CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Guests Discuss Future of Afghanistan
Aired January 23, 2002 - 21:00 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.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight American Taliban fighter John Walker is just back in the United States facing possible life in prison. And to did the fall of the Taliban really bring them freedom? A dramatic, close up look at the dangers still confronting women in Afghanistan?
From Los Angeles, she has seen the struggle for survival first hand, Saira Shah, producer and reporter for the acclaimed documentaries "Beneath the Veil" and "Unholy War."
Also in L.A., Mavis Leno, chair of the Feminist Majority campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan.
And he joined her in those treacherous trips to Afghanistan, Shaw's cinematographer and director James Miller.
In Washington, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
And in London, she's reported from the front lines in Afghanistan, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
And finally, a musical sensation, Enya joins us to sing "May it Be." They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. Before we talk about the plight of the women in Afghanistan, the subject on everybody's mind is John Walker. He is back in the United States. His legal team has added the very distinguished former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia. He's Bill Cummings, a former prosecutor and he's part of the legal team now for John Walker.
What are they saying in London, Christiane, about this matter?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it's caused a huge amount of controversy, the whole issue of the treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and, of course, John Walker himself. There is a picture that is now obviously become very famous, not just in the United States, but also in Europe, and that is of those prisoners who were photographed shackled and blind folded, as they were being processed in Guantanamo. And that has raised a huge storm of debate here as to what the status of the prisoners is and should be, what rights they have or should have. And I think it's one of the biggest controversies so far in the war, certainly since September 11.
KING: Mavis, I know it's off your topic of the women in Afghanistan, but everybody has an opinion. What do you make of the John Walker matter?
MAVIS LENO, CAMPAIGN TO STOP GENDER APARTHEID IN AFGHANISTAN: You know, I am so sorry for his parents. That's the foremost thing that I think about, because he's just a kid, basically, and kids do really idiotic things. Yet they have to answer for them in the real world, because those things have real results in the world. I don't know, it's just a tragic thing to me. It's as if he became a Moonie, this is a cultish form of Islam that it is not approved of by the rest of the Islamic world. He got sucked in the way naive people do at that age.
KING: Eleanor Smeal, what do you think?
ELEANOR SMEAL, PRES. FEMINIST MAJORITY: I agree, it's tragic. I also think that one of the things I hope we all learn is compassion. And, you know, one of things that -- no one fought harder against the Taliban than some of us, but in reality, right now I think we got to concentrate on how we're going to rebuild Afghanistan.
KING: Mr. Miller?
JAMES MILLER, PHOTOGRAPHER: I think that the -- almost a red herring. The issue is that there were quite a lot of foreign members of Taliban and al Qaeda. They will, I think, be treated a lot better by the West than they probably would have treated over there.
KING: But you understand the dilemma in America with the family and we look at it as, wow --
MILLER: I do. I mean, to be honest, legally, I don't know where you would stand on this sort of issue. Is he a prisoner of war? Is he guilty of treason? I mean, I really don't know.
KING: And Saira Shah, and we shouldn't tell you that "Beneath the Veil," that award winning documentary which this lady so brilliantly hosted, will air again Sunday, February 3 at -- twice at 7:00 p.m. Eastern and 11:00 p.m. Eastern. That's Sunday, February 3 at 7:00 and 11:00. Do you have some thoughts on John Walker?
SAIRA SHAH: Yes, I pretty much agree with Mavis, actually. I think he seems -- he's a very disturbed young man. And he's very young, he's obviously got sucked into something. I wouldn't really like that to distract from perhaps the huge mess and difficulty that is Afghanistan at the moment. This is one young man that also perhaps more important issues in Afghanistan that need to be addressed.
KING: So you think he could take away from the focus on that?
SHAH: Yes. For instance, we talk about the plight of women in Afghanistan. That's a very interesting subject, there seems to be -- as one individual I felt terribly sorry for his family. I feel very sorry for him. I can see why people feel very strongly about it here. But there's a huge human tragedy in Afghanistan.
KING: Since the documentaries have gotten so famous, let's get the opinion of those not involved of it. Christiane, what did you think of Saira Shah's work on those two documentaries, one of which will be repeated next week?
