U.S. policymakers, U.N. officials, and world leaders discuss their hurried
efforts to forge a broad-based, multiethnic government for Afghanistan as
military offensives on the ground toppled the Taliban regime more quickly than
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
[Can you tell us about] a deputies' meeting where you talked about the need
to engage with a post-conflict scenario?
We were still not quite at the stage where we understood whether we'd be
dealing with a Taliban-led Afghanistan or a Taliban-less Afghanistan. It was
looking more and more as each day went on that the Taliban would not be
throwing out Al Qaeda, and hence evading prosecution.
You'll have to remember that there were several American and foreign hostages
in effect in Kabul, and that complicated our planning. But within two and a
half weeks, three weeks into the deputies' meetings, it became very clear that
we were talking about a Taliban-less Afghanistan. That was understood and
accepted. The majority of the people in the meeting realized that the
Department of State would have to take the lead in coming up with a formulation
on how to approach the future of Afghanistan, because the Department of Defense
was so heavily involved in the military activities.
U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan
There had been hopes that the two main factions of the Afghan opposition would
on their own initiative coalesce, and there'd been discussion between these two
groups, the Northern Alliance on the one hand and the [Rome] group on the other,
representing the king's faction if you will, [though that's] an oversimplification. There had
been discussions of a meeting between the two groups--and we had been encouraging that--but in fact it never occurred for one reason or another. They never quite got
to the table.
And so in the consultations which Richard [Haass] and I had with [Lakhdar
Brahimi] and with other delegations in New York, we came to the conclusion that
[Brahimi] was going to have to take the initiative and himself set a date,
provide a venue, issue invitations and--not force them to the table because you
couldn't force them, but at least rob them of many of the excuses that had been
put forward as to why they weren't on their own initiative meeting.
U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan
One day you thought that the Taliban had a couple of days to go, and the next
day, you thought they were going to be there for a long time. So the important
point to make about this is that there was always a race between the political
process and the military process. One day you thought it was horrible because
the military campaign was moving very, very, fast and that a military solution
was there and nothing had happened on the political front, and the next day,
you'd say you're making [progress on the] political front, but you are talking
about situation that militarily is blocked. And the impression I had is that
it's as if we were rushing in all directions and I think you are familiar with
my very strong resistance to this rush[ing]. I was the one who had to say,
"Please, not too fast."
How did [the U.S.] try to get you to engage the U.N. in an
initiative to find a replacement for the Taliban and what was your reaction to
the line [it] was taking at that time?
... I'm sure my American friends will not object to me saying that they had
really lost interest in Afghanistan for a long time. And so Sept. 11 had
brought them back to Afghanistan. They were trying to catch up as it were, and
have their own idea on where to go, and how to go about it.
The U.N. had an advantage in that it was forced to stay and gaze no matter how
frustrating it was with the Afghan political problem. So, this may sound a
little arrogant, but I think, on the political front, we were a little bit more
aware at that stage than other players.
Your perception then was of the need for an outside-in approach as a way of
finding an alternative to persuading Afghanistan to move on, and persuading its
neighbors to move on as well. Can you tell me what your outside-in approach
I don't know whether that is how I would call it -- outside-in. But I have
always been acutely aware of the importance of the external factor in the
Afghan situation. Afghanistan is a land-locked country. It doesn't produce
weapons. It doesn't even produce its food. So if you want to fight a war,
you've got to get a lot of things from outside. And clearly the Afghan parties
were getting everything they needed to continue this fight for years and years.
So I have always been aware -- perhaps giving excessive importance to the necessity
of bringing in the external players along with the internal players. You cannot
just work with the internal players and ignore the others. And in particular Pakistan and Iran as the two most important neighbors
of Afghanistan, who have legitimate interests, concerns, fears, but also
agendas, but were conflicting with one another. And even in my previous
incarnation -- as you know, I was in charge of Afghanistan earlier and gave up
in frustration in September '99 -- even then I had tried and tried and tried to
bring these two countries together, and we had failed. I thought that this was
an opportunity to bring them together.
Given the importance of getting the external countries to somehow get into
some kind of reconciliation of position, what led you to agree that it would be
best to get the Afghan factions to convene a conference, rather than the U.N.
immediately proceeding to try and encourage a conference?
