RAY SUAREZ: What are the conditions like within the country for civilians, for the average Afghan, just so people understand what your countrymen are facing this winter.
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Well, first of all, before saying these things, the world should know that our country has gone into 22 years of continuous war, and it is still going under a bad drought. I mean, this drought was not seen for 30 years, and it's facing economic sanctions from the U.N. And the land mines have already created a big problem...
RAY SUAREZ: Are there many people who are displaced inside the borders of the country?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Yes, some 470,000 people were registered who were displaced because of the drought, and these people were mainly the Nomads who lived in deserts, and in the year 2000 in the spring, we had to evacuate them because there wasn't any water for them. And they are mainly settled in the cities now.
RAY SUAREZ: And since their way of life is denied to them by the drought, how are they eating? How are they living?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: From our government side, we are trying our best. We are providing them with some kind of wheat and water, and so far we have seen very little international assistance. The United Nations itself has appealed so many times, but there is very less response to their appeal towards helping these people.
We are trying our best to attract international assistance for these people. So far the UA, the Saudi government has helped in evaluating this situation, but . . . fortunately this year was good. There was enough rain and enough snow, so we will be hopeful that next year will be productive.
RAY SUAREZ: Don't many of the people who are returning from being refugees or find themselves in a new place, aren't they all lacking tools and the access to seeds, so even if there is water, it's still going to be difficult for them to farm?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Not very difficult. But if there is water, they can at least survive. Surviving something. We do need some kind of genetically modified seeds, and we have asked the UNDCP, the United Nations Drug Control Program, to help us with that because we have asked the people not to grow poppy anymore. But we have not been assisted in that so far. So we are trying to talk to some countries to provide us with their seeds.
RAY SUAREZ: With the problems that you have in maintaining those persons inside the country, many of whom aren't even displaced but just having difficulties, could you resettle the refugees if they came home?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Actually, it was the government [that] re-evacuated them from those places. Nobody else did. We stopped all of our military operations in the north. We used all of our equipment, our transportation to evacuate these people from the drought hit areas to the cities, and we used our military helicopters in evacuating the remote areas. Fortunately, there is a lot of hope that this year these people will either return by their own, or will need some help to go there, back to their own places. And, of course, they will not be that economically strong, but at least they can start something. They can start from somewhere. We can't just handle the whole problems ourselves. We would like some help, and it will be possible to help these people.
RAY SUAREZ: But if people started to come back from Iran and from Pakistan in large numbers, wouldn't that also put a strain on your government?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: You're right. Iran is trying to do this. I mean, Iran is just throwing them out of their borders. Even their property is confiscated in Iran. So we have talked to the Iranian government to at least allow people to come by their own wish so that they could be settled correctly, and hopefully this will make an effect. We have talked, and they have stopped throwing them out of their borders.
With Pakistan, they have not started asking people to go out - that was the problem when Iranian governments this winter just expelled people. Some of these people didn't have anything. They were just exposed to the cold weather, and the winds and whatever in Harat, and 700 children died of cold weather and malnutrition. So the situation was very bad at that time. And we requested the Iranian government not to simply just expel them.
RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned as one of your problems the economic sanctions. What form do those sanctions take? What are the sanctions doing that make things more difficult for your government?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Well, the economic sanctions are meant to pressurize our government. This is so ridiculous for us because to try to change our ideology with economic sanctions will never work, because for us, our ideology is first. And it may work in the Western countries, where economy is first thing, but for us it doesn't work.
The sanctions do have an effect, but exactly the wrong effect. The people are suffering. And, for example, we had a lot of trade relations with Kazakastan. We would buy wheat from them, rice from Bangladesh, and medicine from India and UA. Now because of no flights and no contracts, we cannot do these things anymore. And the impact, of course the people are suffering.
RAY SUAREZ: But the U.N. has asked these states not to trade with you or not trade in certain goods? What is the nature of the thing?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: The nature is that our high officials cannot travel outside, and people are discouraged to go Afghanistan and trade is discouraged. Even our offices are closed, many of them outside, so these governments which had trade relations with us just ceased at those relations because of the sanctions. So our contracts are not valid for them anymore, and there are many other development projects like the TSI, Telecommunication installation in Kabel and Kandar which was happening, and that was also stopped because of the sanctions. So the sanctions are definitely affecting the people.
