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CNN Presents: Blowback, Afghanistan On The Brink

Aired November 2, 2003 - 20:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

AARON BROWN, HOST, CNN PRESENTS: The town of Mazar-e Sharif has been taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had reached to the outskirts of Kabul, but then Taliban withdrew.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN NEWS: Towns, villages, hillsides -- all have been held by the Taliban, now empty of Taliban. The markets were bustling, shops were open again, music was being played again.

BUSH: America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We'll be partners in rebuilding that country.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN NEWS, AFGHANISTAN: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Afghanistan, where America won its first victory in the war on terror. It was here, not in Iraq, that Osama bin Laden planned the September 11 attacks.

Two years ago, President Bush vowed that Afghanistan would never again become a haven for terrorism. He promised to rebuild this country into a free and safe democracy.

But today, those hopes and dreams may be in jeopardy. Violence is increasing. The Taliban are regrouping and Mullah Omar is promising a jihad against U.S. forces. Osama bin Laden is still at large.

As for reconstruction, that's slow going at best. And with U.S. forces still fighting and dying in Iraq, the Bush administration cannot afford a failure in Afghanistan. So it's pouring in more money now, and making new promises.

We decided to come back here to look at life two years after liberation, and to find out just how the war on terror is going.

For the first time in a generation, the Afghan people wake up to something other than the constant sound of war.

For the first time, there is a chance for stability. There's a fledgling national government. Boys and girls are back in school. And two million refugees have returned. Small businesses are booming.

For the first time in a generation, there is hope in the air. But it's fragile and could yet be snuffed out, and with it the possibility of a moderate Islamic country free of terrorism.

We travel to eastern Afghanistan, where for months now, American soldiers have been fighting the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. Two years after being toppled by the United States, they are now mounting a guerrilla war against these U.S. soldiers, trying to force them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Let's go. First moving south (ph).

AMANPOUR: We caught up with this patrol, just back from a grueling hunt in the mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were walking uphill. We got upwards of 50, 60 pounds on our backs. It's hard to breathe. We're not used to the area.

AMANPOUR: They're still looking for Osama bin Laden, seen here in a video released just two months ago. They're still looking for the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who's order a jihad against these soldiers.

GEN. JOHN VINES, U.S. ARMY: He moves furtively. He has what is known as good tradecraft.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean?

VINES: It means that he knows how to avoid exposure and being caught. He's very good.

AMANPOUR: General John Vines commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and he says the Taliban and al Qaeda are trying to make a comeback.

VINES: There was a plan, we believe, to coincide with the coalition operations in Iraq, to take advantage of a perception that we would focus on Iraq, and they were going to attempt to regain power.

AMANPOUR: Vines and the Afghan government believe the Taliban are regrouping in Pakistan and coming across the border to launch their attacks.

And out here near the Afghan-Pakistan border, U.S. forces are trying to foil that power grab.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tough. It's a real cat-and-mouse game figuring out where they're going to be, what they're going to do.

AMANPOUR: Since August, the terrorists have launched a massive wave of violence. Three hundred people have been killed.

A major U.S. counteroffensive is underway, which in turn has killed 200 Taliban. Five American soldiers have also been killed. Indeed, the time we spent with them was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the Taliban fell.

At the same time, Captain Ryan Worthen (ph) tells us, the Taliban were much easier to spot two years ago.

CAPT. RYAN WORTHEN (ph), U.S. ARMY, AFGHANISTAN: We'd ask the interpreters who was Taliban and they would point at who was. We don't see that much anymore.

AMANPOUR: It's melted away.

WORTHEN (ph): They kind of melted away. I have no doubt they're still here, but it's just kind of gone to the subsurface.

AMANPOUR: Washington has tried to play down the Taliban resurgence, insisting there are no more than a handful of them.

This is what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told CNN's Jamie McIntyre just days before the new guerrilla war erupted.

GEN. RICHARD B. MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: They're onesies and twosies. There's not large numbers of these people that have been effective at all. In fact, we haven't seen them in large numbers, nor large numbers of al Qaeda.

AMANPOUR: But General Vines estimates there are hundreds of them. So why is this happening two years into the war on terror?

