JOHN HUMPHRYS: The search to find a
new government for Afghanistan moves from the battlefields of that country
to a meeting room in Germany this week. Representatives of many of the
different factions have accepted an invitation from the United Nations
to get together to try to form the sort of broad-based government that
the coalition is hoping will take over. It's going to be quite a task.
And there's a long way to go yet anyway before Afghanistan is ready for
a new government. As we've just seen, the Taliban are still holding on
in some parts of the country. There are worries about how victorious Northern
Alliance troops in places like Konduz will treat the non-Afghan Taliban,
as we've been hearing, many of them from Pakistan of course. Pakistan has
said, since the coalition has made it possible for the Northern Alliance
to seize power, we have responsibility for their actions. Earlier this
morning I spoke to Robin Cook, the Leader of the House and a member of
the War Cabinet. I asked him if he agreed with that?
ROBIN COOK MP: Well we certainly do have
a responsibility to share with the Northern Alliance what our views are
and how they should conduct themselves and I think John, if we look back
over the past two weeks, the conduct of the Northern Alliance in the towns
that have fallen has been actually much better than many people would have
predicted or would have expected and I hope we can keep that up. And one
point to bear in mind in relation to the current siege at Konduz is that
of course next week we do start the diplomatic talks in Bonn and I very
much hope that the knowledge that those talks are going to take place and
the fact that every different ethnic group involved in the Northern Alliance
wants to get an outcome that is of advantage, of help to them to make sure
they're represented, they would not want at this stage to do anything that
would jeopardise their place at that talks or the respect at the table.
HUMPHRYS: But if they did want
to do something, particularly about the non-Afghan Taliban in Konduz. There
are real worries being expressed as you know about how they might deal
with them, there really isn't very much we could do about it is there?
COOK: Well we certainly have to
be realistic John about the extent to which we have a practical capacity
to influence the military position. We do not have any significant number
of military forces in the area, for instance. But having said that John,
so far the closing stages of the siege have gone well, we've heard the
reports of the Taliban fighters leaving Konduz, indeed even actually being
welcomed by the fighters surrounding Konduz. In relation to the al-Qaeda
troops who may well be in Konduz, we would expect them to be arrested,
we would want them to be arrested in order that we ourselves can put questions
to them, after all these are people who will have important information
for us that we want to hear and we will expect them to be treated in the
way that a prisoner of war would be normally.
HUMPHRYS: Moving south from Konduz
down to Kandahar, there are reports in one or two of the papers this morning,
seemingly authoritative who knows, who says we and the United States are
going to put troops into Kandahar to help with the battle of Kandahar when
it, if, when it begins to be a real battle. Anything in that, do you think?
COOK: Well John you said authoritative,
in fact in one Sunday newspaper, and I'm not sure quite how authoritative
I would take that, if you look back over the past month, there's been no
situation in which we have put British troops into the ground civil war
and I don't myself imagine that's going to change.
HUMPHRYS: There is one thing that's
absolutely certain isn't there and that is that we are not putting troops
on the ground as part of a stabilisation force to help with the humanitarian
effort. Do we still and there seems to be a certain uncertainty about this,
do we still have troops on standby for that, or do we not?
COOK: Oh we do still have troops
on standby. We put them on standby some days ago and the reason for that
of course John was in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban and the dramatic
developments on the ground, we did prepare to make sure that we could be
ready if there was worst case scenario. Fortunately as I said earlier,
the situation has been better than anybody could have hoped for, there
has not been the need for those troops on the ground. We'll continue obviously
to keep the situation under review, but frankly I think we should welcome
the fact that their presence has not been needed in Afghanistan. This is
not a reverse, this is actually an advance.
HUMPHRYS: Well it does depend who
you listen to, doesn't it? I mean if you listen to Oxfam, what they were
saying yesterday, let me quote to you, you probably heard it anyway "large
areas of the country, riven by factionalism, war, looting, banditry and
fear, more and more violence, is preventing food getting through".
