BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 04.11.01

Interview: AMBASSADOR RICHARD HAASS, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan.

On the sort of government in Afghanistan which might replace the Taliban and the difficulties in the way of achieving a broad-based government acceptable both inside the country and beyond its borders.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: After the winter ... after the war... what then? Who's going to run that benighted country? It's an enormous problem and it's not one that can be put on the back burner until the war is over. How do you fight a war without being clear on what should replace the government that you're trying to destroy? Richard Haass is the special envoy appointed by President Bush to find an answer to that question. The official position is that the United States doesn't care what sort of government ends up running the country - just so long as it does not harbour terrorists. When I spoke to Mr Haass from our studio in Washington I asked him if that means they'd be happy to give the Taliban, as it were, a second chance. RICHARD HAASS: Well the President has laid out several times a set of demands to the Taliban and includes handing over, not simply Mr Bin Laden, but all those who have been directly connected with the events of September 11th and other terrorism. They have got to close down the terrorist training camps and essentially they've got to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a country that harbours, or in any way aids or abets terrorism. Those offers have been on the table and, as you and everyone else watching this knows, that opportunity has never been taken up by the Taliban leadership. HUMPHRYS: And if it's not taken up and the war continues and the Taliban are driven out of power, can you see any way in which they would return to the new government of Afghanistan? HAASS: I don't see any role for the most senior Taliban people. I think they are illegitimate or discredited but I would not rule out the possibility that rank and file Afghans, particularly people of the Pashtun descendent, that these people who have associated themselves with the Taliban leadership, I would not rule out that they might have a potential place in the future of Afghanistan. But, I think this question of who has a political future and who doesn't is really something for the Afghans themselves to sort out. HUMPHRYS: But you couldn't rule out the Taliban since they represent the largest ethnic grouping in the country? HAASS: Well, I would quarrel with the word that they represent anybody. There has been no legitimacy in their take over of power, there has never been an election or anything approximating it. All I am saying is that I do not see a role for the top level but I would not preclude the possibility that if you want to call it, the rank and file, that there is a place for them in the future of Afghanistan, if the future government of Afghanistan so decides. HUMPHRYS: What about the Northern Alliance. I think it's fair to say many of us are confused about your attitude towards the Northern Alliance. Would we expect to see them forming a large part of the new government? HAASS: I think it's fair to say that the Northern Alliance need to be a part of a future government of Afghanistan but that they cannot be the future government of Afghanistan. Clearly, there has got to be a broad-based representative government, and that means that you have got to have a government that represents Pashtuns, which roughly are forty per cent or so of the country, you have got to have people who represent the entire geographical breadth of Afghanistan. So, yes, there has got to be an important place for the United Front or the Northern Alliance but that can't be the totality of it. HUMPHRYS: It's presumably, in your power, in the power of the United States forces, to enable the Northern Alliance to seize power, more or less as we speak, or at least some time in the near future. It seems clear that you are not doing that? HAASS: It's our policy to help bring about a broad-based government. Politically we've been working with people around the former King, the so-called Rome Group. We have been working with the Northern Alliance. We have been trying to reach out to Pashtuns throughout the country and I think what we can do, is essentially encourage them to come together, that is exactly what our policy is. We are also working very closely with the neighbours of Afghanistan, with countries such as Pakistan. We have had very interesting talks with Iran, we have had talks with Uzbekistan and others, again with the Russians. Again talking about how countries that neighbour on Afghanistan or have influence on Afghanistan, how they can play a role in helping to forge some sort of an alternative political entity to the current regime. Obviously, though our military actions will have a role and my own prediction is, my own sense is, that as there is continued military progress, that will more than anything set the stage for tremendous political progress as well. HUMPHRYS: But if you had the ability, at some stage in the near future to launch an attack or enable the Northern Alliance to launch an attack that would enable them then to take power, you wouldn't do that would you? HAASS: The United States is trying to get rid of the Taliban leadership. We are trying to root out the al-Qaeda terrorist network. We obviously want to see a change politically in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance is the heart or the core, right now, of the opposition that is armed. Obviously, there is a possibility that they will take over various population and urban centres in Afghanistan. That is something that, ultimately, we would welcome. It is important, though, that if and when it is done and I really do think it is a question of WHEN this happens, that when they take over major population centres, that they do so in the name of some larger political entity that essentially gives way. So, it's not simply a narrow Northern Alliance or United Front