Afghan opposition commander calls for US prudence

Afghan opposition commander calls for US prudence

By Fariba Nawa
October 4, 2001
Agence France Presse

Islamabad — Opposition commander Ismail Khan on Thursday warned the United States that elements of the Taliban should be involved in efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan despite growing signs of popular rebellion.

Khan cautioned Washington against being blinded to the political and social realities of Afghanistan in its “hot pursuit” of Osama bin Laden, the man blamed for last month’s devastating terrorist attacks.

“Americans must be more careful and attentive this time. Getting rid of Osama will not end terrorism. Toppling the Taliban and creating a representative government will,” the veteran commander and senior opposition leader told AFP via satellite phone from somewhere in western Afghanistan.

The former governor of Herat province, bordering Iran, said his forces had made gains against the Taliban during heavy fighting in the western provinces of Badghis and Ghor over the past three weeks.

He said people in the two provinces were already beginning to rebel against the radical Islamic militia, with hundreds of young men swelling the ranks of his small guerrilla army since the September 11 attacks in the United States. “The most important fact is that civilians in these two provinces are rising against the Taliban. They do not want to be under Taliban rule,” he said, adding that “Death to the Taliban” graffiti had begun appearing on walls in the city of Herat.

“To win, we need more money, men and weapons. We’re willing to accept help from whoever has our best interest in mind,” Khan said.

But he said he still saw a role for the Taliban in any future political setup, and expressed concern at US efforts to promote a new broad-based government under the auspices of exiled former king Mohammad Zahir Shah.

“We’re for reconstruction, peace and freedom for all Afghans,” Khan said, but added: “We’re worried about what America will do.

“We were thankful to the world for helping us win the war against the Soviets but instead of thanking us for winning the war, those allies forgot us,” he said, referring to US backing for the mujahedin guerrillas who fought the Red Army from 1979 to 1989.

He said Taliban members who “are not criminals” should be included in discussions on the future of Afghanistan and how to end the civil wars that have blighted the country since the Soviet withdrawal.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said a change of regime in Afghanistan would be necessary if the Taliban did not end its support for “international terrorism.” “If they will not comply with this objective, we must bring about a change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan’s link with international terrorism is broken,” Blair told parliament Thursday.

Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in Rome since being overthrown in 1973, has over the past week discussed with Afghan opposition leaders and senior US diplomats plans for a new, broad-based government to replace the Taliban.

The Afghan opposition groups agreed on Monday to form a 120-member supreme council which could elect a head of state and transitional government.

Richard Haass, the US State Department’s director of policy planning, is also set to meet Zahir Shah this week, but Washington insists it is not trying to impose its own will on the Afghan people.

“We certainly support the idea of a broad-based government in Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

“We certainly believe that the Taliban has in many ways betrayed the interests of the Afghan people, but… the decision on what kind of government they want to have is for the Afghan people to decide.”

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