AAR News Release
Azadi Afghan Radio interview with Dr. Elie D. Krakowski, Senior Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and former Defense Department official during the Reagan Administration with many years of experience in Afghan affairs. Interview was conducted in mid-June following Dr. Krakowski's recent trip to Northern Afghanistan and meeting with Com. Ahmad Shah Massoud. Since last year, he has also visited Pakistan, Central Asia and other regional countries as a part of a fact-finding mission, and met with various government officials in those places.
Omar Samad: Dr. Krakowski, you have just returned from a trip to Northern Afghanistan that took place in May and also from visits to various other countries in the region. Let me first ask you what was your main impression of Commander Massoud and the resistance at this point?
Elie Krakowski: Well, I have to say I knew of Commander Massoud from way back during the Soviet-Afghan war when I was in the Pentagon. I had followed his career from afar. Meeting him was a very informative experience; he is a very intelligent, capable person. He has a very good relationship with those around him... He went and shook everybody's hand. People clearly like him and respect him. I spent over seven hours with him during three days and from what I could see he's got a superior command of the situation, what is happening all over, not just in Afghanistan but in the world. He had a lot of impressions about different governments; what they do, what they say. He was very, very well informed, a very capable leader.
As to the situation, while I was there, the offensive started and we moved to a different area. Commander Massoud actually drew on a map some increases in the operational areas and some areas of control of the Resistance. He felt fairly confident about being able to cope with the Taliban offensive.
Q: What were some of the weaknesses, needs and shortages that you felt existed?
K: It's a little difficult to assess some of those things. I think they clearly could stand a good deal more help in terms of financial and material things. They clearly are not receiving the kind of assistance the Taliban are getting. I would say that the helicopters I saw were very old. But, of course, there are repots that they have received new ones, which I think most people know, are not new, but new used helicopters. And so, I think on a whole range of things they could stand significant improvement.
Q: What was the main issue, the main concern Massoud and other leaders had that you felt constituted the thrust of their concern about Afghanistan?
K: Well, first of all he was very business like. He did not show any hatred even towards the Taliban. He would very much like to bring about a peaceful situation in Afghanistan. His position is a very flexible and reasonable one in terms of negotiations, interim government, the writing of a constitution. And I think he would be willing to do a lot of things, provided that the people of Afghanistan receive some degree of protection. His main concern seemed to be the foreign elements that are now in Afghanistan and those are of two sorts: one is all the Pakistanis that he said are now in Afghanistan fighting along with the Taliban and providing significant numbers of the Taliban troops.
He put almost as much emphasis on the Arabs who are now running the various terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that news reports have also shown fighting with the Taliban. Commander Massoud actually said that many of the atrocities committed by the Taliban he felt were due to the very strong influence of those Wahabi elements that are with the Taliban. He mentioned specifically the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas. It seemed to me that he did not think that was something the Taliban would have done on their own. He also stated that the Wahabis had urged the Taliban to go beyond the Buddhas and destroy traditional Afghan Muslim shrines. These, he said the Taliban thought about doing, but recognized that if they had attempted that, they might have had a major rebellion, an uprising among the Afghans - therefore didn¹t actually proceed to do that. He also mentioned that the massacres in the Shomali Plains, over a year ago I think it was, were with the participation of, and urging of those outside elements.
Q: Dr. Krakowski, some people in the West dismiss Massoud as a credible force. Some people write him off as the fighting continues, while some think that he still has a role to play. What do you think?
K: Well, people operate under serious misconceptions when it comes to Afghanistan. The discourse seems to be that the Taliban control over 90% of Afghanistan, the implication being that they not only control 90% but they control the population. That, I think, is incorrect. If you look at maps and, again, I traveled for over three hours by helicopter in the Northern areas, at no time did I see anything that was in the nature of any threat. it's quite clear to me that the United Front or the former Islamic Gov. controls quite a bit more than 10%. I don't know exactly whether it's 20 or 30. But it is more than 10%. I also heard this in my travels from some Indian officials that in terms of the population in the northern zone, it's closer to 40%. For those reasons and others I think it's not realistic to dismiss Massoud as irrelevant. I think he's an extremely capable commander and I think he has a grasp of the political situation that is far beyond what many people often ascribe to him.
