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Live From Afghanistan: New Government Gets Down to Business

Aired December 23, 2001 - 20:00   ET



Tonight, getting down to business.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The new politics of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai and his cabinet meeting for their first official session.


ANNOUNCER: The chairman of the new government speaks out in an exclusive CNN interview.


HAMID KARZAI, HEAD OF AFGHANISTAN'S INTERIM GOVERNMENT: We have a commitment to free our country and the rest of the world from this scourge of terrorism.


ANNOUNCER: The realities to overcome.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Habibula (ph) is 16 years old, and he doesn't know how many men he has killed.


ANNOUNCER: The dangers on the border.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle cry of the Pakistani border patrol. They are looking for al Qaeda Arabs.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, just north of the Tora Bora mountains where the last known reports of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.

United States; aircraft, both fighters and bombers, continue to fly missions over and above the Tora Bora mountains, while on the ground, U.S. special forces continue their cave-to-cave search among the high, snow-capped mountain peaks. And CNN has been shown documents apparently from al Qaeda fighters in the region indicating that they traveled to Afghanistan just before or on September the 11th.

In the capital Kabul, Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, called his first meeting of ministers. The session lasted about two and a half hours, and he directed the ministers to attend their ministries and get to know their staff on Monday. As well as balancing ethnic differences between all the different ministers within the new interim -- 30-member interim government, Hamid Karzai also has to restart the country's war- shattered economy, as well as providing security for the people. As John Vause reports, these are daunting challenges for the new leader.


VAUSE (voice-over): The new politics of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai and his cabinet meeting for their first official session, a dramatic change from the past where the political process was driven by the power of the gun.

The main issue here, security: A daunting problem in a country awash with high-powered weapons, where even some cabinet ministers maintain their own heavily armed security guards, and warlords and bandits control large sections of the countryside. Karzai wants them de-armed, and he may be able to use the billions of dollars of international aid to reward and punish many of the now-lawless provinces.

AHMED FAWZI, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY SPOKESMAN: One of the advantages of Hamid Karzai is that he is not a warlord. He came to office by virtue of a political agreement, and this is a first for Afghanistan -- not by virtue of the power of a gun.

VAUSE: But first, this country needs a central bank and one stable currency. Right now, there are two. There is no civil service, infrastructure is at shambles, and this interim administration has six months to show the world it has made real progress.

Another sign of a changing Afghanistan, on the streets of the capital a political demonstration, the first since the Taliban took power five years ago. Mostly men, but notably some women from Kabul's small professional class. They march to the U.N. compound, chanting support for the peace process and for the interim administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are going to have peace, democracy, and everybody is going to have a new job for development of Afghanistan.

VAUSE (on camera): On this brand new day for Afghanistan, there is good reason for hope and optimism, but there are warnings too from the new leader that there are still many dark days ahead.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: Security is one of the top issues for Afghanistan's new government. The -- Afghanistan has a gun culture here par excellence after a long-fought history of independence and 22 years of war. The AK-47 or the AK-74, depending on how much money you have, is a common sight on the streets, evidence that democracy is still beyond the grasp of this fledgling nation.

Harris Whitbeck joins us now from Kabul. Harris, just how difficult is it going to be to get the guns out of people's hands here?

WHITBECK: Well, Nic, with all the political changes going on here, many of the young fighters who have spent years in the trenches and on the front lines are really facing the daunting task of trying to figure out what to do with themselves now that they think the war might be over.


(voice over): Habibula (ph) is 16 years old and he doesn't know how many men he has killed.

"When you're on the frontline, it's hard to really tell" he says. When he was a boy, he dreamed of becoming a teacher in his village, which is now a desolate heap of rubble. He joined the Northern Alliance when he was 13, not wanting to become a refugee like so many others.

Habibula (ph) and his unit fought long and hard for two years on the front, just outside of Kabul. They now guard one of the entrances to the city, passing the time playing traditional board games, and wondering what will become of them now that the war is over and they face the prospect of peace.

"There is nothing remaining to fight over," said the unit commander. "We now must think of the people, of civilians, of rebuilding. There is no reason for war now."

(on camera): Silenced weapons and fighters dreaming of becoming teachers. It sounds almost too good to be true. But that's what the new interim government has planned for Afghanistan, a plan they admit will only work if the international community does not forget its promises.

(voice-over): The new chairman of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, says creating jobs for former soldiers will be one of his top priorities. But that will require money and lots of it.

