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Interview of the Commander Commander Ahmad Shah Masood by A Special Correspondent

September 12, 2001

"Masood sees no military solution"

The Following is the transcript of the interview given by Commander Ahmad Shah Masood to AIM Television on August 13. Commander Masood is the Deputy President and Defence Minister of the U.N.-recognised Islamic Government of Afghanistan. This is the last television interview he gave before the assassination attempt on Sunday.

Question: What is the current military position in Afghanistan?
Ahmad Shah Masood: We have information that the Taliban, with the help of Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden, had planned early this year to capture Badakshan. Their plan was to first take Badakshan and then cut off the supply line to Panjshir so that they could lay a siege to our positions. This was a programme that the Pakistanis and the Taliban pursued since early this year but could not succeed. This is because conflicts this year started in regions that were under Taliban control. Regions like Ghowar and Bamiyan witnessed intense fighting in early winter this year. The Taliban were so deeply engaged in the war in these regions that they could not pay any attention to their basic plan of taking Badakshan. In the northern parts of Afghanistan too, fights broke out in regions that were under the Taliban control. In the Zari region and other parts as well, the Taliban suffered heavy casualties. At present, heavy fighting is going on in the western part of Afghanistan in the regions of Faryab and Herat. In fact, the Taliban and the Pakistanis could not imagine that they would face such solid resistance in the western parts of Afghanistan which were under their control for many years. The United anti- Taliban front and the Islamic Government of the Republic of Afghanistan have succeeded in thwarting the designs of the Taliban and Pakistan through these uprising.

Some months back, the Taliban with the help of Pakistan mobilised troops twice to take Badakshan but were defeated on both occasions. 1000 to 1500 of their men were killed and injured in that conflict. About four days, a popular uprising, organised by the Pashtoon commanders, began in northern Afghanistan and Mazar- e-Sharief. Owing to the oppression and negative actions of the Taliban and the presence of external forces, especially Pakistanis, in the north of Mazar-e-Sharief, the Pashtoon commanders, harassed by them, have revolted and had even established contacts with the Unified Front and the Islamic Government. Currently, a large number of Taliban and Pakistani forces are engaged in suppressing and preventing this coup within the Taliban, i.e., in Mazar-e-Sharief. These Pashtoon commanders who have risen in revolt were prominent members of the Taliban themselves and had earlier helped in bringing the Taliban into the north. Currently, the situation in Mazar-e-Sharief is very critical and it is expected that soon the Taliban will lose control of Mazar-e-Sharief.

What percentage of Afghanistan is held by your forces and what percentage by the Taliban?
The Taliban claim they hold 90 per cent of Afghanistan's territory. This is totally false if we see the map of Afghanistan. If they had held 90 per cent of Afghanistan's territory, such a situation would not have existed. The claim is totally false and carries no weight. In fact over 30 per cent of Afghanistan's territory which are influential and heavily populated are under our control.

Is taking Kabul your main target?
Our main target is to restore peace in Afghanistan and defeat the Pakistanis.

Do you envisage eventually capturing most of the country?
We believe that the problem of Afghanistan does not have a military solution. But our achieving a military balance and equilibrium is essential.

How do you then resolve this conflict? What is your plan, your aim?
As I have explained the current military situation in Afghanistan, the Taliban's advancement has been checked and they are actually retreating. I believe that sooner or later, the Pakistani Generals will feel and understand that continuation of fighting is beyond their power and will not be in their interest. We have repeatedly said that two steps are crucial for restoration of peace in Afghanistan. One that resistance is strengthened and expanded in Afghanistan and, secondly, international pressure is increased on Pakistan. In the area of strengthening resistance, the situation has been very good this year compared to earlier years. If international pressure is increased on Pakistan, I believe that Taliban will be compelled to sit at the negotiating table.

How long will it take?
It is linked to certain conditions. It depends on how long Pakistan continues to help the Taliban and how long it stands behind them. Do you know we are not only fighting the Taliban at present but we are confronting three groups of forces comprising the Taliban, Arab mercenaries of Osama Bin Laden and elements from madrassas in Pakistan along with Pakistan's regular army. Among these forces, one is Afghani and the other two forces are non-Afghani.

