Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Beyond the Taleban

President Rabbani's ambassador to London, Wali Massoud, speaks to IWPR about plans for a post-Taleban government in Afghanistan.
By Michael Griffin

Peshawar's Frontier Post newspaper this week published an alleged list of Northern Alliance candidates for the Council of National Unity in Afghanistan, an authority of 120 representatives of both the opposition and ex-king Zahir Shah that they hope will function as a transitional government after the overthrow of the Taleban.


Among the 27 published names were leading members of the Northern Alliance's political wing, the United Front, including the Uzbek commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Shia leader Karim Khalili and Haji Qadir, the former governor of Nangarhar province.


Also listed was Wali Massoud, London ambassador of the UN-recognised government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda agents two days before the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11.


In this exclusive interview, Wali Massoud talked to IWPR's Michael Griffin about plans for a post-Taleban government in Afghanistan; and his concerns over UN peace efforts and continuing Pakistani support to the Taleban.


Is the list of Northern Alliance candidates for the proposed Council for National Unity in Afghanistan accurate?


The post-Taleban era will see a new government, a new establishment that can really work for the future of Afghanistan, prosperity and development. Most of these people are not in that line.


So is this not a true report?


This is a false report. Probably someone from our United Front reported such things, but he was dreaming. These may have been the leading men in the past, but they are not leading men now. Many of them are out of the country. They have had nothing to do with the resistance against terrorism. In fact, some of these people are pro-Taleban, pro-Osama.


Are there any Pashtuns in this list?


Zmarak Yaser, Qeyamuddin Kashshaf, Haji Dawran, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai and Sayed Umar Munib of Ittehad-i-Islami are all Pashtun, but they are not the leading men any more. The situation has totally changed. Those who have fought and struggled against these terrorist networks and the Taleban, those who have seen the hardship, they are the leading men.


So would you expect the Unity Council to be composed of people from parties like the Shia Hizb-i-Wahdat of President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-i-Islami?


Parties are not important any more to Afghan politics. They are not relevant. What is happening now is there are people who want to conquer and terrorise Afghanistan and there are people fighting against them. Regardless of political party, they are under one umbrella, the United Front. The UF is not based on membership of political party, anybody can come. You talk about Jamiat. I don't know what Jamiat is any more.


The Unity Council consists of 60 UF nominees and 60 from ex-King Zahir Shah. How is that proceeding?


The next round of talks will start soon, a matter of days. And they will exchange lists of nominees. In fact there will be 50 people from the UF and 50 from the king. But there will be 20 others taken from different political, social or cultural entities. For example, two from the Cyprus peace process, maybe two from a cultural society. Twenty have been allocated for those outside the two main entities.


These 120 people will be the highest authoritative, decision-making body. These people will talk about the post-Taleban era. Should we establish a transitional government, or go straight to call a Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly. Once this is decided, we must establish a transitional government in Kabul, after the Taleban have been driven out. This transitional government will have its own power. Its major job will be to draft a constitution. The Loya Jirga will be based upon proportional representation, based upon the population. The Loya Jirga will have to approve the constitution. That will lead to elections.


So there is provision for democratic elections at some point?


Exactly. Without the democratic process, the problems in Afghanistan will not be solved, whatever anyone says. The Loya Jirga, as it was in the time of Zahir Shah, is no longer practical in today's society.


But Afghanistan is a Muslim country, an Islamic country, and there is no such thing as a democracy in the world of Islam. How can Afghanistan, with all its difficulties, break away from that tradition?


In the Koran, there is no specific word for democracy but there are passages that say what government in an Islamic country should be and those lines exactly coincide with how a democratic government should work. I don't think there's much difference between a true Islamic government and the democratic process in the West.


For the past 10 years, Afghanistan has been described as a source of terrorism and narcotics, which have been exported to the West. If Afghanistan became a democracy and exported those ideas to the Muslim world, would it not be considered equally dangerous to the Gulf, Iran and Pakistan? Would they support this?


It's more than two decades of war and revolution that we have had in Afghanistan. Why, after the king, did so much misery happen? The root of the whole problem was that neither an Islamic system nor a democratic process was maintained. What was there was a king and his clan, a social structure of injustice and caste. Hazaras and Uzbeks were repressed, the Tajiks did the administrative work for those running the government, and the Pashtuns were above them. At the top was the clan of Zahir Shah. A Hazara was not qualified to become an officer or to get a senior job. Nor were the Uzbeks. Hazaras could not get an education. At the same time, the clan of Zahir Shah was coming to Oxford Street to do their shopping.


Foreign powers have had their proxies inside Afghanistan that they could [utilise] for any purpose. Why? Because there was no firm social structure inside Afghanistan. That is why we need democracy. Without it, these problems will go on.


The Taleban was a Pakistani project. The Northern Alliance has longstanding relations with Iran and Russia. Under a United Front government, wouldn't Tehran and Moscow meddle in Afghanistan, as Islamabad has done in the past?