Rand Beers, who used to work the terrorism beat for the Bush administration, believes the White House took its eye off the ball when it started to focus on Iraq. He left the White House and now advises John Kerry's presidential campaign.

RAND BEERS, FORMER BUSH COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: We painted a happy face on Afghanistan that really wasn't there. The terrorists are coming back. And that should be a real warning call for everybody that there's a lot more still to be done in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan told us the Bush administration has tried to fight the war on terror here on the cheap, not putting in enough military forces or enough money.

The administration denies the charge, but acknowledges the need to prop up the Afghan government -- by now urgently diverting $1 billion in emergency assistance.

DAVID SEDNEY, CHARGES D'AFFAIRES, U.S. EMBASSY, KABUL: We remember what happened on September 11. That's why we came to Afghanistan, to get rid of the Taliban and al Qaeda, the terrorist state that was there. And that's the fundamental reason why we're here. AMANPOUR: General Vines thinks the extra money makes good military sense, too.

VINES: If it allows roads to be built faster -- everywhere good governance reaches, everywhere reconstruction reaches and every place that peace and prosperity go, then our problems become less.

AMANPOUR: A senior U.S. diplomat told us President Bush hopes more funding now will speed up the exit strategy.

But out here in the Afghan hinterland, where they're waging their struggle against the terrorists, a U.S. commander tells us that talk amongst the Army here is they'll be staying at least another 10 years.

And with the pace of Taliban attacks on U.S. soldiers picking up, every routine street patrol can be a nerve-wracking experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! You dumb bastards! Get down here, the both of you!

BEERS: I think that their tactic now is simply to disrupt, to challenge and then in very guerrilla fashion to fade back into the landscape.

All they really have to do at this point is to recreate the chaos and then hope for the future.

VINES: I have every confidence that the international community is not going to back away from this, because they understand the consequences. Failure is not an option here.

AMANPOUR: Coming up, Afghanistan's still powerful warlords. Are they allies or obstacles?


AMANPOUR: In the western province of Herat, warlord Ismael Khan makes a great show of receiving the public's adulation.


AMANPOUR: They cheer and shower him with rose petals. His own TV station monitors his every move.

He calls himself "emir" or prince, and every week listens to problems, doles out favors, and on this day even acts as marriage counselor.

"I want to divorce him," this girl says to Khan. "You can kill me, but I won't go back to his house. I'll go to prison instead."

Khan certainly plays the grand emir, showing visitors that he is master of all he surveys.

Like other warlords, Khan has been given a job and a title in the new Afghan government. He's the governor of Herat. He hangs President Hamid Karzai's portrait, but he's in the foreground. And though he professes loyalty to Karzai, he takes a swipe at his government.

In Herat, we have a government with a proper system, he says, and jobs have been given to competent people.

But being a good administrator is not what makes Khan powerful. This does -- the import revenues he can collect on tens of thousands of cars and all the other goods that come across the border between Herat and Iran. Some estimate the figure as high as $300 million.

Earlier this year, President Karzai threatened to resign unless Khan and other warlords starting handing over their tax revenues to the central government. They did.

Khan is also powerful because he commands a 25,000-man private army. Warlords have long controlled Afghanistan, but they became even more powerful two years ago when the United States started using them as ground troops in the war against the Taliban.

The U.S. backs the central government of President Karzai. But the U.S. is also fighting its war on terror, so it's been supporting and paying regional warlords. It wants their militias to help in the hunt for al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban.

The power of the regional warlords has been growing, and it directly challenges Karzai's authority.

We asked the top U.S. commander here about this dilemma.

AMANPOUR: How much have they and their militias helped you in the war on terror?

VINES: A great deal. A great deal. Many of them have been extraordinarily helpful.

AMANPOUR: A lot of people have raised complaints that the U.S. was paying off these warlords and their militias, you know, the people responsible for all these years of war.

VINES: The reality is, someone is going to have to provide security in some of those provinces. While we won't ultimately demobilize, disarm and reintegrate their militia, we have to have alternatives for security.

AMANPOUR: But warlords are now being accused of bringing insecurity to many parts of Afghanistan, with robberies, rapes and extortion -- thriving on the drug economy, vying for money and land.

