BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Events: Newsnight
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Pakistani President could face an uprising 19/9/01

It was a day on which increasingly divided and worried Pakistanis waited to see whether their President's televised address would help to unify the country, or make those divisions and the dangers all the more acute. In the capital, Islamabad, police were massed on the approach roads to the US embassy. And there were more guards outside the Afghan embassy. Pakistan is one of only three countries that recognises the Taliban rulers. Filming here was not officially permitted.

Is the ambassador here at the moment?

It seemed the ambassador was back in Kabul. Over in the Afghan capital, hundreds of Muslim clerics met today for surely the most crucial meeting in the history of the Taliban - to decide whether to hand over Osama bin Laden, or suffer the onslaught that could surely follow a refusal. A final answer was expected today, but thus far there has been none. So Pakistan's immediate future depends on events over the mountains in Afghanistan. The histories of the two countries have long been interlinked, and involved a changeable relationship with the United States, which once used Pakistan to channel aid to fighters in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden. One man who helped channel US funds to Afghanistan, back in the days when the Afghan Mujahideen fighters were the good guys, driving the Russians from their country, is the former head of Pakistani intelligence, General Hameed Gul. Today he warned the US of the dangers of a military expedition into the area he knows so well.

(former Head, Pakistan Intelligence Service):
If you know Afghans, they love fighting, they enjoy it. They may be looking at it as an opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of young Afghans who have nothing - there are no jobs for them, and fighting is a damn good job. They love it. They have loved it over the ages. It is said of Afghans that they are at peace only when they are at war. They will unite. This is one advantage they will get.

Even the Northern Alliance will join?

Oh yes. Absolutely. I have no doubt whatsoever. Let there be no illusion in anybody's mind - all Afghans will join.

The US then will have achieved the impossible by actually ending the civil war in Afghanistan?

Yes. Ironically, this is what the effect will be. Secondly, they would love to capture the American equipment. They will be looking for, knowing their psyche, oh my God, how they would love the new American toys, because they are fed up now looking at the Russian armaments. They would be waiting, the young men will be waiting. "Let the Americans come. One day they will go and we will keep their weapons." They love weapons. Of course there is no income for Afghanistan right now. They would be looking for the American soldiers whom they can take as prisoners of war and exchange them for a lot of dollars.

The Taliban may claim to be confident they can withstand a US-led attack, but many Afghans are clearly not. Large numbers of would-be refugees are already on the move, with several thousand already reported to be camped out along the main border crossings to Pakistan. All of which presents yet another problem for Pakistan. There are already over three million Afghan refugees here, just over half of them living in the squalid refugee camps in cities around Peshawar. Some have fled from the Taliban. Others support the Taliban and have pledged to join an uprising if the US attacks Afghanistan with Pakistani support. The minister responsible warned that there would have to be restrictions on the expected flood of refugees, unless Pakistan gets help.

(Minister for Kashmir and Frontier Territories):
We will, if necessary, at some stage in the future, re-evaluate our position. As of this moment in time, we feel that only those people with valid visas will be permitted entry from the Afghan border site.

The border regions and Afghan bazaars around the Peshawar camp provide the Taliban with a useful source of revenue. Duty-free goods are shipped to Afghanistan under the Afghan transit trade agreement, then re-appear at a cut price back in Pakistan. The Taliban take a cut. It seems there are no plans to stop such border trade.

At this point in time, I think it would be very cruel to try and force a nation - after all, you must understand, there are 22 million people who live within Afghanistan, who are living on the very edges of poverty. The Taliban comprise just the government of it. We are looking at the broad masses that are there. Our responsibility must lie to those 20, 21 million people as well.

The border is a volatile area. In Peshawar today there was yet another demonstration against Pakistani support for any US-led campaign against Afghanistan. American flags were burned. It is not just those with close links to Afghanistan who are critical of the government. General Gul, the former intelligence chief, says Pakistan should demand proof of bin Laden's involvement.

Their demand is, one, bring proof and try him here. We will try him. If we don't try him, a sharia court can be set up, an international sharia court, on Afghan soil. If that is not acceptable, then move him to some third country where he could be tried under the sharia court. I think in that there is a ray of hope. In other words, they are suggesting that since Osama is originally a citizen of Saudi Arabia, that his citizenship should be restored, he should be taken away, guarantees should be given that he will not be handed over to the Americans. And because the law of the land in Saudi Arabia is sharia law. Nowhere else has it except Sudan. In Pakistan it is not sharia law. When they say "in a third country, under sharia law", what they imply perhaps is that he should be moved to Saudi Arabia.

Tonight a spectacular storm shook Islamabad. Rain and lightning led to car smashes on the highway, just as President Musharraf was about to address the nation. We joined a group in a tea shop outside Islamabad, watching as their president explained how the US wanted help on intelligence, quoted from the Koran and warned how a wrong decision could imperil the country's future. He had a warning to his many critics. "Show unity and common sense. Some people are taking personal agendas and party agendas. They are hurting the country." It was an impressive speech, but had he calmed the country? Opinion here was still divided. Meanwhile Pakistan awaits the Taliban decision, just as the first ever pictures of the secretive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, have emerged in London. He was photographed secretly during a Newsnight assignment in Afghanistan five years ago, holding a relic at a rally in Kandahar. The picture has never been shown before.

Links to more Newsnight stories