FEMMES EN MARCHE POUR L'AFGHANISTAN
Interview with Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud
A group of Afghan and foreign journalists accompanied by representatives of the "Women on
the Road for Afghanistan" Conference (organized by Paris-based Negar and held in Dushanbe,Tajikistan between June 27-28) traveled to Afghanistan on June 29. The group visited internal refugee camps, educational and social institutions, POW camps and local people during their four-day stay in the Panjshir Valley. This trip coincided with the latest summer Taliban offensive North of Kabul, between June 30 and July 1. On its way to visit schools in UF/ISA territories in Kapisa province, the group encountered hundreds of newly displaced refugees from the Shamaliplains fleeing the war zones and documented their stories. On the morning of July 2, the group met with Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the Mujahedeen resistance forces in Afghanistan. The following are excerpts of the discussions and question/answer session between the participants, Dr. Maliha Zulfocar, Hassina Sherjan-Samad, Chekeba Hashemi, Manila Khaled, Mary Quinn, Nadjia Bouzeghrane (El Watan daily), Gerard Cardonne, Francoise Causse, Sophie Marsaudon (Radio France International) and Massoud. Recorded by AAR correspondent and Dushanbe Conference delegate Sherjan-Samad. Audio, photos and text of the interview and trip can be accessed at www.afghanradio.com under "Today's News".
Ahmad Shah Massoud: First of all, I would like to welcome our sisters to inside Afghanistan. I greatly value and appreciate your courage and dedication to come here and visit your people and your country close up, and to gain first-hand knowledge of issues under such chaotic and sensitive conditions. I hope this is a real beginning for the return of Afghan men and women to their country so that they could meet their compatriots and feel the pain and agony of their people. As far as the Afghan situation is concerned, I will repeat that contrary to what is being propagated and even claimed by some educated Afghans outside the country - that this is solely an internal affair, a struggle for power - the issue is much deeper than that. We have said that Pakistan, since the times of [former Pakistani military ruler] Zia ul-Haq and since the Soviet and communist aggression against the Afghans... has adopted a program and a strategy to enable it in the future to use Afghanistan as a springboard for its affairs in Central Asia... and also to become a regional axis and superpower. As a result of this long-standing Pakistani policy, even the first time around, Pakistan did not think that the fall of Kabul and the communists [in 1992] would take place from the North. Instead Pakistanis thought that it would happen at the hands of Pakistani officers and [Afghan] subordinate factions from the South [of Kabul]... Since Pakistan realized that it wasn't able to reach those goals, and let me be frank here and say, was not able to install it's favorite subordinate [Hezb-i Islami factional leader Gulbudin] Hekmatyar, Pakistan did not stop till this day stop to conspire, and every [Pakistani] regime since then has followed the Zia ul-Haq policy and strategy.
There is no doubt that we have also had our share of internal problems, and that part of this crisis stems from internal causes. But I see the main cause in Pakistan and in foreign aggression. I repeat that as long as the international community does not exert the necessary pressure on Pakistan, and as long as it does not stop the hand of Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs, it is certain that the flames of war in this country will never be extinguished. On the other hand, we have announced on numerous occasions that the only solution to the Afghan problem is through a peaceful settlement, through negotiations and talks... And in these talks, the best way is to go toward elections, to go toward a democracy and to allow the people to determine their destiny. We told Hekmatyar on several occasions that if he really thought that he had influence and was effective, then fine, let's move toward elections and let the people legitimately, legally and formally elect you with their ballots.
Now, our proposal is the same for the Taliban. On several occasions, I told the Taliban delegations that came here for talks with us in the Panjsher, that you claim to represent the Pashtun tribes - fine, we agree. You say that the majority of Afghanistan is under our control - we agree. You say that the people accept us - we agree. Fine, if there is such level of confidence - then let's go toward elections. You [the Taliban] claim to hold the majority backed by popular acceptance; then what are you worried about? In place of so much warfare and bloodshed, move toward elections and legitimately attain power. Our position is still the same. We did not and do not consider a military option as the solution, as exemplified by yesterday's battles.
The Pakistanis made preparations for these offensives for more than a month now. Be sure that during the first rotation 1,600 Pakistani fighters, and the second time around, 1,000 fighters were sent to take part in yesterday's battles. This is separate from the Pakistani madrassa (religious school) and Taliban recruits. We all saw the results that with God's grace and the nation's resolve, they faced defeat within a few hours and were forced to retreat. But we never consider war as a solution...
Returning to my initial thesis, it is unfortunate that as a result of misunderstandings, some of our writers and scholars, instead of realizing the depth of the issue of Pakistan's interference, spend their time making accusations against this side or the other. The key to the Afghan solution lies with the international community and Afghans - wherever they reside - to unite and stand to denounce the Pakistani aggression as they did during the Soviet aggression... and eventually to pave the way for democracy and elections, so that every individual could attain his/her natural right.
Q & A Session: Aside from the AAR correspondent, other delegation members also asked some of the questions that follow:
Q: What role can Afghan women inside and outside the country play in bringing peace to the country?
A: As they did during the [anti-communist struggle] Jihad period, Afghan women today can once again play a very effective role inside and outside the country to defend against foreign aggression and help in the restoration of peace. Afghan women on the outside can establish links with their people, especially with women inside the country, in order to assist them financially and morally. There are no problems, you can visit these areas, open schools for girls, establish a college and in so many other ways establish your links and assist them.
