Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Global forum: The BBC's correspondents
To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


The BBC has correspondents stationed across the globe covering the air strikes on Afghanistan.

In the fourth of our global forums, Bridget Kendall was joined by Reeta Chakrabarti in London, Paul Reynolds in Washington, Richard Galpin in Indonesia and Susannah Price in Islamabad.


Bridget Kendall:
Hello and welcome to the BBC News Online's Global Forum with BBC correspondents from around the world. I'm Bridget Kendall and today we'll be talking to Susannah Price in Islamabad, Paul Reynolds in Washington, Richard Galpin and Reeta Chakrabarti here in London.

It's nearly a week since the US and its allies started their military offensive against Afghanistan so let's take stock of what's happened since. And we'll start with Susannah Price, who's in Islamabad and Susannah the first question that we've had comes from Shaheed Meeyan in Melbourne, Australia. And he wants to know about these reports of civilian casualties. Pakistan's largest Urdhu newspaper, Daily Jang, he says has reported that more than 500 civilians have died and over a thousand have been injured as the result of heavy bombing raids on Afghanistan on Thursday. Is there any independent source to confirm this or reports like it?

Susannah Price:
Well this is one of the great problems about reporting about Afghanistan at the moment. The thing is their not giving any visas for foreign journalists, Western journalists, to go in and look at the situation there, so we're very dependent on reports from both sides and from what little information we can glean. Now we're not really getting any reports from the Western allies - the American led coalition - they just say they're trying to avoid civilian casualties. We did get a BBC leaked information, today actually, from the Pakistani security forces which did talk about an attack in one area of Karbul killing up to 30 civilians - that's the first information that we've had in terms of figures from any member of the allies but it's very difficult to confirm that.

The people we're talking to inside Karbul itself say the only confirmed civilian casualties they've heard of were the four guards who were working for an Afghan NGO who were killed when a missile hit their building and one child who was killed when a rocket hit her home. The Taleban are saying more than 200 people have been killed in these attacks and they're particularly concerned about an attack on a village near the eastern town of Jalalabad. There have been some images coming out from the one television station allowed to stay in Afghanistan - al-Jazeera - that seems to show pictures of injured children and in fact the Taleban are allowing journalists to go in tomorrow to go and look at the situation there.

So we may get a slightly clearer picture tomorrow if the journalists really are allowed in and they can at least go to the eastern town of Jalalabad and see the situation. But apart from that it's very hard. We would assume there would be civilian casualties because of the amount of ordinance and ammunition and missiles that are being fired but the coalition, of course, says they're very carefully targeted.

Bridget Kendal:
Jacqueline Shadall in Boise, Idaho in the USA wants to know about the refugees. Can you give an update on their condition and plans for their protection?

Susannah Price:
Well one of the problems about the refugees is they're not officially allowed to come in to Pakistan at the moment. Here in Pakistan we have two and a half million Afghan refugees already from the previous war against the Soviet invasion. Pakistan has said it can't afford to take anymore and it's closed its border. So if you go to the two main crossing points, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, you're not seeing many refugees coming across at all. The refugees at the moment are all slipping across illegal crossing points, it's a very long porous border - they're coming through mountain passes, they're coming on donkeys, on foot, they're bribing officials so that they can across. And then they're slipping away and hiding in the population - either staying with friends or relatives or coming into bigger cities such as Peshawar.

We do know people inside Afghanistan and those who probably do want to come across are in a very desperate situation indeed. Afghanistan is suffering from the longest drought in living memory - more than three years - there's up to seven million people desperately in need of food inside Afghanistan and now you've got the threat of violence, the attacks, the nightly poundings on the cities of Kandahar, of Kabul, also in Mazar-e Sharif and Herat. So I think there's a lot of displaced people inside Afghanistan, who we don't call refugees, but they are in a very desperate situation.

The UN does say it expects up to one million refugees to come, possibly if and when the border opens. It's trying to prepare camps for them to come across but the area it's been given to prepare those camps in is close to the Afghan border, security is very bad and they're very arid dry conditions, so they haven't even been able really to prepare proper refugee camps on this site as yet.

Bridget Kendal:
Susannah what about the food drops? Katherine Espanosa in San Jose, California wants to know - have those in anyway made a difference or are they just a public relations ploy?

Susannah Price:
This is a very controversial issue - the food drops. The Americans said they were dropping up to 40,000 emergency packets a day. We haven't actually had many reports of people actually finding them and being able to use them but we would assume they'd be dropped in very rural areas. What some of the aid agencies are saying is the situation is very desperate, a lot of the country is going to be completely cut off in about six weeks time by the winter and then they'll be able to get no food to them at all.

Aid agencies say in these very desperate situations food drops are better than nothing but what the international community should be really looking at now is bringing as much food in as possible by road - they want convoys of trucks bringing wheat to come in - as much funding as possible to bring food that way because they say food drops are very expensive, you have to charter planes, they're inefficient because you don't know exactly where you're dropping them, they could even be dangerous because they can be dropped in areas, for example, where there are mines. And there's one particular charity that has been saying it also objects to food drops because people may begin to confuse aid with politics, they may think afterwards that all aid workers have some kind of political agenda and they won't be seen as neutral. So a very contentious issue here and we don't have much proof that they're actually getting to the people that need them at the moment.

