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CNN Crossfire

Interview With Haron Amin; Interview With Mansoor Ijaz

Aired November 14, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Tonight: The Northern Alliance. Will they share power with other Afghan factions? Will they respect human rights? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Northern Alliance continues its dramatic sweep across Afghanistan. Having taken Kabul, its soldiers pushed south today toward Kandahar. Reports from Kandahar and Jalalabad indicate the Taliban are fleeing those cities. There are also signs that ethnic Pashtun forces are taking up arms against the Taliban in various parts of the country.

And this evening, all eight Western aid workers -- including two Americans -- who were being held by the Taliban on charges of proselytizing have been flown to Pakistan by a U.S. military helicopter.

For the moment, the Taliban appear to be out of power. Who will replace them? The Northern Alliance would like to. One of its former leaders, former Afghan president Rabbani, is said to be on his way back to Kabul. Meanwhile, the U.N. passed a resolution spelling out its role in constructing a post-Taliban government. But is all of this planing premature? Will the Taliban regroup and fight back? And what role should the U.S. play? Where is Osama Bin Laden?

Joining us tonight, two experts on the region: Mansoor Ijaz, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and in Washington, Haron Amin, special representative for the Northern Alliance. And here, sitting in for the new author Bill Press is Paul Begala -- Paul.

PAUL BEGALA, HOST: Tucker, thank you. Mr. Amin, there are reports, as Tucker referred to, that the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan has fallen and that the airport in Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold, is under siege. Those reports are thus far unconfirmed. I wonder if you could confirm them.

HARON AMIN, NORTHERN ALLIANCE SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, the fall of Jalalabad was confirmed today and the eastern council -- basically in each area of Afghanistan you have got major cities. Once those major cities fall, like Mazar-e-Sharif, like Kabul, like Herat, the surrounding adjacent provinces also fall. So Jalalabad would be key in the eastern part of Afghanistan.

And then of course Kandahar would be very important in the southern part. Skirmishes around the city, anti-Taliban people who are linked to, you know, liberation movement in Afghanistan, they are working on it. The airport is under the control of these individuals and we hope soon it will be liberated.

BEGALA: Let me focus on Jalalabad for a minute then. You say Jalalabad has been liberated from the Taliban. Was it liberated by the Northern Alliance or by other anti-Taliban forces that are not part of your alliance?

AMIN: There are members of the resistance in Jalalabad. Sadik Aziz Haji (ph) was the ex-governor of Jalalabad as well as Hazatah Ali (ph) was a commander in that area. They were involved in the liberation of Jalalabad, but there is a council that runs the affairs of Jalalabad. And in the fall or the liberation of Jalalabad there was a coalition that was involved.

BEGALA: Tucker?

CARLSON: Mr. Ijaz, it's possible to quibble about the Northern Alliance, and many people do. But the fact is they're in the process of liberating Afghanistan from a totalitarian regime, the Taliban. Is it -- no one else, you'll notice, has done it. The Pakistanis of course didn't do it. They supported the Taliban. Is now really the time to be criticizing the Northern Alliance if they freed millions of people in Afghanistan?

MANSOOR IJAZ, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think you have make sure that we understand the historical perspective here. in 1992, just after the fall -- after the Soviets were repelled from Afghanistan, primarily by the United States working with Taliban at that time, we had a very different scenario.

The Saudi government called a meeting of the seven tribal leaders to come to Mecca. They made a deal in which President Rabbani was supposed to come back and hold an election ten months after he came back. And that election never actually took place.

And so that -- all the atrocities and all the problems that people talk about today that were committed by the Northern Alliance in a historical context, are very much of concern to people who are watching this today that could there be a repeat of history, because Rabbani again is coming back as the leader.

So we really have to understand whether or not he is willing to hold an election, whether he is willing to share power. Because the last time around he didn't do that, and that's the historical context.

CARLSON: No, wait. but -- but I suppose the immediate concern for most people -- certainly those living in Afghanistan at the moment -- is the atrocities committed by the Taliban over the last five years, a regime -- as I said -- supported by Pakistan. Now they're on the way out. Isn't this a cause for rejoicing?

IJAZ: Well, Tucker, again, you know, unfortunately Afghanistan has had a -- a very, very troubled history of both the north and the south never really being able to live with each other. And the -- the pressure that we have to apply -- the United States has to apply, is to ensure that the Northern Alliance understands this time around there has to be broad-based government that will include the Pashtuns from the south and proper representation of everyone. They may in fact be in control of the geography of Afghanistan right now, but that does not mean that they yet have political control. it really needs to be understood.

BEGALA: Mr. Amin, let me ask you about control, particularly control of Northern Alliance forces. I actually agree with Tucker it's a time to rejoice. There is a line between rejoicing and revenge. there is -- Western diplomats are reporting that in neighboring Uzbekistan, in the city of Termez, that Northern Alliance troops killed as many as 600 Taliban troops in Termez.