International donors have promised millions for the reconstruction of the country, money they say would activate the economy, erase the rubble of war. And they hope, bring about lasting peace.

"We have had war after war here" says young Habibula (ph). "Now we will have peace after peace." He's planning on going back to school, if he can find one.


WHITBECK: This time around, Nic, people here really seem to think that peace actually has a chance of holding out here. Now, obviously, there is still a lot of people out in the entire country who are armed, people who -- really their entire lives have known nothing else but war. So it will be many, many years before the mind- set of these young fighters actually changes -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Harris, what are those things likely to change the mind-set? Of course, the huge international donations that are beginning to be outlined for Afghanistan. Has the government yet given an indication of just how it might prioritize all this international funding?

WHITBECK: Well, it has said that the priority is to maintain enough security and stability in the country for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Also, the big priority is making sure that all those millions of Afghans who have been refugees and have begun returning to the country have access to enough food and supplies to make it through the winter. So that is the main concern.

There is also a lot of reliance on the international security assistance force that will -- that start deploying in larger numbers over the next few weeks. But it's important to point out that that security force will not deploy very far outside the Kabul city limits. So, there is still the question of who will maintain security in the rest of this country.

ROBERTSON: Harris Whitbeck in Kabul, thank you very much for joining us.

In the south of the country, some pockets of Taliban resistance, the fighters there laid down their weapons. In a negotiated deal with a former mujahideen commander loyal to the exiled King Zahir Shah, the Taliban in two cities in Zabol province just north of the Taliban's last stronghold of Kandahar, put down their weapons, about 100 to 150 guns, machine guns and mortars, rockets were handed in.

They also handed in three U.S.-made surface-to-air Stinger missiles. One of them in a box labeled "1986." Perhaps an indication that that missile was one of those provide to the mujahedeen fighters in the United States bid to assist them in their efforts to oust the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. But the deal allows the Taliban fighters, once they've put down their weapons, to return back to their homes.

Across the border, inside Pakistan, Pakistani troops are maintaining one of their strongest presences to head off al Qaeda fighters who are trying to flee Afghanistan and penetrate their way into Pakistan to get freedom. As Kamal Hyder reports, some of those al Qaeda fighters are prepared to fight their way into Pakistan.


KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle cry of the Pakistani border patrol. Thousands of soldiers on the edge of the White Mountains that separate Pakistan from Afghanistan. They are looking for al Qaada Arabs, escapees from the recent bombings in Tora Bora just a few miles away on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan has arrested about 200 suspected al Qaeda fighters so far, caught infiltrating this remote tribal region of the country. There was a shootout on this stretch of road last week. Suspected al Qaeda fighters overpowered their Pakistani guards, leaving 13 dead on both sides. A testament to just how dangerous this situation is.

Much of the Taliban's support used to come from this Pakistani Frontier Province. But allegiances here shift with the wind and bend towards the highest bidder.

At this loyajirga, a tribal council meeting, the chieftains are pledging their support for the Pakistani government's efforts to catch all escaping fighters.

This tribal chief says: "It's our duty to defend our country, and we are ready to make human and economic sacrifices in this cause."

This unprecedented cooperation between the fiercely independent tribes and the central government in Pakistan is proving effective in capturing suspected al Qaeda members. If Osama bin Laden is still alive and tries to cross into Pakistan, the tribes say they will arrest him.

GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: And if he does enter, if we identify him, he will be handed over.

HYDER: As Pakistan continues its search for more suspected terrorists, there is no doubt that some may have slipped through in search of fast-dwindling safe havens elsewhere.

Kamal Hyder, CNN, Parachinar, Pakistan.


ROBERTSON: On Friday U.S. warplanes targeted a convoy of vehicles traveling just southwest of the Tora Bora region. From a border hospital inside Pakistan, survivors of that convoy have been telling their version of events.

Now, the Pentagon says that on that convoy were senior al Qaeda and Taliban officials, and they had specific intelligence, and that led them to target the convoy. The survivors say that they were a group of tribal elders on way to Kabul for the inauguration of Afghanistan's new interim government. One of the survivors said he was a former mujahedeen commander, and had been very supportive in the past of the United States because they had helped the Afghan mujahedeen fight off the Soviet occupation during the 1980s. He said what he thought may have happened was that the United States may have been given misinformation as part of tribal rivalries in the region.

