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John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor
John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN SIMPSON , BBC World Affairs Editor & AHMED RASHID, AUTHOR

NOVEMBER 18TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: This week the world was taken by surprise as the Taliban abandoned the Afghani capital Kabul and the BBC's John Simpson was there as it happened. Over the border in Pakistan the respected writer on Afghanistan affairs Ahmed Rashid has been keeping a close eye on events. They both join us now. There you are, there they are on the screen. John Simpson, whose reports have distinguished this war, tremendous reports and so on - and of course he is known now as the liberator of Kabul - how is the great liberator this morning?

JOHN SIMPSON: Very, very, very embarrassed David, very embarrassed. I tell you what happened was, we were, we were the first - we, I say, I mean it was the BBC, it wasn't just me, there were four colleagues, five colleagues of mine, walking alongside me, so it really wasn't me for a start. But it was the BBC and everybody else, I promise you this, everybody else was behind us - some of them hours and hours and hours behind us, and I walked down through this vast great crowd and they were so delighted to see us and I got a bit carried away really:

DAVID FROST: (LAUGHS)

JOHN SIMPSON: I just got a bit excited and I got - I can't help it, you know, I mean it was a great, it was a fantastic day but what I should have said, of course, was that we brought the news to people in Kabul that they had been liberated. I, I kind of shortened it down from the first word to the last word of the sentence and I, I - what can you do, I regret it, but I don't regret being there a long way in advance and I can't help thinking that some of it is a little bit of sour grapes that other people weren't there with us, but maybe that's being just my nasty nature.

DAVID FROST: Not your nasty nature at all. And as of today we are hearing things in all the papers about the confusion, what the British troops, the hundred troops who are there and so on, are supposed to be doing. Is there any confusion there?

JOHN SIMPSON: No I don't think there is. I think there's quite a lot of confusion in the minds of a lot of Afghans - that's certainly, that's certainly true. It's just that how do you tell people with no radio service, no television service, no newspapers, no proper governmental structure as yet, no proper command structure - how do you tell them what, what foreign troops are in their country for? They immediately think they've come here to find Bin Laden, and they get offended because they say well we can do this perfectly well ourselves. What they're not told, and haven't been told - because who can tell them - is that these soldiers are mostly here in order to facilitate the enormous amount of aid that's absolutely essentially needed in this country. And so I think it's just one of those, one of those embarrassing things and it will, I think it will be got over with quite quickly.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed John. We'll switch for a moment if we can to Islamabad, and to Ahmed Rashid who's written Taliban, the Story of the Afghan War Lords, probably knows more about them than anybody, is the pattern of what's happening, or indeed not happening in Kabul, what you would have expected with your knowledge of the various war lords?

AHMED RASHID: Well the Taliban retreat from Kabul has been very dramatic but you know ever since their first defeat in the north in Mazar-i-Sharif, they wanted to make a strategic retreat from there but that turned into a rout, and then its ripple-effect came all the way down the country, down from the north, along the west and then to Kabul and now of course you're seeing it in the Pashtun belt in the south of the country. So there's been this ripple effect over the last week or so which has completely decimated the Taliban military and political structure.

DAVID FROST: And what about, at the same time, do you think there can be a really united country? We were talking about this earlier - is unity possible in Afghanistan?

AHMED RASHID: Well David I'm an optimist - I know many people are very pessimistic - and it's not going to be easy, it's very messy. There are an enormous number of factions, especially now in the south where the Pashtuns don't have a kind of umbrella like the Northern Alliance is - even though the Northern Alliance is itself riven with factionism. The Pashtuns need some kind of umbrella under which they can unite, maybe it was the former king, Zahir Shah could provide that. Nevertheless it's going to be very messy but I think, you know, some of the positive things are that no Afghan wants a division of the country, everyone is talking about unity, the question is to press them into doing something about it. But I think the other factor is that once, you know, things settle down, you're going to get a huge reaction from the population who really want an end to this war. And they want aid and they want a government and they want to settle down to being normal human beings again, after 22 years of war. And I hope and I think that will put a lot of pressure on the war lords to stop making extreme demands.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Ahmed. Thank you both, thank you John - if you're still there John, the last question, as Ahmed said, he's an optimist rather than a pessimist about the future of Afghanistan. In a sentence or two, what would you say about that?

JOHN SIMPSON: I would say that I'm a pess - I'm an optimist if the Americans are going to keep their eye on this this time, not turn their backs on this country as they did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, and a pessimist if they just decide to go away. And I'm glad at least that the British government seems to be aware of the necessity to keep their eye on this place and really try to get things going here properly.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed John, thank you both very much indeed for joining us this morning from Kabul and from Islamabad.


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