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Leaders React to Taking of Kabul

Aired November 13, 2001 - 09:38   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's quickly get an update from Matthew Chance, who joins us from Kabul, Afghanistan. He was one of the first Western journalists to make it into Kabul along with the Northern Alliance.

Matthew, what's the latest from there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a dramatic turnaround of events. As we've been reporting over the last several hours, the Taliban completely abandoned the city behind me, the Afghan capital, Kabul, making their way out of the city throughout the course of last night and the early hours of the morning, to the southwest, towards their last big stronghold, the city of Kandahar.

Throughout the day, we've been seeing troops of the Northern Alliance, the opposition anti-Taliban forces, pouring into the Afghan capitol, trucks and four-wheel drives, the crowds of Kabul residents coming out and cheering them as they move down the streets chanting anti-Taliban slogans and anti-Pakistan slogans -- Pakistan seen here as formally a sponsor of the Taliban.

We've also been seeing some concern expressed by residents of Kabul that the return of the Northern Alliance forces and their divisions may mark return to the kind of bitter infighting that ravaged this city in the years before the Taliban eventually took over control of it.

Throughout the course of the day, we've also been traveling around the streets of this city, to get a bit of a feel for what the Afghan capitol has been going through. We saw some quite gruesome scenes. We counted seven or eight bodies in one location -- perhaps we saw 20 bodies strewn throughout the city itself. It is at one location in a park, seven or eight bodies strewn around the grass areas, dumped in the drainage trenches. The local residents were spitting on them and kicking them, saying these Were Pakastani members of the Taliban, and, therefore, were hated, as such.

Also, though, we've been seeing some scenes of relief. We've been hearing music being played in the Afghan capitol of Kabul, from roadside stands of course. Music was banned under the regime of the Taliban. We also visited a barber shop where men are having their beards trimmed. It was against the law under the Taliban to trim your beard. You couldn't be clean shaven; you had to let your beard grow. It is an expression of resistance and anger and relief that some men here in Kabul are going to barber shops and getting their beards shaved off.

So there are mixed emotions here, anger and relief on the streets of Kabul -- Paula.

ZAHN: Matthew, I am going to need your patience here, because we are awaiting a news conference that the president of Pakistan, President Perves Musharraf, will be holding with the prime minister of Turkey. As we wait for that to get under way -- hang on, Matthew.

Let's listen to the president.



PRESIDENT PERVES MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: Let me say that the events in Afghanistan are moving extremely fast since the last one day, and we need to move faster (INAUDIBLE), so that we can with we bring peace and stability to Afghanistan in accordance with the wishes of the people of Afghanistan.

We have reviewed, between myself and the prime minister, we have reviewed the overall existing environment in Afghanistan. We have also reviewed an outline for what the future holds for Afghanistan. And on this, we totally agree on every point of the future of political (INAUDIBLE) Afghanistan.

I thank you.

Any question?

ZAHN: I'm going to try to give you some context on why this meeting is so important, Secretary Powell yesterday saying that Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have offered forces for an operation that would serve as an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the secretary of state excluding the deployment of Americans in that force, saying it would be better to have Muslim countries than one of the big power nations coming into it to do it. So that is why this meeting between the prime minister of Turkey and the president of Pakistan is very important.

If you where with us a little bit earlier on this morning, Tom Mintier, our reporter on the ground in Islamabad, was describing the frustration the Pakastanis have right now with the Northern Alliance. They had hoped that they would have heeded the coalition call not to go into Kabul until there was a coalition government, a broad-based government in place.

Let's turn back to Matthew Chance now and talk about the reality there on the ground.

You interviewed Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance, and he said he wanted to keep Kabul neutral. Is that what you described, the status of Kabul today?

CHANCE: Well, I wouldn't describe it as that, no. Certainly, there have been fears all along of the part of the Northern Alliance and on the part of the U.S.-led coalition and international community at large that when the Taliban left Kabul, there would be some kind of power vacuum left in their absence. I think the Northern Alliance have moved very quickly to make sure that doesn't happen. Certainly, they committed themselves previously to keeping their forces outside of the city and not entering Kabul until that political agreement was on the table, signed and sealed amongst all the diverse groups in Afghanistan.