But in Herat, we saw families enjoying a beautiful summer day, and heard that Khan maintains security, keeps the traffic flowing, is good for business.


AMANPOUR: Work is very good, says Ahmed. Before, I had one shop, and now I have four shops. Before, I had five employees and now I have about 50 or 60.

But we also heard that Khan rules with an iron fist, and few dare stand up to him. So (ph) lawyer (ph) Rafik Shahiya's (ph) attempt to promote civil society and democracy is risky.


AMANPOUR: "Of course we have a better life in Herat compared to the rest of Afghanistan," he says. "But we also want more rule of law, more rights. People must play a bigger role in politics. And we want our women to have active and important roles in public life."

For voicing these ideas, Shahiya (ph) said, Ismael Khan had him roughed up.


AMANPOUR: "At 10 p.m. they came to this house and took me away blindfolded. They beat me a lot and kept me for two nights."

Women are another group who pay a price under Khan's rule. Although in Herat, Khan proudly shows off the girls' school he has opened to visiting journalists, there is also a more sinister side. Some women say that if they are out walking with a man, they can be stopped and accused of having sex out of wedlock.

Down this street we visited a doctor who told us that he was forced to conduct pelvic exams to prove these women's chastity. He was too afraid to let us film him.

Many warlords who spent years as Mujahideen, fighting first the Soviets and then the Taliban, are Islamic fundamentalists, and their hold on power does not bode well for Afghanistan becoming a moderate Islamic democracy.

But while we were here, we saw President Hamid Karzai fight back. He fired Gul Agha Shirzai, the powerful governor of Kandahar in the south. And as we flew west to Herat, we heard that he had also stripped Ismael Khan of his military command, though for now, Khan would remain as governor.

We were with Khan when he got the news, which he accepted with a barely veiled threat.


AMANPOUR: "I think you see that there is security here, and it would be better if that continues," he said. "But if the central government doesn't want security, I'm not interested in staying on as military commander."


AMANPOUR: Back in Kabul, we asked President Karzai about his rare display of muscle flexing. AMANPOUR: You're usually Mr. Nice Guy. What's changed?

HAMID KARZAI, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: I'm still Mr. Nice Guy. And my character hasn't changed. I'm just trying to bring an improved administration to the country.

I'm really acting because the Afghan people are really adamant for change.

AMANPOUR: Karzai doesn't have much more time to act, with presidential elections scheduled for next summer. He is the most popular and charismatic leader in Afghanistan, but he's still trying to deliver.

To do that, he will have to tame the warlords -- not an easy task, as Khan's army is four times the size of Karzai's.

Next on CNN PRESENTS, the struggle to rebuild a country that's still at war.

PAUL BARKER, CARE INTERNATIONAL: A lot of reconstruction work has been suspended due to security problems. And the threat of that expanding to more provinces is quite alarming.


AMANPOUR: Strewn with rubble, Afghanistan is littered with constant reminders of the wars that ruined this country for the past 23 years.

Rebuilding this ravaged nation is a daunting task, one that its own people take on in slow, back-breaking ways. They make bricks for their houses by baking blocks of earth and water under the searing sun.

(INAUDIBLE) materials cross our path near the little village of Lab-E-Jui, about an hour north of Kabul. This one, narrow bridge is the only way in.

I mean, this is not that easy to come and do reconstruction up there.

PAUL BARKER, CARE INTERNATIONAL: It takes a bit of work, yes. You leave the main road behind, and then you've got to go by foot and by donkey and whatever else to get materials to the houses that have to be rebuilt.

AMANPOUR: Paul Barker is with CARE International, a U.S. aid organization that's helping villages here rebuild their homes. CARE provides them with some tools and wooden frames for doors and windows.

Sayed Mushtaba (ph), his wife and their seven children have been living in the ruins of their home since returning to the village.

SAYED MUSHTABA (ph): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) AMANPOUR: "When the Taliban came here they persecuted and killed people," says Sayed. "They burned our houses and our orchards, and we fled to Kabul. After the Taliban was defeated, we came back to our homes, and step by step we're trying to build them up."

But Sayed's (ph) been working on his home for a year, and he still has no idea when it'll be finished.

