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Is the United States prepared to go the distance to help the Northern Alliance? Are the rebels up to the job of finishing off the Taliban?

Aired November 6, 2001 - 19:30   ET



LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY EDUCATION: They are not a very cohesive group. They are getting there because we have got our special forces people in there to help them.


BILL PRESS, HOST: In the war against terrorism, is the United States prepared to go the distance to help the Northern Alliance? And are the rebels up to the job of finishing off the Taliban? This is CROSSFIRE. Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. And looking ahead in Afghanistan at the short term and long term scenarios. First, U.S. and British bombers forced the Taliban to their knees. Who goes in to finish the job?

Then Afghanistan need a new government. Who can be trusted to lead the country? In the eyes of the United States, the answer to both seems to be the Northern Alliance or Afghan United Front, long- time foes of the Taliban, now cooperating with U.S. special forces. A good plan as long as they are up to the task, which some observers doubt.

So tonight we have invited in Mr. Haron Amin, the special representative of the Northern Alliance, to get some answers. Are they ready to fight? Why haven't they gained more territory since the bombing began, and are they prepared to govern, and how do we know they will be any better than the Taliban? Tucker Carlson, you start it off.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Mr. Amin, thanks for joining us.


CARLSON: For weeks commanders of the Northern Alliance --, the United Front commanders have been complaining that the United States' bombing campaign has not been vigorous enough.

Now, observers are beginning to say, perhaps the fault lies with the Northern Alliance. Perhaps they are not vigorous enough. Sunday's "New York Times" reported that the Northern Alliance defense minister, a month ago, promised to send 3,000 troops forward into Mazar-e Sharif. It was 90 degrees out when he said that.

Four weeks later it's getting cold. They haven't moved. Maybe the problem is timidity.

HARON AMIN, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE, UNITED FRONT: That would be in this context -- let me say it this way: I think it's very important that you have look at the entire program.

Initially there was certain prerequisites that hadn't been made -- hadn't been met. Number one: for example, the issue of our cooperation. We had gone from active resistance. Now the strategy is active offense. That requires things that need to be provided. Supplies. Ammunition. Food. This and that. So the strategy has shifted. That means overnight that cannot be met.

Secondly, if you look at the initial phase of the campaign militarily, the pounding of the Taliban front lines was pretty much the first thing on the American mind or the international mind.

It went through a series of bombardments in the south. Then it shifted to the north more, then the Taliban front lines. And then even there the frequency and intensity wasn't there as of let's say two weeks ago.

Gradually we see a difference. And as of now -- today Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld specifically said that as of now the whole campaign is basically the air raids, should be focusing to make possible the advance of the United Front. So we have look at all segments of this -- it's a constellation of factors that you have to look at.

CARLSON: I understand that. On the other hand, though, the Northern Alliance fighting has been fighting this war for years against the Taliban and here the United States comes in and -- to use the term -- softens up the Taliban quite a bit, actually destroys many of their capabilities. And I guess what Americans are looking for is more initiative on the part of the Northern Alliance.

Let me to read to you my favorite quote of the week. This comes from a Northern Alliance commander in the "New York Times." Short but to the point. He says, quote: "We don't train when it's raining."

Now you read things like that and you wonder if the Northern Alliance isn't waiting for the United States to come in and win its war for it.

AMIN: First of all, that quote is only from one commander in one area where there was rain at that time.

CARLSON: We don't train when it's raining?

AMIN: I know. Well, I mean, that is again just one commander in one area of northern Afghanistan. CARLSON: You ought to fire him.

AMIN: Well, that may be the initiative. But as of now, we need everybody on board. And we are going to make sure that the forces are ready. And I can tell you this: you will see over the next few weeks that there is going to be a definite change on -- on the ground. And you will see that militarily, definitely, over the next few weeks.

But the important thing is that the forces are ready, preparations are there. We have made advances, even as of late today we captured Riyaba (ph) about 20 miles to the south of Mazar-e Sharif. And if you -- if you look back just talking about last -- you know, the first campaign on Mazar-e Sharif, we had advanced quite, you know, to very close to the Mazar-e Sharif airport.