AMANPOUR: Well, it was clearly remarkable. Any kind of glimpse that any reporter can give behind the lines in any secretive and restrictive society is always illuminating. And that certainly was. And particularly the plight of Afghan women has been, some would criticize this, but the plight of Afghan women has been the top of the international agenda ever since the Taliban were in power. Some people say that perhaps at the expense of the focus on terrorism. Nonetheless, what Afghan women went through under the Taliban was truly horrendous and shedding the light on that was remarkably necessary and obviously very illuminating.
And obviously the pictures and the experiences that reporters like myself have had in Afghanistan since the Taliban have been swept aside have spoken for themselves. If anybody needed proof of what the Taliban did, all they had to see was the celebrations, the smiles and the -- if you like -- freedom that people suddenly came into when the Taliban was swept aside.
KING: Mavis, you had never met Saira?
LENO: No, isn't that amazing. But -- but --
KING: Your organization uses her films.
LENO: It's been a brilliant, brilliant educational tool for us to show people what is almost impossible to believe, if you can only tell them this is what the Taliban are like, this is what they're doing. But when they see a smart alec little 20, 21-year-old kid whacking hard working, exhausted women with a stick as though they were cattle, that's it. People go bananas, it's wonderful.
KING: How did you get involved in this?
LENO: I learned about it when I joined the board of the Feminist Majority, which is only about two months after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. And Ellie Smeal who is on with us tonight, had all the stories. She told us everything about what had happened there. And as soon as I heard it, it was like an immediate thing.
KING: Eleanor, one thought that your involvement was with the plight of the women in America. What got you involved in the Afghanistan women?
SMEAL: Well, of course, I was so interested in women worldwide and the treatment. And when it came over the wires how horrible the treatment here was, I couldn't believe it. I mean, it was like something out of a nightmare that you couldn't imagine. And I almost thought that it was so unreal that it could have been exaggerated. So we checked it out. We did a lot of research and we kept on coming back was -- it was worse than that. So, you know, if we're willing to fight for women's rights and obviously that's our lives, my God we got to fight here, where it was so bad.
KING: James Miller, from a man's standpoint, what was it like the first time you saw it?
MILLER: Well, the first time I came across the Taliban was in '95 when they were trying to take over Kabul. But seeing their treatment of people, generally. I mean, I wasn't necessarily privy to the same sort of access as Saira was, simply by being a man I couldn't get as close to them. But their treatment -- their human rights abuses were hideous across the board, I would say. As a governing -- as a quasi-government. They were --
KING: How, Saira, could they possibly explain it?
SHAH: They did have a justification, which sort of made sense to them, although maybe not to many other people.
KING: Which was?
SHAH: It was that there had been such terrible instability in Afghanistan when the very same people who are the Northern Alliance held on to Kabul, after the communists collapse. And that instability was so bad that there were a lot of dreadful abductions and rapes, and so on of women. The Taliban said we want people -- women to stay in their homes so that they will be protected.
KING: So they were protecting them? Why beat them and hit them?
SHAH: Well, that was part of the irony is that many women were forced on to the streets to beg because they weren't allowed to have jobs and so on. Another thing that I would say is, because the film "Beneath the Veil" has been so influential in displaying women's rights under the Taliban. I think it's really important to keep our eye on women's rights and actually the rights of everyone in Afghanistan even now. I mean it's very tempting to say, the Taliban are gone and everything's absolutely fine. I really don't think that that will be the case.
KING: We'll pick right up on that when we come back. We'll be right back with our panel on the conditions now. We'll be taking your phone calls, as well.
Tomorrow night a miracle of sorts regarding Pat Boone's grandson. We did major stories on him. Remember the severely injured young man, just 25 years-old in a coma? You'll be surprised when you tune in tomorrow night. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: The country is ruled by the Taliban, an Islamic militia. In 1996 these former religeous students seized power and imposed a strict Islamic regime. They've made the headlines by blowing up the country's ancient buddhist monuments. What the world doesn't know is what they're doing now to their own people.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: I ask them what they want in life. Would they like to go to school?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I understand that going to school is good, that education is a good thing. But how can I think about studying when there's no school around here? There's nothing in this barren terrain. Where could we go to study? We will just continue to suffer in silence. I want nothing from life. We will just suffer in silence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Christiane, the drought is unbearable. The military campaign destroyed schools and villages. What's the conditions vis-a- vie women and men, I guess, everybody in Afghanistan now?
