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America's New War: Islamic Grand Council Finishes Meeting

Aired September 20, 2001 - 06:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we are working on breaking news. The Islamic Grand Council has finished its meeting, making some statements about what it is deciding to do with Osama bin Laden and what it is deciding to do about any military strike by the United States.

CNN's Mike Chinoy is in Peshawar, Pakistan. And, Mike, we understand that you have the specifics of the statement that the Islamic Holy Council released.

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Carol, that's right. Peshawar is the kind of listening post for Afghanistan these days. It's a place where a great deal of information, political statements filter through, and we have just received from sources who have been in contact with people who were close to that meeting in Kabul details of what the council of Islamic scholars agreed to.

According to the sources, the scholars agreed that they would ask the government of Afghanistan, that is to say the Taliban, to ask Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan within a suitable time period and find another place to live.

They also expressed their grief over the events in the United States last week, and they did, however, urge the United States not to attack Afghanistan but to be patient and to continue with its investigation.

They also asked for the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference to conduct its own investigation. And the statement ended with a warning, that warning if in spite of all this the United States went ahead with military action against Afghanistan, it would be obligatory for all Muslims to engage in a jihad, a holy war, against the United States.

Where does this leave us? Well, it kicks the ball back into the court of the Taliban government, which had initially asked these scholars for their guidance, and we don't know yet what the Taliban will do. It -- and there are some very practical issues here, not least of which is the fact that there is hardly any other country in the world that is likely to accept Osama bin Laden even if Afghanistan really pushed him to leave. Moreover, it's not clear that the Taliban political leadership, which is the group with whom bin Laden has had the closest ties, will agree to follow what the Islamic scholars have advised. However, what this does do, and this may be in part designed to achieve this affect, it buys some time for Afghanistan and it also helps shift the onus a little bit back to the United States so that the Afghans can say, well, we tried everything. We even asked him to leave. And therefore if the U.S. attacks, we are the victims and not in any way at fault.

But it's still very early days and it's far from clear that this announcement by the Islamic scholars will change any of the facts on the ground which are, as far as we know, bin Laden is still in Afghanistan and still under the protection and still having close relations with the Taliban. Carol.

LIN: Mike, you raise a lot of interesting questions. What is the influence of these scholars on the Taliban government? How much influence do they have on any decision that the government would make?

CHINOY: Well, the Taliban is a movement that came out of Islamic schools and is a very extreme form of Islam which seeks its inspiration from the Islamic religious parts of Afghanistan society, so these scholars would have a great deal of moral influence.

And one of the interesting points here, the fact that this deliberation took more than just a day and the fact that it's come out with somewhat nuanced statement suggests, in the view of some Afghan watchers that I've been speaking to here, that there may well be some significant divisions within the higher ranks of the Afghan political or political religious system.

It is widely accepted that there are divisions of opinion, that not everybody in the Taliban shares quite the same views and that not everyone in the Taliban, in a sense, joined up to go to war with American and be bombed by America.

The Taliban's appeal to many people was that it brought order to Afghanistan after so many years of war. So there may well be some divisions within the leadership and the religious leadership and that may also be reflected within the Taliban. It's something we'll have to watch very, very closely.

But the fact is, in any event, even if the Taliban were to get bin Laden out of the country, the bigger question remains and that the networks would still exist. A number of analysts that I have been speaking with have argued that whatever happens to bin Laden as a person that he is in some ways only personifying this movement and that the Taliban itself, as long as it exists in its present form, may also have to face some major action from the United States because it's presided over this country where these networks have been able to operate with impunity for so long -- Carol.

LIN: But, Mike, what many westerners don't understand is why the Taliban, why Afghanistan would risk everything, would risk an attack by the Untied States and its allies over one man?

CHINOY: Well that's a very good question and it's a very, very complicated one. You have to look at a number of factors. Bin Laden himself, he's a Saudi, but he went to Afghanistan in the 1980s and spent years in the anti-Soviet war, which ironically was backed by the United States as well as Pakistan, and then he and the kind of extreme form of Islam that he espouses is close to the very extreme ideas of the Taliban themselves and they have hosted him these past several years.

In addition, he has a force of anywhere from 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, perhaps even 10,000 Arab supporters in Afghanistan who are heavily armed and he exercises a lot of power and he has worked closely with the Taliban. Some people have described him in effect, as for all practical purposes, the Taliban's defense minister.

So he has a lot of power and he's been helpful to the Taliban in consolidating their own power within Afghanistan. And so that, plus the shared Islamic views, plus this deep rooted hostility towards the United States all combine to make the Taliban reluctant to give him up. Carol.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much. Mike Chinoy reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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