Air support wasn't there. We lacked ammunition. We had to retreat. Natural consequence of not being prepared. Now it's being addressed, both in terms of supplies, in terms of air raids as well as our preparation. And over the next few weeks will you see the -- a major different in the context of the land operations.

PRESS: By the way, just for the record, I have identify with this commander. I don't play golf when it's raining, either, so I understand the priorities.

CARLSON: The stakes are lower, I hope.

PRESS: But I hear what you are saying, yet the reality seems to be somewhat different, at least from some of the reports we have seen. I would like you to look at a little report last night that was on CBS evening news here in the United States.

Maureen Marr traveled with the Northern Alliance -- with the United Front -- as the United States was bombing. And the plan, of course, was we bomb, soften them up, and then you guys move in. It doesn't seem to always work out that way. Just listen to this little clip, please, from CBS News.


MAUREEN MARR: The alliance special forces team moves forward. The Taliban troops jump back. But instead of occupying the Taliban territory, the United Front retreats and accomplishes little more than firing off a few rounds.


PRESS: So there is the opportunity. No movement. I guess I'm echoing Tucker's question. Do your guys lack the backbone to take advantage of the opportunity?

AMIN: No. I think -- I think it's all again prematurely. Remember one thing. This campaign is too early. It's too early into the -- into the campaign. The important thing is that once everything is in place -- and I think it's getting there -- that all of this will be taken care of, and it will be done in the appropriate way. The military strategy -- remember, General Fahim had to move back and forth between Afghanistan and overseas -- I mean, outside the country to meet with General Franks and so many meetings were taking -- were taking place. We had lost Commander Massud. So all of these things are factors.

So I think -- again, remember, the most important things is first month -- first month into this campaign. Secondly, all the prerequisites are not still there. I think that in the next few weeks or so, I can tell you that you certainly you will see major changes.

PRESS: I'm glad you mentioned General Fahim, because there was an interesting article in this morning's "the New York times" about General Fahim, who of course has chosen to step into the shoes of the charismatic leader (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Massud who was really the cohesive force of the United Front.

So, as "the New York times" reports, General Fahim shows up to inspect the troops. You know, he stumbles, he doesn't look at the guys as he's walking by, he doesn't even finish inspecting troops. He never gives -- he never gives a speech.

And one of -- there's banner, actually a banner, over the troops as he is -- that they have put up while he is inspecting them which says: "We will have to wait centuries to find a mother who can bear us like Massud." And this -- so with so much depending on the personality of someone to hold these forces together, you know, is Fahim really up to it?

AMIN: Well, there are two ways you can look at this. There is nobody in Afghanistan that can fill Massud's shoes. Certainly that is the case. Now we have got General Fahim, who has got the same caliber in terms of the experience and in terms of the 22 years that he's put in this war.

He stepped up into Massud's shoes. Certainly he's not going to have the charisma that Massud has. He doesn't have the same capabilities or the capacity that Massud. Now there's even the magnanimity that he lacks.

But at the same time in terms of what happens, you know, last -- when he was in front of the troops, he was next to President Rabanni. And certainly next to Rabanni he is seen as also a soldier and so that he was not saluting not so much because he didn't want to salute but because Rabanni here was the chief in command and therefore that's a sign of deference to President Rabanni.

Secondly, in terms of addressing the -- the troops, you were talking about having done at numerous occasions. This was a grand thing. It was a major event, and Rabanni was doing most of the talking.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of that, it's interesting you brought up Rabanni and Massud in the same sentence. Last week's "New Yorker" reported that it's widely believed Massud's men that President Rabanni was -- the nominal at least president of the United Front -- had a role in his death, in his assassination by these two Arabs posing as journalists.

A, do you believe that is true, and B, it doesn't strike me that the United Front is very united.

AMIN: Certainly it's not true. There are a lot of things in the news, and if you were to just believe everything I believe that one would really go astray in terms of where this whole thing is leading to.

I can tell you that Rabanni is the president of the United Front of the Islamic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Afghanistan. Massud is someone that had the natural charisma. He had the natural leadership. He had the natural ability -- I mean, he was the Afghan who by the "Wall Street Journal" was quoted as the Afghan who won the Cold War. He had the civility.

