ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get three perspectives now from Robert Oakley, ambassador to Pakistan during the first Bush administration and coordinator for counter terrorism during the Reagan administration. Spozhmai Maiwandi, chief of the Voice of America's push to language news Service which broadcasts into Afghanistan. She was born in Afghanistan and left there in 1982. And Barnett Rubin, director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. He is the author of several books about Afghanistan.
Barnett Rubin, who are the Taliban, and where do they come from?
BARNETT RUBIN: The Taliban originated as a group of rural mullahs or religious leaders from southern Afghanistan who had participated largely in the fight against the Soviet Union and then who reorganized in the mid 1990's in their region to overthrow the warlords who were pillaging the region and create a kind of United Islamic Authority there. However, they were then strongly supported by Pakistan, which used them to take control of the country in its own interests, and they have since imposed their kind of puritanical, repressive government on the country, as well as a kind of mono ethnic domination over it. In doing so, they have lost some of the support that they originally enjoyed in the areas where they had brought a kind of rough law and order.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ambassador Oakley what is the relationship between the Taliban and bin Laden?
ROBERT OAKLEY: It's very close. The Taliban and bin Laden, particularly Mullah Omar go way, way back. Bin Laden helped Mullah Omar with his mosque in Karachi before he moved into Afghanistan. And he has helped the Taliban with material support since they began their movement in Afghanistan. He's also helped of course, during the war against the Soviets, he helped organize the Arabs basically who didn't do much fighting, but they organized themselves from all over the Muslim world, and that was really Mullah Omar is making use of that assistance, which he has provided really through the auspices of Osama bin Laden. So there are a lot of links, and it's very, very tight. They clearly know what he's doing, they clearly are supporting him, they clearly are facilitating not only Osama bin Laden, but other terrorists who reside in Afghanistan, who are creating problems all the way from China to Algeria.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Spozhmai Maiwandi do you agree that the relationship is tight?
SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI: Yes, do I. And it's not only the Taliban officials, but generally in the country, all people they support Osama bin Laden. They think he's a Mujahid. And Barney Rubin actually had a study on - and the reason he's popular is because he is a Mujahid, which is holy warrior, and helped the Afghan people during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and he is a Mujahid, which means a person who has left his country and taken refuge in another country and culturally according to Islam, they have to support him wholeheartedly. And the third reason is of course he has helped them a lot financially, still they help him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what are you hearing, Ms. Maiwandi from the people you're talking to in Afghanistan -- their view of what's happening right now and what bin Laden's role is in all of this?
SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI: The view of the people of Afghanistan, including the Taliban and including their leader Mullah Omar is --
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. Let me just be clear. You're talking by phone to some officials in the government, is that right?
SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI: On a daily basis, yeah. We actually yesterday had a reaction from Mullah Omar himself on this incident. He strongly condemns the incident and calls it terrorism and he says that the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan are against any kind of terrorism, wherever it may happen; and those who are responsible for it should be punished severely. But they think that Osama bin Laden is not involved, and so do the people of Afghanistan. They say that the people who are responsible for this attack must be punished, but the U.S. has to think a lot before going after Osama in Afghanistan. And they think that this is something that needs a lot of more study and more review.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Rubin, what kind of bases, and how many people does bin Laden have in what parts of Afghanistan?
BARNETT RUBIN: Well, there are a number of bases or camps where his militants work and train. We know where some of them are. Probably the largest one is what is known as the 55th Brigade in Bath on the border with Uzbekistan, which is also the headquarters for the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, an Islamic group that has come under his aegis. But I think it's important to emphasize, first of all, that while Osama bin Laden and many important followers of his are in Afghanistan, they are not Afghans. No Afghans have been involved in any of these events that have been blamed on Osama bin Laden. And second, that most of the... that he is the leader of a worldwide network, and only is kind of the core of it is in Afghanistan. It's much larger.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Ambassador Oakley, what do you know about where he is, how much of a base he has in what places?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, as we heard in the previous segment, and Barney was just talking about, this is indeed a worldwide movement. As we've said before, they are affiliated; Osama bin Laden doesn't have a tight organization. He has a whole network of affiliated groups and organizations -- from Algeria, from Egypt...
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But I'm talking about in Afghanistan.
