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Taliban Representative Announces Taliban Will Surrender Kandahar, Taliban's Last Remaining Stronghold

Aired December 6, 2001 - 10:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to begin this morning with this developing story we have got coming from the front line on the war on terrorism. Just moments ago, CNN did confirm that a Taliban representative has announced the Taliban supreme commander will surrender Kandahar, the Taliban's last remaining stronghold.

So let's go straight to the region right now. CNN's Nic Robertson standing by in Chaman (ph). That's near Kandahar. He's got the very latest.

Nic, what's the word?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that surrender is supposed to begin Friday. And as we stand here on the border of Afghanistan, Friday begins in about -- well, daylight Friday begins in about nine hours time. So very soon we could begin to see the implementation of that surrender. Now we understand the terms of the surrender have been in negotiation for the last few days, the negotiation between the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, Hamid Karzai.

Now, Hamid Karzai has been heading a tribal military force that has been one of the tribal forces, encircling the city of Kandahar over the last week or so. All the details of the surrender, the negotiation, terms of what this means for the Taliban, what they expect in return, and what these tribal leaders expect the Taliban to do, were announced by the Taliban's former ambassador Pakistan a little while ago.


ABDUL SALEM ZAEF: The Taliban should surrender Kandahar peacefully to the end of this area, and they should guarantee the life and the care of Taliban authorities and all the Taliban. And for tomorrow, should start its program. And by the leadership of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is the famous mujahadeen commander. He was in the jihad, and he will be in the head of this mission from the Kandahar area, and the Taliban will surrender that to elders (ph), not to Karzai and other persons, and Karzai and other persons reach the water (ph) into Kandahar by support by American, and they don't allow to enter Kandahar City, and the Taliban will surrender the weapons and ammunition to elders (ph).


ROBERTSON: Now there are some key things here, Leon, to look at in the terms of that surrender. Number one is the implication that Taliban leaders can go free, go home. Number two is, who is to take over Kandahar. That is Mullah Nakheed Omar (ph), a former mujahadeen commander, and the other thing, the other detail that is very interesting there, is that the new head of Afghanistan's interim government, Karzai, who has been party toe these negotiations, is according to the terms of this surrender, not allowed to enter the city f Kandahar. So these are some very hard terms for observers in this region to accept.

They would also be looking to see what happens to what we are told are some 600 Arab fighters who are also believed to be in and around Kandahar City. So it is the terms of this surrender that are going to be keenly watched, Leon.

HARRIS: Nic, can you tell us whether or not you have learned whether these negotiations that are under way right now with Mullah Mohammed Omar and Mr. Karzai, whether or not they are face-to-face negotiations here, or is this done being by proxy, or what?

ROBERTSON: Not clear, Leon, not clear at all. What we do know is when we spoke with -- about half an hour ago, an hour ago, with a senior military commander inside the city of Kandahar, he did confirm that the talks were going on, but he wouldn't confirm us to whether or not Hamid Karzai sat down face to face with Omar. He wasn't prepared to discuss that. He did certainly give us indication that the terms of the surrender that we have now heard were going to be pretty tough terms, and terms that appeared, at this stage at least, to be very much in favor of the Taliban, and in particular, of the Taliban leadership.

So we're not clear at the moment...

Nic, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we actually have right now Hamid Karzai on the telephone. He is joining right now us to give us some more of these details firsthand.

Commander Karzai, can you tell us about these terms that Nic Robertson was just reporting about, the terms that will lay out the surrender of the of Taliban in Kandahar.

HAMID KARZAI: Well, I'm not aware of the terms; I'm aware of the made statement that they have made on the BBC in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) languages, the statement that was prepared in my presence by the Taliban leaders, who came it see me today in my headquarters in the Shalicao (ph) district, north of Kandahar. It was written roughly in a manner that, now that Afghanistan has a government, the Taliban leadership have decided to surrender Kandahar to me, and that in return, we have offered them amnesty, and that they can go to their homes safe without any trouble.

There has not been any specific conditions, and we only arranged to discuss the modalities of the transfer of power. In order to prevent chaos, in order to present unnecessary confusion, the transfer of power will be done in a slow and orderly manner. It's supposed to be delivered by our forces, and Taliban will withdraw from those positions.

HARRIS: And can you tell us what the schedule is for this completion of this turning over of Kandahar?

KARZAI: I hope it will begin tomorrow.

HARRIS: You think -- so you hope it will begin tomorrow. Can you tell us what you think it will end, when it will be complete?

KARZAI: It should not take more than two or three days.

HARRIS: You say you have offered amnesty to the Taliban fighters. Does that include their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar?

KARZAI: I have offered amnesty to common Taliban, sir.

HARRIS: But not to Mullah Omar?

KARZAI: Mullah Omar must distance himself completely from terrorism, the presence of foreign terrorist in Afghanistan. He must condemn terrorism in Afghanistan. He must acknowledge that these terrorists have come into Afghanistan and have killed Afghan people and have hurt the international community. If he doesn't do that, he will not be safe.