AMANPOUR: Well, look, they've come out of something like more than 20 years of war and it's going to take a huge amount of time and money and effort and focus to make this country better again. On the issue of women, I think it's important to note that the Taliban, which was, as we know, a to totalitarian regime based on its own unique interpretation of Islam, what they did was not just oppress women for protection or for any of those kind of words that they said in public, but it was the foundation of their regime.
Oppressing women was not a buy product, it was what their regime was based on because of the way they educated their followers and their adherents and they brought them up in very single-minded, unisex lives. And the idea of women being anywhere visible in society or part of life was considered to be a detriment to the morale of the Taliban fighters, which is one very important reason to keep in mind why they kept the women there oppressed.
And also, in interviews that we had with Taliban officials, you know, before the fall of the Taliban, every single time when we would ask about women's schools, women's access to health, any basic human rights for women, they would always tell us, when the war is over, when we're able to, when, when, when.
Of course, they never had any intention of doing any of that because, as I say, it was a principle upon which their regime was founded, to keep women out of any kind of life form there. And I think that we should really understand that now thing things are not perfect yet, but we shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of the good.
And the women there have definitely had, if you like, the veil pulled away from them and things are, at this precise moment, better for them and for the majority of people in Afghanistan, than they were over the last six years of Taliban rule.
KING: Mavis, we know you are on top of this. What do you hear? LENO: Well, what I hear is that, as Christiane says, things are immensely better. But first of all we have to help the country rebuild and create stability so that women will feel safe to resume their old lives.
KING: They don't feel safe now?
LENO: I don't think so. We have to remember that the Northern Alliance, which makes up a sizable portion of the current provisional government, has a very bad track record of abusive behavior towards women, and particularly as a means to retaliate against men they're angry at or to coerce men. So they will kidnap, rape the wife, the daughter...
KING: So all things are not -- although as Christiane said, better, not hunky-dory?
LENO: They need the reassurance that our American attention span, which is notoriously short, will not drift away from them again, that we will see this through. That we won't just drop this and wander off to something else.
KING: Saira, is it was the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, is this an Afghanistan male problem?
SHAH: Partly. Christiane has got it spot on when she points out the difference between sort of cultural oppression of women and a systematic social policy. There is no doubt the Taliban did have a systematic social policy of oppressing women.
Having said that, Afghanistan is a culturally very, very traditional society. Women's literacy is almost nonexistent in the society as a whole. There are very grave problems with women's health care. Indeed for health care of all the Afghan people, but particularly for women. It's going to take a long time to unravel these things. And it really will take the attention of the west and the help of the west for some time to come.
KING: Eleanor Smeal, the west will have much greater access now, will it?
SMEAL: Absolutely. One of the things the west has to do soon is get more money in there. They've had very little money at the interim government. They've had pledges, but actual money has not come forth.
For example, the Ministry for Women's Affairs, which we're very hopeful about the doctor who is the head of it, the Dr. Samar (ph) , has been a crusader for women's rights and for helping women, but as of yet they don't have money to work with. The civil service has not been paid for something like six months.
So we've got to get money into the Ministry for Women Affairs and into the interim government. This is a great opportunity for establishing a democracy there and for rebuilding. But we can't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. We've got to match all the war effort now with a peace effort. And so we're very intent upon the United States and the world delivering and rebuilding this country.
KING: By the way, we'll tell our viewing audience, we will be taking your phone calls. We'll be going to them soon. If you'd like to get in, get in now. Get a ring, let it keep ringing. We will try to reach as many as we can.
James, what's the possibility of women in government?
MILLER: I think probably better now than -- or better in the future than it's ever been in Afghanistan. I mean, while all the eyes of the west are on Afghanistan, then I think things will continue -- while the development goes on, while money goes in, then there is a chance for things to develop. It's when those eyes go away. It's when the attention wanders. When the money sort of slows down. That's when it gets dangerous in Afghanistan, I think, in the future.
