BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 28.10.01

Interview: PETER SNOW talks to PROFESSOR FRED HALLIDAY of the London School of Economics.

About attempts to construct an alternative, broad based government to replace the Taliban.

PETER SNOW: And I'm joined by Professor Fred Halliday, who knows the area very well. It's not surprising people are saying this could be the most difficult war for half a century. It's hard enough to pin down and weaken the enemy on the ground in Afghanistan and it's proving very difficult to construct a government in waiting to take over if the Taliban can be defeated. Now let's look at a broad-brush map of the ethnic pattern of Afghanistan and I may say, even this, simplifies it, it shows eight areas where one group or another predominates. The Pashtun in the south, where the Taliban are strong, representing half of the population of the whole country, the Pashtun. But the Northern Alliance draws its strength from quite different ethnic groups like the Uzbeks and the Tajiks up here. Afghanistan's historic disunity is now giving the diplomats nightmares. Focus on just two attempts to get people round the table; up here in Tajikistan, Russia's President Putin was having talks earlier in the week. He sat down with the Northern Alliance leader Hemet Rasmahudin (phon) Rabbani and he agreed to give him tanks and guns and both of them made it clear that no Taliban elements should be included in any future government. This is also the view of Iran over here, so we can put Iran's flag broadly speaking up there with the Northern group there. Now down here in Pakistan, another group met last week, mainly southern groups under Sayed Ahmed Gailani meeting there actually in Peshawar and they made it clear they wouldn't accept the Northern Alliance playing a dominant role in a new Afghan government at all; they back the idea of Zahir Shah, the former King of Afghanistan playing a central role. Now the British and Americans, very much forming a consultation group down here, heavily consulting all the parties, they also believe there may be a role for the King, Zahir Shah but they insist any government must be broad based and cannot be dominated by the Northern Alliance, or indeed by the Southerners. It'll all be down to the United Nations' special representative to try and get some sort of framework agreed that can win the ascent of all the parties. You can see just how difficult it's going to be. Professor Halliday, is there way there can be any kind of coming together of all these rival views? PROFESSOR FRED HALLIDAY: Well at the moment the Afghan groups are waiting to see what happens. No-one is going to put their cards on the table until they see whether the Americans and the British are really serious about getting rid of the Taliban. I think that accounts for the halting noises we heard out of Peshawar last week from the Pashtun groups. The Northern Alliance would like a share in the government, they don't want to control it, but I think the broader issue is whether the regional states, particularly Iran and Pakistan can agree, because at the core of the fighting of the last ten years, there's been a rivalry between Iran and Pakistan and Pakistan set up the Taliban in part to attack and get rid of Iran's friends. Iran's friends are the Northern Alliance. Now what Iran is now saying to the Northern Alliance, do what you're told, they basically said to the Northern Alliance, do what the Americans tell you, go into a coalition, the Pakistanis are saying we're going to find good Taliban, or good Pashtuns, the Iranians say they don't quite believe them, but let them try, so if these two outside powers, Iran and Pakistan can collaborate at a time when there's an opening in Kabul, there's some chance and I would say that I've got the highest regard for the UN negotiator, Mr Brahimi, I've known him for thirty years, since he came here in 1971 as Ambassador of Algeria. He was involved in negotiations in the nineties, I had him into LSE where I teach in 1999, he said we won't get any peace in Afghanistan until the neighbours agree. Now if he's taken on the job again, which he has, because he resigned, it means he must think the neighbours may agree this time. That's an opportunity, I wouldn't say more than that. SNOW: You know Afghanistan, you've been there a number of times, what do you think is actually going on inside the Taliban controlled area. We don't know because very few journalists get in there. Do you think the Taliban are weakening or not. HALLIDAY: We do know much more about what's happening in the Taliban areas than we did, say about Iraq during the Gulf War, because it is not a sealed place, people are on their mobiles, people are coming backwards and forwards, we know roughly what's happening. The Taliban are digging in, they're extremely tough, they've received tens of thousands of volunteers from Pakistan and Arabs who've come through Dubai in the Gulf to Islamabad and then being bused up over the border, they're not going to give up lightly. SNOW: How far do you think the air-strikes and the battering of the buildings we've seen, how far do you think that is bothering them? HALLIDAY: Hardly at all. I think to be honest, I think it's the phoney war. The real war will come when people go in and try and capture airfields, or capture urban places, try and establish a terrain that they control and it's quite clear that the ground strategy would involve taking bits of territory and then building up from there. SNOW: Fred Halliday, thank you very much. John.
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.