RAY SUAREZ: Recently I was speaking to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees and he talked about how difficult it was to get member nations to make donations for Afghanistan, in part because they do not support your government, and it is difficult for them to separate the support for people in need from a government that they disagree with. What would you say to a representative from a country that is so far not giving you assistance for that reason?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: With the situation in Afghanistan, the problems are not our creation. They existed before we existed. All these problems, all the refugees, all the mines, all the lawlessness that existed before us was not the creations of the Afghans. Afghanistan was a peaceful country, and the war which is the mother of all these problems, was ignited by Russia, the Soviet Union. And the Westerners thought Afghanistan was played with. Over 1.5 million people were killed in that war. And eventually Afghanistan was left with all the weapons, with the complete destruction and the complete chaos.
Everybody forgot about the Afghans. And now when we are making order out of that war zone, everybody is complaining. They don't know that these problems were made for us, and we are trying to resolve them. For example, there were 6 million refugees living in Pakistan, but now there are only 3 million. Many of them have returned, and the repatriation of these refugees definitely mean that there is peace and order in our country now. And nobody has appreciated those things that we have done.
Well, if they don't want to help the government, what is wrong with the people? What is wrong with the refugees? And if they don't like our policies, they have to tell us. They shouldn't affect us. They shouldn't isolate us. They have never talked to us. They have only tried to isolate us and sanction us. These things are counter-productive, and the people are definitely suffering and these people are not suffering because of their own problems. The problems there are the reflections of world policies. So we have a saying that if you don't like the image in the mirror, do not break the mirror, break your face.
RAY SUAREZ: You said that no one has spoken to your government. Is that really so? No government in the West, no international agencies have spoken to the government in Afghanistan about what their objections are with the way you’re running your internal affairs?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: They have not talked to us, and only tried to dictate [to] us, which is wrong, because we have our own principles, and we have our own proud people. So we cannot be dictated [to]. We are humans and any contact with us should be a contact of human to another human. They can’t just dictate [to] us.
RAY SUAREZ: If there was give and take, if there was a different tone of the conversation, could there be some accommodation, or is the Taliban saying to the world we are what we are, we will do things the way we’re doing them, and that’s it?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: There should be engagements. There should be talks. We have not been recognized so far. We have been sanctioned. Cruise missiles have been fired against us. All these things. We have not been engaged. Even still the United Nations is recognizing the government which controls only 5 percent of Afghanistan in the mountains, and they even don’t know the permanent address of the president there. The people are really angry there, and there is an embargo in the sanctions, and the arms embargo is only on us, not the opposition. So the United Nations itself is not a mediator. It’s a part of the game.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you think that if your country got the help that it needs, and had a few years of peace and a few years of rain, that a government like yours, still very new, could eventually provide a decent life for the people of your country?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Of course. We were trying our best. I mean, what we have done since we have taken the government is just five years. We have privatized all the sectors in Afghanistan [where] before there was a complete monopoly of the government and all sectors similar to communism. Now we have privatized – there are Chinese companies which are working on the telecommunication system. There are British and Egyptian companies in exploring oil there. There are Chinese companies again working the infrastructure of Afghanistan, reconstructing or rehabilitating many of the old projects there, and there are other companies from Pakistan to Afghanistan which are working in power supply, and actually they had a contract which will provide power to many of the southern parts of Afghanistan and that is being done. Many parts have been electrified.
So we have done our best. We have [invited] foreigners to come and invest. But these sanctions and these hurdles are just creating problems for us, and this is not new. If you go to the history of Afghanistan, it has always been a buffer zone between powers. We have not attacked the British in the 19th century. We have not attacked Moscow. They attacked us. And always we have been labeled. And before under the title of civilization and now under the title of terrorism or whatever. We are not terrorists. We cannot even make a needle. Who is a terrorist?
Go to Afghanistan. We have a full-time job to work for our people. We don’t have time or resources to train terrorists. So there are different titles for subordinating, and the new interest of the world is now the oil in Central Asia. Afghanistan was not important to them before. Just five years ago the situation there was horrible. Nobody cared. And now the oil in Afghanistan has attracted all their attention, and there were many powers around the world who want the puppet government so that they can have the oil. It is very simple.
