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America's New War

Aired September 27, 2001 - 23:32   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Pakistan is launching another bid to try and persuade Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to cooperate with the international coalition against terrorism. And as the diplomatic efforts continue, the Afghan refugee crisis is getting worse by the day.

With the latest from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, CNN's Tom Mintier -- Tom.

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron. It appears the diplomatic initiative has not yet gotten off the ground. The Pakistani delegation leaving from Islamabad this morning, a 10-member delegation, including clerics.

Last night, when a senior government official confirmed to me that this delegation would make a last-ditch effort to convince the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, he said that he hoped it would succeed, but at the same time admitted he was a realist and realized that they didn't get much the last time they went. They said it was 60-40. The 60 percent was the fact that they listened to them. So another delegation going in.

At the same time, an attorney will be going in to meet with the eight foreigners who are detained and being held for teaching, allegedly, Christianity in Afghanistan. Now, the lawyer said about the same: that he was not overly confident that his mission was going to be successful, but he was hoping that the trial would continue on with the end result coming quickly, that the eight detainees would be deported.

This is the second time Pakistan has sent a delegation to Kandahar, the political capital of Afghanistan, and both missions basically lasting one day. They're expecting this delegation to be back in Islamabad by tonight.

But again, not holding out much hope, but it seems to be one of the only diplomatic avenues open to the Taliban right now. Pakistan is the only remaining country that has diplomatic relations with the Taliban. The embassy is still here up and operating. Yesterday, they went on an announced visit to the Belgium embassy. Now, Belgium is the current president of the E.U., so possibly a message coming out from the Taliban via the Belgium embassy.

So, but after the meeting they said that they weren't going to say anything about. It was discussions that were under way and nothing they wanted to talk about.

We hope to learn more from this Pakistani delegation that's going into Kandahar this morning. They are not yet at the airport. The plane, a special plane approved by the Pakistani government to fly them into Kandahar after agreement from the Taliban to accept them.

So it's interesting to see and watch as this takes place and unfolds today, possibly providing a diplomatic opening, if there indeed is one, with the Taliban -- Aaron.

We know who's going from the Pakistani side. Do we actually know who that delegation will meet with on the other side?

MINTIER: Well, the last time they met with Mullah Omar, and it's believed that they will probably have the same reception this time.

We do know that the Taliban has confirmed that the message delivered by the clerics last week for basically Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan has apparently, according to the Taliban, been delivered. So we may hear more about the message and the response to it being delivered after this delegation returns from Kandahar today.

BROWN: The reason I asked the question, because at least from here it's now always clear to me who or how even decisions are made in the Taliban government.

MINTIER: Well, I think the session that occurred in Kabul last week, of basically putting it in front of the -- of the clerics and then taking their recommendation or advisory and then pass it on to Osama bin Laden was extraordinary.

When you talk to people here in Pakistan about the message or suggestion that he leave Afghanistan, basically a guest being asked to leave your house, is extraordinary in this part of the world. And it's not a -- while it's worded politely, everyone I talk to say it was about as strong as the Taliban could be in suggesting that Osama bin Laden leave.

So waiting to hear what is the response of this delegation that is leaving to Kandahar this morning, I think, you know, while the United States says there's no negotiation, no discussions going on, Pakistan wants to at least prove to the world that they tried one last time to convince the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden.

Tom, thanks -- Tom Mintier in Islamabad tonight. It's morning there. Appreciate your time.

Also in Pakistan, besides this ongoing negotiation with the Taliban government, there are now more than 3 1/2 million Afghan refugees already in Pakistan or Iran. Many others are being stopped at the borders with no place to go. They've set up makeshift homes and schools and camps there.

A look now at life along the border at camps in Jalozai and Shamshatoo.

Here's CNN's Sid Ackbar.


SID ACKBAR, CNN STUDENT BUREAU (voice-over): We're traveling along the Afghanistan border in Pakistan. I'm on my way to volunteer at an Afghani refugee camp, not really knowing what to expect.

This is Jalozai, home to 300,000 people who have left Afghanistan to escape the internal fighting. Families live in makeshift tents in the intense desert heat.

"There are many difficulties," he said. "I had a home in Afghanistan, but there is so much war that you have to take sides."

Some of the children have never lived anywhere else. This woman sits in her tent spinning cotton, carrying on her traditions.

When you ask them why they are here, the common response is war.

"Everyone is fighting Afghanistan. Even though I was born there, I had to leave, because of war."

This is a tribal leader, who led his 300 families from Afghanistan instead of aligning with the Taliban.

There is no running water. The water for drinking must be brought in by truck. There is not enough for bathing. This is their toilet, nothing more than a hole in the ground. This is a kitchen.