It is going to be difficult to replace Massud. And Rabanni has had more of a political type of status. He has been able to gather various segments of the Afghan society to resist against the Taliban.

CARLSON: When you say various segments, though, I mean, do you include in that the Pashtun south. I mean, if the Northern Alliance is primarily Tajik and Uzbek -- and I think is that right.

AMIN: Also Azah and Turkmen and others, as well as Pashtuns.

PRESS: But all Northern tribes.

AMIN: Well...

CARLSON: But I wonder. I mean, is he -- can say that there is a large percentage of the United Front is Pashtun? And it doesn't -- nobody else seems to think it is. And if it's not, how do you hope to control the southern part of the country, which is primarily Pashtun?

AMIN: Three things in this context. Number one: we do not aim to rule all over Afghanistan -- rule all over Afghanistan. That's number one.

Secondly, the United Front has always had Pashtun leaders, Pashtun prominent leaders. Right now we have got Haji Kaddir who was the ex-governor of Jalalabad, who is a prominent member and then a leadership member of the United Front leadership counsel. Also Commander (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Kandahar.

Our former Prime Minister Abdulrahim (UNINTELLIGIBLE), an Afghan technocrat who had lived overseas, had had gone back and became prime minister and then his plane crashed inside Afghanistan.

So we have got -- in 1992 when we took over over 50 percent of the government, you had ministers and others who were of the ethnic Pashtun group. We've had that.

But remember that if you look at Afghanistan and if you were to look at it since 1992, a lot has happened, and a lot has happened because you have had constant meddling by the neighboring Pakistan. And that has really complicated the issue.

Look at for example, not too long ago, President Musharraf of Pakistan played this ethnic card saying that the Pashtuns constitute some 80 percent of the Afghan society. No Pashtun -- find me a Pashtun that could tell you that Pashtuns constituted 80 percent of the Afghan population. Playing that ethnic card has really exacerbated the situation.

I would say that if you leave Afghans to themselves I think that we can come up with some sort of solution.

PRESS: Well, they are -- you are not going to do it without the assistance -- I think you would agree -- of the United States.

AMIN: Military in this context?

PRESS: Militarily.

AMIN: Yes.

PRESS: And there have been many reports -- I want to get back to Pakistan stand after we take our break -- but there have been many reports of leaders of your United Front basically mocking the United States bombing campaign. One of your generals was quoted as saying that we -- the United States -- could keep this up for 100 years at the pace that we are doing it right now and the precision with which we are doing -- and it would make no difference.

AMIN: When did he say that?

PRESS: It was quoted "the New York Times" on the 26th of October. Are you -- I mean, do you share that -- let's be honest. You know, do you share that frustration with what the United States is doing?

AMIN: On the 26th I made similar remarks -- on the 26th, basically saying the intensity is not there, the frequency is not there and at the time they were not targeting Taliban front lines.

What was happening at the time you had all these Taliban who -- and al Qaeda people as well as extremists from around the region -- that have sought refuge in the front lines. It was -- it had become a safe haven for them.

In order to get rid of the Taliban, you inside to power the front lines. That reduces -- that reduces their number, see? That's what -- the people that did the incidents of September 11 here in the United States of America were not (UNINTELLIGIBLE), were not tanks, were not planes. These were individuals that have done this. And such individuals harboring such ideology are along these front lines. So pound them -- and on the 26th that wasn't the case. Now we are getting basically into the business, and now it's more serious.

PRESS: You are satisfied with the pace of the bombing campaign at -- at this time.

AMIN: At the current juncture, I could say yes.

CARLSON: OK. Sounds like the United Front, the Northern Alliance, whatever you may call them, they may be on their way to assuming control of Afghanistan. What would happen if that were to happen? We will talk about that when we return on CROSSFIRE.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we fight abroad with our military, with the help of many nations, because the Taliban regime of Afghanistan refused to turn over the terrorists. And we are making good progress in a just cause. Our efforts are directed at terrorist and military targets, because unlike our enemies, we value human life.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE." The Taliban's days are numbered. That much is clear. What isn't so clear is who will replace them. The United States seems to be betting on a coalition of Afghan rebels known as the Northern Alliance, or as they prefer to be called, the United Front.