KING: How, Saira, were you treated when you met the Taliban people, when they stopped you?
SHAH: It ranged from being, frankly, insulting to being downright funny. At times it was almost hard to take the Taliban seriously. Because they didn't have a very, sort of, crazy side to them. But one thing I did get used to was that for a start, they wouldn't look at me. They would look at the members of my team rather than at me. That can be courtesy in the east. The way they did it, you'd get a look of hatred then they'd look away.
KING: Like you were not there?
SHAH: Yes, it was obvious -- I mean, they absolutely hated a, sort of, westernized woman, even though I was kind of dressed up like this when I was there with a visa. So, no, they definitely didn't want me.
KING: Christiane, you sat with them, interviewed them. How did they treat you?
AMANPOUR: Much the same as how Saira just described it. I was always aware that I was dealing as I have done in other places that I have covered, with a tyrannical regime, and I was never distracted from that fact. I think in many instances the people we dealt with were very juvenile, if you like.
For the most part these people were not fully educated. They were ministers in power who had no idea of the brief that they were meant to be administering. There were young Taliban warrior warriors who had not seen anything except the inside of these religious schools, the madrasas, which was a very, very single-minded, focused Koran-reading education and nothing else. And these were people who really did not have a foot, in my opinion, in the real world.
And there was an immense amount of hypocracy as well. They would ban television when we'd find out that, you know, certain ministries and ministers would be watching television. And, you know, that's just one example of what we found there. But I think that we shouldn't be distracted from the fact that things are measurably, appreciably better today, that there are women in the interim government there, that it is true that the Northern Alliance, as been described on your program, has had a pretty poor record. And it is true that crime, instability and insecurity was one reason why the people of Afghanistan embraced, at least for awhile, the Taliban.
But it is also true that this new generation of Northern Alliance leaders, at least those who are at the forefront, have publicly spoken in favor of women's rights, women's education, women's political emancipation, health care and all the other stuff, and have so far put their money where their mouth is. And I think it's up to us, the journalists, the international community, to hold them to their public utterances.
KING: We will take a break and come back. We'll be going to your phone calls for this outstanding panel. "Beneath The Veil" will air again Sunday on CNN, February 3 at 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern time for "Beneath The Veil's" repeats on February 3.
You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Sir Elton John on Friday night. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "UNHOLY WAR")
SHAH: We saw a school today in this area which is very close to Malmai (ph). It's a girl's school. There were about 400 girls there, mostly learning to read and write. It had a really good atmosphere. And more and more, I'm beginning to think that this could be at least part of the answer for the three young girls in Malmai.
If we could somehow provide them with an education, we would actually open up the path to a new life for them. And, also, they might be able to have jobs in the future. They might even be able to take part in any possible rebuilding of Afghanistan. I don't know if their father will agree to it. But if he did, I think it would be the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "UNHOLY WAR")
SHAH: It's utterly frustrating. I just wanted to help three little girls in this city of misery. I couldn't even do that. I have learned this is no place for quick fixes. Six months ago, the world didn't care about Afghanistan. Today a new war has just begun. As it seeks to wipe out terrorists, I wonder if the West has also got the patience, the stamina to help rebuild lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's take a call for our panel. Little River, California, hello.
CALLER: Hello there. This is for your whole panel. There's so much criticism of how the Taliban prisoners are being treated in Guantanamo Bay. Would your panel comment on how that compares to the way the Taliban treated their own people, their own women, their own wives, their own mothers and their own children. Has society already forgotten what the Taliban has done to their own women?
SHAH: Well, I guess the answer to that question is contained in the question. But I would go on and say that does America want its human rights record to be compared to the Taliban? Is that actually the bench mark that you're hoping to compare yourselves with?
KING: Mavis, you agree?
LENO: I completely agree. We sat -- I would hope...
KING: You don't want to be like them?
LENO: ... we set a different standard for ourselves. Everybody has flaky acquaintances who are constantly doing things that we would never do and we don't judge them as harshly as we would judge ourselves in those circumstances.