Two years after the United States kicked the Taliban out of power, many of the villages in Afghanistan still look like this one. Back then the U.S. and the international community made big promises to rebuild this country, but so far that seems more like rhetoric than reality.

For instance, Afghanistan gets $75 per person per year in foreign aid, while countries such as Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo get more than double that amount.

BARKER: Those countries receive between $195 and $325 per person. So, on that sort of ratio, we're getting shortchanged in Afghanistan. It's not nearly enough.

AMANPOUR: President Bush promised a Marshall Plan -- something like a Marshall Plan for this country. Do you see any evidence of that?

BARKER: I wouldn't call anything the scale of what we're having now a Marshall Plan.

AMANPOUR: Remember, this is the country the U.S. promised to rebuild in order to deny terrorists ever again using it as a base -- Afghanistan's straight-talking finance minister.

ASHRAF GHANI, AFGHAN MINISTER OF FINANCE: I've made no bones about it, so I'm going to be direct about it. The international community has not been generous to us. It's actually been quite stingy -- $4.5 billion is a drop in the bucket.

AMANPOUR: This is what President Hamid Karzai says he needs.

KARZAI: Our estimate is between $15 to $20 billion.

AMANPOUR: What are the risks if the Afghan people don't get the kind of reconstruction that that kind of money can pay for?

KARZAI: The risks are that Afghanistan will go back into the hands of terrorists, into chaos, into despair. And we are not going to allow that.

We must respond to the needs of the Afghan people. We must respond to the aspirations of the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: In two years, some of those have been met. Two million refugees have come back.

Private construction is skyrocketing, and laborers are now being paid $2 a day, up from $1 a day last year. Kabul is full of small businesses.

But it's large-scale infrastructure that's desperately needed. And so far, there's been little of that. Kabul still has only intermittent electricity and clean running water.

Many here accuse the Bush administration of reneging on promises to rebuild. It even initially omitted Afghanistan from its 2003 budget request to Congress.

Two years on, Afghans are frustrated. And that could backfire on President Karzai, especially during elections scheduled for next summer.

So in an effort to head off disaster, the Bush administration is now diverting $1 billion to Afghanistan.

SEDNEY: Certainly, the Afghan people are looking for results. We're building schools and clinics in many areas of Afghanistan, but we need to do more.

AMANPOUR: For instance, with the roads -- they are a shambles, as even U.S. soldiers driving around the country will confirm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roads -- you know, we have a saying here in the CN (ph) community. We love our jobs, but the commute's hell.

AMANPOUR: So, new U.S. money is going into road repair, like the important Kabul to Kandahar highway. After two years of sluggish effort, workers are now at it 24 seven, as President Bush himself has ordered this road finished by December.

But standing by a map of the country, a senior U.N. official tells us, lack of security is a problem, hampering construction of roads and other projects.

MARGARETA WAHLSTROM, U.N. ASSISTANCE MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN: Sometimes we stop for a week or even a month, in order to regroup.

AMANPOUR: There's been a surge in violence against aid workers. In the last year, attacks have gone from an average of one a month to one every other day.

BARKER: Now in the post-Taliban years, three of our girls' schools have been burned.

AMANPOUR: This is Badakhshan province in the most remote northeastern corner of Afghanistan. Its majestic mountains, the river rushing past small, mud-built villages, and farmers plowing their plots conjure up visions of a simple, rural life.

Only things are not so simple here. Opium poppies are growing in these fields, and that's a serious threat to stability. Last year, drugs were Afghanistan's biggest export.

And the head of the U.N. Drug Enforcement Agency, has come to see how they can put a stop to this massive problem. ANTONIO MARIA COSTA, DIRECTOR, U.N. OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME: The revenue generated in the year 2002, was estimated by the United Nations at about $1.2 billion. This is an enormous magnitude.

AMANPOUR: Most of the world's opium and heroine comes from Afghanistan.

The simple fact, as we heard from these village elders is that farmers get paid 100 times more for producing drugs than crops like corn and wheat.

But the biggest profits go to organized crime bosses and warlords, who buy weapons for their private armies, which challenge the authority of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and now report that the Taliban are financing their insurgency with drug profits.

KARSI: We are determined Christiana, we are determined like hell to destroy the poppy culture in Afghanistan. To destroy the peace because the money that is generated by poppy's -- is hand in hand with terrorism. It criminalizes the economy. It destroys the essence of life in Afghanistan. We are not going to allow that.