RAY SUAREZ: You say that there is no time to engage in anything like terrorism, but the United States in particular has paid a lot of attention to Osama Bin Laden and his continued presence in Afghanistan, representatives of the United States government have said that he is a block between the two countries to be able to have a normal relationship. What is the nature of his status inside Afghanistan? Is he welcome there? Is he a friend of your government? Who is Osama Bin Laden to you?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Osama Bin Laden existed 17 years before we existed. He was there during the Soviet occupation, and the fact is that such people were [provoked] and indirectly instigated by certain governments in the West to go and fight the Soviet Union. And such people were called the heroes of independence, freedom fighters. Very good titles. And now when these people are not needed anymore, they have been transformed into terrorists, exactly like [Yasser] Arafat [head of the Palestinian Authority] was a terrorist and now a hero when they need him.
So we don’t know as to what is the definition of terrorism. And we were never taught to. Osama Bin Laden was not famous. Even I didn’t know who he was. What happened is in ’98 all we know that Afghanistan was fired with 75 cruise missiles trying to kill a man whose name was Bin Laden and we were all shocked because until then we were called the puppets of America by many countries.
And then when we went to the U.S. embassy asking for clarification of what happened, and the ambassador himself there was confused. He didn’t know what to say. And all we came to know is that they wanted a man called Bin Laden and he was accused in Kenya and Tanzania or whatever, and we told them why did you try to kill him before giving him a fair trial. And why did you make him so famous? He has been made so big. He is famous throughout the world. Seven thousand children were named after him only one year in Pakistan. T-shirts with his name, clocks, shoes, everything. He has been made that way.
And despite whatever happened, despite the cruise missiles that killed 17 Afghans, innocent people, we didn’t declare war. We were polite because we had a lot of problems at home, so we went to talk to the United States as to what to do next.
We gave them the proposal that since you have made it difficult for us to expel him from our country because he is being made a hero now, he is famous now. So we told the United States that if you have evidence of his terrorist acts in Kenya and Tanzania, we would be more than happy to have those evidence and try them in Afghanistan because finding anybody guilty of killing civilians will face capital punishments in our constitution. But we were not given any kind of evidence. All we were told was that they did not believe in our judicial system. They rejected this.
The second proposal we gave after the rejection of this was that we were ready to accept an international monitoring group to monitor his activities in Afghanistan so that he is not active against any man, any country. That was also ignored…
So we don’t know as to what we should do because the United States only told us so far that they wanted Bin Laden in New York, and that’s very difficult for us. They do not recognize our government. We don’t have an extradition treaty. They have made this man very famous, and this man has helped Afghans in their very hard time. He has helped the Afghans with his own personal money – millions of dollars during the Soviet occupation.
So for the Afghans, he is a good guy. If we were to hand this good guy to the U.S., what kind of justification will we give to our people? So we need some kind of evidence so that we can prove to our people that this man is involved in some kind of horrendous act somewhere. We don’t need him anymore. But we are not being given anything so far.
RAY SUAREZ: Having him continue to be on your soil, is that a burden to your country now when you’ve got other things to do?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: We definitely have a problem because the sanctions are because of him. There are further problems. But for us, our principles are first. It is not that we are defending him. It is we are defending our principles, because how can we justify our people. So it is a big issue now. We have to resolve this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you think that something like the way that the Libyan men, the Libyan citizens were tried in the Netherlands [for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103] with a court from yet another country might be a model, not necessarily those same countries, but provide a way to think about this problem that might be good?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Such proposal is not proposed to us from the United States. The only thing they have said is that he must be given to New York. So no such things have been ever proposed to us. We have done our best to propose things, and they have only ignored them. So if they are to give us such proposals, we will take it to our leadership and they will think about it. And we have said that we are ready to talk about this issue anytime, anywhere. But we have not been taught about this. I mean, even our office in New York was just shut down three weeks ago.