KING: But there is, Eleanor, such a feeling of hostility toward them from the acts of September 11 that you can understand the feeling of that caller, can't you?
SMEAL: Oh, sure, I can understand the feeling. But let's be real. We want to set a real high human rights standard and we want to do more than that. We want to find out what's going on. We got to break up al Qaeda and we don't want to engage in practices that will make it tougher. So, we want to make sure we keep our allies together, that we not only keep good human rights, but that we get good information. And I don't think torture leads to good information.
KING: James, you agree?
MILLER: Yes, I can...
KING: You can understand?
MILLER: I can totally understand after September the 11th, a desire of people to do absolutely anything. But I think it's the business of government to make sure that things are pursued in a reasonable manner.
KING: Christiane, the feeling about this treatment is much greater in Europe and in England, especially, than in the United States, true?
AMANPOUR: Yes. I think, you know, Eleanor Smeal just mentioned the word torture. I haven't heard or read any allegations about these prisoners being tortured. The case appears to be a collosal public relations blunder. But in terms of the legal debate, that is a very interesting and alive debate right now, because nobody is quite sure whether these people should be POWs or how they should be classified. We have had in England reports that the treatment of -- their treatment in detention, particularly of the three Taliban members who are of British origin, have said that they have not been mistreated. Of course, there's also this debate in England about the treatment of John Walker compared to the other al Qaeda prisoners and Taliban prisoners in Cuba. And there is none of the sympathy here in Great Britain that the rest of your panel mentioned for John Walker that maybe being, you know, set out by the American public for John Walker here. They just see him as entirely misguided, just another guy who joined a very bad group of people.
KING: Panama City, Florida, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry.
CALLER: I had a question for Saira Shah.
CALLER: I was just wondering, Saira, were you planning a follow- up visit with the three little girls that you had in your documentary, "Unholy War", to see, you know, if they're going to be going to school or anything like that?
KING: Yes, what are you doing with regard to that?
SHAH: I'd absolutely love to go back and follow them up. I have actually got people out there who are keeping an eye on them, particularly John Weaver, who was an American aid worker that we met out there, a friend of ours and was also in "Unholy War". And we're hoping that -- because the frontline since we were there has moved away from their village -- at the time we were there, the frontline was right on their village, so it was impossible to have a school in their village. But now the frontline has moved away. So we're hoping that we could be able to sort out a school there.
KING: Are you going to go back?
SHAH: I'd very much like to go back, yes.
KING: What's your fascination with that country?
SHAH: Oh, so many levels. I mean, I have a personal family relation with Afghanistan. I grew up hearing stories about Afghanistan, about this marvelous, magical place.
When I was a young adult, I went there for the first time and I really -- I mean, it just got -- I got completely addicted to it. I think the people are...
KING: You like it a lot?
SHAH: I absolutely love it. I mean, the people -- it's a challenging country. It's, in many ways, a violent, difficult, complex country, but there's also immense sort of beauty and, you know, very clear values. When people have wonderful values of hospitality.
KING: Some people accepted. Have you ever been there, Mavis?
LENO: I have not yet been there, although I hope to go there soon. But throughout the whole course of our campaign at the Feminist Majority, we've taken all our advice and information from Afghan Americans and Afghans living in Pakistan, and sometimes from Afghans who got out.
And I came to passionately love the people of this country. They are so elegant and intelligent and remarkable. It would be a tragedy for them to slip through the fingers of history, which they nearly did.
KING: Let's go to Alexandria, Virginia. We understand the parents of John Walker are going to make a statement. The father recently appeared on this program. They did not make a statement. We had received word that they were going to make a statement, but they just walked on by, as they said.
Those are the parents of John Walker. The father has been on this show. John Walker is now in Alexandria, Virginia. And we'll be back right after these words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH (voice-over): I was raised in Britain, but my father was an Afghan. And I grew up with a very different vision of Afghanistan. He used to tell me stories of my family's homeland, a place called Pakman. He described gardens and fountains, the kind of Eden. I have never been to Pakman. Now I'm trying to get there. I'm hoping my journey will help me understand what's happening to my father's country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK LINDH, JOHN WALKER'S FATHER: We're a little disappointed, but the guards did tell us John is in good health and we are very glad to hear that. Thank you. Thanks a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot.
