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Afghanistan: A country on the move from exile to home, from repression to freedom,

Aired November 21, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Afghanistan with Christiane Amanpour.

The Taliban talk of surrender in the north. But remain defiant in their southern strongholds.


SYED TAYYAD AGHA, TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: The nation living in Kandahar and the surrounding provinces, they are with us and they are ready for any kind of sacrifices


ANNOUNCER: And where is Osama bin Laden?


AGHA: We have no idea where he is.


ANNOUNCER: On the frontlines with the Northern Alliance. Young men sharing the hardships, and the pain of war.

A country on the move; from exile to home, from repression to freedom.

People are not complaining. They have heard that the world has promised to reconstruct their country.

Afghanistan's journey, from war to reconstruction.

Intimate images from the battlefront.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get to know the sounds of war. Outgoing artillery and an outgoing shot.


ANNOUNCER: A photographer's notebook, on the frontlines. And the road to Kabul. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



ANNOUNCER: Reporters perspectives on covering the war.

Plus, Afghanistan's women.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tuva (ph) Abawei (ph) says she was a member of the Afghan Academy of Sciences, under Taliban rule she stayed at home. Now she hopes to go back to work.


ANNOUNCER: Emerging from a life beneath the veil, and under the thumb of the Taliban.

Live from Afghanistan with Christiane Amanpour.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening from the capital city, Kabul. For the next hour we're going to tell you all the news that our correspondents have covered about Afghanistan, from right here in Afghanistan. We'll tell you about war and peace, about hope and desperation.

We'll tell about what it's going to take to rebuild this country, so that as the experts say it can never be a safe haven for anarchy and terrorism again.

We'll tell you about the women, even before the focus of the world was on terrorism. The West really cared about more about the politics of the genders here, the vanished genders that were the women.

But first we're going to start with what could be a dramatic development in the war, and that is the last Taliban stand in Kunduz. Two sides have apparently agreed to stop fighting. We go now by videophone to Alessio Vinci in Mazar-e Sharif in Northern Afghanistan.


The Northern Alliance commanders and Taliban leaders have met for the good part of this night here in Mazar-e Sharif, and are negotiating the possible surrender of Kunduz. And as negotiations were still under way around 2:00, early morning here.

Journalists were led into the meeting room, and General Abdullah (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the top Northern Alliance commander, here in Northern Afghanistan introduced Mullah Fazel (ph) as the Taliban assistant defense minister, and said, quote -- "We should make sure to tell the journalists that fighting in Kunduz will not happen, and that all the Taliban and foreign fighters, meaning the Chechens, the Pakistanis and the Kashmireries (ph) in Kunduz, will accept your word." And to that the Mullah Fazel said, yes they will respect my word -- and later on said and we can give the message to the people that fighting there, meaning in Kunduz, will not happen.

We were then told to leave the room again, to return earlier today for the details of this conversation between General Abdullah Rashid Dostum and the Taliban Mullah (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the fact that neither side, at this point, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) battle for Kunduz. The Mullah indicating that these -- all the fighters and the soldiers under his direct command will not fight the Northern Alliance.

Earlier today when we were waiting outside the compound that held the meeting where General Abdullah Rashid Dostum is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here in Mazar-e Sharif. The Northern Alliance commanders who arrived there to attend this meeting were telling us that should the Taliban not accept a surrender, should not accept the deal to give up and lay down the weapons in Kunduz, they will be ready to send as many as 6,000 soldiers here from Mazar-e Sharif (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kunduz and try to capture the town. But the latest development tonight, the Taliban leaders here saying that they will not be putting up a fight in order to control Kunduz -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, Alessio, what exactly does that mean? Are they talking about a surrender? And what will happen to the Taliban, both the Afghan Taliban, and those foreign mercenaries that you mentioned who are fighting with them?

VINCI: That is correct, Christiane. We have been trying to figure out if this is an outright surrender on the part of Taliban, or whether this is more an attempt to negotiate a way out. When we asked earlier today, before we could enter this meeting room, the Northern Alliance commanders what would happen to those fighters who would be -- surrendering? He said, that they will be -- those who will be surrendering will be tried according to the laws of Afghanistan. And that the others -- the others, meaning those who not surrender, but simply switched sides, as you know here in Afghanistan, many of the former Taliban themselves surrendering, have merely switched sides. Their commanders basically changing their allegiances from the Taliban toward the Northern Alliance.