He said that he thought the United States had been given information by a rival tribal group, and that's what had led to the targeting of his convoy. He said that as many as 50 to 60 people had been killed; that the attacks last pver a period of seven hours as the cars -- a group of 15 or so cars tried to make their way you through the mountains en route to Kabul.

Now, in a new report, U.S. officials say that they have been gathering intelligence in that region for a number of years. In 1998, the CIA says, that it has deployed Afghans to provide it with intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. That is following the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

And in a "Newsweek" article just published, the most prominent Taliban prisoner taken so far -- the American, John Walker -- indicates -- he says, in his discussions with FBI officials, that he was offered a meeting with Osama bin Laden at one of the al Qaeda top terrorist training camps just outside the city of Kandahar.

He says that during these discussions he was offered the opportunity to go through intensive training -- an intensive terrorist training period -- what the U.S. Justice Department calls a martyrdom terrorist training cause. He was also offered the opportunity to go and join al Qaeda fighters along with the Taliban fighting the Northern Alliance on the front lines in Afghanistan. He chose the latter option.

When we come back, an interview with Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, about his obligations to the international community to turn over Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden if cought.


ROBERTSON: As well as rebuilding Afghanistan's war-shattered economy and providing security for the country's 20 million or more inhabitants, the head of Afghanistan's new interim government has many other problems to deal with, as he explained to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And let me begin by asking you the question that many people around the world are asking: Do you and your government control all of Afghanistan right now? Or are there still pockets of potential al Qaeda or Taliban forces at large?

KARZAI: Generally, the Taliban movement, or that regime, has completely gone away from Afghanistan. The main terrorist bases associated with them have been removed. There may be individuals hiding in parts of Afghanistan; we are looking for them. Recently some have been arrested, and we are looking for more.

We will see to it that terrorism is completely finished in Afghanistan in all its form, and we are also looking to it to cooperate internationally to finish this menace all over.

BLITZER: Do you know at this point, Chairman Karzai, where the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammed Omar, might be?

KARZAI: I don't have precise information as to where he may be exactly. Two days ago I was given some indication of his whereabouts. We'll look on that, and if we find him there, he will be arrested.

BLITZER: What will you do with him after he's arrested? In other words, will you keep him and try him and deal with him inside Afghanistan, or hand him over, let's say, to the United States?

KARZAI: We have a national case against him. He's responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent Afghans, for the destruction of our country, and for bringing into Afghanistan terrorists and for delivering our country to terrorists, and from bringing too much suffering to our people. We will do that here in Afghanistan as well.

But if there's a case against him internationally, and if he's required internationally, an international court of justice, or with the United States for the act of terror that's been committed in America, we will deliver him there, too. He has no protection whatsoever.

BLITZER: You believe that Mullah Muhammad Omar is still alive, is that right?

KARZAI: Well, as I mentioned earlier, two days ago I received a report. It's not yet very confirmed if he's still alive. And if we find where he is, we will arrest him.

BLITZER: What about Osama bin Laden? Do you believe he's alive? And what will do you with him if you find him?

KARZAI: We will deal with him exactly in the same way. He, too, is responsible for lots of suffering in Afghanistan. He was a close associate of Mullah Omar. The two of them together committed murder and the destruction of the Afghan land and people. There's no way that he can go unpunished. If we arrest him, we will deliver him to international justice.

BLITZER: But you will not necessarily deliver him immediately to U.S. authorities, who obviously want him in connection with the September 11 terrorists attacks against the United States?

KARZAI: We strongly condemn those attacks against the United States. They killed very innocent people. I saw on television the way people jumped off 80th floor of the Twin Towers. It's a criminal thing that they did. We will deliver him to the United States.

BLITZER: All right. And do you believe, as the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said only the other day, that it's very possible that Osama bin Laden was in fact killed in the Tora Bora caves during the extensive U.S. air strikes?

KARZAI: I have no information about that. If he's been killed, then it's good news for the people all over the world to know that a menace in the name of terrorism in the form of that person is no longer there.


ROBERTSON: We will be back after this break.


ROBERTSON: On Sunday, Jordan became the first Arab nation to provide the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan with humanitarian assistance. Departing Jordan on board a military transport aircraft was the vanguard of a group of 200 doctors and support staff who plan to set up a 50-bed field hospital in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. They hope to be able to treat as outpatients some 400 Afghans every day. Also on board the military transport aircraft, an unknown number of Jordanian special forces.

Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at the same time tomorrow.




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