HARRIS: And then the fate of the Arab fighters who are with the Taliban, I assume you are saying that their fate is not going to be the same as those who are of the Afghan Taliban fighters?

KARZAI: Yes, they are criminals. They have committed crimes against the Afghan people and against the international community. They must leave my country, and they must face justice, international justice.

HARRIS: Are you then providing them safe passage to leave your country?

KARZAI: I'm not providing them anything. I'm just saying they have no place in my country.

HARRIS: So you are saying they must leave and you don't know how they are going to be getting out of your country?

KARZAI: That's up to them. Criminals, and I want justice for them.

HARRIS: Will they have to surrender their weapons before they leave?

KARZAI: I cannot go into these details. That will be discussed on with the Afghan cabinet and the interim institution. Right now, I can give you my feeling toward them. That is, they have brutally killed our people, destroyed the country, ruined our lives. They must see justice for that. They must face justice for that. HARRIS: There is one specific Arab fighter that the entire world is interested in right now, and that is Osama bin Laden. Did your talks with the Taliban cover exactly where is he right now?

KARZAI: No, we did not discuss that. We don't know where he s. We don't know where Mullah Omar is. It was made in the name of the cabinet of the Taliban. The problem is that the cabinet has broken off with Mullah Omar, or whatever the case may be. So the announcement came from the Taliban movement.

HARRIS: So you are saying you also don't know where the whereabouts right now of Mullah Mohammed Omar?

KARZAI: I have no idea.

HARRIS: So your negotiations with the Taliban, in regards with the surrender of Kandahar, did not include talks about going after Osama bin Laden, or any cooperation from the Taliban in securing Osama bin Laden?

KARZAI: We discussed where the Taliban are not going to be part of the administration, so they cannot be held to pursue that man. They will be out of the administration and a new administration will take over. So it will be the job of that administration to pursue these terrorists and deliver them to justice.

HARRIS: Commander Karzai, I would like to you stand by. We also have with us still on the line right now is our Nic Robertson, who is I believe is still in Chaman, and he has been listening, and I believe Nic has a question he would like to ask you -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Mr. Karzai, what realistically do you expect Mullah Mohammed Omar to do? Do you really expect him to go back and renounce the terrorism as you are calling for him to do this?

KARZAI: You see, right now, the announcement from the Taliban cabinet is that they have agreed to transfer power. Now, that is something that will be honored from our side. We will respect their decision, and we will allow them to take one or two days for the transfer of power. Has not be made in the name of Mullah Omar. This announcement has been made by the Taliban movement, by the cabinet of the Taliban movement.

Now, Mullah Omar, whether he makes an announcement or not, distances him from terrorism. First, squarely denounce terrorism, must make it explicitly clear that terrorism has brutalized Afghan society and destroyed our country. That is what he must do. Now, I don't know if he will do that or not, but that is our demand.

HARRIS: Commander Karzai, while you are waiting for...

ROBERTSON: If he fails to meet the...

HARRIS: I'm sorry, go ahead, Nic, you continue. I'm sorry.

ROBERTSON: If he fails it meet that demand, would he put on trial inside Afghanistan in the future?

KARZAI: Well, that we will have to see. We don't even know where he is. We will have to see how things develop there. If he doesn't make the demands, of course, that means he is part of the terrorism. If he is part with terrorism, he must face justice. I have to go now, sir. I'm sorry, I cannot give more time to this.

HARRIS: We understand. We thank you very much for giving us the time you have been able to give us this morning. Commander Hamid Karzai, who is now the appointed leader of this new interim government in Afghanistan, reporting he has reached some agreement for the handover of Kandahar.

Let's go back now to our Nic Robertson who is standing by in Afghanistan, I believe it's Chaman, Afghanistan.

Nic, what do you make of what we just heard?

ROBERTSON: Well, it certainly appears to have all of the elements that can be palatable to all sides on the ground at the moment, that all elements of the Taliban can walk away, that they must disarm, and that the Arab fighters that we understand are in the region can also walk away. As Mr. Karzai says, they must leave the country and they should face international justice when they do it. But it has all of the elements here, that there should be nothing of it at this stage that would prevent the Taliban or Arab fighters to comply. There has a lot of their favor. They can walk away.

HARRIS: But there's one sticking point, Nic, is this idea that no safe passage is going to be given to any of these Arab Taliban fighters who are now seeming to be between a rock and a hard place right now. How do you think that's going to play out there?

ROBERTSON: Well, Afghanistan, and even the region that the Taliban still control at this moment of southeastern Afghanistan is a very large territory, and there would be still in the hours of darkness if the Arab fighters or any other were to read the apparent writing on the wall at this stage, for them to make movements to get out of the country clandestinely. Maybe some of them have already made plans and preparations for that. Certainly Pakistani border officials have been on heightened alert through today, and certainly anyone trying to make a clandestine exit from Afghanistan will not be welcomed coming into Pakistan. But it appears there would be opportunity for some of these people to move away very quickly, and to try get out of the region before it does change hands -- Leon.

