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banner Friday, 22 March, 2002, 17:48 GMT
Sue Lloyd Roberts quizzed
In "My brother the Taleban fighter" Sue accompanies Ajmal Khan on his journey from the UK to Afghanistan in his search for his younger brother Anwar. Caught fighting for the Taleban Anwar has been in prison for three years.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Transcript of forum:

CORRESPONDENT FORUM - MY BROTHER, THE TALEBAN FIGHTER

Newshost:
Hello, welcome to Correspondent interactive. With me in the studio we have the BBC's human rights correspondent, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Sue thanks for coming. Also today on the phone from Pakistan we have Ajmal Khan whose brother Anwar fought for the Taleban. They're both here to answer your questions raised from last night's BBC Two Correspondent programme, My Brother, The Taleban Fighter.

Ajmal we'll go to you first of all. Can you just give us an update on Anwar - has he been released by the Pakistani authorities?

Ajmal Khan:
No he hasn't. As you know we arrived at the Pakistan border on the 17th February. He's been in detention ever since. Anwar was initially detained under the frontier crime regulation, the clause 40, more commonly known as the Black Law or the Black Laws of Frontier.

Newshost:
All right, we're going to get to that, I think, in the e-mails. But we'll start with Shahb Richyal who's in the UK and I think Sue you can answer this one: "Why was Anwar in prison in Pakistan? Is he entitled to any legal representation?"

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
We weren't too sure why he was imprisoned initially except of course the Americans gave the Pakistani government billions to join the war against terrorism and therefore the deal for the Pakistani authorities, if you like, is to look out for anyone with al-Qaeda or Taleban connections. And a lot of people think that perhaps the Pakistani authorities have been over-zealous in holding Anwar who, after all, spent three days on the front line three years ago but since then Ajmal, who I'm in daily contact with, tells me that the Pakistan intelligence forces have come up with a charge that would suggest that he could be charged with terrorism although it hasn't happened yet. But frankly people are confused as to why he's being held. The Afghans have said that he's served his time, they're no longer interested in him and the British too are unlikely to prosecute him when he gets back to this country. In terms of legal representation, well he has had consular access by the British Foreign Office, the British High Commission in Pakistan, and of course if he is formally charged they will organise legal representation for him.

Newshost:
Joan Collins is in the UK, also Seamus Rickard, asked Ajmal: "Do you think it was a big mistake to return via Pakistan with Anwar? Was there no other way for you to leave Afghanistan?"

Ajmal Khan:
Of course it was a big mistake and yes there were alternative routes but in the light of Anwar's health and the advice given to us by the ICRC doctors, I thought it only right to take Anwar to nearest appropriately-equipped medical facility and this was in Pakistan.

Newshost:
Zalan is in the UK. He wants to know if there's been any appeal to the Pakistani Government and the Human Rights Commission to release Anwar and if so what's their response been?

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
The moment a Briton gets into trouble abroad it becomes a Foreign Office responsibility and, as I said earlier, as soon as Anwar was arrested myself and Ajmal we notified the British authorities. And so the British authorities in Pakistan are in contact with the Pakistani authorities and they are trying to get him released. I mean the British authorities are saying "this man really should be of no interest to you, we regard it as an humanitarian issue, let him go home". So far the Pakistani authorities have not responded. We're also talking to the Pakistani High Commissioner here in London, that is, if you like, going to government level. If this fails then we'll have to broaden the attempt and I think Ajmal and myself, who will be helping him on this, will try and get in touch with the human rights bodies like the United Nations human rights people and NGOs and so on.

Newshost:
Sue, we're going to have a look at a clip from your film. It's a very moving reunion, this part, where Ajmal meets his brother, Anwar, for the first time in three years.

CLIP Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
Anwar is being held in the doctor's office, which is also police headquarters, having received orders from a higher authority, Dr Junaid [phon.] is now more accommodating.

[Anwar and Ajmal greeting each other.]

Newshost:
Ajmal we've just seen a clip of you meeting your brother for the first time in three years. What was going through your mind then?