There is, if you want, a two-pronged situation here. The Northern Alliance trying to convince as many Talibans as possible (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kunduz to switch side and to come on their side. And on the other side, those that do hot want to switch sides, to lay down their weapons and eventually be tried according to the laws of Afghanistan. This is what's happening right now, we do not really believe that the Taliban are going to put up a fight, certainly because as we have seen throughout Afghanistan in the last couple of weeks, the Northern Alliance advances towards major cities, the Taliban instead of putting up a fight, have simply withdrawn leaving behind perhaps a group of hardcore so called foreign fighters to fight their battle.

Now we understand from the mullah here, that even those foreign fighters are under his command, and will not put up a fight. So this is certainly what the Taliban here are saying, as far as Kunduz is concerned -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now where you are in Mazar-e Sharif that fell about 12 days ago, and that is what left the Taliban to retreat to Kunduz. Can you give us an idea of what the situation is in Mazar-e Sharif? There were all sorts of reports of the Northern Alliance and General Dostum having to pacify and having to take action against Taliban who refuse to surrender in those final days of the fall of Mazar-e Sharif.

VINCI: Well, the situation in Mazar-e Sharif is that the Northern Alliance is firmly in control of the entire city and the entire territory here surrounding the Mazar -- the city. In the early days after the Northern Alliance arrived here, in Mazar-e Sharif, a small pocket of about 600 hardcore fighters -- mainly Taliban, mainly Chechen, mainly Pakistani fighters were hold up inside an elementary school and refused to lay down their weapons. There was a tense stand-off between the Northern Alliance show of forces and the Taliban, during which about 200 Taliban surrendered, after that United States jets bombed the school killing several hundred, and eventually then the Northern Alliance finished up the job by killing everybody who was left alive inside the school.

We were able to see some prisoners of war in the last couple of days here in Mazar-e Sharif. Some of the Pakistanis who are telling us that even as the Pakistanis and the so-called foreign fighters were surrendering, Northern Alliance fighters were indeed executing them. These are the words they have used, however, we are not being able to independently confirm the reports, but certainly from the Pakistani point of view, as they were trying to surrender from that school, some of them were actually executed, and some eyewitness accounts that we were able to collect in and around the school, in the following days, suggest this is exactly what happened -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And of course, we did hear from the Taliban in Kunduz itself that the Arab mercenaries were also executing Afghan Taliban who wanted to surrender there. So it's a complicated story. And now it appears there is one last Taliban stand, and that is in the south, in their capital Kandahar.

Earlier, during the daylight hours, the Taliban spokesman gave a press conference for a number of journalists who were invited in by the Taliban, just inside the Afghan border at a place called Spinboldak (ph) and there they promised to fight on. CNN's Nic Robertson reports.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From amid a hoard of journalists, a senior Taliban official emerges to deliver the Taliban view of their losses to the Northern Alliance forces. The message: There is a new frontline.

AGHA: Our forces withdrawn, from different provinces, and now they have reached to Southern Afghanistan and controls about four or five provinces.

ROBERTSON: Those four to five provinces, he says the Taliban controls are around the movement's spiritual capital Kandahar. He denied rumors they would cede their homeland to tribal leaders as baseless propaganda.

AGHA: The nation, living in Kandahar and surrounding provinces, they are with us and they're ready for any kind of sacrifices to secure this Islamic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and secure it's nation.

ROBERTSON: But Syed Tayyad Agha, the first secretary to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, was chosen to deliver these messages an indication that the communication comes directly front he top.

On the question of the Osama bin Laden:

AGHA: We have no idea where he is.

ROBERTSON: And on Mullah Omar's location, Tayyad Agha says that's now a secret to ensure his security.

Dozens of reporters, invited by Taliban to briefly visit Afghanistan for the news conference, listened for almost an hour as the Taliban leaders youthful confidant laid out the Taliban position on the war so far.

Late in the news briefing, he rejected a U.N. proposal for an international conference to determine an interim government for Afghanistan.

AGHA: We will never take part in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or any other (UNINTELLIGIBLE) outside Afghanistan.

