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Peter Tomsen: Stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan

Eastern Alliance forces at Tora Bora
Eastern Alliance forces at Tora Bora  

Ambassador Peter Tomsen served in the first Bush Administration as the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992. In that role, he met with many of the Afghan tribal leaders and commanders who remain active today. In June 2001, he met with former Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, who was assassinated by the Taliban just before U.S. attacks were launched. Tomsen also met with the exiled king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, in Rome in July and September, 2001. Tomsen is currently professor of American foreign policy and Eurasia at the University of Nebraska-Omaha's Center for Afghan Studies.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Peter Tomsen, and welcome

PETER TOMSEN: Hi, good morning. I look forward to this chat in the CNN chat room!

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CNN: While the Taliban have been forced to surrender, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, as well as other major leaders in the Taliban remain at large. What needs to be done to achieve the surrender of these men?

TOMSEN: First of all, there needs to be continuing intensive military pressure, until they are apprehended, both Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. It's important that they be captured or eliminated. They were ultimately behind the horrific attacks on the United States on September 11. Also, they are responsible for the enormous amount of death and destruction inside Afghanistan over the last five years. They must be captured and dealt with. I believe they will be captured or eliminated.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Peter Tomsen, why do you think bin Laden made this new tape?

TOMSEN: My best guess is that he preferred to have as much of himself photographed in videos, in documentaries, and in other ways, he saw the public relations side, the propaganda side, as just as important as the operational side. His audience was not only in the Muslim world, it was worldwide. His approach was as much psychological and political as military. These videos, therefore, were probably taken continuously, and then drawn on to serve his international propaganda effort.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the United States pulling out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty a counter-terrorist measure and will it help or hurt the world, and how?

TOMSEN: It is a momentous step, that is, pulling out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States is proceeding according to international law. The treaty's provisions permitted either side to give six month's notice, and then to withdraw. When the United States also pulled out of the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan in 1979, we also gave notice as provided for in the original treaty, and withdrew in accordance with that treaty.

History moves on. There are different contexts, and international relationships demand adjustment. The administration has obviously concluded that American interest in the current world environment in which terrorists increasingly are gaining access to weapons of mass destruction require that we have this defense capability. There are many arguments -- good arguments -- on both sides of this issue. The administration has obviously made its decision, and the United States will be moving toward acquiring an ABM capability to defend itself and its allies against a ballistic missile attack.

CNN: Give us your assessment of the interim government of Afghanistan, and their interim leader Hamid Karzai.

TOMSEN: In my opinion, we could not have a better set of Afghan leaders than those which have been selected in the broad-based, multi-ethnic meeting in Bonn. When I was special envoy, and afterwards, I have come to know the interim prime minister designate, Hamid Karzai, foreign minister Abdullah, urban affairs minister Haji Abdul Khadir, and interior minister Yunus Qanuni. Each represents the younger generation of Afghan leaders who fought against the Soviet invasion, and against the Taliban-al Qaeda. Each thinks nationally and not locally. None, like the older generation of Afghans chosen by Pakistani military intelligence in the 1980's, is tied to Muslim extremist centers in the Arab world, which has spawned Osama bin Laden and many like him. These new Afghan leaders are focusing on Afghan nationalism, reconstructing their country, and steering it towards, once again, a respected position in the community of nations.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do feel should be the United States' role in post-war Afghanistan?

TOMSEN: It is very important that the United States achieve, fully, its military goals in Afghanistan. In particular, this means the annihilation of the radical Taliban and al Qaeda. However, the success of the intra-Afghan settlement process led by Hamid Karzai and other members of the provisional Afghan regime scheduled to take over on December 22 in Kabul, in preventing future September 11 attacks, is every bit as important as the military operation underway in Afghanistan today.

The United States should not walk away from Afghanistan as we did after the victory against the Soviet Union by the Mujahedeen, with our assistance, in the early '90s. The Afghans remain skeptical about us and our staying power. I believe they are watching to see if, following our joint defeat of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the military action now underway, the United States will once again abandon Afghanistan. It is imperative that the United States, as part of an international effort, take the lead in insuring that Afghanistan is able to climb out of its present abyss. That means encouraging, with others, the success of the intra-Afghan settlement process, mobilizing resources for Afghanistan's reconstruction, and being there for the duration, and insuring that pledges of assistance are actually implemented on the ground.

Most important of all, it is critical that the United States insulate the intra-Afghan settlement process from outside interference by larger regional powers. We need to remember that, after over 45 years of stable political and economic growth, in Afghanistan, including the emergence of a developing democracy, the Soviet Union invaded and largely destroyed what progress had been made. Over 1 million Afghans died during the Soviet occupation.

The Taliban and al Qaeda, supported by the Pakistani military and Pakistani military intelligence forces, wrought further death and destruction inside Afghanistan. The United States indirectly assisted Pakistan's attempt to achieve hegemony inside Afghanistan by favoring the radical Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghans, in the Islamic networks which have ruled much of Afghanistan in the last three years. Washington should cease deferring to Pakistan's generals and military intelligence in deciding which Afghans to support in Afghanistan. We should pressure Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia to cease interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs, and to allow the Afghans, for the first time since the Soviet invasion in 1979, to choose their own leadership.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments to share with us?

TOMSEN: Military action is ongoing and essential. At the same time, the peak of military action is past. The Taliban and al Qaeda leadership has been smashed in Afghanistan. While military factors will continue to play a role, strategic and political imperatives will become much larger components in our decision making. It is important that we realize the increasing priority of making the right strategic and political decisions, even if the military side might need to readjust. As the famous Prussian military theoretician [Carl von Clausewitz] stated, we fight wars to accomplish strategic and political goals. Peace and security in Afghanistan, strategically located at the center of the Eurasian land mass, should be our long term goal.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today

TOMSEN: It's been a pleasure joining you in the chat room. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Peter Tomsen joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Wednesday, December 12, 2001.


• University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Afghan Studies
• U.S. Department of Defense
• U.S. State Department

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