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Breakfast with Frost
John Simpson
John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor

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

DAVID FROST: We'll go straight to international affairs in Afghanistan, it is over a year since the brutal Taliban regime was forced into, from power and a new government set up under the suave figure of Hamid Karzai ??? But the recent assassination attempt on him was a dramatic demonstration of how unstable that country is and that event then raised questions about President Karzai's vulnerability and doubts about how much progress has been made in restoring order to Afghanistan. Thousands of foreign troops are there trying to keep the peace and there is a multi billion dollar aid programme too aimed at rebuilding the country after decades of conflict. But the task is huge, we'll be talking to President Karzai it is alleged, in a moment, as you gathered he is not there, the line to Kabul is not there at the moment, but first I'm joined by the BBC's World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, who was in Afghanistan a year ago, we had a memorable conversation on that occasion I remember, and you've been back again since, how long ago?

JOHN SIMPSON: A couple of months ago, for the anniversary really of the 11th of September, so just around that time, trying to see what had happened to Bin Laden as much as anything else.

DAVID FROST: And what did you come to the conclusion on Bin Laden, or what now do you think on that, and then we'll come...

JOHN SIMPSON: Well I think he's, I think he's left that area, that border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan and I think he's somewhere else, I mean whether that's Yemen or where I don't know.

DAVID FROST: Because that last tape, some people say, was not him?

JOHN SIMPSON: Yes some people say it was him and some people say it wasn't. I, I don't think that really matters in a sense I mean you'd expect him to keep his head down at a time like this, the worst thing that could happen to his movement would be if the Americans or the British could track him down, pin point him and, and, and kill him, that would kill the movement well at least it would have a very powerful effect.

DAVID FROST: Well that's the great question, when you said doesn't matter or not, would the movement continue because it's cellular and so on, just as well without him?

JOHN SIMPSON: It would continue without him, there's no question about it, it's created by something else, it's not just one man's idea, it's, it's something, it arises out of a particular anger and a particular sense of mission and so forth and that, that would continue but he is the brains behind it and he is a very, very clever and able man, there's no doubt about that, and if he were to go that would be a savage blow to the whole structure.

DAVID FROST: And what did you discern on your recent visit to Afghanistan, I mean Hamid Karzai when he talked to us back in February was incredibly impressive, elegant, but I mean more than that, impressive although a man of peace rather than a man of war obviously. And do you discern progress a) in Kabul and b) outside Kabul?

JOHN SIMPSON: Yes I really do, I mean the thing is you're going from a structure under the Taliban which was taking the country back several hundred years, I was say, it's a kind of mantra of mine, but by eight o'clock in the evening the loudest sound in the centre of Kabul was the barking of dogs and the brightest lights were the little oil lanterns in people's windows. It was an ancient city, he's brought it back into something like the modern world and when I was there certainly, and it's still true as I understand it, people feel a real sense of hope and they're flooding back, I mean nearly two million refugees have come back to start the hard work. The trouble is the old system is still there, all those old warlords who used to be fighting away were silenced and dealt with actually very well by the, by the Taliban, that's the one achievement that they had, was to deal with the warlords - now of course in places in the far west and so on they, they're coming back and they're committing the same old atrocities...

DAVID FROST: And, and what about the difference between law and order in Kabul and outside Kabul?

JOHN SIMPSON: Well you're not dealing, let's face it, with western Europe, you know anyway...the thing is I don't think any government in Afghanistan's history has controlled more than about four or five of the major cities and towns and the roads between them and the countryside has always been pretty much on its own. That's true now it's just that the control is starting, in some places, Herat in particular to come under the, the power of people who are going to use it for their own ends and, and start to think in, in very much in independent terms, independent that is of the central government. He's has got problems.

DAVID FROST: Yes, well we'll talk about it in a minute. Could the Taliban make a come back?

JOHN SIMPSON: No they've gone, I mean they've, they've, they evaporated, those people who were in the Taliban were mostly there just because they though they were winning and they wanted to be on the winning side. They were very clever in terms of PR but the PR was kind of seen through. So no the Taliban, the Taliban have gone but there is that, that sort of cross over between the Al Queda people who are mostly foreign, perhaps entirely foreign and the most extreme and the most committed Taliban people, they still, they still could cause some sort of problems. But my feeling is that if only Hamid Karzai can just keep the place together, if only the Americans don't forget about it and I must say I think there's...

DAVID FROST: Well that's a worry isn't it...people saying that Iraq will take their eye off them?

JOHN SIMPSON: Well it already has David, I mean you know all of that attention that was paid to, to Afghanistan before is now being paid to Iraq and, and the poor old chaps in the, particularly in the State Department who've got to look after Afghanistan certainly feel that the attention's gone away.

DAVID FROST: So that's, that's a real danger for him and he's got problems but you do see progress?

JOHN SIMPSON: Big, big progress on the, just on the level of ordinary people coming back and absolutely determined to make their lives again.

DAVID FROST: Well that's, that's a very hopeful thought and on the, on the subject of war in Iraq which we'll be talking about later with, with Jack Straw, do you see war as likely, unlikely, impossible or inevitable?

JOHN SIMPSON: I suppose not inevitable but pretty close to it, I think it's going to be very hard to, to think that President Bush won't find the kind of reasons that he wants to find and feels that he needs to find. I, I think, I think it's pretty, pretty certain. I notice though that there's, in the American papers they're suggesting that maybe it will slip a bit in terms of time...maybe coming November, December...


JOHN SIMPSON: But I also find it quite difficult to think that, that President Bush could keep the momentum up doing that.

DAVID FROST: And, well thank you very much John. Stay with us because we never know what other gremlins may, may come along.


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