AMANPOUR: Two years after liberation, the Finance Minister Asraf Garney (ph) says that Afghanistan is on the brink, in real danger of becoming a narco (ph) mafia state.

KARSI: Descent to a vicious circle of drug production, violence, and stability, or we go toward the virtuous circle of prosperity, rule of law, (UNINTELLIBLE), woman's rights, and democratic policies.

AMANPOUR: Is another billion dollars enough? Is that going to do it?

KARSI: Another billion dollars is a good start. And no it will not do it.

AMANPOUR: Next, on CNN PRESENTS, the women of Afghanistan. They may be able to take of their burkhas. But has anything really changed?


AMANPOUR: Just a few short years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Under the Taliban, women were banned from working, and for interacting in public with men, like this road crew boss. Even before the Taliban, 10 years ago when fundamentalists started taking control of Kabul, women were banned from driving. No more.

I do this job as well as any man. Says feisty 35-year-old Rovia (ph). In other countries, her words and her work may not raise many eyebrows. But in Afghanistan, women doing construction work is a sign of major change. And Rovia (ph) is thrilled.

I can pay my rent, and buy food now. And thank God says Rovia (ph). Before we were forced to stay at home. We were good for nothing. It's hard to imagine just how badly the Taliban did treat women. They were forced to be invisible in every way. Forced under the all-enveloping Burkha, forced to walk and talk quietly, lest their voices or the sound of their high-heels arouse men.

Now, women are aloud to leave their homes without the mandated male relative escort. Some are feeling secure enough to remove the burkha. Many women are reaping the benefit, now that the Taliban are gone. Perhaps nowhere more importantly than at school.

During the Taliban's five years in power, girls were barred from getting an education. Now they make up 35 percent of Afghanistan's schoolchildren. But they have to make up for lost time. Here, 12- year-olds are sitting in first grade. And 23-year-olds in fifth grade. English is part of their curriculum now, and they're all eager to learn.


AMANPOUR: The girls schools are a sign of major progress. But it's a progress that some don't want. Over the past 18 months, fundamentalists have attacked 18 different girl schools in an effort to shut them down. This is particularly devastating for a country that still lacks the money to build enough schools for all it's children. Threatening the future of a nation where most adults can't read or write.

NASRIN GROSS, AFGHAN-AMERICAN: Ninety percent of women and about 80 percent of the men in Afghanistan are illiterate.

AMANPOUR: That's huge. That's almost the entire population.

GROSS: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: We met up with Nasrin Gross (ph), an Afghan-American who's trying to improve those shocking statistics. She's established a small class in one of Kabul's poorer districts. To encourage women to come, she also offers lessons to their husbands. There are the shy young newly weds.

GROSS: This in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), this is his wife, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they are married, and she's 15.

AMANPOUR: And there are the old married couples. Mohammad Abraheem (ph) is a shopkeeper. Until now, he's relied on memory and trust when it comes to balancing his accounts. His 58-year-old wife Rubaba (ph) wants to read and write to stay in touch with her children.

My daughters are abroad, she says. And if they send me a letter, I'll be able to read it. So I was very eager to come to this course.

In a country where everyone bears the burden of 23 years of war and poverty, women have had to bear the lion's share. And it's not just literacy. Most families don't have access to basic healthcare. When it comes to childbirth, Afghan women and new borns are among the worst off in the world. Baby Farid (ph), is five months old, and very sick. His father, 35-year-old Shafik Mohammad (ph) had to walk for several hours from their village north of Kabul to carry the baby here to the nearest clinic. Doctors prodded and felt and tried to help. But it was no good. Farid (ph) died. The say he had pneumonia. So they took his body home for the ritual Muslim burial rights. What happened to Farid (ph) is not exceptional. A quarter of all babies in Afghanistan will die before they reach the age of five.

Farid's (ph) young mother has now lost four of her babies, all before they were a year old. This is the norm in Afghanistan. And so is the startling fact that every 30 minutes, a mother dies in childbirth. That's why the maternity wing at this hospital in Kabul is so important. It's been renamed the Laura Bush ward, because money and professional help from the United States and other countries has paid for the kind of treatment that hospital director Dr. Nasreen Oriakel (ph) could only dream of before.

