BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 25.11.01

Interview: PROFESSOR FRED HALLIDAY, London School of Economics.

Will the talks in Germany on the future of Afghanistan lead to a genuinely broad based government?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So what are we to make of all that? Well Fred Halliday is the Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. He's got a book coming out this week as it happens on the implications of September the eleventh. Professor, the chances of success for that meeting in Germany - great, non-existent - what? PROFESSOR FRED HALLIDAY: Well, I think the fact that it's happening is a success on two levels, one is enough Afghan parties are going to talk, nobody's trying to take victory for themselves, nobody thinks they can create a strong central government and simply run Afghanistan like the Communists did, or indeed the Taliban did. HUMPHRYS: Not even the Northern Alliance. HALLIDAY: No. The Northern Alliance know they can't rule the rest of the country and of course then we come to the second point. The problem in Afghanistan in the last ten years hasn't been the cold war which ended a decade ago, it's been the regional states, particularly a proxy conflict between Pakistan on the one hand backing the Taliban, Iran on the other hand backing the Northern Alliance. Now Iran and Pakistan have done some sort of deal for the time being, they've agreed to let this go forward and one of the purposes of the Bonn conference, one of the purposes of the whole UN diplomatic effort is to make sure that the regional states who've been messing Afghanistan up will co-operate in the process and I think that's a good sign. People will bargain - that's politics, but the fact that so many people are willing to go there and again if you compare it to Yugoslavia, no-one is trying to ethnically cleanse anybody. Nobody is trying to secede, there's nobody saying we want to leave Afghanistan. People talk about nation building in Afghanistan. There is an Afghan nation, it's a very decentralised one but there is one. So some of the omens are good. HUMPHRYS: But I note you say in that answer 'for the time being'. HALLIDAY: Well, I don't think any outside power, neither the Russians nor the Americans, nor any of the regional powers, are going to start arming and stoking up a war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for twenty years. Even before the Communists came to power Pakistan was doing it in the seventies. And I think secondly the people of Afghanistan are tired and even the leaders realise they've got to do some kind of deal. So if you can find a mechanism to set up a transitional government, put in some international money, then the chances of stabilising it are reasonably great. Then all sorts of problems of real life and politics like landmines, like rights for women, like the drugs trade - those problems will be there, but you will have a reasonably coherent government with a bit of international support and that would be a step forward from twenty years of war. HUMPHRYS: But that's making the assumption is it that the Northern Alliance will agree to give up some power. I mean I was talking to the Foreign Secretary there and I put it to him then as you'll have heard, that it is........ HALLIDAY: .......he's not the Foreign Secretary. HUMPHRYS: ....former Foreign Secretary. Good Heavens alive, I'm a wee bit out of date there, aren't I. Leader of the House and a member of the War Cabinet.. HALLIDAY: ..fine man but not the Foreign Secretary.. HUMPHRYS: ...fine man but not the Foreign Secretary. Making the point that they see themselves as - the Northern Alliance now see themselves as the government of Afghanistan. So they've got to give way? HALLIDAY: They've got to give way. But look, let's face it, they got what they did because the Americans and the Brits came in on their side and they know that very well. Secondly if they're going to get international money from this trust fund, we're talking five - ten billion US dollars is being offered, they're going to have to compromise. Thirdly, they know what I don't think they knew before and the Taliban didn't realise which is that you can't run Afghanistan representing only half of the country, so they've got to work with people from the Pashtun area like Hamid Karzai who you had on and even perhaps some people who were associated with the Taliban, provided these people don't want to lock up women, provided they don't want to export terrorism, provided they don't want to run the country on their own. So I think there is a basis for a compromise there. But the other problem is that the Northern Alliance are not agreed among themselves. You see General Dostum is trying to claim the capture of Konduz for himself, so he's got his own Uzbek agenda there. So there are problems within the Northern Alliance which may create further difficulties. HUMPHRYS: And if the Northern Alliance does split, if they start to fight each other, then what - how does that get sorted out? HALLIDAY: I don't think they'll start to fight each other in a major way. I'd be surprised. There' a lot of guns there, but people are in a bargaining mood, they're in a political mood if you like. And then the people who control them, the Americans, the Iranians and others are pushing them towards a compromise, so I'd be optimistic there. There may be the odd clash, but they won't hang on to every ministry in Kabul and at the end of the day you decentralise in Afghanistan. This is a country with no great population problems, which has got a large amount of water and cultivatable land. If you let the people get back to agriculture and let them get back to trading, the government will look after itself. HUMPHRYS: And might we see some element of the Taliban in that government? HALLIDAY: We will see Pashtuns who were associated with the Taliban, but they're not going to be Taliban. A bit like reformed Communists in Eastern Europe. They're not going to export terrorism to Central Asia, they're not going to give harbour to Bin Laden, they're not going to try and impose this very rigid and un-Afghan version of Islam on the women of Afghanistan, they're not going to do that. HUMPHRYS: You sound reasonably optimistic. HALLIDAY: I know you're not an optimist, but.... HUMPHRYS: No, no! HALLIDAY: I think there's reason to be .. HUMPHRYS: I just ask questions. That's all. But you are reasonably optimistic? HALLIDAY: Yes, and I think the regional states above all are willing to go along with it for the time being. HUMPHRYS: Professor Halliday, many thanks.
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.