KING: That was the only thing Frank Lindh, the father of John Walker, said tonight in Alexandria, Virginia.
Another item just in, Enron corporation chairman and chief executive Ken Lay has resigned his post more than a month after the company he ran from its start in 1986 ended up in bankruptcy. Lay will retire as an Enron employee, will remain on the board of directors. So that's just in, Ken Lay has resigned at Enron.
Let's reintroduce our panel. Here in Los Angeles, Saira Shah, the documentary filmmaker whose documentary "Beneath The Veil" aired on CNN last August. It will be repeated Sunday, February 3 at 7 and 11 p.m.
She also produced and reported the follow-up, "Unholy War." Also in L.A. is Mavis Leno, the chairman of the Feminist Majority Campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan. And James miller, the brilliant cinematographer of "Beneath the Veil" and the director and cinematographer of "Unholy War."
In Washington, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and in London, Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent. Let's take a call from Pocatello, Idaho. Hello.
CALLER: Good evening, Larry, ladies. My question to the panel is this. I'm wondering if we might be changing one oligarchy for another as we look at Iran and how the Shah's liberalization there was used by the Ayatollah, put in place out of Soviet Moscow in Paris, how they used the liberation there to bring on another oligarchy, and do they feel that perhaps this might be again happening, especially since Frederick Engles' Marxist cohort, had said the women suffrage or liberation, if you will, movement will be forwarded through use of women's liberation.
KING: Christiane, what do you make of that?
AMANPOUR: Well, I think one of the things that's of obvious concern as Afghanistan opens its new chapter, is how do the neighboring countries treat Afghanistan? Do they interfere? Do they continue to put out feelers and support their own alliances as they have done in the past, Iran to the east of Afghanistan, and then in the north you've got the central Asians and in the south you've got Pakistan.
I think that obviously it is being looked at very, very carefully. Whether all these countries continue to do what they have done over the last several years, and that is continue their version of the great game using their own proxies. It appears that this is the beginning of a perhaps chance for Afghanistan to try to emerge from those destructive policies of the last 20 years.
KING: Saira, do you have any worries in that regard?
SHAH: On the future direction of Afghanistan?
SHAH: I suppose my main worry is that there is still very, very great inherent instability inside Afghanistan. So although the interim government, for instance, looks quite good. Hamid Karzai is somebody who I have known from way back, and I know him to be a very moderate and good man.
And yet there are a lot of forces within Afghanistan, the extremism and the warlord culture inside Afghanistan has not gone away. And the danger is that this government or future governments will not actually be stable enough.
KING: Eleanor, what do you think?
SMEAL: That's why I think the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that they're going to convene in five months is so important, and it's really important that women get there and are really well represented. And by the way, there's a lot that Americans can do. The war isn't -- this whole effort right now, these women's groups there need help. And I'd be remiss if I didn't say you can go on our Web site: helpAfghanwomen.com and see what you can do to help them.
Because there's a lot of women's non-profit groups in Afghanistan who are trying to set up schools and health care clinics and trying to get about the business of rebuilding the society that could use your help if you want to help them.
KING: Will you repeat the Web site again?
SMEAL: It's helpAfghanwomen.com, and...
KING: Mavis -- sorry, Go ahead.
SMEAL: And there's a lot of really good women's groups. There are surprisingly a lot of educated women who have stayed there, who are either lawyers or doctors. And even though it's a small percentage of the population, they are rebuilding and they do have women's groups that are opening up schools and clinics. And by the way, half of the students at Kabul University, when it reopens in March will be women.
KING: That's great. What was the percentage under the Taliban?
KING: Mavis, do you have any fears that people turn away when they think everything is OK?
LENO: Very definitely. Vigilance is really the order of the day in this situation, which is very fungible at the moment. And it is urgent that we get schools up and running again as soon as possible all over the country, both to restore the girls who have lost five and a half years of education to their school life, and to get the boys away from the same adrosses (ph) that created the Taliban, where all they teach them is their extremely fanatical conservative form of Islam, and how to put together and use a gun.
