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America Strikes Back: Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Addresses Press

Aired October 10, 2001 - 05:03   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Our Tom Mintier is standing by. He is in Islamabad, Pakistan, as he has been. He's got word of today's airstrikes on Kandahar.

And Tom, we understand they've been carried out with impunity during the day. Are they still going on?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems that way, Leon.

As night goes into day, the American military prowess over the skies in Afghanistan seems to continue unabated. We even heard from our sources inside Kandahar that one jet made a low-flying pass over the city this morning. This was about two, 2 1/2 hours after another bombing run started.

About 7:15 in the morning, the daylight raids began again. Two times within the morning, Kandahar was hit. Our sources inside Kandahar said that one raid basically dropped one bomb in the center of the city somewhere, and the second just out of town near the airport, where three explosions were heard.

So if the United States indeed feels it has supremacy of the skies over Afghanistan, they are proving it today by two days in a row now of basically being able to fly over target sites in Afghanistan with little concern for any of the ground SAM sites or the radar that was probably the first and highest priority on the targeting list.

We also have a story here in Islamabad today. The general army headquarters had a fire this morning that lasted for several hours. Several wooden structures were burned, and the government is saying that it was caused by a short circuit, but an investigation is under way.

It should be pointed out that just a couple of days ago, President Gen. Musharraf basically did a shake-up, a reshuffle of the top army commanders, and also exchanged the head of the ISI. So some here are looking to that as a possible reason for this fire, but as of right now, the initial investigation says it was a short circuit.

As you said at the top, we are waiting for the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan to hold another news conference. We heard from him yesterday, that, indeed, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar survived the first 1 1/2 days of strikes. We expect to get an update. We will take you live to the Taliban Embassy here in Islamabad -- again, the only embassy remaining for the Taliban. They no longer have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. They no longer have diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, with the diplomats being asked to leave there a long time ago.

So Pakistan remains the only opening where the Taliban can speak to the rest of the world, and until yesterday, where humanitarian assistance was basically funneled in. The World Food Programme sent a convoy of eight trucks. It was the last eight trucks that were going to go in. It had a couple of hundred tons of wheat that was deposited in Kabul, but as of right now, those food convoys going in -- any new ones are not going to be gone.

Now let's go into the front lawn of the Taliban Embassy here in Pakistan. The ambassador is now arriving and seated behind a sea of microphones, because as you might imagine, there are many journalists here in Pakistan trying to find out what's going on in Afghanistan. Many of them were there before and are now here. So the ambassador has really been trying to make regular appearances at the embassy, trying to brief reporters on what the situation is.

When we talked to him yesterday, he said he had just got off the phone about 15 minutes earlier, had a telephone conversation with Mullah Omar, saying that, indeed, he had talked him, that he was still alive, that he managed on the first night of the strikes to get out of the house about 15 minutes before a missile slammed into it.

So they are almost setting up now. We see that the ambassador is indeed seated and ready to begin, and we expect to hear from him now.


ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN (through translator): ... are continuing against Afghanistan. The White House administration has turned into a global bully. After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the sole superpower of the world is intending to impose governments on sovereign states. Afghanistan is the first victim.

Leveling the indictment of harboring so-called terrorism, America wants to replace the sitting government in Afghanistan and install former King Zahir Shah in the saddle of power. Washington is carrying out brutal attacks on our military and civilian sites to achieve this end.

It has sparked off the fury of not only the Muslim people of Afghanistan, but all the Muslim world and other justice- and freedom- loving people of the globe. We are ranking (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan.

America is repeating the same mistake committed by the former Soviet Union. It thinks it will win over the freedom-loving Afghans by dropping food from the air. However, the Afghans know it is not generosity of America, but hypocritic diplomacy. Common people in Loghar and Ghor Provinces and other parts of Afghanistan set on fire foods dropped by American airplanes. America will not be able to purchase the Afghans by money and/or food. It is a failed experience tested by the former Soviet Union.

Reports of civilian casualties are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) again, but the number of people killed is not known. As the casualties of the civilians increase, so does the fury and hatred of the people against this unjustified invasion.

