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EDITIONS
Panorama Sunday, 7 October, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Ask Baqer Moin
Baqer Moin
Ask Baqer Moin

The BBC's Central Asia specialist Baqer Moin joined Panorama to answer your questions on the issues raised by Afghanistan - The Dark Ages. Click on the link below for full coverage of the forum.

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Transcript

Andy Bell:
Hello and welcome to Panorama interactive. Panorama last night was titled 'Afghanistan: The Dark Ages' - a special report by the BBC World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, about his experiences there over the last 12 years.

We had hoped to hear from John today but unfortunately due to his work in Afghanistan we won't be able to.

With me to deal with your e-mails on last night's film is the BBC's Central Asia specialist Baqer Moin. Baqer appeared in last night's programme.

If we can just put some of the questions that we got from our viewers to you Baqer.

So first of all we have Richard Evans from Watford and he asks: What is the attitude towards the West from the people who oppose the Taleban in Afghanistan and is there a general resentment towards America's support for Israel and Britain and American sanctions on Iraq?"

Baqer Moin:
I think generally the people in the north who are partly part of the Northern Alliance and some who are independent have got a keen interest in the West playing a major role in changing the current situation in Afghanistan. I don't think they have got too much interest in the outside world short of really something to be done about the misery that Afghanistan has been going through for the past 20 odd years. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Afghans were hoping that the West would come and do something about the situation there in helping them bringing about an effective government - there was no effective government. In 1992 the government of President Najibullah who was supported by the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Mujahedin took over and until '96 they ruled Afghanistan in a very chaotic way. Then the Taleban came and the story of the Taleban as is unfolding now we see what has happened to the people of Afghanistan - women were suppressed, schools were closed down, universities were closed down. Although they brought some security to the roads and the cities nevertheless the general population suffered enormously especially as Afghanistan has been going through a lot of drought, misery and ill health and the Taleban haven't done anything in terms of reconstructing the country. So the primary objective of the people in Afghanistan at the moment, especially those in the north, is reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Andy Bell:
Now we've got a question from Andy here, he says: "If this programme - the Panorama programme - could be seen widely in a country like Pakistan would it influence the opinion of those who support the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden or is it the anti-American, anti-Western, feeling so strong within that vocal minority that nothing will alter their mindset in the short term?

Baqer Moin:
I don't think it's going to change their mind too much. Nevertheless the majority of people, whether they are in Pakistan or in other Islamic world, when they see the misery that Afghan people have been going through because of the Mujahedin and because of the Taleban it affects them. Unfortunately the people of Afghanistan themselves cannot see this programme because there is no television in Afghanistan, there is no newspaper in Afghanistan, so whatever they hear is from radio stations like the BBC that is broadcasting to Afghanistan. My feeling is that if people can view such a programme in the normal circumstances they would be sufficiently influenced by it to change the course of their thinking but when people are in the state of heightened tension very little affects them and as you rightly said they are a small but vocal minority and silent majority usually are not newsworthy.

Andy Bell:
A question from Sharmeen Rabadi from London, she says: "If Osama Bin Laden is captured would it be the end of his network do you think?"

Baqer Moin:
I don't think so. Osama Bin Laden has created with the help of his deputy - Dr Ayman al-Zawahri from Egypt - a network like the Internet who are interconnected across the world. And I think they would try to be as active as possible. But their main brain, their main driving force, would go. That's why I think if the West is going to be successful this time in Afghanistan what they have to do, after finishing with the military targets, they would have to think about creating a government in Afghanistan that can control Afghanistan, that can bring about a government that is representative of all Afghan sections - being ethnic, linguistic or religious - so that people will have faith in that government, cooperate with that government and rid the government of two things which has been plaguing the world: one is terrorism, second is drug addiction.

The drug that is consumed in most British cities and many other European cities and some American cities all are coming from Afghanistan and it's the money that goes from this drug that is helping the weaponry that is affecting the rest of the world.

Andy Bell:
There's a similar thing from Emma Dennett from Bristol, and she says: "Can the American/British alliance cut the lifeline of terrorism off from penetrating down the ages by putting an end to the training of young boys into so called defenders of Islam?

Baqer Moin:
I think one has to separate two issues from each other. I think there has to be a major legislation in various countries to stop young people being trained for military purposes for no aim. At the same time I think education can do a lot of good. In Afghanistan you've got a whole generation of people who don't know anything but war, while the elderly people, the middle aged people, the ordinary people, are fed up with war, some young people have no other business to do except war. So you have to create jobs for them, you have to start reconstructing the country to attract these people.