KING: You want to go back, James?
MILLER: Yes, very much so. We are already talking about it, I think.
KING: You signed a big book deal, we understand, Saira, true?
SHAH: Hopefully signing a book deal, yes. It's not really a geopolitical book. It's really the story of my child hood and going back and falling in love with Afghanistan really. KING: Chicago, hello.
CALLER: Good evening. I have a question directed toward Christiane and Saira.
CALLER: I was wondering, now that Taliban members have been allowed to return to their homes and villages, how are the women, perhaps you may shed some light on this, how are the women able to have interactions or dealing with the relationship of their fathers, husbands and sons being former Taliban members who may have treated them under these circumstances, how are they able to carry on or continue a relationship with those family members?
KING: Great question. Christiane, you want to go first?
AMANPOUR: Well, that's a good question. To be very frank, I don't know. I just don't know. You know, a lot of the Taliban officials who were instrumental in the Taliban policy fled. We haven't seen them. We don't know where their families are.
Obviously, there were a lot of Taliban lower level officials who simply merged back into the society once the regime had been toppled. But, you know, there are all sorts of stories about how Taliban people would simply treat their women better than they treated the rest of the population there.
But, obviously, it is a new day in a way, a new assessment of relations between men and women, and a new chance for this country to attempt to get back on its feet again in a slightly more normal way than it has over the last several years. And don't forget, I think, as Saira pointed out so well, that Afghanistan was a very normal country a mere 20-odd years ago.
Just as an anecdote I have friends who would go from Iran on a holiday to Kabul, even a close friend who went to Afghanistan on her honeymoon. And so this was a country which knows what it is like to have a normal relationship with itself. And it needs to get back and try to go forward from this awful abyss that it has been plunged into over the last five years under the Taliban and before that during the civil war there.
KING: We'll take a break and get Saira Shah's thoughts on that question and more with our panel. And Enya is still to come. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: We're engulfed by the human cost of 20 years of conflict. The country destroyed, a people scattered. If the war ended tomorrow, it would take years to rebuild their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: Veiled women hunched in the back of a pickup truck. A football stadium in Afghanistan, a place of entertainment turned into an execution ground. Secret pictures, showing scenes the country's rulers want to keep hidden.
KING: I don't know how you can film stuff like that. Saira, what do you think is going to happen with the Taliban men and fathers and brothers home?
SHAH: Really interesting question. Also I was very interested in Christiane's answer as well, about the country having to become again a country that's happy with itself. When I was under cover in Kabul and talking to Afghan women living under the Taliban, they were saying, yes, it's terrible that they have to wear the veil all the time. It's terrible there's not hospitals or jobs or so on, but they were also saying, look, we can't feed our families because the entire economy has broken down.
That was not a problem just for women. That was a problem for men as well. So there are very great sort of broader problems beyond the sort of women's rights issue that this is an entire country that needs rebuilding.
KING: Newport Beach, California, hello.
CALLER: I was a peace corps volunteer in the Middle East, I have been in Afghanistan, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) , Ms. Shaw. I would like to ask you why you think that the Muslim religion seems to lend itself to repression?
SHAH: Now, you see, I don't think that the Muslim religion, the true Muslim religion lends itself to oppression. I think that...
KING: Why is it misquoted so often?
SHAH: I think we are seeing a terrible misinterpretation of Islam. The Islam that I grew up hearing about was an extremely moderate religion. I grew up hearing things like let there be no compulsion in religion, women in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) homes of men and so on.
KING: How do you explain this?
SHAH: I do think that if you go for an extremely literalist translation, perhaps you can go this way. I also think a lot of this is cultural. There is, for instance a very traditionalist male dominated culture in Afghanistan, and many parts of the Arab world there is as well. That doesn't necessarily make it Islam, if you go back and look at Islam itself. I think a lot of it is cultural contamination.