WE received equipment like incubators from Japan, and training from American professionals, says Dr. Nasreen (ph). This has reduced infant mortality here by about 70 percent. Before, we had to equipment to resuscitate babies. So if we couldn't send them to other hospitals they died.

Beyond healthcare, there are still deep cultural prejudices to overcome. For instance, even though girls can now be educated, many parents won't send them to school. Instead, they send them off to work. Not only is Nasrin Gross (ph) trying to get them into school, she's also trying to enshrine (ph) women's rights in the new Afghan constitution.

Like equal rights with men. The right to an education, to move around freely, the right to wear or not to wear the boker (ph).

GROSS (ph): I think in the constitution, one of the major battles is over women's rights.

AMANPOUR: The good news is after months of wrangling, the draft constitution has now been released. And it grants unprecedented rights to Afghan women, including political rights. Now it just has to be ratified. At a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in December.

When CNN PRESENTS returns, a military victory that has not secured the peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...fully inadequate response to the security needs outside of their capital.


AMANPOUR: This is the face of the A.N.A. The new Afghan National Army. They are the hope of the future. The U.S. is in charge of getting it up and running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I want to make sure all of the soldiers are safe. AMANPOUR: The peace plan for Afghanistan calls for a 70,000 strong army within a few years. But two years on, only 6,000 Afghan soldiers have been trained. With just another 5,000 expected this time next year. Right now, a real coalition of countries is helping the U.S. train the recruits. On the tanks, it's the Germans and Romanians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So every man is facing outwards...

AMANPOUR: The British take care of platoon leaders, and NCOs (ph). And the French army is training the Afghan officers. Here the bitterness over their government stand is overcome by common cause.

COL. ANTOINE CONNAC, FRENCH COMMANDER: It makes a tremendous statement, that this really is an allied coalition effort against the evil of terrorism. And I think that that kind of says it all. As a soldier, I find it fantastic. And it has been fantastic since the beginning.

But while the Afghan government waits for it's army, there is a security vacuum that needs filling now. There is an international peace keeping fort (ph). But it provides protection for only one place in the entire country. The capital Kabul.

Kabul is mostly secure. But the rest of Afghanistan is not. And that concerns the U.S. backed (ph) president, Hami Karsi (ph).

AMANPOUR: For about two years now, you've been pleading, asking every which way for an expansion of the security of the peacekeeping forces.

KARSI (ph): I was asking a lot initially in the beginning. The international community refused to accept it.

AMANPOUR: But now, they've been forced to accept it. After a summer of violence that directly threatens Karsi's (ph) ability to control the country, the U.S. has just agreed to support the peacekeepers expanding beyond the capital. Still, it will be months before any new troops arrive.

Until now, the Bush Administration has been hoping for the best. With a new concept, provincial reconstruction teams, or PRT's. They are small garrisons of about 100 U.S. soldiers, and civil affairs experts, designed to project security into the provinces by humanitarian assistance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the gate for the entrance. Something like that?

AMANPOUR: Here, in Eastern Afghanistan, reservists like Major Dean Fremmling (ph), are supervising the building of a teachers training college. And a school for boys and girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we shift it this way?

MAJOR DEAN FREMMLING: So as far as what we can do, we're doing as much as we can as fast as we can.

LT. GEN. JOHN VINES, AFGHANISTAN: It also allows the capabilities the technology, the security that flows from the international community to be projected into the provinces. It is influence without occupation.

AMANPOUR: Many Afghans told us they want these foreign troops. They want the Americans here.

Norwab (ph), a former (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who fought the Soviet Occupation, tells us the Americans are liberators who have come to rebuild Afghanistan. But despite the good will, the U.S. still doesn't seem to be taking advantage of it. Funding is tight. And long time aid officials complain that even these projects are being done on the cheat (ph).

PAUL BARKER, CARE INTERNATIONAL: There are a few (ph) small PRT (ph) camps set up around the country. But they're not large enough to have an impact really on reconstruction. Let alone security in those areas. So it's a fully inadequate response in security needs outside of the capital.