Look, having agreed that the U.N. had to bring them together, I did not agree
with just waking up in the morning and saying, "Come tomorrow to play [your] swan
song." What I was saying was let's talk to the parties and see how ready
they are, and whether they are ready to really talk business. And also let's make
sure that we know what is happening, around Afghanistan and that all the
players are going to go along. ... So, yes, ultimately you would have to call them
there, but make sure that you've done the ground work, that when you call them
in, you have a chance of getting somewhere.
As part of a process?
Yeah, because you see in these situations, you know, don't waste your
opportunities if you can, because if you fail then how long is it going to be
before you can try again? So, that is the point I always was making there. Go
slow if you want to go fast. ...
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Policy Planning
[In] your meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi on Oct. 18 in New York, what did you
say to him about U.N. involvement, and how the U.S. and U.N. would work
What we wanted to do
was to avoid a situation where it just looked like a "Made in America"
proposition. So we thought it made a lot of sense to work closely with the
United Nations, to keep them out front, and we would be quite supportive to
help fashion, to help cobble together -- no pun intended -- an Afghan
alternative. That was very much our thinking.
When I went up for the first time in this capacity to see the secretary-general
and Lakhdar Brahimi, my basic message was, despite the differences between the
United States and the United Nations over the last few years on a range of
issues, there were no differences here. We all wanted to see the same thing. We
wanted to forge a broad-based political alternative. We, the United States, are
here to help you to do just that. We also knew that the United Nations could be
invaluable in doing this, because they had the kinds of ties, say, to the
Iranians that we didn't have.
What came through in the meeting with both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and
with Lakhdar Brahimi is that they clearly welcomed American support. They knew
that this was something we had to work in tandem, and it was their idea very
clearly from the outset that you had to bring both the Iranians and the
Pakistanis on board. Brahimi, who had a lot of experience in Afghanistan,
understood that if he was going to bring the insiders together, the various
ethnic groupings, the only way he could do that was by having the external
countries, which had a lot of influence over the insiders also, rowing in the
Or to put it bluntly, if Iran and Pakistan were at cross-purposes, then inside
Afghanistan various ethnic groups would also be at cross-purposes. So Brahimi
had to play the outside game as well as the inside game, and his idea was that
the two would reinforce one another. This made a lot of sense to us. Obviously,
we said, "We will support you any way we can with that."
President of Pakistan
Can you just indicate what you were interested in seeing after the Taliban
had gone -- what kind of issues were important for you?
Yes, I think first of all, the basic parameters that we had thought of, I did
indicate to General Colin Powell, that first of all we must ensure the
unity and peace of Afghanistan after the operation, and bring peace and
stability to Afghanistan. The unity basically must be ensured.
The second I spoke about is, whatever political dispensation comes about in
Afghanistan must be broad-based, multiethnic, and take into consideration the
ethnic composition of Afghanistan. And the third was that whatever regime comes
in must be in harmony with all its neighbors. Of course, we in Pakistan were
concerned about Pakistan, and be in harmony with Pakistan. These were the three
main issues that I thought must be catered for in a post-Taliban
But other than that, I think we had crystallized our views on what the
requirements are of immediately operation. We thought that there are three
strategies that need to be followed together. I think one was military
strategy, which was in operation; the others [were] political strategy, and
rehabilitation and reconstruction strategy. These three strategies need to be followed and thought out. ... I was always
concerned that when the military operation is over, we should not withdraw into
chaos. We should not be sent into chaos with no political strategy in place. So
gradually, the military strategy must give way to a very effective political
At that stage, were you beginning to have a concern that, in that vacuum, it
would leave the field open for an unbalanced control by the Northern Alliance
to the exclusion of other forces? What were your concerns were about the
No, no, the concerns were that Afghanistan would have descended into chaos,
as it did at the end of the Cold War, when the Soviets left. There would be
ethnic infighting, warlordism, and strife in the whole of Afghanistan. The
Northern Alliance really would have splintered in that. My view was that
Northern Alliance really had a number of components who had been fighting
against each other. So my concern was that all of them will start fighting
again between themselves. That was the chaos, really. It was not only sure of
Northern Alliance taking over Afghanistan, because Northern Alliance was
composed of groups which really were not very homogenous. ...
