|VEILED IN FEAR|
October 9, 1996
Military action in Afghanistan has brought to power a more fundamentalist Islamic group known as the Taliban. Following a background report, three native Afghans discuss the Taliban's rise.
| CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We now get the views
from three native Afghans. Ashraf Ghani has done research on the religious
schools from where the Taliban originate. He's now a visiting professor
at Johns Hopkins University. Spozhmai Maiwandi is the chief of Voice of
America's Pushdan News Service which reports on developments inside Afghanistan
and Zalmay Khalilzad was Assistant Undersecretary of Defense during the
Bush administration. Today, he's the director of Rand's Greater Middle
East Studies Center. Thank you all for joining us. Mr. Ghani, starting
with you, who exactly are the Taliban?
ASHRAF GHANI, Johns Hopkins University: The Taliban are graduates of Islamic schools in Pakistan that adhere to very strict interpretation of Islam. In terms of ethnicity, they belong to the Pashtuns or the dominate majority group in Afghanistan. And today they control about 2/3 of the country, which is the southern part of Afghanistan.
|A continuing struggle|
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Khalilzad, I understand that their fighters are young men, poorly trained. How did they manage to get where they are?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, RAND: I think there's two reasons for that. One is that since, as you mentioned at the beginning, the war in Afghanistan has been going on for a long time. A lot of the people in areas that were not controlled by the Taliban before were tired of the war. They had been living in conditions of anarchy and war, and they were longing for peace, and there was an expectation that the Taliban would provide security and, therefore, there was little resistance to them as they advanced. Secondarily, I think that over the past year and a half to two, they had acquired some skills that--in terms of operating in the environment that Afghanistan exists in right now, they scored a number of major victories because of some improvements in their weapons and in their technical skills.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Maiwandi, you've been in touch with them, as well as all of the leaders of the various factions. How do you--do you have anything to add to how they achieved this control that they have now?
SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI, Voice of America: Yes. Based on our interviews with them, and based on our interviews at the Voice of America with people of the areas that they have captured, they are enjoying popular support. Everywhere they went according to the reports we received people were very tired, were fed up with the atrocities committed by the commanders of the Jihad--or the political factions that were in power and some of them who were in your position, so that helped them. There was no security, no stability, no food, the roads were closed, according to these people, the popular support helped him.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And just to go back to something you said earlier, Mr. Ghani, you said, well--in the taped piece they said this was one of the most extreme forms of Islam, who calls the tune here? Who calls the shots in--within the Taliban and are they all united? Is the Taliban united?
MR. GHANI: No. I think one has to look at the--the divergences within and among them, and primarily between those who are educated in these religious schools of learning who are interpreting now religion in a particular way based on largely an Indian tradition of interpretation, rather than one than that corresponds with traditional Islam. And then there's the rank and file who have joined the movement in the course of the last two years, and largely are from the remnants of groups that were fighting the Soviet army. These people, because of the popularity the Taliban could gain in terms of bringing law and order and freedom of trade and movement, or a secondary group, and as time would pass on, I think we would see divergences between the leadership and the rank and file who would have to adhere far more to the traditional ways of interpretation of Islam and Afghanistan than the strict interpretation that is really bookish interpretation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Bookish.
MR. GHANI: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So, Ms. Maiwandi, how do you explain the decrees, especially those banning women and girls from working in school, requiring that they be shrouded from head to toe?
MS. MAIWANDI: When our own interviews--I've interviewed a large number of Taliban, their spokesmen, and they're relatively high ranking officials, they are telling us that these are temporary measures. They do not disagree with women being educated. They quote Koran as saying that education is a must for both men and women. And about working women outside the home, they say that the Koran does not allow. Man is supposed to provide for a woman, and that's what happened.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Now you say temporary measures on the education of girls and so forth. And I also read that they said that the covering of the entire body might be temporary, but why is that? How do they justify that?
MS. MAIWANDI: I personally think they cannot justify that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But how do they justify it? MS. MAIWANDI: They don't give any justification for hajab--they call it Islamic hajab, which is the dress code for Muslim women, and they say that they should follow it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Ghani, I read somewhere that the reason was because of the--they said that some of those rural soldiers that you just described had never seen women not wearing the hajab, except for their mothers and sisters, and that as soon as they went back to the countryside after everything was stable, they might relinquish-
MR. GHANI: I think one has to make two points. One is that traditionally Afghan woman participated in the agricultural labor force, and particularly the nomadic society and conveyed the bulk of the work, and second that urban Afghan woman has been an incredible force in education and development of the country, so a justification by returning to the past really does not work. This is a new departure. This is not returning to original order.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But do you think it's temporary?