The reality, though, is very different. They have come inside. Their forces are spread out across this capital city. They do appear to have it under control. The situation is very calm out there on the streets. There are no pockets of resistance, at least none that we've seen over the day that we've been reporting from here.

So it does seem that the situation has moved beyond the point where the Northern Alliance have to go to the negotiating table and come to some kind of power-sharing agreement.

The previous public statements are that they fully intend to do that. They say that they want a broad-based agreement, but maybe now the situation on the ground is superseding that, and they will change their mind.

We are waiting for comment from a Northern Alliance political leader. Haven't had it yet. There was supposed to be a meeting with the media being held between them and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. That hasn't yet happened.

ZAHN: Matthew, we've been seeing the amazing pictures that you and your team have of these areas as they are so-called liberated by the Northern Alliance. Describe to us how you move south into Kabul. What were you confronted with?

CHANCE: First of all, it was a very rapid journey. We didn't expect to be standing here this evening or just a few hours after we left the base in a town called Jebal Saash. We left with virtually no equipment. We just got in out cars and said let's see how far we can get, and we ended up in the middle of the Afghan capital itself. I think that's an indication of how quickly the military situation changed on the ground.

On the road north of Kabul, the road that leads from where we were into the northern suburbs of Kabul, the evidence and debris of conflict laying all around -- of course, the twisted metal and tanks and trucks, after years of conflict that devastated buildings along that road -- but also signs that the U.S.-led coalition bombardment had also been hitting those Taliban front lines extremely hard. We're seeing literally seven or eight meter in diameter craters in the ground that could only have been left by the kinds of bombed dropped by the U.S. coalition warplanes, the B-52 in particular. Also a scorched earth, black earth with trees, burnt down to their stumps, the result of very recent bombing that had caused fire and destroyed whole areas of trees along those front lines.

So very intensive bombing. The Northern Alliance wouldn't have been able to advance so quickly without those intensive airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. They've certainly eased their path to this point -- Paula.

ZAHN: Matthew Chance, thank you much for that report.


ZAHN: We take you to London, where Prime Minister Tony Blair is addressing the Northern Alliance advance on Kabul


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Secondly, of course, I've spoken to him about the requirement to push on with Mr. Brahimi's efforts to establish a broad-based government and a successor to the Taliban regime. And that, of course, must include all the various elements in Afghanistan, including the Pashtun.

That process is well advanced. It is only now with the military direction so clear that I think we're in the right position to be able to bring together the various ethnic and other factions likely to be involved in the formation of any successor government.

I believe that we can, therefore, make real progress towards the filling of the current power vacuum in Kabul, but we need a U.N. presence there as soon as possible, and we need, obviously, to make sure that we're making as quick progress as we possibly can on assembling all the different elements that need to go to make up that broad-based successor regime.

And, finally, I would simply say to the people of Afghanistan today that this time we will not walk away from you. We have given commitments; we will honor those commitments, both on the humanitarian side and in terms of rebuilding Afghanistan. We are with you for the long term. You, the people, must agree on your own government and your own future, but, we, the coalition, must give you the help and support that you need as you seek to rebuild your troubled country, and that support will be forthcoming.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you now believe that the Taliban are beaten? Or do you believe that there's a regrouping going on in the south and there's a lot more to be done on the ground before you can say that?

BLAIR: Well, they're clearly in retreat and, indeed, in some places in the state of collapse. But it's too early to say that the objectives have been met, and that's why we need to press on. We need to make sure that we are engaging with any resistance that we find. And, at the present time, because it's changing literally on an hour- by-hour basis, the short answer is we simply can't be sure, but there's no doubt at all that there's been a fundamental change in the position of the Taliban regime. And you can see by the attitude and rejoicing, frankly, of the Afghan people that this has been welcomed widely in many parts of Afghanistan. ZAHN: We brought this part of the news conference to you to give you a better idea how world leaders are reacting to the Northern Alliance advance on Kabul, Mr. Blair repeating what we have heard from other world leaders, that the real challenge right now is to build a broad-based government that not only reflected the Pashtun tribes, which represent the majority of the people living in Afghanistan, but the other ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan as well.




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