U.S. National Security Adviser
[President Bush and President Putin talked at the APEC summit in Shanghai.]
This is kind of 10 days into the war now, but I'd like to focus on what they
said to each other about the future of Afghanistan. Now certain people in the
State Department have told us that the feeling was Russia was a bit too close
to Professor Rabbani [of the Northern Alliance] at that time. So what did you
say in your discussions about post-Taliban Afghanistan about the slightly
different positions on that?
President Putin and President Bush did discuss at Shanghai the future of
Afghanistan and how to think about the various parties, and how to think about
a stable future for Afghanistan, because by this time, by the time of Shanghai,
military operations were well underway. There were questions about whether the
Northern Alliance would try and take Kabul. If they tried to take Kabul, would
that somehow then make the Pashtun feel that Afghanistan's future was being
taken way from the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan? They had a rather
detailed discussion of that.
I think that they found more in common than in conflict. Obviously, the
Russians had relations with Rabbani. They had relations with the Northern
Alliance and with certain parts of the Northern Alliance. But what was really
important in that meeting was that they came to a general agreement that you
had to have a broad-based government to rule Afghanistan after the defeat of
the Taliban; that it had to represent all ethnic groups; and that it had to
have a strong and heavy representation of the largest ethnic groups in
I think that was an extremely important finding/insight, because without the
agreement of the Russians -- and indeed even the Iranians -- that this had to
be a broad-based government in Afghanistan, we might have had what has
typically been Afghanistan's past -- which is its history of outside powers
trying to arrange the pieces in Afghanistan to favor their own interest, rather
than thinking about the interest of Afghanistan. Here, I think, you had the
outside parties understanding that the best interest of stability was to have
an Afghanistan government that would be broadly based.
Did you talk about how President Putin might be able to deliver that message
to the Northern Alliance when he was stopping off in Dushanbe?
President Putin agreed that when he stopped in Dushanbe, he would indeed send
this message loud and clear to all of their allies.
President of Russia
I emphasized that we will support Afghanistan if it is a friendly neutral
independent state. As we agreed with President Bush, we believe a stable
Afghanistan will come about if the government represents all ethnic groups,
Foreign Minister of Afghanistan
The [Dushanbe] meetings started at 12:00 in the morning, it had continued up to
4:30 in the morning. ... The first thing it was evaluation of the situation and
everybody around the table was in an agreement that the support for the
coalition efforts is necessary and it is necessary and it is also useful, it
will be beneficiary for everybody. And everybody was appreciating the
opportunity which was created to combat terrorism and to get support from the
international community in that combat.
While at the same time I recall very well that President Putin mentioned that
the future political setup should be much more comprehensive. That was the
message. It should be acceptable for the people of Afghanistan, it should be
acceptable for the international community, that was the main point. While at
the same time [he] assured us of their continuation of their support.
Presumably President Putin told you that he recognized the Northern Alliance
with Professor Rabbani at its head as the legitimate government of Afghanistan
at that point. Did he say something like that to you?
Yes, that was the official position of the Russian Federation's government from
not just at that point, but beforehand. He'd emphasized that point, but while
emphasizing that point he kept mentioning that the future political setup
should be based on a broader agreement between broader Afghan [groups]. That
was the whole thing. ...
Paul Bergne [the U.K. special envoy to Afghanistan] asked you could there be
a Pashtun chairman for this administration, could there be Pashtun leadership?
What did you say to that?
Yes, my answer was yes. But I tried to explain the situation that the events
of the past has happened in a way that Taliban have falsely represented
themselves as the Pashtun leadership. In no alternative Pashtun leadership has
created so while from one side I mentioned to Paul Bergne that we would like to
see a Pashtun leadership from the other side, in practical terms I was not sure
how it could happen.
home + on the ground + assessing the campaign + with us or against us? + fighting on two fronts: a chronology
epilogue + discussion + interviews + links & readings + introduction + video + reporter's notebook
FRONTLINE + wgbh + pbsi
photo © reuters newmedia inc/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2013 WGBH educational foundation