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Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Special Projects Director
Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Special Projects Director

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SHASHI THAROOR, UN Special Project Director

NOVEMBER 18TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: The United Nations envoy has now arrived in Kabul and will start the process of trying to bring the varying Afghan factions together. Nobody can underestimate the enormity of that task and earlier I spoke to the UN Special Projects Director Shashi Tharoor who is based in the New York headquarters and I began by asking him whether he felt the United Nations had moved fast enough, or was it slightly caught out by the speed of the Northern Alliance advance?

SHASHI THAROOR: Well there's no question that military events on the ground have moved with dizzying rapidity. The political pace, of course, is dictated very much by the Afghan factions themselves - we are trying to get them together but it depends very much on how willing they are to come together. We have our special representatives deputy for political affairs, Fransesc Vendrell who's arrived in Kabul on Saturday and who is meeting with the Northern Alliance leaders, we hope that they will be able to try and get them into a process that involves other Afghan leaders and then they won't worry too much about which happened first.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of bringing together so many warring tribes, so many groups, so much rivalry and so on, people so afraid of a repeat of history, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

SHASHI THAROOR: Well I'm the kind of optimist who defines optimism as looking at the future with uncertainty. A pessimist says everything is bound to go wrong, an optimist says things might just go right. And we believe with the concerted will of the international community, with people being prepared now to invest and engage in the future Afghanistan - a country that has suffered more than 20 years of war and four years of drought, a country facing a humanitarian catastrophe and country which has bred the worst terrorism the world has know - that, we believe with that engagement we can make this work. Certainly if the world were to abandon Afghanistan again then there would be no ground for anything but pessimism.

DAVID FROST: Yes because former KGB Colonel Ivanov said this week - talking about the Russians in 1979 - that they took the presidential palace in less than an hour. Quote, we then spent ten years seeking in vain to control the country. And that obviously is the challenge. He said that Bin Laden might be laughing somewhere that the West thinks it's scored a victory. Is there a danger of the Taliban regrouping as a really powerful rebel force?

SHASHI THAROOR: Well the important distinction is the United Nations is not going to try and occupy or hold the country as the Soviet Union did. The Security Counsel's mandate to the UN is to help the Aghans to put together the governing structure(s) that will run their country. We are not in the business of re-colonising Afghanistan - in fact it never was colonised - so what we want to try and do is to give them the tools to rule themselves, to give them political advice, yes, humanitarian assistance - indispensable - long term reconstruction and support for development and perhaps help them create the conditions of governance and security that will create a new Afghanistan out of the ashes of the last 30 years.

DAVID FROST: And would you say that Afghanistan is what one would call a country or a state rather than an amalgam of warring tribes? I mean it's difficult to see what unifies it as a country isn't it?

SHASHI THAROOR: Well Afghanistan does have a very interesting united history and what is striking is that even if to some degree it is an amalgam of warring tribes - as you put it - the fact is that each of these different ethnic groups does not cling to anything but Afghan. In other words the 25 percent of the population who are Tajik do not want to link up and join Tajikistan, the eight percent of Usbek do not say they want to join Usbekistan, they all say they're Afghan and they want to rule Afghanistan, they want to work together in Afghanistan. And that ultimately, I think, is the answer to the question. There is a sense of Afghan nationhood that seems to unite all factions. The difficulty has been in deciding who controls what and who decides how life should be lived in Afghanistan. We believe the answer to that question has to lie in a co-operative effort that brings everyone together and that gives everyone the feeling that they have a future in that one united country.

DAVID FROST: Mr Tharoor, thank you very much indeed.

SHASHI THAROOR: Thank you very much Sir David, a pleasure to be on your show.


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