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.
What does the exodus signify 22/10/01
A desperate riot on the Afghanistan
border. Thousands who have fled
from drought, lawlessness and the
allied bombing campaign how found
themselves trapped within sight of
safety. Pakistan still has not officially
opened the border. There is a desperate
rush to break through the wire. A
vehicle is attacked and guards fire
wildly into the air. Even an amputee
joins the struggle to get through. A
sign for the outside world of what the
bombing campaign has done for the
people of Afghanistan. The chaotic
scenes are an indication of the even
more serious situation over the border
in Kandahar. If the aim of the bombing
campaign was to cause a revolt against
the Taliban, it has not happened. Instead,
there has been a complete breakdown
in law and order and a return to anarchy.
Chris Johnson is an aid worker who has
spent the last six years in Afghanistan
and works with the UN on ways to bring
more help to the battered country. She
is concerned that the bombing campaign
has brought a dangerous power vacuum.
It's a breakdown caused by the bombing.
What we are seeing in the whole area
around the greater Kandahar area is the
Taliban lost the control they had. It is an
area that used to be very lawless before
the Taliban took control. One of the reasons
they so easily took control is that the people
were so tired of that lawlessness. It is what
it seems to have reverted to. That is why
we are seeing the great numbers of people
at Chaman, on the border with Pakistan.
There are two very different campaigns
being fought in Afghanistan. The military
battle and the humanitarian battle to help
the 6 million now at risk of starvation after
three years of severe drought and war. In
Islamabad, the UN agencies give regular
briefings on the situation. The target is for
1,600 tonnes a day to be shipped across
the border before the onset of winter next
month. So far, no more than 1,000 tonnes
of food are being shipped.
There is no effective control. We also
understand that because of the air strikes,
and because of the breakdown in the whole
situation, the UN finds this increasingly
difficult to operate. So two things are
happening. On the one hand, our operation
is shrinking. People need food, assistance.
Not getting the assistance, many of them
are moving out of the cities.
Those who do have food, those who recently
managed to leave Afghanistan, are increasingly
concerned about what is happening to their
friends and family at home. The Kabul Restaurant
is a meeting place for people like Wahdat. He
worked for an agency helping victims of land
mines. He dislikes the Taliban but is even more
angered by the US attacks. He told me what
happened to his family.
I have relatives in Kabul City who at the very
beginning of the attack, they left Kabul city for
my village. They are now living in my
village. There are three families of my relatives,
they are living in my brother's house. This is
a big burden for us. We cannot tolerate that for
a long time.
All the families are being squashed together?
In a small house, there are four families living together.
Do they have enough food?
They don't have enough food.
Many families are trapped. They don't have the
money to pay the smugglers or border officials
to allow them to leave Afghanistan. But tens of
thousands are on the move following the old
smuggling trails over the mountains away from
the official crossing points. The situation is
getting worse. In central Afghanistan, the snows
will soon begin. Time is running out, and aid
agencies have called for a pause in the fighting
from all sides to allow food to be brought in.
Once a war has started, you cannot ask everyone
to stop it, can you?
I think you can. Everybody has talked about the
humanitarian coalition, and the need for humanitarian
response in this crisis. What we are saying is that
equal emphasis needs to be given to that part of the
strategy. Without this, we feel it's going to be difficult
to avert what could be a huge crisis for Afghanistan.
But a humanitarian pause is not expected. Not with
the bombing campaign intensifying in the north, and
pro-Taliban militias like these setting up positions
in the mountains. As Afghani's constantly remind
you, they don't like being invaded by anyone. The
British, the Russians or, as they see it, the Americans.
But they have allies of their own, Arab fighters like
Osama Bin Laden, who are also disliked by many
Afghanis. It is said that some have secretly moved
into Afghanistan in recent weeks, making a bad situation
They are probably the most dangerous of all.
In what way?
I think until they came in, you still had certain rules
in Afghanistan. For all the difficulties, you did not
see a complete breakdown. You saw some basic rules,
something in which you could negotiate. But I think
with some of the Arab, Uzebk groups, we have seen
that going. We run the kinds of risks of seeing things
like what happened in Chechnya.
Over 20 years of war, three years of drought and
now this. Well over 1 million people are already
displaced in Afghanistan. Refugees in their own
desperately poor land. If the fighting carries on
and there's still not enough food, there could be
a humanitarian disaster here of quite horrific proportions.