There's another report that says 100 Taliban conscripts were killed after the fighting had seized. There's been a lot of very graphic images as well. What are you doing to control your forces?

AMIN: Well, remember first of all I wished that I could actually have the opportunity to also make some comments about our friend who is not here on this station.

In terms of these things, these atrocities that people are claiming are happening. First of all, it is coming out of Tashkent. it's not people who has -- who have witnessed this, number one.

Number two, we are talking about so many provinces. Almost more than 50 percent of Afghanistan being liberated and an incident in which they talk about 600 Taliban. We have firm belief that these people that wish to fight to the end were not necessarily Taliban but were Pakistanis, Taliban -- Pakistani Taliban as well as other Arabs that have sought to fight to the end. And that may be reason.

And again, the important thing is that, like for example yesterday, CNN was reporting that as the United Front entered Kabul, it killed a lot of these individuals.

Today it was reporting that basically people known to the Taliban were fleeing, turned against these Taliban who their draconian version of whatever beliefs they may have had had slaughtered thousands of people over the last five or six years.

So the important thing is you have got to put everything in perspective as to how much liberation is occurring there and what is really happening on the ground. Mere incidents there -- certain human rights abuses or something like that should not implicate the forces of the United Front. It is condemnable by us, and -- and of course, certain acts of reprisal on a local basis should not implicate them.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you then about the point also that Mr. Ijaz made. The -- the United States call our operation enduring freedom. When it's over, will there be freedom? Will the Northern Alliance support free elections in a government that includes all the ethnic groups of Afghanistan? AMIN: That has been our objective from the very start. Remember, if there had been no resistance in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, would this opportunity exist today? The fact of the matter is that we have fought all along to make sure that the Afghan people would have the appropriate conditions whereby they can still determine themselves, meaning that they could have -- that they could have the opportunity to go about determining their fate, their future destiny.

And it has to be done with the cooperation of all of the segments of the Afghan society, including the Pashtuns, some of whose prominent members are within our leadership council.

CARLSON: Mr. Ijaz, do you buy that?

IJAZ: I just -- I'm sorry. Forgive me. But that is just a distortion of the facts. The fact of the matter is that you have to look very carefully at the composition of what Afghanistan is today. The Northern Alliance represents ten to 12 percent of the country. And if you add the Uzbeks it essentially becomes 25, maybe 30 percent on outside. That does not take into account the 60 to 70 percent of the people that are living in the south, and giving them a right and a say in which -- how that government is going to be constructed.

And we have to go back and make sure that we understand the fact that when they were given a chance to form a government, when they were given and chance to hold free elections, they didn't do it.

AMIN: Let me reply this: any leading expert -- William Neely (ph), Barnett Rubin, Olivia Well (ph), Changiz Palo (ph) and all these experts on Afghanistan will disagree with Mr. Mansoor about the composition of the ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Certainly there is no ethnic majority. you have got Pashtuns, certainly, the largest ethnic group being 40 percent of the country. But in terms of 1992, in 1992 we took over from the Communists, there were seven major organizations. Six joined the government, the post- communist regime government.

One, fully backed by the Pakistani military intelligence, rocketed the city. Rained as many as 600 rockets into the city every day. From 1992 to 1994 when the Taliban emerged in 1995, Pakistan didn't even raise an eyebrow. Then Taliban came with the full backing of Pakistan. Pakistan didn't raise an eyebrow again.

The fact of the matter is that now that they have lost their investment in Afghanistan -- and you know exactly what that investment really meant and how manifested itself -- Pakistan is really upset.

IJAZ: Well...

CARLSON: Hold on. Mr. Ijaz, let me ask you about that and reports that are coming out today about Pakistan that thousands of Taliban soldiers are fleeing to Pakistan, crossing over the border into that country. Many of them of course are already Pakistani, some of them are Arabs. My question to you is, there are reports of the Pakistani government trying to stop them, trying to detain them. Osama Bin Laden could be in Peshawar by now and the Pakistani government would not have done anything about it. Why?

IJAZ: I'm afraid I have to say guilty as charged if that is the case. I don't think there is a proper response that I can give to that. It is entirely conceivable that the Taliban have retreated behind Pakistani lines. It's a very porous border.

I am actually of the belief that far from this being a you know, cut and run type of strategy, this is a tactical retreat. These are guerrilla fighters. They are not that simple to just put down. There are reports this evening that a particular building was -- bombed by U.S. Air Force -- air forces that may have contained the al Qaeda leadership in it. And I wouldn't necessarily believe that yet either, until we see the forensic evidence of that.