ROBERT OAKLEY: In Afghanistan, again, it's hard to separate what's happening in Afghanistan from the rest of the world because you think that you may possibly eliminate him in Afghanistan, which will cause you to go to war with the people of Afghanistan ultimately, but you find then that you have not eliminated him because these groups exist in Germany, they exist all over the Muslim world, but they exist in the West, too. And they are semiautonomous, so you have to take all this into account as to how you go about it. But in Afghanistan, he has a sizable group of Arabs who have been there with him for 10 years, who he worked to bring to Afghanistan and consolidated them into a movement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what do you make of the denial by the leadership of the Taliban that he was involved?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, it's a question of how you do it. He himself didn't fly the plane into the trade tower, so they can say he wasn't involved. And because these groups are sort-of-semiautonomous, he can say, "well be, it wasn't I." He often describes himself as a facilitator. And that's probably true; he inspired them. He provides finance; he perhaps arranges things. But there are a lot of independents within this organization. ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Spozhmai Maiwandi people in Afghanistan have a lot of concerns besides bin Laden, right - right now - because of the drought and the suffering? SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI: They do. They do. And this is an additional concern that they have. They've come out to the streets and they've said that, we condemn these attacks strongly. The interviews that we have had with people, that's what they are saying that, we are in this pain with the people of America and with the government of America, but we hope that they would not hit us -- it's hunger, it's war and we should -- must remember that this war situation has been in Afghanistan since 1979, and most of the country's infrastructure was destroyed during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- and then afterwards the civil war up to this date. And the drought has been going on there for the past four years. So yes, they are extremely concerned.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, Barnett Rubin, given Afghanistan's long history of repelling invasions, given the isolation of villages and people, given what is known or not known about bin Laden, given the Taliban's relationship, what should the U.S. do now?
BARNETT RUBIN: Well, I can't lay out a whole plan. I just want to make one thing clear --
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And tell us your concerns about this.
BARNETT RUBIN: Yes. I'm concerned that we might label Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan as our enemy and go to war against them, and that would be a huge mistake. Even the people who joined the Taliban, most of them did not join the Taliban in order to fight against the... fight a war against the United States in alliance with Osama bin Laden. They joined the Taliban because they thought it perhaps a way of rebuilding their country, building law and order to them or even they thought it was a way of imposing their kind of reactionary form of Islamic law on Afghanistan, but not to wage war against the United States. And if Mullah Omar tries to drag the Taliban into such a war I'm not at all not convinced even all the Taliban -- let alone the people of Afghanistan -- will follow him.
I think it's important that whatever we do, we should make it clear that the best bulwark we can have against terrorists from outside Afghanistan-- and I want to emphasize again, these are from outside Afghanistan and the political problems they're responding to are in the Middle East - they're not in Afghanistan-- to assure that they can't work freely in Afghanistan. The best way is to help the people of Afghanistan establish a national legitimate government there. They are the only ones who can establish security there. The United States or a U.S.-led foreign occupation force is not going to be able to do that by itself. No invader has ever been able to do that; and they won't be able to do it this time either.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry, go ahead. Finish.
BARNETT RUBIN: So there are groups of Afghans, both on the ground and abroad, who have been working. Pakistan has been blocking their actions. Among the things that we should demand of Pakistan is that it allow us to train, equip and work with politically and militarily those Afghans who are prepared to establish that kind of a national government so that they can do the job, and that in itself will stabilize the region.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, Mr. Ambassador, given everything we've been talking about, what do you think the U.S. should do?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, I think that Barney is right. We need to do what we can to win Afghans over to the side of this crusade to save civilization, as Secretary of State Powell calls it, which I think is exactly the right way to put it. It's not the United States against the people of Afghanistan or the United States against the Taliban; it's the United States and the rest of the world trying to save civilization, and we need to put it in that context, to begin with. We do indeed need to do what Barney's talking about, encourage as many Afghans as possible to rally around to a new approach to dealing with Afghan affairs and to keep Afghanistan from becoming a target, an enemy to the rest of the world, including the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And if bin Laden is shown to have provided guidance, direction, leadership here and support from his bases, what should be done?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, I think he clearly has provided a great deal of support, not just to this operation, but to the bombings in Africa, to the "Cole," to a lot of things. And we're going to have to, I think, exercise, if we can, military power but in a very carefully focused way and using, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, a lot of other things too, intelligence, public relations. We have to use more assistance to Afghanistan to try to help the people of Afghanistan, not merely consider all of them to be enemies -- not allow Mullah Omar to accomplish his objective - not Mullah Omar but allow Mullah Omar to be dragged into it by Osama bin Laden, in which case we go to war with the Taliban and ultimately the people of Afghanistan. That is a loser. We have to try to separate these things out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Spozhmai Maiwandi, what's your view about what should be done?
SPOZHMAI MAIWANDI: I think agree with both Mr. Oakley and also Barney Rubin but at the same time I would like to mention that any solution for Afghanistan that is imposed from outside would not acceptable. The history of Afghanistan has shown that. So it has to come from within. And one way that we could help that is try to help with reconstruction of Afghanistan's economy, what forces people to accept the situation right now as it is -- is because they are poor. The infrastructure has been destroyed. So if the development starts, maybe that will help towards peace and toward formation of a government that is brought by the people and liked by the people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all three.