COOK: Well there are problems and
indeed nobody is pretending that Afghanistan has now achieved a position
of stability of law and order, indeed, that is why we are urgently trying
to get all the leaders and their representatives together next week in
order that we can establish an interim government to provide central law
and order. But on the humanitarian side to which the British government,
Tony Blair in particular, attached great importance right since the start,
the humanitarian aid is getting through, I mean twice in the recent days
we have got more than two thousand tons through and indeed at the end of
last week, the World Food Programme had exceeded the target that was necessary
over a monthly period. One of the perhaps curious features of Afghanistan
is that since September the eleventh more humanitarian food has got in
that in the two months preceding September the eleventh. Now we want to
make sure we continue that. We attach great priority to the humanitarian
process and that of course will be made much easier if we can make progress
on the diplomatic political front next week in Bonn.
HUMPHRYS: The food may have got
in, it hasn't necessarily been distributed to the people who need it most
and the sorts of problems that Oxfam talked about and that you acknowledge
suggest that that is precisely why some sort of stabilisation force is
COOK: Well John as I said, we do
recognise that there are indeed very real problems on the ground and indeed
and Afghanistan it has always been difficult to travel through the length
and breadth of the country. But the food is now getting in in sufficient
quantity. What we now need is to work to create a central authority which
will help us to make sure that it gets through to the people in need. There
is now enough food in the region and there is a substantial stockpile of
food within Afghanistan. We need the co-operation of people in Afghanistan
to make sure we can get it into the outer areas where some of the problems
HUMPHRYS: Your Cabinet colleague,
Clare Short, made it perfectly clear last week, what she thought. She said
the United States is not taking the humanitarian role seriously enough.
COOK: I think we should all remind
ourselves that eighty per cent of the food that we are delivering in Afghanistan
is provided by the United States and that's quite a substantial contribution
in the case of Afghanistan. At the time Clare was speaking we were then
not able to get the food convoys through and that was very frustrating
for Clare and for all of us, since then there has been some improvement
indeed convoys are getting through from Peshawar to Kabul, into Jalalabad
and we need to make sure that we continue with that progress. But the situation
is improving and indeed the food going in now is actually greater than
it's been even before the war began.
HUMPHRYS: But the point she was
making and this only a few days ago, was that we need troops on the ground
to get that food distributed to the people who need it most and the Americans
are stopping those troops being deployed.
COOK: I don't think that's quite
accurate John and indeed I don't think that's what Clare said. Indeed there
are American troops in Afghanistan, indeed there are American troops alongside
our troops at Bagram airport and they're there precisely to make sure that
we can secure the airport for movement for humanitarian purposes, or indeed
for the political and diplomatic purposes that we see going on next week
HUMPHRYS: Yes but they are focused
purely on the military effort aren't they and they are not there as part
of a stabilisation force and the whole point of us putting all of those
six thousand troops on standby, that Geoff Hoon told us about on this programme
last week, was precisely that they'd become some sort of stabilisation
force to help with the humanitarian effort and so on.
COOK: Yes but I think we should
all be relieved, pleased, that in fact the situation in Afghanistan has
not been the chaos, the anarchy, the bloodshed that was predicted by many
and that the Northern Alliance, partly because of the way in which we have
maintained close advice and close pressure on them, have actually behaved
much better than was expected there. Now John, in the fullness of time,
out of what may happen in Bonn, out of the discussions in New York, there
may well be a UN force deployed in Afghanistan. Maybe the British and US
and other forces may play a part in the support for that UN force, but
at the present time, nobody is proposing that there should be a mass British
presence on the ground and indeed at the present time there is nobody saying
that it is necessary even on the humanitarian front where the food is now
getting through in large quantities.
HUMPHRYS: So why are they still,
all of those British troops, six thousand of them, still on standby?
COOK: John I think it's very important
that we should make sure we have our contingencies there in case the situation
should deteriorate and we will review the situation on a day by day cases
decide whether or not that notice to move should be reduced, should be
increased, what the position should be in keeping them on standby. Our
troops are very flexible, they can increase and they can reduce the notice
to move quite well, it's part of their normal drill. I think it's important
that we should be ready if they are needed, but equally I think the British
people would be puzzled if they were sent in if they were not needed.
HUMPHRYS: So at the moment it's
looking pretty unlikely that they will go in, at least for the foreseeable
future. I mean you seem to be suggesting that nothing will happen until
after the meeting in Germany and then after the discussions that follow
that and so on.
COOK: I don't think we should expect
the meeting in Germany is going to be the last word in the future of Afghanistan.