HARRIS: I should say, Nic, we are trying to get some other voices on the phone right now, to talk with us, and fill us some more, on some information on exactly how this is going to happen, and how the logistics of this handover of Kandahar are going to play out, so I want to keep you with us for just a couple more minutes.

Can you give us an idea of what we should be expecting to see there, in terms of changes there on the ground in Kandahar in the next couple of days? ROBERTSON: Well, I think we can definitely expect there to be a degree of chaos an confusion. Communications are not their best in Afghanistan at the moment. Much of the communication systems have been destroyed during the bombing campaigns. Not everyone, not all of the frontline Taliban fighters, are able to get commands from their central command very readily, so there probably will be a degree of confusion. And certainly, we have seen other areas of Afghanistan, there has been a degree of retribution against the Taliban. We saw this when the Northern Alliance took control of Kabul. Perhaps we won't see that kind of thing around Kandahar.

One of the reasons for that, and I only say maybe, because the situation is still volatile, and tribes here have been fighting very actively against the Taliban in the last week or. But one of the reasons we might not see that level of retribution, is because the Taliban come from the same ethnic background, the Pashtun ethnic background, that make up 38 percent of the population of Afghanistan as the tribes in this area. So there is a lot more -- friendliness is not the right word, but there would be a lot more empathy between the Taliban and a lot of these tribal fighters who would be moving in to take control of their territory.

And certainly the new commander of Kandahar is a figure known to many of the tribal fighters, and obviously at this stage trusted by the Taliban as well. So it would appear the potential is there for a relatively smooth handover, but it's getting the information out to all those Taliban fighters in the field, letting them know that the men that come to from the tribes are now the people they should be surrendering to and not fighting with -- Leon.

HARRIS: Considering the condition of that country's communications infrastructure right now, how long do you think it would take for the word to spread? It has got to be a difficult prospect to get word of this kind of thing from one part of the country to another.

ROBERTSON: Well, Hamid Karzai talked about two to three days, and certainly word should spread around Kandahar city very quickly, and up and down the main highway between here and Kandahar. Kandahar is about a three-hour drive. In those areas, word of mouth communications, drivers traveling up and down the road, will spread the road very quickly, and so it would be realistic, I think, to expect, at least those who are willing to go along with the terms and surrender, to hand over the next couple of days. It will be the outlying areas, people in the villages and deserts, towards the mountains, people who don't come into the cities for days at a time. Taliban hiding out there may not necessarily get the information very quickly -- Leon.

HARRIS: Nic Robertson, thank you very for standing by and hanging with us there as you were standing by there in the darkness in Chaman, Afghanistan.

We are joined now on the telephone by Abdul Salem Zaeef. You may recognize that name. He is the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. We have been talking with -- or at least covering his press conferences when we was staging them, and he joins us on the telephone.

Abdul Salem Zaeef, can you give us right now the latest word that you have gotten from Mullah Omar on whether or not he is he going to comply with these conditions that have been imposed upon him for this surrender?

ZAEEF: Yes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the negotiation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into Kandahar City about the surrendering of Kandahar City to the elders, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which will be agreed about that to surrender Kandahar to the elders by the head of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is a mujahadeen commander, and he was a commander during the jihad time.

And tomorrow, they should have big decision in Kandahar City to discuss about the future of ammunition and weapons, and to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And tomorrow, we start with this talk (ph) in Kandahar, and peacefully, and the condition of that was that dignity (ph) of the Taliban, including Omar, which was the leader of Islamic movement, and also we have the responsibility to release the prisoners and the Taliban, which are in the north of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they should bring to their houses, their homes (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and in the future, they should still protect the life of the Taliban and deal with (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the life of all the Taliban, including the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Taliban.

HARRIS: Mr. Ambassador, we understand from Commander Karzai that the Arab Taliban will not be getting the amnesty that Afghan Taliban will receive. Can you tell us what is going to happen to the Arab members of the Taliban?

ZAEEF: You know, we call that Osama bin Laden, including the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) only in Kandahar, under the control of Taliban area, there will be a few persons, and we should be in Kandahar and we should be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from this area, and the negotiation at the moment in Kandahar between Taliban and (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and this should be discusses about this matter in the future, and also we should discuss about that decision tomorrow. We should wait for this to respond.

HARRIS: Mr. Ambassador, think you very much. This is Abdul Salem Zaeef, who is the Taliban foreign ambassador to Pakistan, joining us on the telephone, giving us the official word that yes, a surrender agreement has been reached, and that the surrendering process is going to be getting under way within a matter of hours and should be completed within the next couple of days, Kandahar being turned over the alliance forces, and that Hamid Karzai, who is the interim Arab leader right now of the Afghan government, is going to be the person who is going to be taking charge of that region. We will continue to follow that story as it develops, and it is developing rather quickly today.

Thank you for hanging with us, because we had a couple bad telephone connections, and we understand that you may have had some trouble listening to it. We wanted to bring you that news, because it was important, and it was breaking, but there is word of another important story breaking in Washington.




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