the nominal presence of a few hundred troops in the major cities would go a long way in demonstrating the international community’s commitment and keeping the warlords down.

RAY SUAREZ: You were in the capital, Kabul. For rank and file Afghans, can day-to-day life be lived in some sort of confidence, stability, lack of fear?

AHMED RASHID: There is enormous hope in Kabul. I mean I was in Kabul during the Taliban era when the city was dead, literally. Now you just see the bazaars are full of people, the streets, there’s life. Women are out, children are out. There is enormous life. But what there is also, is everyone is hunting for a job. And there’s enormous expectancy that all this money promised for reconstruction, $4.5 billion, will be coming and jobs and construction would start. But at the moment, unfortunately I mean one of the disappointments has been that none of this money has arrived yet. Not even the rubble of the past fighting, which litters one-third of the city, has been cleared. And I think, you know, I mean there’s a lot of humanitarian activity going on, especially in those areas where there has been drought and famine. But there has been no development and reconstruction yet. I think that’s what people are waiting for.

RAY SUAREZ: You know, Ali Jalali, there has been a lot of concentration on, certainly in this country, what Americans, and to a lesser extent British and others, have been doing in Afghanistan. Are there Afghans in evidence, apparently out in the streets taking care of the day-to-day security needs, policing? Are there Afghans who are sort of taking up the work of running the country day to day?

ALI JALALI: Yes, of course. In Kabul you have these patrols. They patrol the streets together. And you see some, you know, the presence of military and different parts of the Kabul and other parts of the country. However, the problem is not that you do not have Afghan armed forces. The problem is this: The armed forces are ethnicized. Even the Northern Alliance forces, which is the de facto military force in Kabul, is a partisan force. It is a factional militia. So everywhere you go, you have militia. You have the presence of military forces. But they’re not professional military. They are not, you know, national in nature or both in loyalty and scope.

RAY SUAREZ: So there’s a necessary march that has to be taken from here to make a national force out of this, bringing in other groups?

ALI JALALI: That’s a common cry everywhere, that you have to have that to have a national army in order to give a capacity to the national government to expend its power to other parts of the country in order to, you know, disarm militias. And creating a national army takes a long time. Now the problem is this: The national army is probably many years away. The creation of a professional, effective national army. Then the coalition forces are busy following the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban. And there is no intention to expand the peacekeeping forces from Kabul to other cities. So there are many security challenges.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the Karzai government, Ahmed Rashid, in charge of Afghanistan in any real way?

AHMED RASHID: Well, you know, everyone is paying nominal loyalty to it, all the warlords are. I mean, one thing is very clear: None of the warlords are in a position to challenge the central government and Hamid Karzai. None of the warlords will attack Kabul no matter how angry or upset they may be with the Hamid Karzai government. But on the other hand, his writ does not extend right across the country. He is still treated as a guest in many cities because the warlords control the cities.

The real name of the game is allowing this political process to take place, and then with the aid of reconstruction and development money, to wean away support from the warlords in favor of the central government, which again, has to start very soon. And I think, you know, one of the key things about security is that in order to demobilize these warlords, to get these young men fighting for the warlords back on to their farms, back into jobs, it can’t just be done by making a national army. It has to be done with economic packages. It has to be done as part of the reconstruction process. If you can give a young man fighting with one of these warlords a good package to go back to his farm– tools, seed, fertilizer– he’ll go back to the farm. He won’t fight for the warlord.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there people coming back to the farms from neighboring countries who are indeed heading back to their farms, are they getting seed and implements and other things?

AHMED RASHID: The return of refugees have started from Pakistan. Something like 40,000 refugees have gone back in the last two months, which is very encouraging, given that it’s winter still. And I think in spring and summer you will see a huge input. There are U.N. programs, the UNHCR gives the returnees a good package whereby they can start their lives again. But what is really needed on the ground is one thing having the package and the other thing is to rehabilitate the irrigation systems, farm-to-market roads, clearing land mines, all these problems to restart agriculture. A lot has to be done on the ground. That hasn’t begun yet because so far the money for development and reconstruction has not come.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, I guess this is something with a great deal of variation across the country. But where you were, did the lights come on when you flipped a switch? Did you get water out of the taps when you turned the taps?

ALI JALALI: It depends where you live in the city. In some parts, yes, the electricity is there, the water is there. But in many other parts, still there is a lot of work to be done before all these facilities are back. In the countryside, the situation is even worse. And as Mr. Rashid said, much depends– security, political process– everything depends on how soon the country can be reconstructed, the infrastructure can be restored. And without that, you’ll have problems with security, you’ll have problems with political process and everything else.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, I’m wondering about the order these steps have to come in. You’ve talked about a lot of things that have to happen, and in fairly short-term. But can there be a national government before there’s security? But at the same time, you’re saying that to have a national army is going to take a long time.

ALI JALALI: I think it should be a complex process. It is a complex process. If there is no security, no complex process. There is no security, no reconstruction can be started, so security is sanctioned. Security can be secured with political participation at the same time. You know, you know you have to see what comes out of the Loya Jirga, as Mr. Rashid said earlier. This Loya Jirga is going to be a heated political debate in the country. What is going to come out of the Loya Jirga? At the same time, much depends on how the country actually starts reconstruction of the economy. So these things are all interconnected with one another. But the problems here is that there is a pledge for $4.5 billion for reconstruction, but none has been earmarked or, as far as I know, for security or for the building of the armed forces.

RAY SUAREZ: The king is coming back, briefly, and to close. A big development?

AHMED RASHID: I think it is going to be very big. I think it is going to be a huge emotional moment for millions of Afghans. Because he may not represent the future, but he represents a time of enormous peace and nostalgia where Afghanistan was one and at peace. I think there is going to be a huge outpouring of emotion and it is vital that the Afghans, the interim government, the international community use this as a solidifying force that will undermine the warlords and unite Afghans together.

RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid, Ali Jalali, thank you, gentlemen.