BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 14.10.01

Interview: FRANCESC VENDRELL, Head of the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan.

Argues that it will be possible to establish a new government in Afghanistan without a UN peace making force.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Francesc Vendrell, you know Pakistan well, you know Afghanistan well, you were there just few weeks ago. It is going to be almost impossible, isn't it, to establish the sort of broad based democratic government that we would recognise as a sensible government? FRANCESC VENDRELL: I think it's going to take time. I don't think it's going to be impossible, particularly if the international community does not lose patience with Afghanistan. If the international community as Tony Blair has said, is willing to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul and by staying in Afghanistan I mean worrying and caring for Afghanistan, I think it is possible to find a solution. HUMPHRYS: But in order to do that, we've heard about this grand assembly, called the Loya Jirga, which would be called given that we can restore some sort of order there. You would have to have, as part of that Loya Jirga, as part of that grand assembly, the Taliban wouldn't you, or the Pashtun people. VENDRELL: Well, yes. The Pashtun people yes - the Taliban, not necessarily. One must make sure that one does not confuse the Taliban with the Pashtuns. In the last few months, there have been many signals that the Pashtun tribal elders for example, who are getting extremely anxious about the Taliban, partly because of the increasing role of Arabs within the Taliban structure. HUMPHRYS: Nonetheless, the Taliban do have support, albeit limited support, we are led to believe, but they do have some support from many of the Pashtun people? VENDRELL: They have some support but I think a lot of the Pashtuns would also accept alternative leaders if they were to arise. HUMPHRYS: George Bush and Tony Blair want the United Nations to take responsibility, Mr Bush has used the expression 'for nation building in Afghanistan'. Now, does that mean, as you understand it, does that mean, a United Nations protectorate? VENDRELL: Certainly not a protectorate. I don't think the Afghans would accept that. I think any role that we play in Afghanistan must have the full consent of the Afghans. It won't be so difficult at this moment, for the past two years I've had Afghans coming to me all the time, saying why doesn't the UN play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, why do we have to put up with this insufferable situation. The situation of both the Taliban and also the internal conflict. HUMPHRYS: But you say not a protectorate? VENDRELL: Not a protectorate, I think you need a broad based Afghan government, temporary, prior to some elections perhaps at the end of the road, with some kind of UN verification of UN supervision to ensure that agreements arrived at amongst the Afghans and agreements arrived at by the neighbouring countries are compiled with. HUMPHRYS: But while that process was going on, the Taliban, we're assuming of course that they are defeated and then they take to the hills, or wherever it is they are going to do, they won't all be rounded up I dare say. While that's going on, they are going to be making very serious trouble aren't they? VENDRELL: Well, a lot is going to depend on how the military campaign works in the next few weeks and a lot is going to depend on whether Taliban forces, some Taliban forces cross over to the opposition and whether Pashtun elders and commanders take the lead also in a term of insurrection against the Taliban. HUMPHRYS: But it's unrealistic isn't it to assume that the Taliban as we now recognise them, people who are violently opposed to what's going on, the protectors of Osama Bin Laden presumably, it's unrealistic to assume that they will disappear from the scence? VENDRELL: It's going to be hard. It's going to be hard and lengthy. HUMPHRYS: And they are well armed, or at least relatively well armed? VENDRELL: They are relatively well armed, they are not an incredibly powerful force. The danger of course is the guerrilla, if it became a guerrilla army. I think many of the Taliban forces would probably not wish to stay with the Taliban but you might have a hardcore plus the foreigners who are there. HUMPHRYS: And somebody would have to deal with them, so who would make the peace, I was going to use the expression, keep the peace but it might be a question of making the peace if it is not to be the United Nations? VENDRELL: I think the United Nations can assist, cajole, advise the Afghans as to how to get together into some kind of provisional government. I think this provisional government would have to ask them, the UN, or the international community, for an international security force, but it should be something that the Afghans should ask, it should not be something that is imposed on them. HUMPHRYS: Right, so in other words, if they do not come to us, or come to the United Nations and say we need your military help, we could not even think of sending in a force of any kind? VENDRELL: I think it would be very dangerous to do that, if a force were to enter without being at the request of some quasi legal government in Afghanistan. The Afghans must see what the allies are trying to do now as a chance for their liberation, they must not see this as an occupation. If it's an occupation, there is all the dangers that previous attempts at occupying Afghanistan have dealt with. HUMPHRYS: And the trouble is, when you say the Afghans, this is not exactly an homogenous group of people with whom one can deal. VENDRELL: Well, when I say the Afghans, if the former King, plus the Northern Alliance, plus Pashtun commanders, were to come together and made a joint request, that I think would have a great deal of support within Afghanistan. HUMPHRYS: But even the Northern Alliance is divided within itself isn't it? VENDRELL: It is potentially divided, at the moment they are of course working together... HUMPHRYS: ..but they have a common enemy at the moment, don't they, that's the point. Once that common enemy is dealt with, then you may well see a very different situation there. VENDRELL: I think we must lay down a series of principles that should govern the contact of any Afghan groups that wish to have some kind of legitimacy, and these principles will have be carefully verified by the UN. Now I'm talking of principles such as pluralism, responsibility to the Afghan people, good relations with neighbours, perhaps acceptance of existing borders. HUMPHRYS: But you're quite clear that we cannot impose, militarily impose, that kind of arrangement on them? VENDRELL: I don't think it should be imposed at all. I think it would be the wrong approach and I don't think this is necessarily what the United Kingdom or the US are trying to do now. HUMPHRYS: And the danger is clearly that if they don't say to us - Look, come and help us - they'd take over, whoever they may be, the sort of alliance that you have described. They then fall out amongst themselves, as has always happened in the past, we may be back to square one in a sense. VENDRELL: Well, this is where I think the Security Council ought to come in, and ensure that these agreements do not fall apart by having a very tight international verification and UN sponsorship. HUMPHRYS: Francesc Vendrell, thank you very much for joining us today. VENDRELL: Thank you.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.