RAY SUAREZ: Recently the government went ahead with a plan to destroy works inside the country that date from before Islam came to Afghanistan. This attracted a lot of attention around the world. What does your government say in response to people who are not even Buddhists, they’re not Muslims, they just look and see a relic from another age, a beautiful piece of art, and they say "gee, you shouldn’t blow that up"?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: First, I should say that we respect all religions. We are not against any religion, and this act has not happened against any kind of discrimination to any kind of religion. And we have said that all those statues which are still worshipped by the Hindu community there will be preserved because they are their worship places and they are preserved. And what these statues have said that in a time when our people are dying of malnutrition, when our children are just dying in front of our faces, and they are dying because of the economic sanctions of the United Nations.
So the United Nations is coming, and trying to spend money on those statues. And the people get angry. They say if you are spending money on these statues, why don’t you help those children who are dying next to it. For us the priorities are children? We don’t care about the statues. This was rejected, and there was an edict about these scholars of Afghanistan, like the council of scholars, so that these statues must be destroyed.
In the same statue the same edict was approved by the Supreme Court. So it was not an order from our leadership. The Supreme Court and the old MS, and they decided that these must be destroyed because they are harmful. And the money is going to them and not to our children, and they were just destroyed. So the decision is not our leadership’s decision. This is the decision of the council of scholars and approved by the Supreme Court, and we have to execute that. And I have to say that it has never been done against any kind of religion, and we don’t have Buddhists in Afghanistan. We do have Hindus, and they worship idols. They still do it, and they are respected. This is not against them.
RAY SUAREZ: You do realize, though, it gave you an image problem, a problem in shaping ideas about Afghanistan in the rest of the world at a time that you’re asking for help.
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: It might have made it difficult, I agree, and it has happened in a time where people were really crying, and it is really amazing for me, too, because when I talked to the Council of Scholars, he said if the world is destroying our futures with economic sanctions, why do they worry about our past? What do they care about our past? You’re just destroying our children, they’re just dying. Is the life of our people less important than these statues?
He says this is the marriage day of policies. So I’m not going to say I don’t – and I don’t tell you just to support what we say, but this is the situation. The situation is not as simple as you know. It is so complicated. So I can’t say much more about it.
RAY SUAREZ: The United Nations representative last week said that it’s been very difficult to get countries to step forward and help Afghanistan out, and he used the phrase, "donor fatigue." That they are tired of having to give. And there’s a lot of countries in the world now that are asking for help, and Afghanistan is just not popular in that way. Why should someone seeing this television program in the West urge their own government to help your country?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: Well, first, the assistance of these countries is like if I snatch $100 from you and then come tomorrow and give you one dollar as a charity, exactly there the same thing. The sanctions that they have imposed on our country cost us millions of dollars each year, and they return, then they come and help us with some thousand dollars to the people.
So if they are really assisting us, they have to lift the sanctions. We have a hard-working people. They will make a way out. They will resolve their problems as much as they can.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the problems with a lot of U.N. agencies is that they have standards for how aid is carried out on the ground, and they want to make sure that men and women are treated equally in the distribution of aid, that certain standards of human rights that are upheld by the U.N. are also upheld when the U.N. works in the country, and they find, they say, and it’s very difficult in Afghanistan. Are you being punished for having your own standards, your own way of life, your own religious beliefs, being punished by the U.N., by these foreign countries?
SAYED RAHMATULLAH HASHIMI: The international assistance coming through the U.N., and they are independent there to give it to the people. We have only paved their way. We have not created any kind of following for this. So they are not giving the assistance to us. They have their own office there supporting to people.
So it is not going to the wrong place. And as far as their policies are concerned on women, and the work and education of women, we are very clear on that. We have said that whether or not the words tell us to have women education, we will have women education because that is what is in our ideology. That is what Koran says. And we have said that we want women to work, and they are still working in different ministries, in the minister of health, industry, education, social affairs, all these ministries. But definitely they don’t work for the ministry of defense, for they are not used as objects of decorations for advertisements.
So we are against these things, it’s right. But we do want our women to be educated. We do want them to work. So when we say that there should be segregated schools or segregated schools or segregated education, it does not mean that we are against education of a woman. And we say that women should work apart from men. It doesn’t mean that we are against their work. They do work and they do educate now. The faculty of medical science for women who have started in all those measures is inverted in that.