ROBERTSON: International intervention, he said, would bring instability, adding the Northern Alliance could not deliver security to the people.


The bottom line message emerging that the Taliban will not surrender their spiritual capital of Kandahar or the surrounding provinces, that they will not surrender their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. And definitely no indication that Osama bin Laden will surrender either -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, would you say that is a bit of bravado by the Taliban considering that they have been swept out, now, or all their strongholds in just under two weeks?

ROBERTSON: Indeed, this is the same type of rhetoric we have listened to in recent weeks in press briefings held in Pakistan. Perhaps the difference here and perhaps trying to read it from the Taliban's point of view, the way they put the message across, the way sell it to themselves, the rout from the north, they sell it to their troops as a withdrawal, and certainly that is the way they explain to us what happened in the north,, that their fighters withdrew.

And perhaps the thing that is now different to their extended forces in the north of Afghanistan, where, of course, where they are not the predominant ethnic group, they have now withdrawn to their ethnic heartland, where the Pashuns are the more numerous of the ethnic groups, unlike the north of Afghanistan. So perhaps now they are in their spiritual and ethnic heartland, perhaps now they will fight harder.

But, of course, as you say, this is very, very difficult to tell. We have heard very hard line tough rhetoric. We have heard about high spirits and high morale in the past and apparently in the recent weeks it came to naught. So here not they are in their spiritual heartland. From here they have nowhere else to run apart from the mountains -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, the question is, do you think that will happen? We know, and you know from covering the Taliban, that when they swept up and took most of Afghanistan, it was barely without a fight. It was in that time-honored Afghan fighting tradition of buying each side off and other sides sort of melting into the background.

Of course, the United States and the other forces are now joined in the battle against the Taliban. Do you think they will melt back, or, as they say, withdraw?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, they are against a much greater force than they were in the past and of course, one of the reasons they were able to take so much control quickly in the country, was that key commanders did come across to their side. They have lost a lot of those in the north now.

So, the question is, will commanders who were with them in the south stay with them? And there have been indications that Pashtun tribal leaders have come into the south of Afghanistan, into the Taliban's area, to try to talk to tribal chiefs here and bring them away from the Taliban on to some formulation of tribal chiefs in the south who are opposed to the Taliban.

So far, that hasn't happened. And the Taliban also say that militarily, they have taken on these strikes before and they are able to defeat them, but the key remains with all those tribal chiefs in the south. Will they stay with this spiritual force of the Taliban, or will they go back to their ethnic tribal roots, and go against the Taliban and perhaps, in time-honored Afghan tradition, as you say, most here will tend to likely go with those that seem to be in the ascendancy, and certainly, the Taliban, at this stage, do not appear to be in the ascendancy. However, they do say that they are digging in, in the south here, in and around Kandahar -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, thank you very much, indeed from Spin Boldak (ph) , just inside Afghanistan.

Now, in the northern of Afghanistan, we have been talking about the fighting there. And CNN's Satinder Bindra has been covering most of that for the last several weeks.

We know that the Northern Alliance up there, has been having child soldiers almost, take part in the fighting. But apparently, in recent days, they have decided to raise the minimum age of soldiers to the age of 18. Here is Satinder's report.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in a week, Northern Alliance soldiers on the frontline get a break, as their commanders try to negotiate a Taliban surrender. These volunteer soldiers, like 17-year-old Ibrahim, concentrate on staying warm.

Ibrahim is not part of the regular, national army, so he doesn't get a monthly paycheck. Instead, the local commander provides him a gun, training, food and some clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is war here. There is no school. So I am a mujaheed fighting here. I picked up the gun to bring peace to my country.

BINDRA: In the process of trying to bring peace, many young anti-Taliban soldiers are suffering the pain of war. At a field hospital on the frontline, 18-year-old Najibullah (ph) , who fights for the regular army, is delirious with pain. Just a few hours ago he stepped on a landmine.

In a tent lit by kerosene lanterns, field surgeons amputate his right leg. The anesthetic seems hardly to help. In just 15 minutes, I watched six more very young soldiers brought in from the battlefield, most with horrific mine injuries. All through this campaign, I've seen young, often ill equipped Afghans, training to fight the Taliban. Now these youngsters are at war, many with only wisps of a beard.