Q: How serious is this radical extremist trend that exists within the Taliban, as well as the presence of Wahabis, extremist Arabs and Pakistanis?
K: I think it is a very serious trend. And, to some extent I think the Pakistanis have helped and encouraged what is now an extremely significant threat to Pakistan itself. The leader of the JUI, the fundamentalist Pakistani party, very explicitly stated that what he would like to see is a Taliban sort of government in Pakistan. Now, I don't think I need to spell out how serious this would be, not just for Pakistan, but also for the entire surrounding region and I think for the world at large. And I think this is a very serious element. I would go so far as to say that in my opinion the Taliban now is at its weakest point. I don't think it's ever been as weak as it is now, except at the very beginning when it started. It is rapidly losing the support of the population. And I think the radicalization of an already radical movement is very quickly going to melt away whatever support they might have from even the Pashtun population. And, therefore, I think that to the extent that they would rule or continue to rule increasingly with the help of these Arabs - one, they would become very tenuous and, two, it would contribute tremendously to the destabilization of Pakistan as well, because the extremist Pakistani parties are quite satisfied with the Wahabi Arabs and their extreme position. They see it as helping them seize power in Pakistan. So, I think we have here a very explosive situation that has to be dealt with quickly.
Q: Some so-called experts say that when the Taliban take over the whole country, then we will take care of them and get rid of them, meaning let the current opposition and resistance fold and be defeated. My question is, what do you think about that view and, secondly, how do you consider Massoud's abilities in coming to terms with other ethnic groups, especially Pashtuns?
K: OK. That is a good question. I would say that the attitude you describe is unethical and immoral. And it also is not realistic. It presupposes that the Taliban can win. In principal, the opposition will just fold. I think that neither is correct. I think the Taliban have shown that without the external support that it has been receiving, the Taliban could not continue. I think it's quite clear that without the injection of outside forces, which are euphemistically called and, perhaps, in some cases correctly called Pakistani volunteers, I don¹t think the Taliban could continue. They have had a very difficult time finding recruits within the Pashtun community. So, they haven't been able to win and consolidate, number one. Number two, they have shown themselves very incompetent in governing. They haven't done anything in terms of providing services and taking care of the populations under their control.
Then, on the other side, the various other ethnic groups and some Pashtuns are not going to stop the fighting as some people would like them to... and the argument that some people have made that helping the Northern forces would prolong the war is absolutely incorrect. I would say that not helping them prolongs the war. Helping them [the United Front] would significantly help the Taliban and those who back it to recognize they cannot achieve a military victory.
Now, as to the ethnic question that you raise, while I was there, two Pashtun commanders from the Southern areas were visiting Massoud. I think Massoud has made significant efforts to convince Pashtuns that they can work together. At least in terms of what he was saying, he has no intention of trying to dominate or run the Afghan government. He would be quite content to have a role in such a structure in terms of an interim government. I think he would expect to have a role - quite rightly so.
So, I think that what is at work here, one, is that Massoud understands the situation well and has a very realistic view of things as they are. What needs to be done is something different from what has been done in the past. In the situation when Massoud was in Kabul, what one had was that different governments were supporting different factions, which made it very difficult to do anything constructively. We now have a situation where we could work with the surrounding countries to work within the Afghans to encourage cooperation among the Afghans instead of encouraging divisiveness, and I think the United States could have a significant role in this contest.
Q: We will get to that in a moment. What was your assessment of what the UF leadership wants in terms of the type of government, the political set-up and to what extent do they believe in a Democracy that could work in Afghanistan?
K: The position of the Islamic Government is that they would like to have negotiations and the formation of a government that would include all the ethnic groups and faction, the writing of a constitution and the holding of elections. Also, a democratic system that would protect all Afghans and give them a voice in the shaping of their own affairs. That was a very clear message that Commander Massoud was conveying to me. He very explicitly said that he was not looking to win militarily. he very explicitly stated that what he was seeking was to be able to negotiate. And he had over time been in touch very directly with Mullah Omar. But the Taliban had not, according to what he said, expressed any willingness to negotiate except if he agreed in advance to submit himself to their will.