And also I think the Muslim community in the West they've got problems, problems in the sense that culturally they have not yet been absorbed into the mainstream of Western culture. So quite a lot of young people who are grown up within the family who are very traditionalist don't feel at home with their own family. At the same time the society at large hasn't attracted them sufficiently towards themselves to become part of the mainstream Western society. So they are somewhere lost in between. It's these people that one has to look after educationally and make sure that they are not being absorbed by the extremists.

Andy Bell:
A question from Jim Walker from Glenrothes, he says: "How does the USA try to justify its backing of the Taleban regime in the first place when they knew what was going on all along?"

Baqer Moin:
I think, well, it's a very valid criticism and I think my personal feeling is that there was a lot of oversight by the West after the fall of Communism because they thought, ok, Afghanistan was a very good platform in which the West - the Soviet Union was beaten and after that they thought, ok, they cancelled their own problem. They left the two countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to find the solution for the Afghan problem and the end result is what we are seeing today. I think this time the West will have to seriously do something in creating a government acceptable to all Afghans in order to stop Afghanistan becoming once again the centre of drug production, drug exportation and of course terrorism.

Andy Bell:
Ben Patient from London says: "Do you think that the West is simply repeating the mistakes of the past by playing puppet master with the savage leaders of Afghanistan?"

Baqer Moin:
Well I don't think you can call all Afghan leaders - there are savages, there are people within the Afghan groups who have been accused, justifiably, of abusing human rights in different shapes and forms - there have been quite a lot of massacres, looting, rapes - those people, in due course, should be brought to justice through an international court. But at the same time you have to deal with the reality of life in Afghanistan. If you are going to have peace at all in Afghanistan you have to work with the existing people until such time that they can be replaced by better people, then think how to deal with them - the same pattern of behaviour was really seen in Bosnia - the West didn't go overnight to catch the war criminal and bring them to justice, they have to work with everybody in order to set up a government that is acceptable then think about the extremes of what has happened and deal with that one in due course through the international courts of justice.

Andy Bell:
Ok, well let's just stop there for a moment to see the moment from the film where John Simpson reported from Afghanistan five years ago.

John Simpson clip:
In 1996 I returned to Karbul, it presented a depressing spectacle. This once attractive city, a place of culture and education, had been reduced to rubble. The Mujahedin factions were settling their petty differences with the weapons of modern warfare. They had shelled the spoils of their own victory. In the shadow of the old royal palace children scoured the battle fields at the risk of their own lives, looking for shrapnel to sell for scrap. Karbul felt truly abandoned.

Andy Bell:
Well there's some terrible pictures there of the devastation on Afghanistan and Rosemary Blaise from London, she says: "How on earth was that situation in Afghanistan allowed to go on for so long?"

Baqer Moin:
I think short-termism, lack of interest, overindulgence, donors fatigue and also the fact that the West was busy with other areas of the world and they thought, ok, we don't have to deal with them because that's not an important area, forgetting that the world that we live in is a very much an interdependent world, we can't get out of it at all. Some people who are very sorry for what happened in New York, especially some Afghans were saying, ok, if anything good comes out of the situation and makes America think again and take on its responsibilities across the globe and not thinking of itself as a separate island is a good thing because it is an interdependent world, you just cannot export the technology and import raw material but you have to interchange and be interactive with the rest of the world in a more up-to-date daily basis in order to live in a peaceful world. I think it has been a rude awakening for America but nevertheless President Bush wanted to pursue an isolationist policy, vis-à-vis for instance, the Middle East situation but he suddenly discovered that he has to deal with it. And I think if one learns a lesson from that is that ok we can't really ignore any problem around the world, it's going to catch up with us one way or another sooner or later. I think that reality may be very helpful for everybody.

Andy Bell:
Elizabeth Siggers from Aylesbury, she says: "How do we stop more innocent being killed and at the same time stop this unspeakable terrorism? Is bombing Afghanistan the only way and what other alternatives could be considered?"