It's a first step in order to try and make sure that we do have an interim
government, we do have some form of central authority with whom we can
deal with in Afghanistan. And you know, if ten days ago we'd been having
this interview, you know none of us would have dared predict that we would
actually be successful in getting all the different factions, all the different
ethnic groups to come together to discuss how they work together to create
that interim government. I think, yes, it would be unlikely except in
the development of some real drama that any of us would want to move in
the interim while these talks continue. I mean we will have to see what
comes out of them.
HUMPHRYS: The old thing about taking
the horse to water, not necessarily being able to make it drink. It's one
thing to have the Northern Alliance there, it's another thing, because
they seem to regard themselves as a de facto government anyway, it's another
thing to get them agree..to agree to the sort of broad based government
that we insist is absolutely necessary. And it's more difficult to put
the sort of pressure on them that might be needed if we don't have any
forces on the ground isn't it.
COOK: Well, John, it's certainly
the case that there's a big hill still to be climbed and nobody should
under-estimate the difficulty that there will be in getting a break through
in the course of the talks in Bonn and I think the likely outcome is that
there will be, or we hope to achieve an interim government and the agreement
on the steps towards how we then go ahead to provide for a more permanent
government within Afghanistan. I think the objectives in Bonn necessarily
will be interim objectives. Yes, it's not going to be easy and some of
these diplomatic and political tasks never are easy but let's not lose
sight of how far we've come. You know, I'm told when you're climbing the
Himalayas you should look back and look at how far you've come, run forward
at how far you've got to go. And it is quite remarkable that we've been
able to put together this broad conference of the different factions within
Afghanistan. That's not happened for a decade.
HUMPHRYS: No, but the difficulty
now is that if the Northern Alliance see themselves, as they do, as the
effective government of the country, we are almost, or the other parties
let's put it like this, are almost in a position of supplicants and the
Northern Alliance in the position of being able to say, well we may have
you in, we may have you in, we may have you in, we may not have you in
and you in and you in. That isn't how it was meant to be is it?
COOK: Well, I can well understand
that there are going to be people in Bonn, who are going to say, well thank
you very much we are not having back the Taliban hardliners who run down
Afghanistan over the past five years and caused so much oppression and
hardship in Afghanistan. But we would expect them and I think there's a
very real reason to expect that they would wish to do this, to have involved
in any interim government representatives of the Pashtuns within Afghanistan.
They afterall are forty per cent of the population of Afghanistan and nobody,
including the Northern Alliance, can hope to have a stable government in
Kabul that does not include representatives of that forty per cent, some
of whom of course over the past two months have been very supportive of
the international coalition and of our efforts to bring about the fall
of Taliban and to bring to justice al-Qaeda and Bin Laden.
HUMPHRYS: But when push comes to
shove, if they are obdurate, if the Northern Alliance prove to be obdurate
and certainly their record, if you are talking about looking back in the
Himalayas, look back at their history and that tells you they are likely
to be very difficult indeed, if they are obdurate, there's not a lot we
can do to pressure them in truth is there.
COOK: John, as I say, I'm not saying
it's going to be easy. I'm certainly not complacent about the very great
difficulties that face us in front. I think that it would be wrong though
John, to suggest that in any way we can use military pressure on the ground
in order to force them to enter into the kind of agreements that are needed.
What we are offering and this I think may be much more effective in getting
a solution, what we are offering, is we are offering a partnership with
the international community to rebuild Afghanistan, to provide a future
for it, for its young people, for its women who have been so oppressed
for so long and indeed for the political leadership who will benefit from
that kind of partnership and reconstruction. But if they want that partnership,
if they want that reconstruction, then they've got to deliver a government
in Kabul that can speak for all the people of Afghanistan, not just some
of its ethnic communities.
HUMPHRYS: The problem is from
our perspective is that it is we who have helped put them in that position
isn't it. That's our responsibility?
COOK: Well, in a sense it is Taliban
more than anybody else's responsible for the present situation because
they refused to hand over Bin Laden, they refused themselves to do any
kind of deal with the Northern Alliance, they oppressed and carried out
extraordinary atrocities against all the other ethnic communities in Afghanistan,
they more than anybody else have to accept responsibility for where we
are and frankly if you mean by your question, we were responsible for getting
Taliban out of office and reduced their position which they hold only
a few pockets in Afghanistan, then yes you are right and frankly I think
that's been good for the people of Afghanistan and good for the rest of
the world if it now enables us to capture Bin Laden and those who plotted
the mass murder in New York.
HUMPHRYS: Robin Cook, many thanks.