Q: Now let's talk about the U.S. role. What can the U.S. do at this point with new policy being formulated. What is the best advice you can give it?
K: Well, I would say the following things. The United States can play a very crucial role. The various governments that I visited, everyone told me that in essence they not only are ready but would welcome a very important American role... the United States was probably the only country that could help break the logjam people are now in... This was my initial assumption when I started, and I think there is growing recognition that what is being done on all sides is not leading to results. At the same time, they don't know what to do. I think it is for that reason that the United States could now play a significant role. That role would be to help bring about a government that would derive its legitimacy from the will of the Afghan people. Now whether the Taliban would be willing to negotiate and help construct such a government, that¹s a question that I personally do not believe that the Taliban by their very nature would go along with something like that... I think that given the current conditions, it certainly would be averse to doing that. Therefore, it's important to build an alternative to the Taliban. In doing so it would be very helpful if Pakistan would begin to see that this is the direction in which it should move. I believe that there are those in Pakistan who have recognized that current policies have not led anywhere. The question is how to convince the [Pakistani] government to move in a somewhat different direction. I believe there are possibilities that could be explored through, for instance, the possibilities of reconstruction help to Afghans in the way of a Shura (council). But what the United States should be doing is working with all the surrounding countries. Define the objective much more clearly and then build a concept of stakes. And I think the concept of stakes for Pakistan is enormous. Pakistan would like to have a trade route to Central Asia and could do a great deal that would help it economically. A stable Afghanistan, a country in which other countries like Pakistan, could have an influence, would be the way to do that. And Pakistan could then join that concert of states and move in a very positive direction that would improve its relations with Iran, Central Asia and others...
I believe that in the United States, because of its structure, with different people's responsibilities in different agencies, and because Afghanistan is not a primary area of concern for the United States, I don't think people realize the importance of Afghanistan is far beyond what is generally perceived. I don't know if Afghanistan will reach a high level of attention in the administration in a sustained basis. This is a unique moment in which we could help bring about peace in Afghanistan a situation in which the Afghans can finally conduct their own affairs but, in order to do that, the United States must not only develop a strategy along the lines I have suggested, but also appoint a coordinator for Afghanistan. And this would help Afghanistan sustain the attention at an appropriate level with somebody who would understand the issues, would understand the objectives, understand the strategy. Preferably have some relationship of trust between he various governments... because that is a problem that the United States has. There isn't much trust. Because of our previous American record of going in and out, in an apparently inconsistent policy.
But I think that you have those two basic elements, a strategy that would use the surrounding states, which would at the same time help the Northern forces and help the South in terms of humanitarian and reconstruction programs. Then the appointment of a coordinator for the United States. Those two things together should help bring about the results that I am talking about.
Q: What role can the Afghans on the outside have, especially those who are asking for the convening of a Loya Jirga and a role for the former exiled King. Under what conditions can they play a constructive role?
K: I think that all the avenues that are being pursued, whether it's the role of Cyprus, the Loya Jirga, these are all worthy of pursuing. I don't know that any one is the right one or the wrong one. I think that the Afghans who are now outside of Afghanistan can play a very significant role. Clearly, one of the major problems in Afghanistan is the almost complete destruction of the educational system. The bleak future for the children who are not getting what they should be getting in terms of education. I think that Afghans who live outside Afghanistan can play a very significant role in helping Afghanistan in its reconstruction phase - both from outside with financial help or by going back and helping in the reconstruction. The processes can be constructive in that direction. I think these processes quite conceivably could merge and fuse if one can bring about cessation of fighting and recognition that what needs to happen is for Afghans to get together and decide what needs to be done. So, that could be done by having an interim government, by drafting a constitution, could perhaps be achieved through a Loya Jirga. I don't want to come down on one side or another. I think these avenues need to continue to be pursued. The important element for countries like the United States is to encourage the Afghans to work together. /
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