KING: Christiane, what do you make of that, the look at the way Muslims are perceived? AMANPOUR: I think it's such a huge topic. I'll just say very briefly, that I think a lot of the repressive Islam that we see right now is less cultural than political Islam. And a lot of the repression is used to forward the agenda of whoever happens to be doing that kind of stuff.
But I think importantly, it appears that there is a struggle within Islam right now, that it's come to the fore most especially since September 11. The struggle between what constitutes Islam, what is allowed, what isn't allowed and who will dominate the agenda. The fanatics who want to interpret it as a very strict and actually misinterpret certain elements of it, or will a more moderate agenda evolve? That's still a very open question, in my view.
KING: By the way, if you'd like to help that www.helpAfghanwomen.com, or there is a toll-free number, 888-WE-WOMEN. And another reminder, "Beneath The Veil" will air again Sunday February 3 at 7:00 and then repeated at 11:00 p.m. In our remaining moments we'll -- Eleanor, are optimistic now?
SMEAL: Well, of course. I have to be. I think that there is real hope.
KING: You don't have to be, Eleanor. We don't hold you to it.
SMEAL: Sure, you do. You got to be. This is the great opportunity. We can't lose this opportunity. We can free not only these women, but I hope that we can start a trend towards more progress again. We don't need to go backwards. We need to go forward. And I have to tell you, working with these women, I do have great hope. I think they'll make it.
LENO: Well, I agree with Eleanor. I have never met fiercer, prouder, more determined human beings in my life than the Afghan women I have interacted with during this campaign. If anyone can make it happen, they can make it happen.
MILLER: Yes, I am at the moment optimistic for the whole of Afghanistan. I think it is a brief window when things should start to happen. But it will need an enormous commitment from the west to make sure that it does.
KING: Christiane, are you optimistic with regard to that country?
AMANPOUR: Yes, I am. I suffer from a distinct lack of cynicism. Maybe that's wrong. But I really do believe that a window has been opened, that for the first time in at least 20 years Afghanistan, through an extraordinarily tragic event, has been given the chance to change the way it's had to live for the last 20 years.
And I do think that it's now or never. Either it's going happen now or they're going to miss this chance. I do especially believe that it is absolutely incumbent on the international community, the United States, Europe, other countries to keep the eye on the ball. If they turn away and if the attention span lags, and if the focus of -- filters off into some other crisis zone six months down the line, then I think not only will Afghanistan have missed its chance, but the world will maybe have to pay again for the price of turning away from a country like that.
KING: Thirty seconds -- Saira.
SHAH: I couldn't have put it any better, I absolutely agree. This is a window of opportunity. If this opportunity is wasted it won't just be Afghanistan's loss it will be the loss of the world.
KING: Thank you all very much for a terrific hour. And we've still got more to come.
Enya will provide a brilliant close for us. We'll be telling you about tomorrow night, as well, right after these words.
KING: We close out tonight's proceedings with a return visit with Enya, the brilliant Irish singer and musician, Grammy winning recording artist. Her best new age album at the 44th Annual Grammys is nominated. It's called "A Day Without Rain." her song that she is going to do tonight is "May it Be." This is the song that ends "Lord of the Rings." Going to be a big academy award nominee. Bit it fits the mood of the times since September 11, doesn't it?
ENYA: Yes, I think, like the title "May it Be," it was talking who thought it would be nice to create this blessing for the elves to each other. So it's something that can carry through.
KING: Is it nice to hear yourself on a movie screen?
ENYA: It is.
KING: And this division in one of those big theaters?
ENYA: Especially with "Lord of the Rings." It's my all-time favorite book. When I was approached to write a song witness, I was like, wow.
KING: Well, we have a great close for you, tonight. She's a great artist. The wonderful Enya, the amazing success of "Rings." The movie closes with this song. And she's going to do it for us.
(ENYA PERFORMS "MAY IT BE")
KING: A couple quick notes, tomorrow night -- extraordinary, the power of prayer, power of pray. And Pat Boone and his grandson, you will not believe it. Watch tomorrow night. Elton John on Friday. We also want to join everyone here in welcoming Connie Chung to CNN. You will see her preceding this show in about, I think, six to seven weeks, as I hear it. We welcome Connie aboard, an old and dear friend.
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