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Thomas Gouttierre: Considering post-Taliban Afghanistan

Thomas Gouttierre is CNN's Afghanistan analyst, and is the dean of International Studies and Programs and Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. A U.S. citizen, he lived and worked in Afghanistan for nearly ten years, and also served as a senior political advisor for the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Afghanistan from 1996-1997.

CNN: Welcome to, Thomas Gouttierre. Thank you for being with us today.

GOUTTIERRE: I'm pleased to be doing this. I think it's so important to have as much correct information about what is going on in Afghanistan. Afghanistan comes in and out of the news as circumstances create. We all probably heard of it for the first time when the Soviets invaded in 1979, and then it faded somewhat from the news. And now there's an explosion of news from Afghanistan, after the events that happened on September 11.

CNN: Reports out of Afghanistan say that the Taliban have not been broken yet. How long can they hold out?

GOUTTIERRE: The Taliban movement is not going to be an easy nut to crack, because it has a lot of very committed followers, individuals who as students in Pakistan have come to believe the type of extreme Islam that Osama bin Laden and other from the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia espouse. And so these are people who are fighting, the hardcore, fighting with a mission. But there is another side to this story, and that is that the Taliban movement is not monolithic. Indeed it has many different component parts, some that are very hard core [and] religiously directed, and others that are more nationalistically directed. Success against the Taliban will be largely made possible by how many of those who are not part of the hard core we can detach. The U.S. will need to go about that very, very actively, through direct ways. That means U.S. personnel to Pashtun groups who are in the Taliban-held areas. We need to do this directly, not through Pakistani interlocutors.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much influence will the U.S. have in helping replace the Taliban?

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GOUTTIERRE: I think the United States should be a positive force in trying to help the Afghans emerge out of this period of destruction and anarchy which essentially reigns in Afghanistan today. We need to prod those who are moderate traditional forces into actively engaging others of like mind, and we need to provide incentives for them to work together. That too requires people-to-people diplomacy, directly. The Afghans need to believe that the United States is committed to the reconstruction of their country. Therefore, what we do needs to send a clear message that we want to be able to be their partners in the rebuilding of their country, the reconstruction of the social, political and physical infrastructure. Ultimately, of course, the Afghans themselves have to determine the form of government that will be utilized throughout the country.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: The Taliban seem like a young and rather charismatic organization, while the coalition alternative, which include the king, seems rather old. How will these old guys appeal to the young?

GOUTTIERRE: It's true that the king who was born in 1913 is seen as an elderly person, and he is, but he is also that person in Afghanistan who is most credible to the widest range of the population, and many of the brains of Afghanistan left during the war. It would be good for Afghanistan's future if some of those technocrats could be enticed to come back and help at least in the initial stages of Afghanistan's next phase. And the others, who are now powerful within the country, both north and south, will need to find ways to work together to work against their serious ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional differences. This will not be an easy task, and perhaps those who are a bit more elderly than the youth in both sides can help serve as moderators and facilitators. But ultimately these people at odds with each other will have to be the ones who work to put Afghanistan back on its traditional moderate social and political footing. Again, the U.S. needs to do what it can to facilitate those efforts.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the Russians will jump in at the last moment and decide that they will run Afghanistan?

GOUTTIERRE: That would not be possible. The Russians were soundly defeated in the war in Afghanistan. What the Russians are seeking more than anything else is a kind of expiation, absolution for their efforts in Afghanistan in the '80s. By that I mean the Russians like to be able to say today that what we see in Afghanistan would have been precluded had they been able to be successful in the 1980's, if we hadn't interfered. They'd like to be able to say that.

But the fact remains that what has really brought Afghanistan to where they are today is the destruction caused by the Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan. The destruction was almost total. The social fabric, the patchwork quilt of the social fabric of Afghanistan, which is so difficult to knit together in a tribal society, was ripped apart by the Soviet campaign there, along with the physical infrastructure, buildings, roads. And so that is why Afghanistan today has had such difficulty putting itself back together. I think the Russian influence will only be peripheral. Russia no longer enjoys, as it did when it was part of the Soviet Union, a border with Afghanistan. That border they used to share is now shared by Afghanistan with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

CNN: What role should the Northern Alliance have in post-Taliban Afghanistan?

GOUTTIERRE: Well, the Northern Alliance has a valid constituency, and the representatives of those constituencies should have a seat at any deliberations that go on about Afghanistan's reconstruction. However, there are number of leaders in the Northern Alliance who are highly unpopular, and would be seen as being very divisive were their roles to be very public. Among these are the president of the Northern Alliance, Rabani, and one of the commanders leading some of the Uzbek forces. His name is Rashid Dostum. These people will be a source of controversy should they be involved in discussions of a post-war Afghanistan. But there are many within their groups who are very credible and good people, and they need to be fully represented.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do we hear no talk of including the womens group Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in a new government in Afghanistan?

GOUTTIERRE: Currently, RAWA has a kind of low-key presence inside of Afghanistan, because of the circumstances there. But I would feel that in the future in any of those deliberations, that RAWA needs to be a very active partner in any of the discussions about Afghanistan's future. In many ways, the children and women in Afghanistan have suffered the most during these last 23 years, and they need to be represented. RAWA is certainly one of the most active representative organizations for such a group. In general, women have always been under-represented in Afghan politics, and that needs to be changed or the reconstruction of Afghanistan will not be a credible one for a very large portion of its population. This is something that the Afghans will have to come to grips with as they put together their constituents for this grand national assembly that will be held, and the women need more than just token representation.

The complication relating to that relates to these circumstances: One, there is no tradition or history of this type of representation. Two, Afghanistan is emerging from an extreme form of religion, under the Mujahedeen and Taliban governments. So, it will be difficult to convince some that the women should be able to have the representation they deserve, but I think the U.S. and other partners in the coalition should be insistent, because the credibility of the reconstruction of Afghanistan would be brought into jeopardy. In the period before the Soviet War, particularly during the time when the king of Afghanistan was on the throne in the '60s and '70s, women were able to vote, and were members of parliament. That again needs to be a standard part of Afghanistan's political fabric, but even more so. I'm sure RAWA will be heard, and be very vocal about that. That is good, because it will help move Afghanistan away from its highly theocratized and sectarian politics, and it needs to be moving along a more secular type of format that will include all of the minorities in a truly proportional representative way.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Gouttierre, it will take generations to restore humanity in Afganistan. What will or should be done to [change] the present generation of extreme views?

GOUTTIERRE: I agree with this point very much. It took centuries literally for the Afghans to craft together the social fabric that was relatively peaceful and progressive during the '60s and '70s, before the king was overthrown by his cousin in a revenge coup. I think that the most valuable asset in trying to wean the youth away from their guns and their extremist form of religion has to be education. We need to have education in graded fashion, in other words grades 1-12, and education for those who have not been educatedů That will be a challenge, but will be a primary resource that needs to be activated. They need to be taught again their history and their traditions. These are things that the Mujahedeen and the Taliban knew well, respected, and taught, and Afghans have suffered because of that. Those traditions and history have to be at the core of Afghanistan's rebuilding.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Thomas Gouttierre.

GOUTTIERRE: Thank you very much.

Thomas Gouttierre joined via telephone from Nebraska. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Wednesday, October 24, 2001.


• International Studies - University of Nebraska, Omaha

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