DR. ABDULLA ABDULLA, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: There are certain criterion including the age for recruitment in the regular army. But in the local forces there are some cases of some underage people, which is not the policy of the government.

BINDRA: The Northern Alliance says its trying to discourage underage volunteers in local armies.

(on camera): There's a reason why so many young Afghans choose to join either the regular army or work as volunteers. Employment and educational opportunities in Afghanistan are limited. Figures show only 3 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys here attend school.

(voice-over): School, far away from the minds of Afghanistan's young soldiers, who are being educated on the battlefield. And the exams they face, matters of life and death. Local force volunteer Ibrahim says, there will be more tests, more fighting ahead. Sometimes, he says, it takes war to get peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If peace returns to Afghanistan, I will be happy to give my gun to the government.

BINDRA: Until Konduz, the last Taliban stronghold in the north, is in Northern Alliance control, Ibrahim and other young Afghans will keep their guns, and face more cold nights on the front. Satinder Bindra, CNN, on the frontlines near Konduz, northern Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now the war appears to be going according to plan, but what will it take to make sure a devastated country like this one, will not become a safe haven for terrorists again? We will explore that when we return after a break.


AMANPOUR: Now the humanitarian story here is as important as the war, and that is for the future security of this country, and indeed for the rest of the world. When all of this began, Pakistan, the United States' chief ally, said that the war should be targeted and short, so far it has been, that there should be a political track. Now that is underway, and there should be reconstruction for the country of Afghanistan.

Just this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell promised that the United States and the world would not leave Afghanistan in the lurch again.


(voice-over): It's nearly noon. For four hours these women have been quietly waiting under the blazing sun for their relations. International humanitarian aid is flowing again, after being disrupted for over two months.

These are the war widows who get special help, flour, beans and oil from the United States. In order to help them survive, the U.N. World Food Program subsidizes bakeries around Kabul where they can make and sell bread. But many of these women, sitting here like beggars, used to be professionals. By Afghan standards they used to earn a decent living.

But under the Taliban's repressive five-year regime, they were kicked out of their jobs and confined to their homes.

Latifa was an administrator in the ministry of electricity and water.

We couldn't go out to work, she says. We tried to survive by giving secret lessons at home, or by doing some dress making. But if the Taliban found out, they stopped us. I worked for 22-years for nothing. Under the Taliban there was no difference between the educated and the illiterate.

Some of the women say they are now looking forward to going back to work again. The doctors at the Indira Ghandi Children's Hospital, say they are looking forward to the end of the long civil war that has filled their wards.

They say this malnutrition is caused by a combination of poverty and ignorance.

Due to their lack of knowledge says Doctor Effa Jalal (ph) , mothers don't know when to stop breast feeding and when to add formula or food. For example, some are so ignorant, they refuse to give their children eggs because they believe that it will make them stupid, or make them stammer, superstition that take lives. At least those who make it to this hospital can be treated. Mothers can be taught. The doctors say many sick children are simply never brought in.

Although this war has exacted a price from this poor country, an American bomb blasted a crater that cut the water supply here, amazingly, these people are smiling. It may have taken 10 days to fix by scavenging spare parts, but today these people are not complaining. They have heard that the world has promised to reconstruct their country. This is one war they hope will finally end their 20-year-old ordeal.


Now joining us to talk about the future of Afghanistan is Alberto Cairo, who has seen just about all there is to see here, in the 12 he has been with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Alberto, first of all, thank you for joining us on this freezing morning. What is it going to take to make sure this country don't descend into the conditions that really has spawned this terror and this insecurity?

ALBERTO CAIRO, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS: It is a good question. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for sure. It's not a short-term commitment. Whoever comes to help in this country, and I hope many, many countries come, is going to be a big jump, a big, big jump.

AMANPOUR: But, do you think this is a little bit, sort of, the moment for Afghanistan? Do you think it is sort of now or never, is that what people are hoping here?

CAIRO: yes. This is the momentum. I mean there are expectations. I speak with people in the street -- patients coming to our hospitals for getting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for whatever, and they are full of hope, they really expect something to happen, something to happen and to last for long.

AMANPOUR: And they know everybody is watching Afghanistan right now. CAIRO: The situation, what has changed very much now, is that the world is watching Afghanistan. It's -- there was isolation before. Even now there are hundreds of journalists around. For months we did not see anybody. Every some time, one. Now everybody is there. So that's the right time.