But is the United Front up to the job? Recent news reports portray them as timid and disorganized. And if they do take power, will they make Afghanistan freer? Those are two of the many questions we hope to clear up tonight. With us in the CROSSFIRE, Haron Amin, the principal spokesman for the Afghan United Front. Bill.

PRESS: Mr. Amin, we Americans tends to understand things better if we see people as black hats and white hats. And the way we're sort of shaping things up today the Taliban are the black hats and the United Front are the white hats. Although that may not really be the case. At least I want to begin.

One of our viewers, knowing you were going to be on tonight, a man by the name of Bob Price sent me this e-mail: Ask the man why his Northern Alliance people pull people apart between tanks. They torture people. How much violence can the U.S. and Bill Press overlook before they find a group offensive?"

What is your commitment to human rights, and what is your record?

AMIN: I can say to Bob that if you look at 1992, we had just taken over from the Communists. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) regime was in place. The coalition of all of the resistance organizations in Afghanistan...

PRESS: This was when 25,000 people were killed by your forces taking over Kabul.

AMIN: This is 1992 when no one was killed. In 1992 we had just taken over...

PRESS: After 25,000 were killed.

AMIN: No. The Communists had done whatever. Their record, we are not responsible for that. But of course we declared amnesty and the killing had to stop.

But the moment we took over, seven resistance organizations existed in Afghanistan fighting the Soviets. Six out of the seven joined in this government. One went its own way -- his own way, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Now, strangely (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was the very man that was fully backed by the military intelligence of Pakistan. He had received 70 percent of all the international community's aid, including the United States.

He rained as many as 600 rockets into the city beginning with 1992, which lasted until 1995 and then was replaced by the Taliban. The electricity was cut. The country was -- was driven into poverty And numerous other facets.

In case of such a war, imagine. Two buildings in New York have had tremendous ramifications throughout the United States, affected the economy, affected New York in many ways. But then you have got the entire country intact. But in Afghanistan everybody was armed. Now certain acts of reprisal on a local basis should not implicate the United Front. Under no circumstances.

PRESS: But...

AMIN: Also, in 1995, when we were in Kabul, what was the status of women in Kabul? 70 percent of medical doctors, 65 percent of all civil servants, 50 percent of all university students were females. There was some sort of law and order in place. But not absolute law and order, but a relative degree of it.

PRESS: But is your organization not some renegade who left the capital, your organization accused by international rights groups, including Amnesty International, of shelling civilians, of summary executions, and of open opium and weapons dealing in order to support you. I mean, you have got a lousy record. Why should we trust you to be any better if you get back in power.

AMIN: You know, if you -- when argue like that, we have look at all the facets of this argument. Number one, did we authorize, did we really -- was this a policy on the part of the United Front backing such initiatives. Number one, no. Never been the case. Did we tax it? No, we never did it.

And in terms of Amnesty International's report, if you look at the human rights violations reports, you have to look at it in light of all of them. Put Amnesty International next to Human Rights Watch next to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and others that have come out of Afghanistan. You have look at the amalgam of all these reports. That's number one -- number two.

Thirdly, from the very early on, we have always been on the defense. The United Front has never been on the offense from the very start, which means that we defended ourselves. We defended ourselves by various perpetrators of various crimes and other things.

Now, again. Local acts of reprisal. I will give you an example. In 1998 there was story of this woman. The Taliban has led on onslaught on the northern Tamali plains. She had killed 25 Taliban.

Based on the Amnesty International report and Human Rights Watch report, that would be an act of reprisal. That would not be justifiable because it led to human death.

But at the same time, the very act of the international communities response in terms of campaign into Afghanistan leads to death, leads to collateral damage. Does that mean that that has to be condemned as well, and then considered to be crimes of war and crimes against humanity? Certainly these things happen in war. But again, the emphasis is that we have always been on the defense. It has never been authorized.

CARLSON: Let's talk about what will happen in the Northern Alliance were to assume power in some form. Let's just say for the beginning if they were to -- if you were to retake Kabul. Would the Northern Alliance-United Front impose Islamic law on the population?

AMIN: Our objective is very clear. In 1997 the United Front adopted a declaration. That declaration has got five principles.