We appreciate the Islamic feelings and support shown by other Muslims of the world to the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan. They know that America has unleashed an unprecedented operation and atrocity against our country.

Relying on its military might, technology, and political influence, America thinks it will win the war, but it is ignorant of the fact that war is not won merely by material things. Our past history speaks for our strong will and determination.

QUESTION: From Fox News Channel in Pakistan (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Today, in an televised interview, President Bush has said that they have crippled your air defense and airstrike capability. What is your comment to it.

And secondly, what is your comment to the reports shown on PTV, that they day before the attack, the Northern Alliance forces are just 50 kilometers away from Kabul. Yesterday, they said they are 40 kilometers away from Kabul. How long do you think you are going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

ZAEEF (through translator): Mr. Bush claimed that they destroyed the defense capability of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan -- is not true. American planes are flying really high, and with the defense system that we have, they are not in the range of the defense system that we have. As you know, we do not have that sophisticated and modern a defense system, but that they have destroyed our defense capability is not true.

Secondly, that the opposition forces have made advancement is just a mere lie. The opposition has no support among the people. If the opposition had any advancement towards us, you know there are many journalists in the areas controlled by them; it would have been reported in the media.

QUESTION: Sir, could you tell us -- there was a comment that Osama bin Laden's communications had been returned and that the Taliban has said that he can wage a jihad against America. Is that true? And have you given back his communications?

ZAEEF (through translator): I don't know about this.


ZAEEF (through translator): The best example of civilian casualties is the ATC office, which was reported in the media. There are many bombs which had civilian targets in Afghanistan, but we do not have, right now, all the numbers of the casualties.

QUESTION: Can you confirm again that Mullah Mohammed Omar (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Osama bin Laden are safe? And will you give the Americans any chance to catch any of your leaders, to take them to the international court as criminals? Are you going to give them this chance?

ZAEEF (through translator): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is alive and in the protection of God, and Osama is also safe, alive. And it is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the dreams of Americans which would not come true.

QUESTION: What about the French journalist, Michel Peyrard, who was arrested yesterday?

ZAEEF (through translator): Yes, a French has been arrested. I don't know whether he is a journalist or a spy. A satellite also, which he was carrying, has been taken. As you know, the French earlier had announced that they have sent some spies into Afghanistan, so the investigation is under way to prove that.

QUESTION: Are you going to release him as soon (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

ZAEEF (through translator): First, there should be an investigation to establish where he is a spy or a journalist.

QUESTION: Where is he now?

ZAEEF (through translator): I don't know.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Taliban seems to have lost its supply line, and that this could cause you an opposition advance shortly, aided by American airstrikes. Do you think you're in any danger of losing Mazar-e-Sharif?

ZAEEF (through translator): No, at the moment, the route is as normal as it was before.

And I have read in people that Mazar-e-Sharif collapsed. But it is very surprising -- and I'm very sorry -- that the journalist should be so biased. The journalist should be neutral while reporting from the area.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the United States and the United Kingdom, maybe all NATO countries, or maybe the whole Western world?

ZAEEF (through translator): The first is America, and they will be considered our enemy as the former Soviet Union was considered as our enemy.

QUESTION: Can you tell us something on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan? There are reports that more people are fleeing the major cities of Afghanistan. Do you have any idea where they are heading towards, as the border with Pakistan remains closed?

And secondly, there are reports in the newspapers today that some of the tribesmen of part of the Iran border (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Do you have any comments on that?

ZAEEF (though translator): Of course, there was human suffering problems in Afghanistan before, and the current areas hit by America has also had a negative impact, and there have been displacement of people inside the country. In Pakistan, there were refugees in the past, but of course, with the air raids of America in Afghanistan, the influx of refugees have increased heading for Pakistan.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) between Pakistani authorities and Afghan tribes?

ZAEEF (through translator): Not true.

QUESTION: Now that you are openly supporting Osama bin Laden, can I ask you do you still denounce what happened on September 11, and what is your message now to Muslims living in Britain and America?

