| ||"The Government Cannot Deliver"|
By Dan Ephron
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One of the areas in Afghanistan that's seeing a resurgence of the Taliban recently is Kapisa, a small province about 20 miles northeast of Kabul. In the past few months alone, Taliban fighters have regrouped in Kapisa's district of Tagab and staged several attacks. They're also targeting the governor of Kapisa, Abdul Sattar Murad, who is among Afghanistan's most capable politicians. NEWSWEEK's Dan Ephron sat in recently on meetings Murad held with U.S. military officers coordinating reconstruction projects in his province. American-educated and a veteran of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Murad worked under President Hamid Karzai, who later signed his appointment as governor. After his meetings, Murad sat down with Ephron for this interview. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Why is the government losing ground to the Taliban?
Adbul Sattar Murad: This phenomenon is happening all over the country and there are many factors, external and internal Some strong figures in Pakistan are behind these increased activities of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, ISI [Pakistan?s intelligence service] in the past was involved and still some of the officers of ISI are involved now in promoting Talibanism in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. In terms of internal factors, the government cannot deliver, and this is a problem. As a governor, I'm not supposed to say this, but I see that we cannot deliver what we're expected to. In remote parts of the country there is practically a vacuum of authority, a vacuum of power. Somebody will have to fill that vacuum. Either the criminals fill that vacuum or the Taliban and Al Qaeda do.
Why would elements of ISI be interested in destabilizing Afghanistan?
Unfortunately, ISI from the very beginning had the idea of having an orthodox state in Afghanistan, backwards, and then using it in the wars against India and Kashmir, recruiting and creating an army of these zealots and sending them to Kashmir. They were pursuing this policy during the era of the Taliban, but that tendency within the ISI still remains. They don't want to see a strong, stable and developed Afghanistan.
But the United States works with President Pervez Musharraf and views him as a key ally.
Those elements are not under his control Musharraf is himself a target for them right now.
And you said the Afghan government cannot deliver. Why is that?
What's missing is leadership. Afghanistan at this critical moment of its history, we don't have a leadership that can unite the national leaders, which can see the needs of the people and respond to them. All the political parties are now drifting away from the national leadership. All over the country, the people are distancing themselves from the government Many of the elders, those who have influence, feel they have been left out and are not in the same convoy with the government.
You mentioned being targeted yourself by the Taliban.
The Taliban is targeting me right now and planning to assassinate me by a suicide bomber or a car bomb. We're trying to resist and trying to keep a low profile.
How do you do that?
I changed my routines, my times of going and coming. I change my vehicles frequently. I don't reveal the times of my meetings to others. I have increased security wherever I go. For example, I'm sitting here right now and many people cannot enter the building freely.
Why, after six years, has the United States been unable to locate Osama bin Laden and his deputies?
The U.S. is not receiving full cooperation from Pakistan. Pakistan is cooperating, but the ISI faction, which knows where Al Qaeda is, is not really forthcoming to U.S. intelligence. Inside Afghanistan, there is also a lack of cooperation. The recent resentment created among former leaders who were involved in the war against the Taliban has created a gap between the government and these people, and this is naturally hurting the efforts to find Al Qaeda. Americans, again, are not receiving good information from those leaders, who can play a key role in capturing Mullah Omar and Osama, if he is in Afghanistan. Unless there is a change in this situation, you will see this gap increase day by day.
You're saying there might be various figures in Afghanistan who know where Al Qaeda figures are hiding but aren't cooperating?
Yes. Let me give you an example. People in the present government, particularly some of the ministers or their colleagues, they paint all the people who fought against the Taliban and the Soviets as warlords. They don't differentiate between a good and a bad warlord. They paint everyone in black. Now, [the warlords] feel threatened, so they keep their distance and they don't cooperate. And if they don't cooperate, no one in Al Qaeda is going to be found.
How satisfied are you with the level of U.S. support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan?
I really from my heart appreciate the role the U.S. government is playing in that regard. In my province, particularly, the PRT [the Coalition's Provincial Reconstruction Team] is playing a crucial role. From the time I became governor two and a half years ago, the PRT has been a great supporter of my development plans.
How long do you envision U.S. and NATO forces remaining in your country?
It depends how we conduct ourselves. If we plan well and conduct ourselves well, Afghanistan will develop quickly and have its institutions in place to take care of its own affairs. In that scenario, the U.S. would decrease its presence. But in any event, I think the U.S. will remain in Afghanistan for quite some time, and Afghans are very thankful for it.
What do you tell an Afghan citizen in your province who thinks America is just another occupying power, like the Soviets and the British?
Thank God, that image is not widespread in Afghanistan. Afghans see Americans as a helping force, not an occupying force in the country. A few people have that view but they are a small minority.
Can you envision a situation where the Taliban returns to power?
Really not. The people of Afghanistan hate the Taliban.
Civilian casualties are on the rise here as result of U.S. and NATO operations. How does that impact Afghan public opinion?
The impact is negative. People resent it, and it should be avoided. The problem is that there is no close cooperation between NATO and Afghan security agencies. They don't share intelligence, they don't conduct joint operations, they do things on their own. Two years ago a team of special forces came to the place where you and I are sitting and searched a house for three or four hours and didn't find anything. They confined the family to one or two rooms because they had some information about a cache. The people of Afghanistan are very traditional. And they came to me and said, ?What's going on? Are you the governor or are Americans the governors?? I didn't know about the operation and neither did our chief of police. This was very bad for me. They didn't think of sharing this information with our intelligence officers. We have many intelligence officers, they work hard and know many things. The people wanted to protest in the thousands, but I persuaded them not to do that But I believe for the future of this nation, it's very important to promote Afghan police and the Afghan army, to send them to the front while [U.S. and NATO forces] stay in the back and support.
I suppose American commanders would say in response that they would risk compromising missions by telling Afghan police about them ahead of time. Isn't that a concern?
That is a concern but it can be worked out. It's very simple. They could simply share the information with the top brass. These are technical issues.
There's a lot of talk in the U.S. Congress now of forcing the Bush administration to withdraw from Iraq. If that were to happen, how would it impact Afghanistan?
This would send the wrong signal to Al Qaeda all over the world. For Iraq, I'm afraid it would be a disaster. For Afghanistan, if that kind of atmosphere prevails, it would be very dangerous.
Do you believe American suggestions that Iran is helping arm the Taliban?
We hear that, but I don't believe it myself. Iran doesn't have very good intentions for Afghanistan, but sending arms? I think Iran would not dare to do that. They would fear a U.S. response. They want to see instability in Afghanistan and American troops getting killed. But sending arms? I don't believe it.