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America's New War: Pakistan and Afghanistan Take Center Stage

Aired September 19, 2001 - 05:18   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: As this country continues to put together its coalition to take the next step in this war, two countries on the Asian subcontinent now find themselves in the focus.

We turn now to Afghanistan and to Pakistan. CNN has got reporters on the ground in both countries. We've got our Steve Harrigan in northern Afghanistan -- you see him there on the right.

And our Tom Mintier checks in right now from Islamabad, Pakistan -- where we understand, Tom, that the -- there's going to be quite a lot of talk this morning, and suspect later today, from the president there in Pakistan.

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Leon. The president will address the nation here. President Musharraf has been holding meeting for the last three days with media leaders, scholars, journalists -- just about everyone -- basically talking about his decision to assist the United States.

Now, Pakistan closed its borders. That was one of the requests by the United States of Pakistan. They closed their borders two days ago, and tens of thousands of Afghans are stuck behind the border. There are already camps here.

The United States government this morning pledged more assistance to the UNHCR to provide assistance to the camps here.

We are also told by our crew in Quetta that 400 Afghan refugees made it across the mountains. While the borders are closed at the normal checkpoints, people can still come across the paths. And we were told from Quetta that 400 Afghan refugees newly arrived were being held this morning at a stadium there, and then they were moved to another location by the Pakistani authorities.

Now, the refugee problem is a serious situation. Humanitarian agencies told us that they left behind about two-week supply of food for those who were in the camps on the Afghan side of the border. That food will quickly go away if people move out from the cities and towards the areas along the border and move into the camps and take over the food. So what may have been for two weeks for the refugees who were in the camps may go down to two or three days if indeed the population swells along the border as we expect it to do.

But Pakistan, as I said, it was one of the agreements that they would close down the border.

We also talked to the U.S. ambassador this morning. She said that the inter-agency team that is coming to Pakistan is not in place yet. She says they have not departed the U.S.

Now, it is the inter-agency team that will meet with the Pakistan military and government to decide what assistance is going to be offered by Pakistan -- whether it's airspace, bases, refueling supply routes from the port in Karachi to land-based troops if indeed they go into Afghanistan.

So these are things that are still being worked out, and no answers yet as to how the assistance being offered by Pakistan can be used by the United States, and what the specific requests are -- that is something that's still being played very close to the vest here, not only by the U.S. but by Pakistani officials, as well.

But we expect to hear in a few hours from the president of Pakistan. He will be speaking to the nation on radio and TV -- basically a justification for his decision to help the United States.


HARRIS: Well, Tom, the case that the -- that President Musharraf is going to be trying to make to his people is a case that may be rather difficult. There's a tall order for him there because there is so much support for the Taliban there in the Pakistan public, and in parts of the government there, as well.

Any hints at all about how he plans to position himself in between these two pincers?

MINTIER: Well, I think it's the difference between right and wrong. Everything we've been hearing about these private meetings he's having -- how could he go against the rest of the world and support the Taliban, who are basically shielding Osama bin Laden, if indeed he was the one responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States? He says, you know, it would be impossible to justify, even to this nation, supporting those kind of acts of terrorism.

So apparently the decision was fairly easy for President Musharraf, but selling it is not going to be easy. We saw a demonstration in Karachi yesterday of more than 3,000 people on the streets, and they were angry.

So, you know, the domestic situation here is something worth watching. And the anti-American sentiment in places like Karachi and Peshawar and elsewhere is running pretty high right now. There were cars that were approaching the border a couple of days ago that had stones thrown at it. There were journalists who went to the refugee camps -- the Afghan refugee camps inside Pakistan -- where people come up and were pounding their fists on the cars. So it is a bit of a tense situation here.

Now, the U.S. government has told the U.S. diplomatic missions where that non-essential personnel would be allowed to leave. I asked one U.S. official from the embassy this morning if anybody had taken up on that offer. He said no, not yet. People are basically taking a look-and-see attitude. They're, I'm sure, discussing it in the families. But so far, nobody has left Pakistan. So it is an offer that was made by the State Department but apparently has not been taken up yet by any of the diplomats here.