Q: Reporter's question about Massoud's assessment of the latest offensives:
A: ... As General [Pervez] Musharraf had stated, they intended to inflict the final blow... because he thinks that in order to further his illicit aims in Afghanistan, this resistance... is an obstacle to his goals... Despite United Nations and international warnings given to the Taliban not to engage in this offensive, as you all witnessed yesterday, they launched a major attack. At the start they had some gains in some locations, as our lines were pushed back 2 kilometers and 4 km respectively. But with God's grace, as a result of popular resistance and the armed Mujahedeen (freedom fighters) in the area, their operation failed. According to my [initial] reports, their casualty count may be about 150 killed and more than 200 injured. Yesterday's blow was heavy. They have also lost at least six tanks, 10 to 15 military vehicles of all types.... But this doesn't mean that the Taliban and the Pakistanis have given up on the idea of waging war, and I am certain that they are making preparations for the next round of fighting.
Q: Question from American panelist on what specific actions does Massoud want to see the United States take against Pakistan, to open the way for a peaceful settlement of the crisis?
A: In this case, the U.S. can exert political as well as economic pressures on Pakistan. These pressures can very easily prevent Pakistan from continuing its interference. They include World Bank loans, other bilateral aid packages from the U.S... Most of Pakistan's military equipment is made in the U.S. and putting a stop to the flow [of weapons and parts] is yet another pressure on Pakistan...
Q: Question from Afghan panelist concerning the needs of internally displaced people (IDP) and the amount and quality of aid provided by international NGOs?
A: The most acute problem with IDPs is with the provision of foodstuff. Contrary to what NGOs and even the UN claim, they have not even been able to adequately provide the minimum subsistence needs of the refugees. The people who enter the [Panjsher] Valley only carry with them food for a couple of days. If, God forbidden, the fighting escalates and prolongs, then we all face hardship. The most important aid item is foodstuff, followed by shelter and other necessities. The healthcare situation is better.
Q: Question by Afghan panelist: What do you think about the proposed Loya Jirga by [former King] Zahir Shah?
A: We are in agreement with any peaceful movement that wants to resolve the Afghan crisis. If [Zahir Shah could call a Loya Jirga and peace could be restored in that manner, not only do we have no objections to it, but we would cooperate and assist it.
Q: Question by other panelist: Do you prefer a situation that includes a role for the Taliban in government, or must fighting continue in your view until the Taliban and its influence is completely eliminated?
A: We are not in favor of the continuation of war in our country. We also know that we cannot build a durable coalition government with the Taliban. We prefer a common [coalition] interim [temporary] government with the Taliban for six months or a year to put an end to the war and the killing of Afghans by Afghans... and then move toward elections.
Q: Question by other panelist: What message can we take back with us to other Afghans and what can we do?
A: All Afghans, our brothers and sisters who live abroad, can be of great service to the people who are inside the country by establishing their links with them. For example in various sectors, healthcare, education, economic and even handicraft to support widows, you can form small circles in France or Germany or other places. By establishing direct contacts, including such trips that are unprecedented, you can be of great help. Not long ago, a few French women came and opened a hospital and are now of great service. Don't we have two female doctors abroad? What is the obstacle? To the extent that we can, we are ready for any assistance... To defend human rights by words or by shouting slogans or writing it on paper is easy, but come and practically do something. What problem do you have to come here and open a girls' school?... conditions are ready, but unfortunately we Afghans have one habit: we talk too much and practically do little.
Q: What would you consider as some errors, political or otherwise, that were made in the past?
A: There is no doubt that those who act also make mistakes. No human is void of errors. The most significant shortcoming in the past was the lack of unity among the factions [parties during the anti-Soviet resistance period]. The large number of factions and their dispersion caused many disasters in Afghanistan.
Q: What effect will the return of Ismael Khan (former Massoud ally who escaped from Taliban custody earlier this year) or the possible involvement of Generals [Abdul Rashid] Dostum and [Abdul] Malik have on the military and political equations inside the country?
A: For each individual, given the limits that they have, standing against foreign aggression is effective. I think that the freedom of Amir Ismael Khan will have great effects. His freedom will allow us to expand the resistance in the western and southwestern zones, thus diffuse and divide up the single-prong pressure that has so far been imposed on our forces.
Q: What is your view about the possibility of future cooperation between [factional leader Pir. S. Ahmad] Gilani and the Taliban?
A: Naturally, since Pir Saheb Gilani lives and Pakistan and he is under the Pakistani authorities' and the ISI's (Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence) pressure, I am sure... personally he is a good person and took part in the Jihad... but under the existing pressures that he finds himself in Pakistan, he is compelled to make accommodation.
Q: When the war is over, what role do you see for yourself in a future Afghanistan?
A: ... The most significant role that I see for myself now is to resist foreign intervention and pave the way for every Afghan to be able to freely decide his/her own destiny. From there on, I do not have any wish for a particular governmental position. I think that to prevent foreign interventions, and to be able to bring about a Constitution under which the people can exercise [the right to] self-determination, are by themselves the most significant services one can render... The best regime in the future that can have the confidence of the people, where there would be no need for coup d'etats and armed conflicts, is one that comes about as a result of a democracy and elections... a necessity for Afghanistan. Each individual should have the right to cast a vote, and this right should belong to men and women. Both men and women would have the right to elect or be candidates for elections... It is in this regard that I think of a major role for myself... to pave the way for such a regime and such a democracy.
Q: Throughout the years you have faced and encountered many problems in the cause of freedom in Afghanistan, how do you want to be remembered in History?
A: A servant of the people and a servant of the country. /
AAR Editors' Note: Usage (full or partial) of this interview should be attributed to Azadi Afghan Radio for translation and release.
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