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Shaping the Future

November 27, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now [to discuss the U.N. talks]: Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. Special envoy to Afghanistan– he is now ambassador in residence at the University of Nebraska at Omaha– Nazif Shahrani, chairman of the Department of Mideastern Languages and Culture at Indiana University– he was born in Afghanistan and still has family in the country– and Helena Malikyar was raised in Afghanistan and worked for the exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah, in Rome earlier this year. She recently joined the Afghanistan Reconstruction Project in New York City.

Peter Tomsen, let me start with a process question. Ideally, what is supposed to be the sequence of events that begins with this meeting in Bonn?

PETER TOMSEN: The sequence of events as stated by the U.N. is to move towards a provisional council of under 20, perhaps 10, Afghans who represent the entire country, different groups in the country, and to move from there to an interim regime in Kabul which could be that provisional council, then to move towards an emergency Loya Jirga, a meeting, say, of 200 or more Afghans again broad based who would confirm an interim regime, which would take power and presumably take Afghanistan’s U.N. seat, and work with the international community for two years as construction proceeds and peace and stability settles in. And after two years another Loya Jirga, this time perhaps of over a thousand Afghans from around the country will meet and select leadership for Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: Are the major stakeholders, groups that will have to be heard from in forming a future, durable peace all represented in Bonn? Are the right people there to begin these conversations?

PETER TOMSEN: Well, there are some problems here. Like, for instance, over 50 percent of those in Bonn are expatriate Afghans. Some have been out of the country for 25, 30 years. However, there are representatives of every group in Afghanistan in Bonn, and that is very good. There hasn’t been an intra-Afghan gathering like this, including Shia, Sunni, Uzbek, Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik in many years. So this is a chance for a rich dialogue among the different Afghan factions assisted by the international community to begin the trek, the difficult trek along this track towards a broad-based government.

RAY SUAREZ: Nazif Shahrani, same question: Do you have the ingredients there in the groups represented in Bonn to start the country down this road?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Unfortunately not. I think these… I’m not quite sure what the rationale for choosing these four groups might be. Some of them perhaps are obvious but others may not be. Also the fact that at least three of these groups have been involved in attempting to create governments of unity in the past, and they have very, very poor track records in terms of their achievements in the past. So, it’s not quite… I mean, ideally it would be wonderful if indeed they could map some kind of agenda for the future governance of the country and help solve the misery of the people of Afghanistan that have suffered for more than 20 years now.

The problem I think is still that we are busy with one flawed question: The question of who should govern Afghanistan? And I think the answer to this question obviously presents sort of convenient solutions like these groups to bring them and help them sort of divide up this government post or that government post amongst themselves. The real question really is, how could at this juncture we help come about a different way of governance, a different kind of governance structure in Afghanistan that would avoid the problems of the past particularly strong central governments that have monopolized power and abused people and of course created a kind of system of internal colonialism? I think what needs to be done, if they are really serious, is to think in terms of alternative governance structure that is to allow local communities, provinces and regions to have local autonomy, to be able to help govern themselves and to decentralize power so that Kabul will have less power and less ability to impose itself. I think the possibility of reconstruction funds that international communities willing to make available would be a great way to help essentially empower local communities and regions to help govern themselves as well as also to help rebuild that shattered nation.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me take your question.

NAZIF SHAHRANI: That is not what is being discussed right now unfortunately.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me take your question about the burden of Afghanistan’s unhappy past and whether a new future can be built and turn it to Helena Malikyar. Are the ingredients there for building a new kind of system as you just heard Mr. Nazif Shahrani discuss?

HELENA MALIKYAR: Well, this is a great opportunity for Afghanistan after 23 years of misery to start from scratch. However, the main point here would be to demilitarize Afghanistan in order to be able to form new institutions and rebuild Afghanistan from scratch. If the Northern Alliance comes out of this meeting agreeing that they would take, they would give up their arms and they will allow a sort of a multi-national security force to come to Afghanistan, then anything that they agree on in this meeting will have a chance of success. But let me just add here that a large segment of the Afghan population, over 50 percent of it, in fact, Afghan women, have not been very well represented. My understanding is that there are only three women in this meeting.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, today both Ari Fleischer, the President’s spokesman and Laura Bush in another one of her public statements on this subject, noted the United States’ desire that women be a big part of any future governing system in Afghanistan. How do you do this given the situation in the country today and the desire not to be seen enforcing or forcing some new ideas from the outside on these people?