Ajmal Khan:
When I first laid my eyes on him I could not actually believe that that was Anwar. The shock - the impact that it had on me and the shock I had at that time, because of the shock I was trembling and I didn't know - had he not got up and grabbed me the way he did I don't think I would have recognised that this was Anwar. And as soon as he grabbed me I said to him, "Son, no matter what happens I'm going to take you home."

Newshost:
I've got an e-mail from Sheroz Khan from Pakistan, believing that Asian youths live and feel as second-class citizens in the UK and he asks: "Is it any wonder that these youths try to find a way out of their lifestyle and system?" What do you think Sue?

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
This is something we tried to address in the film and I think Ajmal answered this very coherently at the beginning of the film where he did say that in the background of what's going on in towns in the north-west of England today, with the recent race riots, an average 40% unemployment among young Asian youths, with young Asians being confronted by members of the National Front who shout out to them in the street "Go home Paki" is it any wonder that a lot of young Asians do not feel that they are accepted by the British? And Ajmal said in an interview during the film that this could make them vulnerable when the Taleban come and say, "Hey come and join us, we want you, we'd appreciate you."

Newshost:
Jamil Nawaz in the UK wonders if it would not have been more sensible to obtain professional help for his drug problems in the UK? Ajmal do your family regret sending Anwar back to Pakistan?

Ajmal Khan:
Of course we deeply regret sending Anwar to Pakistan insofar as the professional help is concerned. All efforts in relation to professional help had failed in England and we, at that moment, we couldn't think of an alternative. And what came to mind we exercised that and we sent him to Pakistan.

Newshost:
Ajmal we've also got an e-mail for you from Tom, who's in Cleveland, Ohio, in the USA. He wonders who you blame other than your brother for his current situation and why?

Ajmal Khan:
Insofar as this question is concerned I can't, being on the telephone, I can't answer this question for security reasons, I'd be avoiding a direct response that this question requires. However, if given the opportunity at a later stage I will answer and explain in detail.

Newshost:
Maybe that's something we can come back to if we do some follow-ups. But we have an anonymous e-mailer, a question for your Sue, thinking that it was actually very noble of you to help the Khan brothers in the way you did, but they can't understand why the BBC would want to help?

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
Well I would first take issue with the word help. We went as observers, but as a human being, of course, you can't help but be drawn into a human story, which I was, and any reporter would be. But in terms of justifying doing the story at all I would argue there is huge interest all over the world in the foreign fighters, those who fought for the Taleban, and particularly here in Britain. Who were the young men who came from towns in Britain, why did they leave their comfortable, middle-class homes and go out to one of the most uncomfortable countries in the world - and I speak from experience - and fight for the Taleban? Some Muslims in Britain have said to me "Why the indignation, it's not very different from say our grandparents generation fighting in the civil war, young idealistic men?" And of course we must also remember that Anwar went to Afghanistan before the Taleban became public enemy number one, three years ago, well before the events of September 11th, which could maybe allow us to be a little more sympathetic towards his stand.

Newshost:
Let's have another excerpt from your film. This is a part where Anwar describes the three nights and three days he fought for the Taleban on the frontline.

CLIP Anwar Khan:
I really went too far. It wasn't meant to go too far, it went too far. A lot of people were killed and it was difficult.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
And how much fighting were you involved in?

Anwar Khan:
Some three days, three nights on the frontline. We didn't attack, I was on the defence lines. The government they [indistinct words] they attacked, we moved back and then the elders vanished and everything went wrong from there. There were only six of us got out alive.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
How many died?

Anwar Khan:
The rest all died, I mean there was a lot of people, hundreds.

Newshost:
Sue, an anonymous e-mailer believes that you didn't ask Anwar any hard questions to gain an understanding of why a British citizen would support such a treacherous regime, in particular they wanted to know why he wasn't questioned on his views about the treatment of women, liberals and homosexuals by the Taleban.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
Well I do ask him in the film, "Did you believe in their cause?" and he answered - and this completely threw me - that he was told, by those who'd recruited him to fight, that they were fighting the Russians and I was a bit taken aback and I said "Now come on, Anwar, we all know that the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union was over some 10 years ago." But he claims that all the foreign fighters were told that the Russians had invaded again from the North and so it was, if you like, in Muslim terms a straightforward jihad, a holy war, between the Muslim Afghans and the Russians. Yes maybe I could have been harder on Anwar but I would ask the person who sent the e-mail to remember that one was dealing with a young man there in a very emotionally-charged situation, he hadn't seen a member of his family for three years, I was there as an observer as well as a reporter. He was sweating conspicuously from the effects of malaria and pneumonia. It was a very charged atmosphere and so in many ways perhaps one didn't want to be as hard-hitting as one might have in a more controlled atmosphere.