ZAEEF (through translator): We are hit by the most sophisticated arms of the time, and we call on the Muslims in America and also on human rights organizations. And it is our message to the Muslims of America and all the human rights organizations that they should show their opposition to such atrocities by America against the people of Afghanistan.

From the beginning, we chose the way of talks and peaceful means for a solution, but America, instead of choosing a peaceful solution, opted for sending bombs and planes to kill the people of Afghanistan. I think it is not a humane and reasonable way.

QUESTION: What do you think of the Pakistan's government stance toward the Taliban and Afghanistan? The border has been closed, and the government is also saying Taliban's days are numbered. What do you say to this country?

ZAEEF (through translator): Only God knows what would happen in the future, not man.

QUESTION: Sir, can you confirm for us if the food supplies which had been dropped, have they been collected and burned by the people of Afghanistan? Could you confirm for us those reports -- that the food supplies which have being dropped by the United States have been collected and have been burned?

ZAEEF (through translator): That these foods and aids which was given to the Afghans in exchange of blood is, in fact, a mockery and disregard and dishonor to the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there are reports by international news agencies that four jet fighters have been shot down or landed somewhere in Pakistani air bases?

ZAEEF (through translator): Not true.

QUESTION: Not true?

QUESTION: Have the restrictions on bin Laden's movement been lifted? Is that true?

ZAEEF (through translator): I responded previously that I don't know about this.

QUESTION: There are some reports that American commanders are about to land or have already landed in Afghanistan. Do you have any comment about that?

ZAEEF (through translator): No, not so far.

QUESTION: Sir, when are you changing your policy here providing the press to come into Afghanistan? Are you going to continue with that to give visas to journalists?

ZAEEF (through translator): As soon as we have instruction from our authorities, we would issue the visas.

QUESTION: Sir, has there been any contact between your government and the OIC?

ZAEEF (through translator): We have sent a letter to the OIC holding the meeting, and I don't exactly the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in context of the letter, but initially, the OIC was established in order to solve issues which come between Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

QUESTION: There have been more reports of Taliban defections to the opposition forces. Today it was reported that 40 Taliban commanders and up to 1,200 Taliban troops have defected to the other side. Can you confirm or deny this?

ZAEEF (through translator): It is only a mockery and something funny. You know, any commander who wants to go to the front, he has decided that he will lay down his life for truths, and he will not lay down his life for (INAUDIBLE). And it is only mere propaganda launched by the opposition in order to get aid and support off of America and Western countries. I think now America also has known this trick of the opposition.

QUESTION: Do you think that Pakistan can play any role to put an end toward this attack?

ZAEEF (through translator): Repeat.

QUESTION: Do you think Pakistan can play any role to put an end toward this attack?

ZAEEF (through translator): Ask Pakistan.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, sir, about the Christians under arrest in Kabul -- if they are safe, if the trial will continue?

ZAEEF (through translator): Yes, (INAUDIBLE) raises for them, for the lawyer, and he may have gone to Kabul, to follow the process of the case, but here we are facing bigger issues than that one. I am speaking personally for myself, but of course, the court will be dealing with the case.

QUESTION: They are safe?

QUESTION: So, sir, is the trial continuing during these strikes, or has it been suspended -- the trial of these aid workers?

ZAEEF (through translator): Yes, because that lawyer went to Kabul.

QUESTION: And so is the early proposal that they could be released -- is that offer off the table?

ZAEEF (through translator): I don't know about this. We have not received any official statement about these things.

QUESTION: It's been publicly announced that there will be more terrorist attacks. After being bombed the last four days, does the Taliban welcome that and would support any further terrorist attacks?

ZAEEF (through translator): No individual's statement can determine the policy of a country. Maybe I don't know who wants to keep this issue burning, maybe issuing some statements. I'm not speaking about any individual statements. But I can say that as long as America is shedding the blood of the Afghans, it will not be beneficial to America, and we will see what comes in the future.

