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The Future of Afghanistan

November 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: To discuss the situation in Afghanistan, we’re joined by Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. He is now ambassador in residence at the university of Nebraska at Omaha. Phyllis Oakley, a former Afghanistan desk officer at the State Department; she is now an adjunct professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Former member of Congress Don Ritter is founder and chairman of the Afghanistan-America Foundation, formed to bring peace and stability to that country. And Kawun Kakar is an Afghan who until earlier this year was a U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan. He is a managing member of the Institute for Afghan Studies.

Well, guests, for weeks senior policy makers have been counseling patience saying that it was going to take a long time to evict the Taliban from much of the country. What happened? How did we get to this day so quickly? Ambassador Tomsen?

PETER TOMSEN: This also happened in 1992, April-May, when the Communist regime fell. There was a wind that swept through the North as whole groups of Communists defected to the Mujahadin. This same thing is happening now. The anti-Taliban wind has swept through the North. I expect within a week that whole areas of the South, the Pashtun South, will also feel this wind especially in the eastern areas near Kandahar, Zabul and later on in the eastern Gilzai areas.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree, Mr. Ritter?

DON RITTER: I think that’s a pretty good perception. The only thing I would like to point out about 1992 was there was no U.S. presence. There was no… Essentially the Northern Alliance was also an alliance with the United States of America. And I think we are exerting quite an influence on the Northern Alliance.

They know that they couldn’t have done what they did without U.S. air power, although they did a lot themselves, they needed us. So I think it’s more positive than some people are giving… are saying. I think there’s going to be a peaceful solution in Kabul, and I think reconstruction is on the way.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Oakley, you heard this described as a wind. Does it create a new situation that’s durable or transitory?

PHYLLIS OAKLEY: It creates a new situation, but let me get back to some of the things that you said in the beginning. We had expected the fight in Afghanistan to last a long time, and I think it still will. We’ve now pulled off the northern areas. That was relatively easy. But think of the Mujahadin who all during the 1980s never held the cities, and I think the Taliban are reverting to traditional Afghan tactics of fading back into the hills, the mountains, the caves, where they are going to continue to harass the groups.

In my view, the military side has gotten way ahead of the political. We need to kind of slow down for a minute and make sure that there are some southern political moves that can come up and meet with the Northern Alliance. The other thing that I would certainly hope is that we get the humanitarian assistance routes open quickly so that the supplies needed to get through the winter can begin to flow. It’s still complicated. It’s still not over. And it still will always be in an Afghan context.

RAY SUAREZ: Kawun Kakar, how come this all happened so quickly in your view?

KAWUN KAKAR: The Taliban regime was one of the repressive regimes and Afghans resisted their rule in Afghanistan. What needs to be done now is that there’s a need for an establishment of a multiethnic regime in Kabul that would not allow Taliban that are retreating to take… Consolidate their rule in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: But you just heard Professor Oakley suggest that the military has gotten way ahead of the political. Do these quick Northern Alliance victories complicate international efforts to form a new government in Afghanistan?

KAWUN KAKAR: The past experience in 1992 by the now mostly Northern Alliance group and also by Taliban show that once a group takes control of Kabul, then it is not likely to leave Kabul or share power. Now hopefully this time the situation will not be repeated.

Therefore, the recommendations by top U.N. Official Brahimi that there be a provincial interim government or a council headed by the – a symbol of unity, referring to the former king, to take… To establish a group in Kabul, and that would be supported by a multiethnic security force, would allow the formation of a multiethnic government that could further the U.S. objectives of rooting, eliminating the remaining al-Qaida leaders and Taliban leaders and not allowing them to take hold in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Peter Tomsen, at first it sounded like he was suggesting that in part the appetite for compromise might be blunted a little bit by quick victories and the fact that they’re doing reasonably well in the Northern Alliance.

PETER TOMSEN: That’s right. But I also think in the south you’re going to see some areas liberated, huge area, around Kandahar, Hamid Karzai, a very prominent Pashtun leader is receiving a lot of support. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s huge defections to him in the next couple of weeks.

He would be then negotiating the Northern Alliance from somewhat of a position of power. Then other parts, other ink spots will grow in the Pashtun areas with our help, the help of our special forces and commandos. I’m very thankful, let me add, that we haven’t made this an American war. We haven’t introduced American ground forces.

We’ve gone about it exactly right using special forces to assist the Afghans. We did that in the Soviet-Afghan war when America helped the Afghans to defeat the Soviets. We didn’t do it ourselves. We should adopt that same approach now to finish this off. I think the Taliban are going to be finished off fairly quickly.

The big danger that lies ahead is the Pashtun-non-Pashtun divide and also remnants of the Islamic extremists remaining in Afghanistan to cause problems in the future.

RAY SUAREZ: So how do you work with that Pashtun, not Pashtun divide, Don Ritter?