After working two weeks in Jalozai, I left to work at another camp called Shamshatoo. It's older than I am. It was opened 23 years ago when Afghan refugees began pouring into Pakistan when the Soviets invaded their country. Instead of tents, these refugees built homes out of clay.

They also have something I did not see in other camps. This is Abdulbecca (ph) school, the center of hope for young refugees. The teacher is also a refugee. He says it's sometimes difficult to convince parents that their children need an education. Notice: There are no girls allowed in this class.

This boy is 13 years old, yet he's only in the second grade. He says he wants to become a doctor.

Along with reading and writing, there are classes on their religion -- Islam. Here, these boys learn how to pray to Allah.

Sometimes Afghan refugees move out of the camps to the nearby city of Peshawar. Survival can sometimes mean begging. This 13-year- old is asking for spare change.

Some Afghanis have found ways to earn money. This man is making his living selling Afghan chai tea on the sidewalk to passers-by like me. It's hot, but it's good.

This refugee sells fresh meat on the street, but you take your chances with its cleanliness. Here you can buy Afghani currency as a souvenir. This 10,000 note is only 17 cents.

Afghanistan is known for its beautiful rugs. Afghan families make them by hand and sell them for between 40 and 80 American dollars. It can take a month to make one rug.

Young and old refugees find work making jewelry. Their employer says he pays them reasonable wages, but their labor is a very small part of the price this jewelry may sell for in the U.S.

For more than two decades, millions of Afghan people left their homeland to escape war and wait for peace. Yet the prospects of war have only increased. The camps near the border will get even more residents in the days ahead as more families seek refuge.

Sid Ackbar, CNN, Student Bureau.


BROWN: A look at the life of a refugee. We'll talk more about this after a break. CNN special report continues in a moment.


BROWN: As we've been telling you, the refugee crisis in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan getting more serious by the day. Joining us now to talk about this, Thomas Gouttierre, the director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and in Washington, Haron Amin, a United Nations diplomat, special envoy to Washington for the Afghan United Front, the group that exists in opposition to the Taliban. Good evening to both of you.

Mr. Gouttierre, let me start with you, professor. Is it too simple to say that these refugees, the 3 million plus that have already left and the many thousands that appear to be on their way out, are leaving because of the war?

THOMAS GOUTTIERRE, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AFGHANISTAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA AT OMAHA: Yeah, I think it is too simple to say that, but it's certainly the war and the prospect of war is helping them to make their choice here. In some ways, some of them are voting with their feet, but in other ways, many of them are fleeing from, you know, a situation in which they've been under 23 years of warfare, four years now of drought, and they're living in a kind of religious concentration camp.

So I think all these things come together and it helps to make them decide that it might better for them and their progeny to leave Afghanistan at this time.

BROWN: The reason I ask is because particularly in the second refugee camp, that did not look like a place where people were planning to stay for a little while, they were building clay homes, they were migrating into the cities. These are people that looked to me, at least, like they had left Afghanistan for good. GOUTTIERRE: Well, you know, in fact, I remember that camp very well. I've been there many times. It was very active during the 1980s when the Afghans were fleeing the Soviets at that time. And many of them have just stayed on, unable to go back to their part of Afghanistan because the war in another form, as a civil war, has been continuing. So these are places which have seen Afghans for many, many, many years. And you're right, it's not a very great spot to go, and they're probably going to be getting more of them there.

BROWN: Mr. Amin, from your point of view -- I don't mean to reduce these people to a political issue one way or another. But is it helpful to the United Front, to people in opposition to the Taliban to see these people fleeing?

HARON AMIN, SPOKESMAN, UNITED FRONT: Absolutely not. Let me tell you that it's very regrettable that the people of Afghanistan have to leave Afghanistan. The numbers are only increasing and not decreasing. But you see the direct result of these people fleeing Afghanistan, at least in the current circumstances, is that you have the Taliban, backed by the Pakistani ISI, or military intelligence, and Osama bin Laden engaged in the kind of forced conscription lately of people as young as 13 years of age and beyond that.

But you know, the practices that you see, that you've seen in Afghanistan, and definitely the war is not a civil war. It's a foreign-imposed war by the Pakistanis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Pakistanis to have their own ambitions in Afghanistan.

But regardless of how you look at it, these are mounting problems in Afghanistan, this refugee crisis, and we call upon the international community to pay due attention. And the secretary- general today has called for about $580 million worth of aid.

And remember that the drought lately has been very significant. And part of it has to do that the Taliban over the years encouraged the Taliban, or didn't actually say anything about farming opium, and all of a sudden this year stopped the farming of the opium, also partially due to the drought. So it's a compounded problem that is multifaceted.