HARRIS: Very, very interesting. It'll be -- we'll be curious to see how that -- the fallout shakes out over there in Pakistan later on this evening.

Tom Mintier, thank you very much. We'll check back with you later. You be safe.

Let's go now to Steve Harrigan, who is somewhere in northern Afghanistan. That's all we know. We cannot find out exactly for sure where he is. He has been spending some time out there on the front lines with the Northern Alliance, which is the Afghanistan opposition to the Taliban.

Steve, what have you been seeing and hearing there?

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Leon. We're not giving our exact position due to security reasons.

We are in the north of Afghanistan. A lot Americans -- a lot of Westerners probably have not heard a lot about the so-called Northern Alliance. Well, they may be hearing a lot more about them in the near future. That is the opposition in Afghanistan -- the opposition that has been fighting against the Taliban for more than five years now.

And according to opposition senior officials that we've had a chance to speak to recently, the contact between the United States and opposition officials has increased dramatically within the past 24 hours. Senior officials where in the opposition say the United States wants to know key items about possible targets in Afghanistan. The U.S. wants to know where different airports are located; where weapons depots are located; where military headquarters of the Taliban are located; where training camps are; and most important, troop positions, troop movements and troop strength.

Just a few days ago, a senior official in the opposition told me he did not expect any U.S. military action for weeks, if not months. That has changed dramatically. The sense here now is that the contact between the two -- as he described it -- was frantic. He said the U.S. wanted more information; they wanted it now.


HARRIS: Steve, are they interpreting that to mean that there will be something happening there very soon -- like, in a matter of days, here -- or what?

HARRIGAN: His impression -- his sense -- he's a senior official who does not want to be named, in the Northern Alliance -- he said he thinks it's a matter of days. Of course, the Northern Alliance here does want to play a role in any military action in Afghanistan. They say they've been fighting the Taliban for more than five years; that they know who to hit, where to hit; that they have the experience; and without their help, their expertise, they say any mission would be doomed to fail.

HARRIS: Well, with that in mind, then, Steve, did they tell you whether or not they have been asked by their contacts with the U.S. to actually engage in fighting, or is the U.S. only asking them for information?

HARRIGAN: So far, the requests have been for information. There's been nothing more than that. They have been promising locations and, most important, troop movement.

Right now, the Taliban does have -- is fighting on two fronts with the Northern Alliance. They're fighting just north of Kabul and also in the northeastern part of Afghanistan. This could be the key front in the northeast of Afghanistan. A possible scenario would see the Taliban perhaps breaking through that northeast to eventually fight from the mountains. That's something that the opposition is trying desperately to avoid.

HARRIS: Finally, one question, Steve -- I have to ask you this. Have the people you've been talking with there at the Northern Alliance told you that they know where Osama bin Laden is?

HARRIGAN: They don't know exactly where he is, no. And they say it's going be very difficult to catch him. Much of Afghanistan, as you know, is extremely remote mountainous terrain. It's an easy place to hide someone. It's a tough place to find someone.

Infrastructure here is almost non-existent. This is a world -- it's really like going back centuries in time. I mean, we're talking mud huts, no electricity, no running water, no telephones. So it's a very easy place to hide.

HARRIS: All right ...

HARRIGAN: They think he'll be caught, but they don't know when.

HARRIS: All right. Steve Harrigan, reporting to us live from northern Afghanistan.

We know that our Nic Robertson's been asked to leave that country. Have you been asked to leave yet?

HARRIGAN: No. We're fine right here. They're actually very happy -- the opposition is very happy to have the press here in the north. They see this really as an opportunity. They want to see military action taken against the Taliban. They see this as an opportunity for them to move back towards the capital and perhaps retake control of this nation.

HARRIS: All right. Steve Harrigan, reporting live from the front lines there in northern Afghanistan. Steve, be safe, and we hope to talk with you later on.



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