Gwen Ifill discusses the latest developments in Afghanistan with Haron Amin, a spokesman for the Northern Alliance and its representative to Washington; and military analyst John Pike, founder and director of globalsecurity.org.
GWEN IFILL: For more on the latest developments in Afghanistan, we turn to Haron Amin, a spokesman for the Northern Alliance, and its representative to Washington; and military analyst John Pike. He's founder and director of globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan research group focusing on emerging security threats. President Musharraf didn't seem to think that the cities which the Northern Alliance has gained, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat and the others, was as much of a victory as the Northern Alliance has been claiming. What's your response to what the president had to say?
HARON AMIN: Well, first of all, I think that the rhetoric of the President clearly showed that international pressure can go very far. Certainly it's a regression from the very sentiments that President Musharraf was expressing as of last year, the pro Taliban policy. And it's funny it's so paradoxical that he couldn't confirm the fall of Herat but yet knew of fighting among forces in Mazar-e Sharif so unless he got back to Islamabad. The fact of the matter is that our forces have taken all these provinces including Herat. So right now we are virtually in effective control of more than 50% of Afghanistan. And the only thing that stands in the way is Kabul. We've made it very clear since the very start that we have no intention of going into Kabul unless a clear-cut time-bound political road map is in place. Today we were pleased to see that 6 plus 2....
GWEN IFILL: That being.
HARON AMIN: The six neighboring states of Afghanistan plus the United States and Russia. And they were looking into that. I think the United Nations right now is getting more involved in terms of getting the gathering of council of national unity which was formally supposed to meet. That is going to meet hopefully soon.
GWEN IFILL: John Pike, what is your sense of the military gains, which have been made in the past few days and do you agree or disagree with President Musharraf's analysis of it?
JOHN PIKE: Well, I think we're going to have to wait for the dust to settle because these have been really quite remarkable battlefield gains apparently. Two weeks ago, ten days ago everybody was complaining about the war is stalled that we're not making any progress. Suddenly within the last 72 hours, we appear to have a more radical redrawing of the political map in Afghanistan than at any point over the last decade. How much of that is actually a consolidated gain, the extent to which the Northern Alliance is really achieved effective control over all of these provinces as opposed to simply having a few troops in a few towns I think it's too soon to say.
GWEN IFILL: How do you measure that and how do you measure whether this is actual control, which has been gained or whether these are Taliban defections for instance?
JOHN PIKE: That's clearly what people will be looking for over the next several days because some of these cities really had not been under heavy American air attack, had not been under heavy ground attack, and all of a sudden it looks like they've gone over to the other side. So it's going to be very interesting over the next couple of days to understand exactly the process by which this territory has changed hands and the extent to which we just have a town that's changed hands or an entire province.
GWEN IFILL: And over the next couple of days one of the things we're also good going to be watching, Mr. Amin, is whether the Northern Alliance can hold its troops to your word basically that you will not enter Kabul. How do you do that? There's reports, some kind of the unruly nature of this war, and you heard President Musharraf talk about atrocities, which have been committed along the way. Respond to the atrocities allegations but also how do you stop your troops from going into Kabul?
HARON AMIN: If there's anyone in the world that can say that the Taliban have not committed atrocities that would be mistaken. The Taliban have done the kind of atrocities that humanity hasn't seen for the last couple hundred of years.
GWEN IFILL: So an eye for an eye is okay?
HARON AMIN: No. Certainly not. The fact of the matter is certain acts of reprisal in local bases should not implicate the united front. That's number one. Secondly the resolve of the united front is not to go into Kabul and unless a political road map is in place. Certainly in other parts of Afghanistan what we have seen right now is in Mazar women for the first time have been able to go out of their houses. People in Herat women have been able to venture outside their houses and at their own desire without any sort of problem on the street whatsoever. Men, some of them have ventured into barbershops to get the kind of haircut that they want, so on and so forth. That sort of normalcy is returning back to Afghanistan. People of Afghanistan are seeing opportunity as an opportunity for liberation of Afghanistan hopefully being able to realize....