MR. GHANI: I do not think so. I think that if the international society does not come to terms to make it as part of the conditions of the transition and stability, it could be a long-term measure.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Khalilzad, does any outside power--all outside powers, by the way have condemned these harsh measures, not just for women but also for the cutting off of hands of thieves and other harsh measures against men in the population but they have rejected the outside world's appeals for greater human rights understanding and practices--does any outside power have any leverage on the Taliban?
MR. KHALILZAD: Well, the Taliban are a movement--they're still in their ascendancy. They will be difficult to influence in the near-term by outside powers, but ultimately they will have to come to terms with outside world because the country needs a lot of outside assistance in order to reconstruct--reconstruct. The country's been largely destroyed as a result of this 20 years war. They need Afghan technocrats who live abroad to be brought back to help. They need foreign financial assistance, and I think they're also faced with internal military potential opposition from groups who do not agree with them in terms of their policies including their policies on women, so I think the outside powers, if they persist, they can influence them, although that may be more in the long-term than in the immediate future.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How much of the country do they control now, Mr. Ghani?
MR. GHANI: About 2/3 of the country. Afghanistan is divided basically between a northern third and a southern two thirds. The chain divides the Northern and the Southern part. And most of the Taliban forces are concentrated in the southern two thirds.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Maiwandi, the Taliban suffered a major setback today in the Hindu Kush, which is north of Kabul, where they are holding power. How much danger do you see--is there a possibility of danger, the danger of the break up of Afghanistan because of all of this factional fighting?
MS. MAIWANDI: That's what the northern strongmen of Afghanistan--Rashit Dostum, who is ethnically Uzbek said yesterday if his powers according to the reports we get according to the correspondent reports we get from Kabul. If his powers, his forces get joined or get together with the ousted president's forces, then there will be very, very strong, very heavy, more offensive fighting going on, and the possibility of--and I'm quoting Gen. Dostum's spokesman of dividing the country or disintegration of Afghanistan would exist then, and he says that the country will divide along ethnic lines, linguistic lines, regional--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Regional lines.
MS. MAIWANDI: Regional lines. So that's, you know, the danger is reportedly there.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about the danger also because I saw that the Soviet, former Soviet satellites around there, tell me a little about that, and how much of a danger? Because they--tell me what's happened with them.
MR. KHALILZAD: Well, first I think there is a danger of Afghanistan becoming another Bosnia, ethnic conflict taking place there in a sustained way that could lead to its partition ultimately but as far as the CIS states are concerned--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The CIS being--
MR. KHALILZAD: The republics that have become independent from the former Soviet Union, including Russia. They have an emergency summit meeting in Kazakhstan. Russia and Tajikistan are the most worried in the immediate future because Afghanistan borders, Tajikistan, and the Russians have some troops on the border, and--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And they think the fighting inside of Afghanistan was still over, or they think the Taliban might try to attack or what?
MR. KHALILZAD: I think both. They think that the--if the Taliban take over the border areas which are not now--are not under their control, they might increase assistance for the Tajik opposition, and therefore they're being forced border with Afghanistan. At the same time, the Uzbek government is concerned, that it--Dostam--I one day spoke about him--is gotten rid of and the Taliban extend their control to, to the--to the Uzbek border, so what you see in a sense is an internal civil war, and at the same time, and many great games are being played by various regional powers seeking influence by supporting one faction or another.
|Worries of instability|
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What are the implications of instability, the break up of Afghanistan, or fighting across the board for the region? I mean, does that have any implications say for U.S. involvement or other international--
MR. GHANI: The first thing that we have to recognize is that all the borders in the area were drawn during the colonial period, and any breakdown of a country will pose immensely complicated issues of adjustment of borders, for Pakistan and balance of power in South Asia. In Central Asia, among the republics in Central Asia, and then between them in Iran. Because of that there was a consensus, even despite the anarchy if the last four years that Afghanistan should not disintegrate, that its continuation would be a force for stability in order rather than disorder.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, we're just going to have to watch it and leave it there for now. Thank you very much for joining us.