AMANPOUR: Now, what you do, you run the orthopedic center that makes prostheses, and treats the hundreds of thousands of mine victims here. How big a job is that, and how difficult is it to keep people away from the mines that litter this place? CAIRO: It's going to be a very big job and it's a priority. Together with all the many other things, but mine awareness is a priority. And of course after, and with mine awareness, demining. Someone should come and start demining all the country.

AMANPOUR: And people just what, I mean, there are mines everywhere. do they just go back? Are they unaware of it?

CAIRO: A few weeks ago, it was in the north of Afghanistan, we had mine awareness sessions with the population, with displaced people distributing food to them, and we tried to explain, be careful. We knew that they were the first to move back to the houses. They are obsessed. They want to go back. There is nothing, nobody can stop them. You can explain whatever you want, but they want to go back. Everybody wants to go home, they want to go home.

AMANPOUR: Viewers who watch, and they see the devastation here in Afghanistan, and you yourself have said it's going to be a huge job, but this is not a big developed sophisticated urban society, like a western country, for instance. How much, really, do you think it would take just to bring back the basics of human decency and survival, and the basics of what people need to live a decent life?

CAIRO: There is still many here because the standards are so low now. To be able to raise it a little is going to be a big task. For example, I would say, public health. It's a total disaster. We are trying, everybody, many organizations are trying now to do something, but it is very, very low. Water supply is very poor. The hospitals are supplied, we supply them, yes, but still the standard is very low.

You need a lot of things: Sanitation is extremely low. You risk epidemics. You risk a lot of things. So, really, yes, I think it is going to be a very long commitment.

AMANPOUR: What about the -- you know, you have worked in the 12 years you have been here, with the people of Afghanistan. They make up many of your staff members, obviously, local people. Do they need to be brought up to a certain education standard, or is there enough educated people here, professional people?

CAIRO: Afghanistan is a country of great potential. I never stopped saying that they are among the most intelligent people that I have ever met in my life. They learn like this -- very fast. They are clever, clever, clever. They forget very easily as well, but they are very clever. But now, the standard of education, the level is very low. It's very difficult to find good professionals. There are, but very few.

Twenty years of war and in the last six or seven year, practically no education, or very, very poor education. It is impossible to find someone who is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) , but I repeat, the potential is there and it is going to be quite easy, in a way, to rebuild, because people are ready, and they are willing to.

AMANPOUR: Well, there is a note of hope. And of course, the challenge will be to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back to Afghanistan those who fled in these two decades of war.


AMANPOUR: For a million or so outside the country, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thank you very much indeed.

And we're going to go to a short break now. And Aaron Brown will bring us up-to-date with all the news from outside of Afghanistan.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to Kabul, where dawn is just beginning to peek through. It's not been a good time to be a journalist. About eight of our colleagues, seven of our colleagues have been killed trying to cover this conflict in the last week.

It takes risks and it takes sacrifices for journalists to do this kind of work, but it's the kind of work that we believe is important. And it's the kind of work we have to do in order to bring this story to the public and to bring information and show people what's going on.

Many CNN cameramen, camerawomen, journalists and producers are working this story. And we asked Mark Phillips, one of our cameramen who's covering the Northern Alliance in the many, many weeks before they took Kabul, to take a snapshot of one dangerous day he spent on the frontline just outside of Kabul.


MARK PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is safe distance to cover the war in Afghanistan. And this is not. But the frontline is the only place where you can see the reality of war. Soldiers forget the camera. They show their fear, their anxiety, and sometimes sheer terror.

But for journalists covering the war from the front, it's hard to stay out of the crossfire. You get to know the sounds of war. Outgoing artillery, and outgoing shot, and a round coming towards you.

U.S. planes bombed 300 meters beyond the frontline positions, but still the Taliban keep up their fire. The commander touches my face as a sign of bravery, but I have options. I can leave at any time, unlike the soldiers walking to the front.

And when we do leave...we're pinned down by a sniper and we can't get back. Let's go back more.

Finally, a car arrives and we're able to run to safety.