Newshost:
Ajmal, a question for you from Amrita Ohbi, she's a 16-year-old girl in the UK. She wants to know what you think would have happened to your brother if you'd not got him out of the prison in Afghanistan?

Ajmal Khan:
It is highly likely that he would have, like some of his co-prisoners, died and been put into an unmarked grave on the side of a mountain.

Newshost:
A question then from Omar Usman Khan Marwat, he's in Pakistan, he wants to know if Anwar was released by the Afghans because he was British? And what about the thousands of other non-British Taleban soldiers who fought before September 11th?

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
Of course it helped that he was British. While we were there we were given the impression that a lot of the Afghans who fought for the Taleban were the first to be released and now these foreign fighters are being filtered through, if you like. The fact that Ajmal was there, knocking at the doors, telephoning the relevant people saying "Look, I'm here" definitely accelerated Anwar's release. But then the commander we talked to in the film also said that he felt that really Anwar had served his time. After all, at the end of the day, Anwar spent three days on the frontline and three years in prison and so one year per day on the frontline. Even the Afghan opposition, the Northern Alliance, were prepared to think that it was time for Anwar to go.

Newshost:
A question from Jaq in England and this is a question for you Ajmal. "Do you believe your brother has betrayed the British people and should the British people be expected to accept your brother back to this country?"

Ajmal Khan:
It really is only possible where one is being for or against. Anwar has at no stage, and particularly in '98, been in a position to be against or is against. One has to bear in mind that in 1998 the Taleban was somewhat silently approved regime by most nations. The fact that Anwar has come out of this alive, this horrific ordeal alive, is an endorsement of his tough Britishness and his tough upbringing in the UK. Insofar as his return to England is concerned I think he should be given a hero's welcome because he has endorsed the British people and taught the British people how to survive in horrific ordeals.

Newshost:
Another question for you Ajmal here from Mark Crawsham, he's in the UK. He wants to know where Anwar will go and what he'll do when he's released by the Pakistanis. But we've also had several e-mailers, including Gray from the UK and Terry Garrord ask, why does Anwar even think he has a right to come back?

Ajmal Khan:
Anwar is like any other UK citizen and he has an absolute right like any other UK citizen to come back to England and perhaps explain himself in detail if there is a need. Insofar as where he will go, he's going to come back to England, no doubt he's going to come back to England because he considers that his first and his only home. What he will do - I don't think he's in a position, I mean currently he is in an ordeal and it's very difficult for him to think whether he has any future, if any at all. And perhaps the thoughts of future will come to him when he has received appropriate psychological and medical attention and given the chance to relive his life.

Newshost:
Our final e-mail then in this forum is from Dave and Geraldine Annis in England, this is for you Sue. "Is there anything that can be done to help secure the release of UK nationals held in Afghanistan, Camp X-ray and Pakistan?"

Sue Lloyd-Roberts:
Well I assume those who sent the e-mail must be very sympathetic if they worded it in that way. It would appear to me that these people really do not have a voice today. We've been told that we're fighting a war against terrorism, we're now told there's an "axis of evil", we must all be kept on tenterhooks for the "enemy within" and the people who've been spirited away to Cuba and to jails in Pakistan and who are still in jails in Afghanistan are the unknown and there are very few people out there who are prepared to represent them. We don't know how many there are in Afghanistan, the British Foreign Office know of six, the Red Cross told us there could be as many as 50 Britons still in jail in Afghanistan. So when you say is there anything that can be done, the thing is they are the unknown, they are the disappeared.

Newshost:
Sue, thank you very much for coming in today. Ajmal also thanks very much for joining us. Next week on Correspondent Anita McNaught will be reporting on the state of affairs in Morocco. Well as far as this programme goes the debate continues on the Internet and the website is www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent and until next time goodbye.


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