The issue of human rights -- particularly women's rights. It's got international cooperation, it's got the evolution of authority to local administrations. It has the issue of political parties, democracy and political pluralism. These are the five tenets of the principles of the United Front. What we want for the future of Afghanistan not necessarily a monopoly of power by ourselves.

CARLSON: Wait a second. Are you going to -- are you going to impose Islamic law on the population or not? I guess that's my question.

AMIN: Islam is one of the major principles in Afghanistan. But all the same, the idea is that we want to live under Islamic -- under Islamic law in the sense that if it's applicable to the situation of Afghanistan, certainly we have to respect the rights of people as Muslims. But at the same time we have had Hindus in the past, who have been blessed by the law. We have had in Jews in Afghanistan that have been...

CARLSON: Right. So women wouldn't have to wear the burqa. They could go to school, they could work wherever they want...

AMIN: I give you an example...

CARLSON: Churches could operate without harassment. You could have a synagogue and nobody would bother it.

AMIN: There were synagogues. There were Hindu temples.

CARLSON: I know.

AMIN: In 1995. I mentioned to you the quote -- the number of women that were in the government offices and were able to do all these things.

That's what we want. The future should be like that. We have always said -- see, the question is this. You demand from somebody that you never provide aid to so much.

What I'm saying is, let us have the international community on our side. We want the United Nations to be involved in Afghanistan. We want the diplomatic community of various countries to be involved in Kabul. We want the international community to engage us so that we can get this right.

But if do you not care -- what was the case in Afghanistan since 1992? No one ever cared. Where was the -- the international community when we were fighting Osama Bin Laden?

CARLSON: Wait a second. You just said if people would stop tampering with Afghanistan and stay out of your business, you would be able to run the country great. But you haven't been. No one was tampering with you.

AMIN: Remember, Pakistan was siding with the Taliban. They brought him to power and nobody else was caring about it.

PRESS: Well, help me out with Pakistan, OK? Because the United States needs Pakistan. I mean, General Musharraf at great risk to his own political future has sided with the United States and not with the elements in his country who support the Taliban.

But we know that the Pakistan trained the Taliban. We know there are a lot of people inside the Pakistani intelligence agency who support the Taliban still. And the Pakistanis don't like you. They don't even recognize you. So how you can possibly take over, when our major ally -- Pakistan -- doesn't want anything to do with you?

AMIN: You know, I would have died for a time that -- like this last year, the media would actually explain so much about the role of Pakistan in terms of the creation of the Taliban. Now it is the case and I'm so happy.

But certainly there are a lot of things that needs to be put into perspective. Remember prior to September 11, there were two realities about the Taliban: there was the Pakistani reality and there was the international reality. Very paradoxical.

Now that has shifted. That has shifted under pressure by the international counter-terrorism campaign. We are happy. We want Pakistan on board. We think that Pakistan is actually getting a taste of its own recipe, but now it needs to be fought.

This -- this ideological anthrax needs to be removed and obliterated completely. I think the international community needs to work with Pakistan. But in terms of relations with Pakistan, from early on, since 1992, we were acknowledged on numerous occasions.

Pakistan has got a legitimate interest in Afghanistan. Pakistan certainly deserves a friendly government in Afghanistan. But the two should never be implied as a subservient government in Afghanistan with strings attached to Islamabad. That has been the whole tendency of Pakistan since 1992.

We want this relationship to be based on mutual respect and good neighborliness. If Pakistan wants to welcome that, I can tell you -- I can vow to you that they have our blessing on that.

PRESS: We thank you for coming. We're out of time. Good luck on your campaign. When you succeed, Tucker and I expect to be invited back to see this democracy that you're going to build in Afghanistan.

AMIN: I will be a very good host.

PRESS: And Tucker Carlson and I will be back with some closing comments on the United Front.


PRESS: So, Tucker, you know, I think we are putting all our eggs in one basket and I'm afraid the United Front is a leaky basket. I don't know whether they can win the war...

CARLSON: You think so? Well, you know, Bill, they may not adhere to Swedish standards of human rights, but they're not trying to kill us. Therefore I support them.

PRESS: All right. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow night.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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