Mark Phillips, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: Now just two days ago, on a very dangerous stretch of road from Jalalabad in the east to Kabul here, four journalists were ambushed and killed. There were two from the British organization Reuters and a lady correspondent from "Corriere de la Sera" from Italy and a Spanish writer, Julio Fuentes, from "El Mundo."

Joining me now here in Kabul is Nikolas Vafiadis from Antenna One Greek Television. Nikolas made that journey to Kabul just a half an hour after the convoy that was ambushed. And you, yourself, nearly, nearly met with death? What happened?

NIKOLAS VAFIADIS, ANTENNA ONE TV: We were supposed to go with this convoy. We missed it because I decided to send our translator to make some paperwork to have the assurances from the local authorities in Jalalabad that the road was clean and that we could cross. So that took us about half an hour. We started later.

On the way, we saw some cars with journalists, parked with journalists, coming back to Jalalabad. We thought they were based in Kabul. We did not realize it was the same convoy we were supposed to join.

Just after a while, a man runs towards us and he shouts like crazy. He speaks with our driver in Pashtun. And he tells us in English, "Go back to Jalalabad. The Taliban are shooting journalists. Go back to Jalalabad."

At that point, I thought it was a set up, because I know the road is dangerous. I know there are thieves and bandits, you know, all across this road. So I decided to go ahead. I asked my driver, "Kabul?" And he gave me the thumbs up. He said, "Kabul" and we started towards Kabul.

Later, he was trying to explain to me something. He said, "Three people were dead." He was doing "three," you know, because we couldn't communicate. So I realized it was dangerous. I told him, "Run as fast as you can." "Bouda, bouda," which is in the local language. So we go as fast as we could.

Later on, we were stopped by a gunman pointing at our driver. He had to stop. But he started speaking. And then another armed man comes through. There were three in all. They come, you know, and they try to take out things from the pockets. They tried to check our pockets.

I, you know, instinctively I resist because I had a small camera here. I put my hand over. And the other guy comes and he puts his Kalanik (ph) over my head. You know, they also dragged my cameraman (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the back seat. They dragged him out. They tried to take the camera away. They were shouting. They were very angry, but we realized that they were not thieves. They didn't want to steal from us.

My assessment was, you know, after thinking and really thinking of what happened is what there was -- there was anger against anything Western. And we, you know, the white man, you know, in their land. I don't know what it was that made them feel like that, but they were very angry.

We were very lucky that our driver told them we were Muslim, which was not true, but you know, it's Ramadan. We are good Muslims. Don't harm them. Also, he told them that according to their tradition, because we were guests, if they harmed us, if they did anything bad to us, he would have you know to revenge. He would have to fight them. And if they killed him also, you know, all his tribe will have to fight against them.

AMANPOUR: Now do you know, thinking and reflecting, who these people were? You said your driver said Taliban are shooting. Do you think it was Taliban?

VAFIADIS: I cannot really say, but they didn't have long beards, which is a sign, you know, that they might be Taliban. Their beards were short. They were 20 to 25-years old. They were wearing the paktul (ph), the traditional hats, Afghani hats. I cannot say, but they were angry at Westerners. This I can say.

AMANPOUR: You had a lucky escape. And we've heard in the subsequent days that other groups coming up that road have also been stopped and narrowly escaped. We have to depend on people we don't know here, on fixers, on drivers on terrain that has just been liberated. And we don't know really, really what's safe and what's not for the most part.

How difficult is this for you, compared to other conflicts that we might have been in?

VAFIADIS: This time, it was, you know, it's different. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's a very different story, because you are a part of the equation there. I've been shot at seven times in different parts of the world. We've even been bombed once in Kosovo last year. Our convoy was bombed. But this was different. You cannot -- we could not have any control in that.

When you have a gun on your head, then you control the situation somehow. You start thinking at I don't what kind of speed, you know, really, really fast.

AMANPOUR: But what do we journalists have to do in order to cover this safely? I mean, how are we meant to know what's safe, where are the lines, who we can trust, who's going to betray us, who's not going to betray us?

VAFIADIS: This is only -- I think it's instinct and nothing else, because I heard that the -- one of the international journalist organizations asked, you know, asked to have armed guards, which is not a good policy, especially in this part of the world because you cannot trust an armed man in No Man's land. It's very, very difficult to depend, you know, on people you don't know.