BROWN: It is -- it is indeed that. I'm going to talk about, you mentioned the United Nations and what the United Nations is going to do or would like to do. I want to talk about the American government here with both of you.

Mr. Amin, let's go with you first here. Is there an opportunity in this for the United States government?

AMIN: Well, I think that the United States, of course, with its resolve to head this international coalition to fight terrorism, ought to not only look at the problem of Osama bin Laden and hopefully at least the roll back of the Taliban, but beyond that, that (a) there needs to be put in place in the post-Taliban collapse, if there is -- if there's going to be one, of an interim setup, and the reconstruction, rehabilitation of Afghanistan. But as of now, in parallel to any military initiative, I think that the issue of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan needs to be closely looked at and is something that has come up to at least us as the issue of, you know, if nothing else, at least air drop food to various parts of Afghanistan that are going to be, you know, really badly hit in terms of refugee concentration.

BROWN: Professor Gouttierre, do you see here perhaps an opportunity for the United States government? I know there is some argument that the United States government helped create part of the problem by disengaging from Afghanistan. Is there a chance now to rectify that in some way?

GOUTTIERRE: Well, I think there is, and it truly was, I think, an unfortunately chapter of our history. We embraced the Russians, who were emerging from the Soviet Union after the Afghan war -- and I think that was the right thing to. But it was the wrong thing to abandon the Afghans.

And I think this gives us our chance to help the Afghans reconstruct their country. After all, they fought the last battle of the Cold War. They were the final straw upon the Soviet camel's back, and I think we owe them a kind of debt of gratitude and a moral -- we have a moral obligation.

And I think the best way to do that is to provide the reconstruction that will be not only good for them, but also good for stability in the region and that will preclude the possibility that 10 years down the road we'll have another situation like this in that same region of the world.

BROWN: Gentlemen, thanks for joining us. The one thing that struck me there is that that strikes me as something down the road. In the meantime, this problem continues to build on the border. We'll spend more time on that, clearly, in the days and weeks ahead.

Thank you, both, for joining us tonight.

AMIN: Thank you.

GOUTTIERRE: Nice to be with you. Nice to see you, Haron.

BROWN: Thank you, guys.

AMIN: It was very nice seeing you.

BROWN: Still ahead from us tonight, Afghanistan has been toughened by many wars. Ahead, the story of a lone British survivor.


BROWN: If in fact it happens, U.S. forces will face a daunting challenge as they move into Afghanistan. We've heard the warnings from former Soviet soldiers. They lost thousands of comrades during a decade of fighting in that country and then withdrew in defeat.

Well, there is another cautionary tale, one which hasn't lost its poignancy with the passage of time.

Here's CNN's Garrick Utley.


GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An image to remember: a wounded British soldier on his horse in Afghanistan. His name was William Brydon. His story takes us back to an earlier time, when Great Britain had the mightiest military force in the world: that is until Afghanistan.

In 1839, the British charged into that isolated land to expand their empire. It was called "The Great Game," the contest with Russia to control Central Asia.

Then, as now, the Afghan tribesmen were armed with only their horses, their guns and their mountains: and their hatred of outsiders. British officers and officials were murdered, their army finally forced to give up and pull out.

The retreat from Kabul to the nearest friendly fort at Jalalabad was only 90 miles, but it led through mountain passes and bitter cold and January snow: 16,500 soldiers, wives, children, servants set out on the exodus, believing that they had been promised safe passage.

But up there, on top of the passes, were the Afghan warriors with their muskets and marksmen eyes. The proud and once powerful British were trapped, broken and massacred. The killing went on for nearly a week.

A last stand was made by 65 soldiers with a total of 40 rounds. The poet Rudyard Kipling would write...

(on camera): ... "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains and the women come out to cut up what remains, just roll to your rifle and blow at your brains, and go to your god like a soldier."

(voice-over): Today's foreign soldiers, American soldiers, facing war in Afghanistan have 21st century weapons not available back then. They also know the lessons of what happened back then, what happened to William Brydon, an army surgeon.

Of those 16,500 men, women and children who thought they had an exit strategy from Afghanistan, he was the lone survivor.

Garrick Utley, CNN.


BROWN: And finally from us this hour, another sign of how things in the country are getting back to normal and how things may never be the same. In their first home game since September 11, Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa took one out of the yard, as they say, his 59th home run of the year. That's the normal part. That's the new part. As he got to first base, he grabbed an American flag from coach Billy Williams and waved it as he made his way to home plate.

Somehow, we're not surprised.

That's it for now. I'm Aaron Brown in New York. We'll see you again tomorrow night at 10:00. Larry King is next. For all of us here, good night.




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