CARLSON: But wait a second, you are saying these are guerrilla fighters, but many of them are citizens of our ally in this fight against the Taliban, Pakistan. Now, over the past two months thousands of Pakistani citizens have gone into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Again, the Pakistan government not done a lot about it.

IJAZ: Well...

CARLSON: It's supposed to be our ally. What's going on here?

IJAZ: May I just correct something that you said? They had tried to go into Afghanistan. I don't think it's very clear that they actually got through.

But even if they did, the fact of the matter is that these are religious loyalties. These are you know, you have -- it's very important that we understand something about Muslims. We -- the Muslims that live in that part of world believe in the concept of ummah, which is the community. They don't look at state borders, necessarily, or citizenship as the right to do whatever they do. They look at their religious beliefs as the right to do what they do.

CARLSON: Yeah, but wait, the government believes certainly in borders and in citizenship. So my question is, why didn't the government -- why didn't General Musharraf do anything about it?

IJAZ: Well, he did. In fact, that's just not correct. The fact of the matter is that the troops were -- these Taliban sympathizers were stopped. Ten, fifteen thousand of them were stopped at the borders on several occasions. And that was a very dangerous thing for General Musharraf to go out and do, because he was asking the army to turn on its own citizens. And that's the thing that leads to civil war at a time like this.

BEGALA: Mr. Ijaz and Mr. Amin, just -- if you hang on just a second we are going to go to a break. And when we come back we are going to take a look at how people in Kabul reacted to the Northern Alliance moving into their city.


BEGALA: Wolf, thank you very much for that very good news. Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Paul Begala. And we're discussing the remarkable success of the war effort in Afghanistan, as the Northern Alliance consolidates its hold on Kabul and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar comes under increasing pressure.

But allegations of human rights abuses and the lack of any functioning government make the future of Afghanistan a little less than bright. Our guests tonight are Mansoor Ijaz, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Haron Amin, the Special Representative for the Afghan United Front. Tucker.

CARLSON: Mr. Amin, doubtless you saw front page of the B section of "the New York Times" yesterday. I can tell you everyone in Washington did. It contained this series of photographs -- I don't know if you can see them -- of a Taliban soldier being captured by the Northern Alliance. It looks like he has been castrated in these pictures and summarily executed by advancing Northern Alliance soldiers.

Now what this suggests to me, apart from the brutality of -- and I will even grant you that brutal things happen in war, of course -- but the indiscretion involved in doing this in front of "the New York Times" photographer and a correspondent, in front of Western newsmen, suggests to me that these are troops that aren't under any discipline, that they are essentially out of control. How do you respond to that?

AMIN: Well, let me say again that the Taliban have engaged in the kind of brutality that no one has seen in Afghanistan for a long time. And let me also correct Mr. Mansoor that Afghanistan had relative peace from 1919 all the way down to 1973, when the king was overthrown by his cousin. So these periods of brutality, of course, you put 22 years into any country of war and you'll see what's going to happen. And certainly Pakistan wouldn't even last past six months should that sort of such conditions prevail.

CARLSON: Nobody would argue with that. But the question -- I mean, you know, everyone agrees that the Taliban were and are brutal, which is why people looked so forward to the arrival of the Northern Alliance and why pictures like this make people so anxious, because not only has the Northern Alliance liberated Kabul but the United States and the allies are looking for it to liberate other cities in Afghanistan. are we going to see a lot more things like this?

AMIN: No. Absolutely not. I can tell you. And again, certain acts of reprisal on a local basis by people who have been brutalized by the Taliban, by the Pakistanis with their ideological anthrax that they brought over from across the border and these militants from Saudi Arabia or else -- elsewhere in the Middle East. That has been really been the prime source of the hatred by the people of Afghanistan.

Now, certainly none of -- none of a situation like this should be -- should be tolerated. It is condemnable by us. Our officials will look into this. But again, look at what has happened over the last five or six or seven, ten days. More than 65 percent of the country liberated. You have maybe one or two incidents at best, and even that I'm saying that is condemnable. But certainly we will look into it.

BEGALA: Mr. Ijaz, let me get your perspective on that. We saw Pashtuns in the city of Kabul throwing flowers, throwing money at the liberators from the Northern Alliance, who are from very different ethnic groups in the north.

Doesn't that suggest to you that maybe there's no moral equivalency here, certainly not even in Afghanistan and obviously not for us as Americans? The Northern Alliance may have its problems, but God knows they're not stealing our airplanes and crashing into our buildings. Don't you worry about drawing a moral equivalency between a -- perhaps an occasionally problematic ally and a truly evil adversary?

IJAZ: Let's assume for the sake of argument that Mr. Amin is telling us that they understood what they have done wrong in the past and they have changed their colors. That still doesn't change the fact that there is no functioning government.