Baqer Moin:
Well it's a very good question. I mean in the short run I suppose, especially after the attack on New York and Washington, it's very difficult what else can you advise the Americans to do in the short run. In the long run I suppose one has to deal with the root cause of the problem, i.e. it's a question of poverty, alienation, it's a question of the growing gap between the rich and the poor - the fact that America, for instance, and some other countries, are not very keen to follow the environment, the cue to agreement, it's issues that has changed the perception of people and we have also to look - we are living in a world in which we have to be seen to be acting in a just manner internationally, not only on issues that we want to do so.

I think the situation of the Middle East has to be addressed, I think there should be peace between Arabs and Israel because it creates a lot of resentment among the Muslims and the Arab world, not only against America but also against their own leaders who are so powerless. And for that reason you can see a lot of support for people like Bin Laden because he can express things that ordinary people are not allowed or can't do.

Andy Bell:
Well we've got a question here from Sarah Blackmore and she lives in Canada, and she says: "What are the realistic chances of this campaign succeeding quickly, without completely destabilising the region?"

Baqer Moin:
Well it's very difficult really. I think the chances of having a very quick solution is not there. I think if the allies are going to deal with the root cause of the problem it will take much longer. Destroying the physical centres of Taleban and Bin Laden is easy. Arresting all of them is a bit difficult but dealing with the root cause would be - needs long term planning. I think, as I mentioned earlier, we have no solution for Afghanistan short of getting rid of Bin Laden and his foreign supporters inside Afghanistan, getting rid of those leaders of Taleban who actively supported Bin Laden, trying to create a consensus within Afghanistan over a government that is capable of controlling Afghanistan and also starting a major Marshall plan, a major reconstruction of Afghanistan. That is the key factor.

One warning one has to give is that we should not ally ourselves with other dictators in the region for the sake of cooperation because that may in the long run create one other problem and that is the people of those countries are going to resent the West because the West is being seen to be supporting dictators for its short-term interest.

Andy Bell:
Well that goes in very nicely to the question from Jason from London, he says: "What part do you think Iraq will play in all of this?"

Baqer Moin:
I think the Iraqis would be very happy at the moment to remain silent because they know they're the next target. Within the American administration there are two schools of thought. One are saying that ok we should just deal with Afghanistan at the moment, truly and well, before we think about other areas. But there are right wingers within the administration and outside who are saying that we have to deal with the unfinished business of Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. So I think at the moment the Iraqi president is watching all his actions, he doesn't want to be the next target.

Andy Bell:
Ok, this is a question from Andy, he says: "Do you think it's important that other Muslims should challenge the Islamic clerics who appear to encourage radical and extreme interpretations otherwise the seeds of terrorism will continue to be planted?"

Baqer Moin:
I think the question of reform in the Islamic world, at the moment, is a major issue. Within the Islamic world those countries that have got a strong culture have managed to absorb Western culture and sort of have a hybrid home grown culture towards kind of Islamic democracy. It's very limited nevertheless it works. But there are certain countries within the Islamic world who are against any Western influence whatsoever, they are vociferous, but they are in the minority because the majority of Muslims discovered that the world is so interrelated that they cannot do without understanding the Western culture.

I just want to quote you something that the Iranian president said. He said that in order to address our problems properly, to find out the roots of how to deal with our problems, we have to understand the Western philosophy because, he said, and quite a lot of reformists within the Islamic world say, ok, we've got an indigenous culture, we've got Islamic culture and whether we like it or not we have got Western culture. I think that idea, within the educated people in the Islamic world, is taking much more root. But social development is not an event to take place overnight, it's a long process, the same way as in the West - renaissance, reformation and Christianity took a long time - several centuries - it maybe shorter in the Islamic world but unfortunately it's very difficult to undergo such a major transformation in a short time span. So in that respect there is a need for more dialogue between all cultures and civilisation in order to avoid clashes.

Andy Bell:
Now Malcom Brooks, he's from Milton Keynes, he says: "We've been told so many times of how the world of Islam is in effect one large family, so what have the rich Muslim nations been doing over the recent past to alleviate the plight of Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, why is it left to rich Western nations when there are similarly rich Muslim nations doing little or nothing?"

Baqer Moin:
Well let's look at this question from a different angle. In fact rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, have done a lot for Afghanistan. What they have done they've just helped enhance radicalism in Afghanistan by giving money only to religious schools and promoting their kind of Islam. My feeling is that they are doing it, nevertheless I don't think the world of Islam is one family. If you put aside the prayers and the daily rituals, what we are witnessing, as some anthropologists are saying, they say we've got an Islamic culture which everybody kind of shares and also we've got an Islamic catered culture, i.e. local culture presented in the name of Islam.