HELENA MALIKYAR: It’s not going to be a question of forcing this idea from outside. The women of Afghanistan want a restoration of their rights and they want political participation. Furthermore, there is also something else that’s going on here that people don’t talk much about, and that’s a parallel conference that’s going on in Bonn or will start in a couple of days, and that is the conference of the civil society. Encouraging those sorts of gatherings and empowering the Afghan civil society will also allow other segments, non-military and women, to emerge as leaders and as decision-makers in the process.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Tomsen, this conference in Bonn is not being held in a vacuum. The war continues apace on the ground. How much does the changing situation in Afghanistan affect what happens around that conference table?

PETER TOMSEN: Not much. But I do believe it’s time for the U.N. representatives Brahimi and Vendrell to leave the luxury hotels in Europe and New York and get out to Afghanistan because what’s missing are contacts with the guys with the guns, the ones that control territory, these expatriates inside Bonn and this conference, most of them don’t control any territory or really have any influence in Afghanistan although they are representative of a variety of Afghan groups. Vendrell and Brahimi should go to Bamiyan; they should go to Herat and to Arganda near Kandahar. They don’t have to go to Kandahar. They can meet the leaders in the Kandahar region nearby in Arganda. And they should listen to the Afghan leaders, the commanders, the tribal leaders inside Afghanistan, and they should give suggestions and they should then attempt to help them reach a consensus through dialogue and move towards the type of interim regime, which all sides can agree to. By calling Afghans at the second level and many expatriates to Bonn is an important step; it’s a useful step. But the real work remains to be done inside Afghanistan without interference from Pakistan and Iran who, as was mentioned earlier, have representation in Bonn and it could be destructive representation as in the past.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how do you get that process to the ground? Aren’t things too dangerous there, too fluid there?

PETER TOMSEN: No. I think that Brahimi and Vendrell could fly into Herat very easily, could go into Talaqan, could go — even though there’s some battles still underway in Mazar, they could go there, they could go to Bagram. I would not go to Kabul since Rabanni has attempted to occupy the catbird seat in Kabul by coming back to the palace. He’s never been selected by Afghans; he was selected by Pakistanis in Pakistan. There should not be steps towards establishing his legitimacy and the U.N. could very well though meet people from Kabul and Bagram, go down to Jalalabad and meet Hajik Hadir who is in Bonn. He’s a major leader. Go over to Talaqan and meet Hamid Karzai and just through radio contact among the different Afghan groups, go to Bamiyan, meet Mr. Kazami, the Hazara leader, and Kalalili. That is where the arena for a settlement of the Afghan dispute is, for moving along this track towards the political settlement. It’s not a abroad in Pakistan, Iran, or in Europe.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Shahrani, what do you think of that suggestion?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: I think Ambassador Tomsen is absolutely right. There is a possibility for going into the local level, General Ishmael in Hirat, General Dostum and many other commanders in the North and East are capable of nominating their own representatives from the region to participate even, I wish they had, in fact, done that and that representative should have come from inside the country or nominated by those inside the country of expatriates who may be living overseas. And that process was not done and it’s unfortunate. The only way we can really get back to the people is to allow people who have liberated their own local communities and regions to have a say in their own political process. And the only way we can do this again is to have representatives of those people from localities in any gathering such as the one in Bonn or the future ones that may be planned instead of looking for these convenient political groups that are really proxies for outsiders. At least two of those groups, as you mentioned, who are now represented at the Bonn conference represent either Iran or Pakistan’s interest rather than the Afghan’s interests.

RAY SUAREZ: We’re going to continue this conversation. I want to thank you all guests. Thank you very much.