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after the taliban - the race for a new afghanistan

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 anticipated.

richard armitage
  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State

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[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

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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 was?

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 together?

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 same direction.

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 Pervez Musharraf
  President of Pakistan

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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 dispensation.

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 strategy. ...

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 Northern Alliance?

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. ...

Condoleezza Rice
  U.S. National Security Adviser

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[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 Afghanistan.

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, including Pashtuns.

  Foreign Minister of Afghanistan

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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.

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