You keep on mentioning Pakistan? Is Pakistan primarily behind the Taliban?
It is mainly Pakistan. I am sure if Pakistan is restrained, Osama Bid Laden cannot bring money and a single Arab inside Afghanistan. It is mainly Pakistan which provides men and equipment and has made conditions conducive to transfer of money and passage for Arabs. Pakistan plays a pivotal role in all these areas.

Who actually runs the Taliban now?
In the field of military affairs, it is mainly controlled by Pakistani advisors and Generals and in the foreign affairs department, it is basically run on the advice of Pakistanis. The remaining areas, that are controlled and administered by the Taliban, have no achievement to show.

What proof do you have of the direct involvement of the Pakistani army?
According to the information we have in our hand, we know the Pakistani Generals who are in Afghanistan, their names and status and their whereabouts. We have the names of Pakistanis who were killed in Afghanistan. And above all, General Musharraf has himself declared on many occasions that ``we are the supporters of the Taliban, we help them and this is in Pakistan's interest and is necessary from the point of view of Pakistan's security''. This is something which Pakistani politicians did not declare earlier but Musharraf has declared it quite clearly. Currently, we have hundreds of Pakistani prisoners.

Do you have the names of the Generals involved?
Currently, the Pakistani general who supervises the military operations is General Zaman.

Is Pakistan using the Taliban for a wider agenda?
Pakistan wants to make itself the axis of Islamic countries in the region. And the vacuum which has been created in Central Asia - it has been the strategy of Pakistan to fill it up. This way, Afghanistan is their first step to Central Asia. With these intentions, Pakistan has established madrassas within Pakistan for students from Central Asian countries, where they study and these students are trained by them for furtherance of Pakistani goals in Central Asia. Pakistanis are increasing their influence in the whole region and will not be only satisfied with Afghanistan. Of course, this is their first step and they will not confine themselves to just Afghanistan.

Is it only a political aim to dominate Afghanistan and then Central Asia or does it have an economic side to it?
The economic gains are part of their larger plans which have many aspects. But if it was only their economic interest involved, the best way for Pakistan would have been to restore peace in Afghanistan. And it would have been in the interest of all Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. But Pakistanis have greater plans, motives and expectations. I will tell you about their motives in one sentence. As I said earlier, Pakistan wants to become the axis of all Islamic countries in the region. But this is something which is beyond the capacity of Pakistanis.

And you and your forces are standing between them and that reality?
Undoubtedly without our resistance, you would have been witness today to greater and bigger problems of war in different countries of Central Asia.

What is the role of Osama Bin Laden?
In the past, Bin Laden used to provide monetary help to the Taliban, i.e., helped solving the Taliban's monetary problems and needs. But gradually, his role has become obvious in other areas too. First, he has a crucial role to play in shaping the ideology of the Taliban. Secondly, in the field of financial help. Thirdly, from the point of view of the organised fighters (warriors), he has them under his control. So, he has now come to play a crucial role in three areas.

Is there a danger of growth in international terrorism now that, according to you, Osama Bin Laden is playing a greater role?
Definitely. The threat of Taliban in creating instability in the region and in the world has not been well comprehended, the way it should have been. They have created instability in regions and can create problems for the world through Osama Bin Laden. And also from the point of view of narcotics. Here again, the Taliban are the biggest exporter of narcotics to the world. Drugs trafficking and terrorism, the two problems which are causing great concern among the international community, are emanating from the Taliban.

What do you want the international community to do to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table?
The international community can put pressure on Pakistanis through various means. Pakistan should stop intervention in Afghanistan. We do not say that Pakistan should bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, but once they stop intervening in Afghanistan, the Taliban would have no other option but to talk.

What should the international community do to stop Pakistan from providing that support?
The big countries know what they can do to stop this. They could solve Kargil in a few days. They can use the same methods and pressurise Pakistan so that the Afghan problem is solved.

But America is nervous of pushing a nuclear power too far?
The pressure and means they employed in Kargil can be used in Afghanistan too.

The U.S. welcomed the announcement by the Taliban that it had stopped cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan. Do you believe that it has stopped?
When the Taliban announced that they had stopped the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan, it was a good news which was welcomed by all in and outside Afghanistan. We do not reject it. We welcomed this decision. We want the cultivation of poppy banned in Afghanistan. But, unfortunately, this is not their intention. The real matter is that the opium-poppy cultivation had increased so much that it had brought down the prices. The opium smugglers are members of the Taliban Government too. They went to the council meeting to ban the cultivation so that the surplus stocks of opium could be sold at much higher prices which will go up with depleting stocks. Thus they will be meeting their financial needs selling the current stocks at higher prices and once it runs out of stock and if the Taliban continue to exist, I am sure they will reverse the decision and restart cultivation.