For instance the way women dress from one Islamic country to another Islamic country is completely different, it's not exactly the same. The way - the attitude towards polygamy is not the same, the attitude towards the upbringing of children is not the same, the question of education - female education - and working is not the same.

I think the Western world should appreciate that the variety in the Islamic world is as much as it is in the Christian world. It's very difficult to say you've got one Christian culture, you've got possibly one Christian theology but you've got many Christian cultures in different Christian countries around the world. So this is the same in the world of Islam.

On the question of help, naturally strategic issues, as it is in the West, the question of short-termism, short sighted, they all come into the calculation. Nevertheless I think the best approach would be to create a situation in which international bodies, such as United Nations, IMF, World Bank and others, can channel help to various countries without ideological attachment.

Andy Bell:
Now Ivor Soutar he's from Chichester and he wants to know: "Why do the Muslims who live here refuse to condemn terrorists?"

Baqer Moin:
I think because there is no clear definition of who is a terrorist. Let me give you an example, if you go to Northern Ireland who would you call terrorists, some people would say it's the protestor and extremist, others say it's the IRA extremists, the same division really exists within the Islamic world. Some people say Hezbollah in Lebanon is a terrorist, some people say they are liberators because they fight within their own land against a force of occupation. So there is no yet defined word for terrorism, unless the United Nations, who's currently having a conference about terrorism, manage to find really a way of describing what is terrorism, because terrorism for some is liberation fighters for others and until such time that we define these words in different contexts and there is an agreed universal definition of that in Oxford dictionary, or whatever dictionary you were mentioning, these divisions of opinion would be there.

Andy Bell:
Although I do think that Ivor is perhaps alluding to the events of September 11th, I mean - and Baroness Thatcher was going on about this last week - so why do not the Muslims who live here refuse to condemn say the terrorists who carried the acts on September 11th?

Baqer Moin:
I think most Islamic countries, so far as I know, most Islamic countries almost universally, with the exception possibly of Iraq at first and then they came back to it, condemned the actual act of terrorism. The division wasn't so much about condemning terrorism, the division was about the root cause of terrorism. Some people say, ok America deserved that because it has been helping various countries, has been helping Israel for instance, they've been saying it. But my feeling is that so far as actual terrorism is concerned there has been a unity.

But so far as the way to deal with it there are divisions. But if we haven't been hearing it's because Osama Bin Laden, because of his defiance of the international community, expressing things that many Muslims in many Islamic countries cannot, has turned himself into a hero, the same way as Che Guevara did, let's say, in the 60s and the 70s.

This is a problem for many Muslim countries because they haven't been able really to explain to their own people that killing innocent, regardless of the cause, is unjustified. I mean on that I agree. I think there has to be a much more clear stance by Muslim clergy over that. But at the same time if they have got good reason, if they want to deal with the roots of terrorism, then they have to come up and express it quite clearly. I think there is that vagueness in some statesmen but so far as condemning the actual killing of people in New York, innocent people in New York, I think there was kind of universal condemnation in Islamic world.

Andy Bell:
Ok, now we've got Adrian Baschnonga from London, and I hope I've spelt that - pronounced your name right there Adrian, he wants to know: "What is the origin of the ideology underlying the al-Quaeda network?" And he also wants to know: "Do the beliefs of Muslim sects, such as Wahhabi play a part?"

Baqer Moin:
Al-Quaeda in Arabic means the base, the fundamental, the root. I think the idea of Mr Bin Laden was to create a base, a platform, for various organisations, like Internet, various organisations to join it loosely and freely and work together. The puritanism of Mr Bin Laden is partly to do, partly not entirely, with the Wahhabism, because Wahhabism was against any ornamental ritualism that exists, for instance, in Catholic or in Shiite Islam. Ritual plays an important part in Shiite Islam and some other Islamic faiths but Wahhabism is a puritanical religion that they think you should not worship anything but God and you cannot have representation of anything such as art, sculpture and things like that. And al-Queda shares in that.

They - it's very interesting - they see the world in black and white. He was saying, the message was: The world of Islam has been dominated by Jews and Christians and we have to liberate that. In order to liberate that you have to train people, send them to various countries, starting with Saudi Arabia whom - and they view has brought in infidels to defend it - and move on and create an Islamic caliphate, that is the ideology of Mr Bin Laden. Part of it is coming from Wahhabism and part of it is really political radicalism cloaked in religion.