And this is probably the dangerous part of our work, but we have to do it. You know, you have done it yourself. We have been -- you know, I have met you in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, in other places, dangerous places. You have risked your life so many times. Other people also have. You know what it is like.

AMANPOUR: Do you think though in the end, when we reflect on all of this and we see that in one week, seven of our colleagues have not made it, do you think that we should still stay this close or we should stand back or we have to keep doing it?

VAFIADIS: Personally, you know, I considered leaving. But you know, it's fair that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you know, I think twice. Because you know, it's like -- probably the busiest, but definitely the most expensive ally in the world, the United Nations. And it's not my vision of the United Nations. I think they should think about it. They shouldn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you know, we need -- Antenna's not CNN, but it's still a big network. If they can pay the $10,000 to take me and my team out.

But what about other towns? What about other journalists, who you know, have to evacuate? When you evacuate people, you cannot charge that much, I think.

AMANPOUR: Nikolas, thank you very much, indeed.

And what he was referring to was help that the U.N. has decided to give to journalists, to enable them several times a week, if they want, to go out on their planes at a price. And although this doesn't enable some people who can afford it to get out, others, for instance, freelancers, are concerned that they won't be able to afford it. But this is -- these are working conditions in these parts of the world.

When we come back after a break, we're going to talk about women. In one way, yes, they've been liberated. And in another way, the situation here hasn't changed that much for them.


AMANPOUR: Now the eyes of the world were, for the most part, turned away from Afghanistan before September 11. And when they were focused, especially in the West, that focus was mostly on gender politics, particularly on the Taliban's harsh, its draconian repressive regime against women. Really never in modern memory, in any part of the world, have women been so incredibly repressed and their civil rights and human rights so utterly taken away.

So that when Kabul was liberated more than a week ago, it was the women that we all looked at first. Just yesterday, a group of Kabul's professional women gathered around one of their buildings there, one of the apartment buildings. And they all met together outside for the first time in five years. They pulled back their burkas, they hugged and they kissed. There were tears.

They said they were going to have a march, to try to emphasize the fact that they were back. They wanted their rights. They wanted to go back to work, to earn a living, to have their children, their girls, go to school again.

But they said the security at the time wasn't safe enough to march. So they're going to try and do it again. In any event, women again are the focus, as we journalists return here. But as CNN's Ben Widemann reports, it's not all great. It's not all plain sailing. It's not all rosy for the women of Afghanistan, even though one part of their burden has been lifted.


BEN WIDEMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The daily bread prepared at a women's bakery in Kabul. The Taliban forbade women from going to bakeries to avoid contact with men, but allowed them to set up their own bakeries. Here, the talk is of hope revived for the women of Afghanistan.

Tuba Abawe (ph) says she was a member of the Afghan Academy of Sciences. Under Taliban rule, she stayed at home. Now she hopes to go back to work.

Morning at a woman's clinic brings a steady stream of patients. Under the Taliban, health services were strictly segregated. The all- women staff is basking in their newfound freedom.

"Now I can come to work by myself," says nurse Maria Shahazad (ph). "Under the Taliban, I had to come with a male relative."

The departure of the Taliban has allowed the women of Kabul to breathe a bit more freely. Another oppressor however, shows no sign of leaving. Grinding poverty is the unrelenting tyrant ruling the lives of millions of Afghan women. For Kabul's poor, a fetid, putrid stream trickling through the city is the only place to do the wash.

"Why are you taking my picture?" asks Layla. I have to do this because I have no water in my house.

The comings and goings of Afghanistan's feuding factions means little for the women here.

"Nothing has changed for me since the Taliban left," says Layla. "Nothing."

At a carpet sweatshop, the daily bread is earned at the cost of a childhood. These girls, some as young as five-years old, work from first light until sunset, earning as little as eight cents a day, enough for a loaf of bread. They toil away under an image of womanhood that seems galaxies from Afghanistan. Stitching and knotting day after day, as they grow from girls into women.

Ben Widemann, CNN, Kabul.



AMANPOUR: That's all we have for you from Kabul right now. But of course, CNN will be covering this story throughout the night and throughout the day. We'll be back again with this program at 8:00 Eastern again tomorrow. For now, we'd like to thank all our viewers around the world for watching us. And especially we'd like to wish our American viewers a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.




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