I would like to ask the question of Mr. Amin. When do you intend to call the tribal meeting of counsel elders? Do you intend to bring the former King Zahir Shah back so that he can lead the country to a more prominent political solution? Is there a -- a backdoor game being played between the Northern Alliance and India to compress Pakistan's interest in all this?

BEGALA: Mr. Ijaz, we will -- we will get to all that. But I'm just curious if you are willing to say that going after al Qaeda with 5,000 Americans dead is worth get into bed with someone who you might not like?

IJAZ: No question that they have to be our partner at the moment. The question is whether or not we are going to lose more people on the ground once this is all undertaken on the ground force. That's the problem. We don't know that yet.

These guys have changed their colors before. The Soviets went in there in 1980 and they found out that they just couldn't trust these guys. I'm sorry. That's the -- these are facts.


CARLSON: Now, he asked you a question I would like you to answer, actually, which is essentially, you have won over at least part of country, 60 to 90 percent of it. So at some point you have to run it. Who does run the Northern Alliance exactly? Rabbani? Where is he.

AMIN: Didn't Dr. Abdullah, who is our foreign minister, call for all the Afghan segments from across the world as well as Afghanistan to come into Kabul? Didn't he call upon the United Nations to go into Kabul to monitor that whole peace process? The fact of matter is you have to look at it. We believe that Pakistan has legitimate rights in Afghanistan, as do many other countries and many other neighboring states of Afghanistan. Pakistan claims exclusive, legitimate interest. This is something unacceptable.

And then again, Mr. Mansoor's dates are so wrong. The Soviets invaded in 1979, not in 1980. And then the Communist regime was there. Our forces fought against the Communists, kicked them out, took over in 1992. But they were the ones who got us...


AMIN: He's getting all the facts wrong.

CARLSON: But wait. Right. But let's get back to this fact and my question, which is where is former President Rabbani?

AMIN: He is right now in Jabul Saraj. He might be going into -- the the city but we have called for -- for the Loyal Jirga, we have called for some sort of representative assembly to get -- to take place in Kabul. Kabul has been effectively demilitarized. The United Nations is welcome. We welcome all the special envoys, including Mr. Gabbons (ph) to go into Kabul to assist us in this whole process.

I think when left alone but assisted in the right way, Afghans can come together. We have done it in the past. We did it in 1747, long before Pakistan was even born. We can do it once again.

BEGALA: Mr. Ijaz, let me come back to a point that you raised. You suggested that perhaps the Northern Alliance was an unreliable ally because they had, you suggested, cut and run on the Soviet Union and switched sides on the Soviets back during its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

But surely you are not suggesting that the Northern Alliance are frankly so stupid that they are going to switch sides and join the losers? I mean, the Taliban is on run. The United States of America and its allies are ascendant. There is no sensible person who would be quitting our alliance to join the Taliban, is there?

IJAZ: No, there's no question about that. That's not the concern that I have got. I have got a much broader and more strategic concern: everyone who thinks that this victory in the air campaign has now led to the taking over of the physical assets in the country, does not understand what this ground war and coming campaign to root out the al Qaeda network is really all about.

These guys, in my judgment, they are essentially drawing us into that part of country that they know best. I don't know how well the Northern Alliance knows that part of country. This is something that Haron can answer better than I can.

But the fact of the matter is that this is just the beginning of the most difficult phase to dismantle what we were there to do in the first place. I don't -- I mean, it's like we're jumping up and down and saying this is all over with. This is not over by a long shot and we are just getting started with the most difficult parts of this campaign to root out the terrorist infrastructure.

When al Qaeda is completely gone, that's when we are going to know that there is a real victory in the war on terrorism, and even that is only going to be phase one. We have got people here in the United States still. We have got people living in other countries.


IJAZ: This network is not finished yet.

CARLSON: Mr. Ijaz, sadly our show is, or at least this part of it. Thank you very much. Mr. Amin, thank you. Paul Begala and I will be back in just a moment with our closing comments. Stay tuned.


BEGALA: Tucker, I think first everybody thanks God and the United States military but also our allies -- alliance partners in the Northern Alliance that those aid workers are now free.


BEGALA: And while I am as much against castration as the next man, we can't always pick our allies. These are not the Little Sisters of the Poor. But they are in us -- with us in a fight against...

CARLSON: And I have to say, undue concern -- I mean, to focus on concerns like that at this time strikes me as almost neurotic. I mean, it's lack of focus. This is good news. The aid workers are free. The country is becoming is free. It strikes me it's time to think about that and be happy about it, worry about the future of Afghanistan tomorrow. Today we celebrate.

BEGALA: It was interesting -- it was interesting yesterday the Reuters described our president as putting a brave face on it. Mr. President, just smile. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Advice from Paul Begala. from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. Good night.