victory but it's really a victory for an alternative political future for Afghanistan and that is something we very much want to see. HUMPHRYS: The problem with establishing the sort of larger political entity that you talk about is that all of Afghanistan's neighbours, each of them wants something different? HAASS: I think that's perhaps somewhat more true of the past than the present. Right now, as we speak here today, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr Brahimi, has been travelling around the region. I, myself, from here in Washington have been having lots of contacts with representatives of various governments. We have had other American diplomats and indeed, diplomats of Britain and other countries going around the world. All I can say is that, so far, we have encountered, as have others, a growing awareness that people have to perhaps move beyond their own narrow national agendas and begin to work together. Everybody understands that the sort of Afghanistan we've seen for the last five or six years is in the interests of no one. It's not in the interests of the Afghan people. It's not in the interests of any of the neighbours. It's generating millions of refugees which are an economic and a political strain. It has become a base for terrorism which again helps no one. So, my own sense of it is that, even though historically there has been an awful lot of competition or divergence between and among the neighbours of Afghanistan, that we are beginning to see something of a realisation, potentially even a coming together, where they will put aside some of their own particular preferences in order to work what everyone agrees is necessary which is a stable Afghanistan that doesn't promote terrorism, doesn't export drugs and doesn't export people by the millions. So I think it's quite possible that there may be a greater potential or even a greater reality of co operation today than has heretofore been the case. HUMPHRYS: But you're a seasoned diplomat, you know that when push comes to shove, national interest always prevails? HAASS: National interest is obviously powerful and I am a realist. I am not going to deny that and I am not going to essentially say the lion is going to lay down with the lamb. But I do think that the countries around Afghanistan realise today that their national interest cannot be realised if they pursue it a hundred per cent. Sometimes as a government you have to compromise your preferences in order to get something that is largely in your interest. And what I am trying to suggest here is I think there is some understanding on the part of Afghanistan's neighbours as well as other countries that have a stake there that if they pursue their own goals a hundred per cent and they try to put into place a people they are entirely comfortable with, that those choices will be unacceptable to others and we will never see anything like the stability we all want to see. So, I'm not saying it is going to be easy. I'm not saying it is automatic or inevitable. We have got a lot of experience in Afghanistan and that ought to teach us all to be somewhat modest but I do think there has been some change here, in the attitudes of the neighbouring countries and, perhaps, even in the Afghans themselves. People, for example, in the Northern Alliance don't want to have a repeat of the sort of behaviour that we saw in the early 1990s that effectively paved the way for the Taliban. So, I'd would like to think that, yes while people still have their own narrow or national interest, there also is some understanding that they've got to put those, to some extent aside if they are going to get an outcome that is by and large in their interest. HUMPHRYS: So the United States is prepared to say to Russia that wants one outcome, to Pakistan that wants another, hands off? HAASS: I wouldn't put it that way. What I'd say is the United States is going to continue to consult with all these countries from Iran to Pakistan to Russia to India to the other immediate neighbours of Afghanistan and we are also going to continue to work with the United Nations and others. What we are going to basically do is argue that if what we want, and I think we all do, if what we want is a stable Afghanistan that essentially protects the bottom line interests of all of us, there has to be some compromise and there has to be some co-operation. So, we are not saying "hands off". We are not saying do not protect your bottom line or basic national interest. What we are saying approach this reasonably, approach this realistically and if everyone tries to realise his maximum interest, we are going to have a situation that's going to fail. And all I'm trying to suggest is that, based on our consultations thus far with all of these countries, so far at least, we discern a greater understanding that there is going to have to be greater flexibility and compromise this time around if we are to avoid some of the mistakes of the past. HUMPHRYS: None of these things that we're talking about is going to happen unless the United States is prepared to launch a very serious ground invasion. The impression here, seems to be at the moment that there isn't the appetite for that? HAASS: I'm not comfortable getting into the details of military operations or what particular approach we are going to take. I'd simply remind people that the President has said the United States will be there as long as it takes and do whatever it takes to get the outcome we want. This is not one of those situations where we have a lot of potential to compromise - to the contrary - we have seen the price that Americans and, indeed the entire world has paid, because of Osama Bin Laden, because of al-Qaeda, because of the Taliban regime's support for this terrorist network. So, without getting into the particular operational choices, I would simply say that we are prepared to do what is necessary and to see it through so we bring about the sort of outcome that we require there. HUMPHRYS: Richard Haass, many thanks. HAASS: 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.