They may try, but one quality that the United Front has is that we're fiercely independent people. We do appreciate the moral aid and material assistance that we received during our struggle against the Soviet Union and then the Taleban. But if they want to meddle, if they want to dictate to us and tell us how to run our country, they are mistaken. They've backed the wrong horse.


Do you think that in the selection process for the Unity Council, in order to bring more representation from the Pashtun, there should be a war crimes tribunal to exclude anyone involved in the killing of civilians, whether Taleban or Northern Alliance, from the process of determining the future government of Afghanistan?


I hope that happens and, if someone asked me I would support that idea. I would support it wholeheartedly. The people of Afghanistan would support it. Talking about the Taleban, there is no question about it. We have stated our position: No Taleban in any future government of Afghanistan. Pakistan is trying hard to mix up Taleban and Pashtun. The Taleban are Pashtun but they do not represent all Pashtuns. The people are people and the soldiers are soldiers. I'm talking about the Taleban as political entity. [There will be] no accommodation with this political entity in the future government of Afghanistan. First, they have committed enormous crimes, second they have harboured terrorists and, third, people are fearful of the Taleban. The world is fearful of the Taleban. The Taleban is like a cancer. Put them anywhere and they will spread.


But the people in Afghanistan are also fearful, particularly in Kabul, of General Dostum's Uzbeks. People are afraid of anyone with a gun. But you're prepared to work with Dostum's men.


This is my argument. There should be no accommodation with the Taleban political entity. If people say "no Dostum political entity", they should say so. If they think he has violated all basic human rights, they should say so, they should come forward. I'd be happy.


What kind of assistance, financial and moral, are you receiving from the US or UN to assemble your peace process with Zahir Shah?


At the moment, nothing.


Not even travel expenses for the Northern Alliance and Zahir representatives to meet on neutral ground?


No. In fact, the UN can play the most vital role in Afghanistan, in the fields of relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation, but also in supervising the process of the transitional government. But it depends on the team the UN chooses. Now the team they have chosen, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi and his advisor, Professor Ashraf Ghani, I wish them well but I'm very sceptical. We have seen these people in the past, maybe they have changed, maybe they understand more, but I doubt it.


What do they need to have that they didn't have before? Peacekeeping troops, money?


Put it this way. To bring in a team which has not already failed in Afghanistan, that would give hope to the people. There must be a new team. Secondly, countries like the US and the UK should stand by the UN, they should help the UN. They shouldn't leave the UN alone. They must fully stand by it and I mean at the financial and political levels.


But you're not optimistic about Brahimi's position?


In the past, Brahimi was UN envoy and talked to us - we wanted peace - and then he went to the Taleban, and they said "we don't want peace". Then he goes back to New York and, instead of saying exactly what he saw, he said "nobody wants peace". But that wasn't true. If he'd said "one side wants peace, the other side doesn't want peace". Or "one side has the full backing of Pakistan". If he'd said these things...


And furthermore, his advisor Professor Ashraf Ghani cannot, even if he tries to, be independent. He is an Afghan, with his own ideas, goals and political ambitions. How can you expect a UN team to succeed if they have someone partisan advising them? This is why I am sceptical.


There seems a lot of disagreement in the United Front as to whether Zahir Shah has a place in the peace process.


He does have a place. He is respected. He can be a symbol in Afghanistan. He does have a place as such.


But you are ambassador of the UN-recognised government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. In a new transitional government involving Zahir Shah, President Rabbani might not have a role. Is this fine with the United Front?


Absolutely, 100 per cent.


So President Rabbani accepts the fact that, in order to create peace, he may have to resign the presidency?


If it is required and it is the decision of the Unity Council, it must be done. The UF is following the vision of my late brother, Ahmad Shah Massoud. What he wanted for Afghanistan was to move from these political parties to everything being decided by the people. To go from here towards the shura, to the Loya Jirga, the Unity Council and eventually elections. That was his aim. So if it is necessary that me or President Rabbani relinquish our posts, we must do it.


What would your late brother have thought of the conduct of the war so far?


I don't know, but my brother might have said that the best thing that can be done is to pressurise Pakistan to stop meddling inside Afghanistan, to block all the supply routes from Pakistan to the Taleban and then we, the Northern Alliance, should be given assistance and aid to wipe out the terrorists and the Taleban.


And do you think that has been achieved?


No, Pakistan has not stopped. We know that supplies are flooding across the border, including logistics, oil, food, commodities, militiamen, tribesmen. All are coming inside Afghanistan. General Musharraf has dismissed Lt.Gen Mahmoud [as head of the Inter Services Intelligence, ISI] but, if the chief was involved, how many more were involved. There are junior and senior generals in the army and the ISI who are still inside Afghanistan collaborating with the Taleban, who are still involved in the day-to-day running of the affairs of the Taleban. During the day, [ISI operatives] are with the allies. During the night, they are with Osama.


Michael Griffin is IWPR Afghanistan project director


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