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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 even worse.

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.

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