GWEN IFILL: If they're so excited about the potential of this what's to stop them from going into the capital before the political process is ready for them to?
HARON AMIN: I think the idea is we want to act in line with the international community's desire. I think there is a lot of sentiments both at the United Nations and other quarters saying that in order not to antagonize the Pashtuns, in order not to do this or that that the united front should aim to stop short of Kabul. Out of respect for that I think it's the right thing to do. And we're welcome international cooperation in this context. We welcome deployment of international forces from Islamic countries or others to come and look into this security of Kabul and others. So that we have at least something in place, and that will alleviate the concerns of everybody at large as well as the people of Afghanistan.
GWEN IFILL: John Pike, do what appear to be pretty remarkable military gains and rapid military gains in the last few days bring us any closer to what our stated goal, that is, the United States' stated goal, was in going into Afghanistan which is demolishing al-Qaida and capturing Osama bin Laden.
JOHN PIKE: That's not clear. Certainly it's going to make it somewhat easier for the United States to operate in territories controlled by the Northern Alliance, hopefully a little less worried about Taliban presence there. That goes back to my question though, the extent to which the Northern Alliance has simply put troops in a particular city versus the extent to which the Taliban has completely withdrawn from a province. Part of the problem I think we have right now is that we've seen a lot of the northern front war on television. We really have almost no idea of what American military operations, special operations units, central intelligence agency has been doing in the southern part of Afghanistan. As President Musharraf pointed out it's not clear whether the people were looking for al-Qaida, not clear whether they're hiding in caves, hiding downtown. Without knowing that I think it's very difficult to know whether the developments over the weekend have brought us much closer to eliminating the al-Qaida threat or whether it's basically just a side show and the main war is still going on in the South.
GWEN IFILL: And the threat continues in places like Kandahar. Is there a next step once you have... Assuming for a moment that you have the northern cities secured legitimately secured, a next step for moving on past Kabul to the southern strongholds?
HARON AMIN: The fact of the matter is that in order for the hunt down of Osama bin Laden to occur and the destruction of al-Qaida, one needed the roll back off the Taliban. That has been effectively achieved in half of Afghanistan. Certainly expansion of these territories would go towards yielding that ultimate objective. That's in the making. We're contacting our people in southern parts of Afghanistan that have been disarmed in the past. I think that the uprising that will soon occur by a lot of Pashtuns who have been persecuted at the hands of the Taliban that's going to further contribute to that. I think ultimately with the effective control of all of Afghanistan the political road map in place I think the hunt down of Osama bin Laden will be much easier.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think that the United States and the Northern Alliance share the same goal here in hunting down Osama bin Laden or is the Northern Alliance's goals more of a political one of gaining control over the Taliban, Osama bin Laden aside?
HARON AMIN: We had been fighting Osama bin Laden and terrorists in Afghanistan long before anybody else engaged us. Two days prior to the incidents of September 11 our greatest leader Masood was assassinated by two Arabs posing as journalists guided by Osama bin Laden. Certainly we have a common objective here. So we're going about this common objective as well as eradication from Afghanistan of the ideological anthrax which with which the Taliban were equipped from across the boarder. That is the objective. So I think in the end both objectives will be achieved.
GWEN IFILL: And how important is it that this fallback government, this political structure be in place before the next military steps are taken especially moving into Kabul?
JOHN PIKE: Well, certainly if you're talking about one track of the American policy to replace the Taliban, obviously that's going to be critical. The other track, however, of eradicating al-Qaida, it's not clear the extent to which really depends on the complexion of the government in Kabul or whether there's a government there at all. I think it really depends on the extent to which American forces can locate al-Qaida operatives, can locate their hide areas, and can kill, capture them and begin to roll up that organization. Who controls Kabul? Who controls the countryside I think is secondary to the question of whether the United States can find bin Laden and his organization.
GWEN IFILL: John Pike, Haron Amin, thank you both very much.