AMANPOUR: The U.S. now admits that any progress in Afghanistan depends on proper security. But it will take time. Especially with a new terrorist insurgency to combat.

Is it unrealistic that American forces will leave Afghanistan any time soon?

MAJ. PAUL WILLE (ph), 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION: I don't think it's going to happen soon. You don't build a government, you don't build a national identity, you don't build an army, and you don't build a police force overnight.

AMANPOUR: So the battle lines are drawn. But who will have the greater resolve? The shaky U.S. backed Afghan government in it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) national army? Or the forces of terrorism, coming back to destroy it?

When we return, is he Afghanistan's only hope?

KARSI (ph): I may be weal in providing the countryside with proper administration. But the government (ph) is always strong in providing political leadership.


AMANPOUR: September 5th, 2002. Hami Karsi (ph) narrowly escapes the bullets of a would be assassin. Today, the United States protects him like precious treasure. He's considered Afghanistan's best chance for a stable future.

President Karsi (ph) is constantly surrounded by well-armed American and Afghan bodyguards, though he rarely ventures beyond the walls of his presidential palace. We spent a day following his relentless round of meetings and briefings. Starting with this one at breakfast.

As interim President, Karsi (ph) deals with matters as complex as security, and matters as simple as steering wheels.

I mean, there was a gentleman who we met in your waiting room, who wanted to come and ask you to please let him import cars with right hand drives. Even though it's been banned.

KARSI (ph): Banned very much, yes. Those are -- he will not be allowed. This group of traders will not be allowed to import those kind of cars anymore.

AMANPOUR: Businessmen and tribal leaders from far and wide come to petition him. And Karsi (ph) regularly meets with them. Often hosting lunch under the plain (ph) trees in the palace gardens. Today, elders from the south are angry because of the stepped up Taliban insurgency.

Give us the order for war, says this elder dramatically. WE can sacrifice to defend our country. Why are you silent?

But the last thing Karsi (ph) wants is another outbreak of war. Afghanistan has been more stable in two years of his rule, than in the past 20 years. A relentless optimist, Karsi (ph) likes to point out the positives. A stable Afghan currency. And the economy growing faster than expected.

KARSI (ph): The reconstruction is doing better now than before. We're very very happy with the roads (ph) coming up. The roads, the highways. Very happy.

AMANPOUR: Highways are his pet project. Not just to show the Afghan people he can deliver, but to physically link the factionalized country under his authority. Right now, even Karsi (ph) supporters often call him the Mayor of Kabul. Because of the short reach of his national government. Karsi (ph) strongly rejects that.

KARSI (ph): When they say the Afghan government does not go beyond Kabul to the provinces, it's a serious serious miscalculation. Seriously wrong analysis.

AMANPOUR: On the other hand, Karsi (ph) is frank about his limitations.

KARSI (ph): I may be weak in providing the countryside with proper administration. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) qualified officer to a search (ph) in province, to deliver goods or services. But the government is always strong in providing political leadership. So the push (ph) of political leadership is undisputed.

AMANPOUR: Even (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Candar (ph) Har (ph) businessman who wants his steering wheels authorized told us that Karsi (ph) is what the country needs now.

We are optimistic about our future, he said. And people have high hopes for the central government. It is getting stronger. AMANPOUR: Karsi's (ph) success is important not just for Afghanistan, but for the region, says his close colleague and collaborator, Finance Minister (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we get Afghanistan great (ph), we can demonstrate to the rest of the Middle East and to the rest of the Muslim world that the west (ph) and Islam are not on a course of crash. But on a course of cooperation.

AMANPOUR: The U.S. as well as many in Afghanistan and the rest of the world would like to see Karsi (ph) win the presidential election scheduled for next June.

AMANPOUR: What is at stake for the United States here in Afghanistan?

KARSI (ph): The success of both countries depends on the defeat of terrorism completely in Afghanistan. Safety and security of the common Afghan man in effect is the safety and security of the common American, of the common French, of men in Germany. It's closely directly related.

AMANPOUR: America paid a terrible price for abandoning Afghanistan once, and providing Osama Bin Laden with his terrorist base. As we've heard throughout this program, another failure in Afghanistan is not an option.

I'm Christiana Amanpour, thank you for joining us.



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