And of course, we also say if America is contributing attacks in Afghanistan, it will also will not be said.

QUESTION: Sir, do you consider the al Qaeda a terrorist organization, or is it a freedom fighter organization, as far as you're concerned? What do your people call it?

ZAEEF (through translator): We have talked with the Americans about this and we, of course, never support any terrorist act, but it is to America to prove that, to convince that.

We had also put forward a proposal that we would put Osama on trial in Afghanistan in a court and American should produce their evidence and proof. At the same time, there was another proposal that a special court composed of religious scholars be set up under the supervision of OIC. We would hand over Osama to that court, and American should hand over evidence to that court. But they also didn't accept that.

We believe Mr. Bush is saying that Islam is the religion of justice, but practically he disregards us, and that is why he didn't accept this proposal.

So as we do not have evidence, so we do not consider al Qaeda a terrorist organization. As a whole, we do not approve of any terrorist activities in the world.

Last question -- last question.

QUESTION: You are saying the aid being brought by the Americans is a mockery. Is that the view of all aid going across the border now into Afghanistan?

ZAEEF (through translator): I think America is mixing up aid with politics, and I don't hope that this will reach the common people.

ZAEEF: Thank you.

HARRIS: We've been listening this morning to the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, and did he cover a lot of territory this morning.

Our Tom Mintier has been listening and, Tom, it seems like he started out talking about whether or not there's been any affect by these air raids, and he says there has not been. He's talked about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and he goes on to talk about the trial of those aid workers. We haven't talked about that in a long time.

MINTIER: Yes, these were the most fact-filled news conferences that I think I've seen since I've been in Pakistan, saying that the United States was falling into the trap that the Soviets fell into when they were in Afghanistan. And also a little bit of news about the 37,000 food packets that were dropped from a high altitude, these special high-protein, high-energy food packs that are basically being dropped over Afghanistan, in addition to the weaponry, saying that they had been collected and burned by the Afghan people.

Also, he did talk about the eight aid workers, saying that they were safe and that the trial had been suspended. So news on that front.

And also saying that you know they did not consider the al Qaeda network a terrorist organization, saying that the Taliban doesn't support terrorists.

So as you go ticking down the list, just about everything covered, in less than 40 minutes, was very unusual.

HARRIS: But you also heard -- at least I heard for the first time -- this word about a French journalist being detained. Was that news to you as well?

MINTIER: No, we had heard earlier this morning about a French journalist, where they found a satellite telephone, which most journalists use when they're in Afghanistan because there's no other way to communicate with the outside world. He was detained in much the same way as the "Sunday Express" reporter was detained over a week ago, thought to be a spy, investigated as a spy. That journalist, Yvonne Ridley, has been released by the Taliban. She is on her way back to the United Kingdom now. So this is a new development of another journalist, this one a French journalist, being captured by the Taliban inside Afghanistan and being held now under consideration of being a spy.

HARRIS: All right, and one other thing too. He's also pretty much denied every single thing that we've been seeing reported in the press around the world. We've heard reports about them losing control of a major supply line; he denied that. He says that their air defenses have not been neutralized, yet we've heard reports of U.S. aircraft flying over the skies with impunity here. But he also said there have been more civilian casualties, but he did not mention any numbers or anything. What do you make of that?

MINTIER: That's consistent with what he has been saying the last couple of days, not really going into any numbers, except for the four Afghan civilians who work for the United Nations who were killed yesterday on an attack -- basically saying that their airplanes are flying too high for their anti-aircraft and other defenses to be capable of responding, did not mention anything about the command in control or the radar sites or anything else that had been degraded, according to the Americans.

The Americans say now that they control the skies over Afghanistan, eliminating radar installations and SAM missiles sites -- no reference to that, saying their defenses are still intact, according to the Taliban.

HARRIS: Yes, but any plane is flying too high if your air defense consists of a slingshot. Well get an update from the Pentagon and see what things really are like on the ground, from their perspective at least.

Tom Mintier, thank you very much -- Tom Mintier, reporting live for us from Islamabad, Pakistan.




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