DON RITTER: Well, I think the comments earlier about trying to set up a government that’s broadly representative of the various ethnic, tribal and religious factions is essential and it’s kind of sad that this hasn’t happened already because everybody knew that this was the end game with the Northern Alliance moving, and yet the processes that have been going on for several years now, Istanbul, Bonn, and now Rome have yet to come up with this kind of broadly representative body and hopefully Brahimi, as the gentleman said, can work with some of the key parties, some of the key Muslim nations that can come in and can develop relationships, form a council, bring in the key Afghan parties, have a police force.

These are the kinds of things that are going to have to happen. And a lot of it is up to the Afghans themselves. The Pashtuns are going to want very much to participate in the national government. I don’t think the Northern Alliance sees a national government without the participants of the Pashtun. The United States is here now. It wasn’t here. It’s there now. It wasn’t there in 1992.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Kawun Kakar, in the past, efforts to build those broad pan ethnic coalitions have not been very successful. What’s different about this situation in 2001 that might give it a better opportunity for success?

KAWUN KAKAR: The big difference this time is the involvement of the international community. Afghans have had multiethnic governments in the past for decades, yet the war in the ’80s and ’90s, made it difficult to build such a government because of the intervention of foreign neighboring countries.

This time the neighboring countries have to be checked and the international community, the U.N., has to step in and form this… send in a multinational force that would be providing security for such a government to establish, so the big difference this time is the involvement of the international community.

And it’s hoped that as the international community has come together to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida that they will also step in and establish a multiethnic… Help establish a multiethnic government as well so that the al-Qaida and the Taliban leaders are removed from Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: You know, Professor Oakley, we watched those troops coming in, armored personnel carriers, tanks, but it’s hard to get an idea of the scale, what kind of place Kabul is. Is it a huge, sprawling low-rise place? Does it have a city center that is built up, that has civic buildings, government buildings? Is it a big place?

PHYLLIS OAKLEY: Well, it has been a big place, and I think that there are many people that can make a description better than I can; but most of it is mud-brick and it’s spread out. And I think we have to understand the destruction that has been in Kabul since the beginning of the 1990s.

This is not a city with great avenues that have been cared for. There are, of course, lots of government buildings spread out. There is an old American embassy that had been there that was most recently quite damaged. I’ve heard people talk about the whole of Afghanistan as a moonscape, that this is very rugged, dry, arid land, very difficult. And particularly in many areas they’ve had a drought for the last four years.

And I couldn’t agree that this time is different because of the international community, but I’d like to add one more thing. It’s clear to me that the international community is going to come in with resources now, that there is a will and a desire to help rebuild this country that has been so ravaged. And I think to ensure that those resources are fairly distributed, they’re the carrots to get people together, and I think we’ll probably have to use a few carrots.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how do you time the two tracks of the military and the humanitarian? If resources are going to be brought to the country, how does that mesh with… How does that move in “truck” with the efforts to win victory on the ground as well?

PETER TOMSEN: Well, it’s more political than it is military. I’d say it’s about 15% military and 85% political, including defections and humanitarian assistance coming in. The humanitarian assistance that is going to Kabul and the other liberated areas and I think before long it will be going to Kandahar and other cities as well as the North, it should come with a price tag, that is to say, the international community hopes and expects the Northern Alliance and others to move towards a broad-base political settlement process.

There also should be simultaneously an external dimension to this where the United States is using its great diplomatic weight and prestige to pressure the neighbors of Afghanistan who have been intervening in Afghanistan beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979 — continuing with the elements, the radical elements from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, setting up the Taliban and this extremist network inside Afghanistan.

We should be working for an international accord by which all of Afghanistan’s neighbors will step back and not attempt to spread their hegemony into Afghanistan and permit the Afghan settlement process to go forward without outside interference.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, we’ve talked about the political and the humanitarian. What about the military? What do people at the Pentagon have to be thinking about now in light of these new realities of the past several days?

DON RITTER: Well, first of all I think one could step back and say, “what an incredible job our United States Navy did, what an incredible job our Air Force did, how our special forces as spotters on the ground linking planes to targets.” And also what an incredible job the Northern Alliance did. They fought for all those years.

They were in the wilderness. So, we don’t diminish the role of the military. But I think the military has to become more of a police force which is multi-ethnic, which is trained by people coming in from the West, not just Americans.

And I also think that the military becomes maybe part of the reconstruction effort that, you know, these are going to be soldiers looking for a job. I think reconstruction is the carrot — and I agree with Peter. But I think the reconstruction carrot has to be developed real quick.

We don’t have any time to wait on this. Now it doesn’t have to be, you know, fully 100% developed. But this is the… Probably the only thing that’s solid and material that can be put before these folks that have been fighting and fighting each other for a long, long time.

RAY SUAREZ: I’ll have to leave it there. Guests, thank you all.