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
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
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
HUMPHRYS: But you're a seasoned
diplomat, you know that when push comes to shove, national interest always
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
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.