Andy Bell:
Ok, now this is a question from Liverpool and it's from a guy called Gary Mahoney and Gary wants to know: "Do you think that action of the kind currently underway can achieve anything other than a continuation of the appalling situation in Afghanistan?"

Baqer Moin:
What they mean by action?

Andy Bell:
I think that the, what Gary's alluding to, is the attacks by the Americans.

Baqer Moin:
Well that is an interesting point but I cannot see any other solution really. I mean Mr Bin Laden and his supporters within the Taleban are determined to push on with what they do and unless you stop them they'll repeat. Had the world noticed what they did with their statues of Buddha in Bamyan things would have been different now. It was a major statement by Bin Laden and his supporters, as well as Taleban, defying the international public opinion, destroying these 2,000 year old statues that have been in Afghanistan, a Muslim country, and nobody has touched them and looked after it, suddenly they did why? Because they defied the world because the world were not ready to - was not ready to recognise them. And they said ok we can do that one, had the world taken notice of that I don't think 11th September would have happened the way it did.

Andy Bell:
Right, ok we're going to stop for another clip now and John Simpson closed the programme by posing the question about Afghanistan's future and let's just take a look at that now.

John Simpson clip:
Afghanistan's scarcely a country any more. It's just a blank space on the map where outside nations - Russia, the United States, Pakistan, India - have been able to interfere and fight each other by proxy with the enthusiastic cooperation of the warring Afghan factions. I'm here now to report on the next turning point - the destruction of the Taleban regime - it's just now starting.

It's the most obvious cliché in the book to say that the innocent are always the victims of war. Of course they are but it's stark fact in Afghanistan. And the most basic reason this terrible downward spiral of war and terrorism is that Afghanistan has become a killing field in the interests of other countries. If all the Americans and their allies do now is to smash the Taleban, destroy Bin Laden's terrorist network and then promptly forget about this country all over again then they won't have achieved very much that's serious or worthwhile. And the terrible suffering Afghanistan's gone through will just begin all over again.

Andy Bell:
Well that was the end of the Panorama programme last night and Peter Robinson from Aberystwyth wants to know: "How will Afghanistan be able to emerge from the conflicts of its recent history?"

Baqer Moin:
I think Afghanistan, the way it has been put together, consists of a number of nationalities - the Pashtos were about 40% of the population, the Tajiks were about 25%, the Hazaras were about 15%, the Uzbeks 7%, Turkmens 2% and the Baluchis 1%. This mosaic of nations, despite everything, have a stake together, there's no question of Afghan separatism. Nevertheless they have failed to get together and be constructive about the future of Afghanistan. What the West can do to help them and rescue them from themselves and push them towards a national unity government - if they do that a lot would be achieved. If they fail to do that Afghanistan will remain as it is - a source of major problems - not only terrorism but also instability for the rest of the region.

Andy Bell:
What is the Afghanistani people say get lost the West, we don't want any of your imposed government, what then?

Baqer Moin:
I think unless the West behaves very, very stupidly, which I don't believe it would, it won't happen. The majority of Afghan people are interested in peace, in reconstruction, and from what we have been seeing it's going to happen and I think Taleban top leadership would go, Pashtos would be represented, Tajiks would be represented in a future government and with the help of all of that and also working on winning people's hearts and minds with actual immediate help a consensus would emerge within Afghanistan - that's the only way to the future of this country.

Andy Bell:
Ok, and lastly a question from Simon Gibbons. He lives in Luxembourg, and he says: "If the Northern Alliance were to fill the gap left by the Taleban what would there be to stop the country descending into the same chaos as when the USSR left?"

Baqer Moin:
I think if foreigners are not interfering in Afghanistan, if the United Nations, with the help of the West and the neighbouring countries, but not only neighbours, manage really to bring together a government of national unity, not only Northern Alliance, but Pashtos, Northern Alliance, with others, they would be able to put together a government that would work.

Andy Bell:
Ok, well thank you very much. Now that's all we've got time for on this Panorama interactive and thank you very much Baqer Moin for joining us. I thank you too for all those people who have e-mailed the programme, please keep those coming. Now Panorama's back this Sunday night at 10.15 after the news with a report on the Muslim community in Birmingham, please don't miss that. And thank you very much for joining us.

Panorama - Afghanistan - The Dark Ages


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