In the 1980s, you were involved in fighting a foreign invader - the Soviet Union. But now you are fighting an army made up substantially of the Afghan people. How do you feel doing that?
In the past also, the Russians had with themselves Khalqis and Parchamites (the communists) fighting against us who were Afghanis. Now the only difference is that earlier the invasion (aggression) was from the north and this time around it is from the south. In the past, aggression was very clear and their ideology was known to us but now the aggression is veiled, and all crimes are committed in the name of Islam and its defence. Which made it very difficult for the people to understand the motives of the current aggressors in the beginning. It is very fortunate that the nation now understands the real matter. And this is borne out by the fact that popular uprisings have taken place in the regions under the control of the Taliban, as I have pointed out earlier. Visit the streets and the markets and the fields and ask farmers, shopkeepers and the masses yourself and see how much realisation has dawned upon them now that Pakistan has subjected Afghanistan to aggression and invasion. It is not only the case with the regions, which are under our control. But if you could find ways and means to visit Taliban-held areas and ask the people there about what they think of Pakistan, things will become clear to you.

Is the Taliban's approach to human rights and women's education rights coming from within or is this also being dictated by Pakistan?
I briefly want to mention one thing in this regard with the help of which you can analyse and interpret the actions of the Taliban. In order to swallow and usurp Afghanistan, it is one of the dangerous policies of Pakistan to reduce Afghanistan from the level of a state to tribalism. In this way, the Pakistanis have begun destroying foundations of the state so that no Government worth its name exists in Afghanistan in the future. It has been many years since the Taliban are governing a large part of Afghanistan but Pakistan has never wanted to see that the Taliban has a regular and an organised army. There is no doubt that the Taliban, when their real face had not yet been recognised, had gained popularity among the people and the nation. But, during this period, Pakistan never wanted to bring thousands of Afghani and Pashtoon educated scholars who were living in Peshawar and elsewhere in Afghanistan and make them part of the Taliban administration so that it could improve and the administrative condition become better. Instead they created worse conditions for them. They used the Hizb-e-Islam of Hekhmatyar to threaten and murder Afghani scholars. Moreover under the threat of Taliban those scholars were forced to flee Pakistan and seek asylum elsewhere. The Afghans themselves initiated steps and established an University in Peshawar so that the Afghan refugees could study there but the Pakistanis closed down that University and constructed a mosque in that place. They let the Taliban establish more madrassas but did not allow an institution to continue which could serve the future of Afghanistan. Certain observers are of the view that Pakistan does not have enough control over Taliban to restrain them from taking steps on human and women's rights. It is Pakistan, which has been providing weapons, fighters and other financial help, how it is not possible for it to restrain the Taliban from destroying the Buddha. The problem is different. Actually, Pakistan want to show that Afghans are uncultured and uncivilised and they had nothing in past and have always led a tribal life and have become accustomed to tribal habits and will always remain so and thus it is their strategy to destroy the identity of Afghans. This is the most dangerous part of their strategy and policy with regard to Afghanistan. They want to bring down Afghanistan from the level of a state to tribalism.

What is the attitude of the Islamic Government to India today given that New Delhi appeared to support the regime backed by the Soviets?
Wide and deep relations have existed between India and Afghanistan during different periods of history. And such friendly and good relations continued during the reign of Zahir Shah and Muhammad Daud. Unfortunately, when the communists came to power India defended and supported those who had no standing among the people. At present, very good relations exist between the Islamic Government of Afghanistan and India. We have our Embassy in India and these relations are becoming better with time.

Is there a commonality of interests between India and your Government?
The main commonality is that both countries want peace and stability in the region and do not want tension.

What can India do to help bring peace?
India is a big country in the region and can be effective through different ways to restore peace in Afghanistan.

Does India assist your Government in any way?
As I said earlier, we have good relations. We thank India for the assistance, which is extended from time to time in the fields of humanitarian assistance for Afghan migrants. We have good political relations and we consider it to be a positive step.

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