Bridget Kendal:
Susannah we can see behind you, it's already night time in Islamabad, can you just, before you go, bring us up to date on the situation in Pakistan itself? There's been a lot of talk of demos, protests, today, after prayers in the mosques in Pakistan, what has been the situation? How much protests have there been? How much violence has there been? Has it been as much as expected?

Susannah Price:
Well it hasn't been as much as expected. It was a very tense situation this morning. The Government was expecting big rallies, possibly violence demonstrations as we've seen in the past and what actually happened was the only big demonstration, which turned violent, was in the city of Karachi, that's Pakistan's biggest city, it's down in the south, where a couple of pro-Taleban demonstrations got out of hand, they apparently started firing at the police, the police fired back, the crowd threw a grenade and there was two people who were wounded in that protest. In other areas where we thought there could be violent protests, they were contained by the security forces and we didn't see any violence there. But of course there are now plans for further demonstrations, especially with the visit of the American Secretary of State Colin Powell we could see more protests then.

Bridget Kendal:
Susannah Price in Islamabad thanks for joining us. And we can now cross over to Washington to our correspondent there Paul Reynolds.

Paul what about the mood in the United States at the moment? There's been this new warning from the FBI, hasn't there, about possible other terrorist attacks, although President George W. Bush didn't seem to suggest that there was anything very precise. How nervous are people?

Paul Reynolds:
I think people are nervous Bridget and apprehensive, all kinds of security arrangements are being put in place - trucks have just been banned from the streets around the Capitol, which is the US Congress here in Washington. People are alert but they're quite determined I think, they're not cowed. They're probably confining their lives a bit, I think people are not particularly keen on going on aircrafts. The restaurants seem rather empty, so people are leading rather domestic lives I think at the moment. But they're determined to see this through, that is what they tell you and what the polls tell you. And it is very difficult to quantify the threat. As Mr Bush said, it was a general threat to the United States, there was nothing specific about the latest FBI threat, the intelligence behind it. Very difficult to quantify the kind of threat people are facing.

Bridget Kendall:
We were just hearing from Susannah Price in Islamabad about new protests or strikes being planned for the visit of the Secretary of State Colin Powell and we've had one question from Karl Kolling in Nevada, in the United States, who wants to know what your sense is of the US led coalition - does it appear to be holding since the start of the bombings or have cracks started to appear?

Paul Reynolds:
I think it's holding as far as Afghanistan is concerned. I think some members of the coalition - Pakistan particularly - would like to see this wrapped up as soon as possible though, of course, there can be no timetable on such a campaign because you are after people like Osama bin Laden and his associates who are presumably in hiding somewhere in Afghanistan and you cannot say the campaign has ended until you have got them or broken up their network. So a timetable is impossible to lay down.

One interesting strain appeared Bridget, of course, when Saudi Arabia did not view the idea of a visit by the British Prime Minister - Tony Blair - with favour. Mr Blair who's just been in Egypt put out feelers to Saudi Arabia to say would a visit be suitable and the Saudis said not at this time. So I think that shows where Saudi Arabia stands - rather nervous but still part of the coalition. The Americans have always said this is a moving coalition, that various parts of the coalition will do various different things. But I think the real crunch would come if the Americans wanted to move on from Afghanistan to try to track down terrorists or whoever in other countries such as Iraq, there I think there would be strains and there, even a country like Britain, I think, would have some reservations.

Bridget Kendall:
We've had another question, this is about the air strikes in particular, from Dorian who lives in Stockholm in Sweden. She asks: "Does Afghanistan, in your opinion, really have any significant military or economic targets? The pictures I've seen," she said, "seem to show $10 million missiles hitting mud huts that are probably scheduled to fall on their own after the next monsoon season."

Paul Reynolds:
Well the US Defence Secretary - Donald Rumsfeld - himself said there were very few high value targets in Afghanistan. And George Bush was quoted, right at the beginning of this campaign, as saying he wasn't going to send a million dollar cruise missile to hit the butt of a camel. There are some targets in Afghanistan - there were air defence missiles, which they inherited from previous governments going back to the Soviet era, there are bunkers of ammunition, there are storage depots of weapons. Certainly there are targets for the United States to hit and has been trying to hit them.

They want to weaken the Taleban, probably overthrow the Taleban, in favour of a new alliance which would include this northern group - the Northern Alliance - but not only that group. There are efforts to get the King, the former King, of Afghanistan to approve a new kind of post Taleban government. But part of that is weakening the Taleban and part of that is attacking the Taleban. So there are targets.

Bridget Kendall:
And what about the timetable Paul. Sandy McNab in Dallas, Texas asks: "How long do you think the air strikes will last? And what about ground forces - when might they be sent in?"

Paul Reynolds:
Mr Bush gave a news conference here last night, he said this could end tomorrow or it could go on for a year or two. Again a timetable when you have a specific objective of capturing people cannot be a timetable laid down according to the calendar - it is a timetable according to results. But obviously the Americans wouldn't want to continue it too long for fear of something going wrong or the coalition creaking but for the moment they are determined to carry it out.

Ground troops? That will be the next phase, the next phase will be the insertion of special forces in some degree but again that depends on conditions on the ground and depends on intelligence - it's no good sending people in if you don't know what they're looking for. And I think one of the great things we've learned of this Bush administration that this is a war fighting administration - they have fought a war before, Colin Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during the Gulf War, Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defence, now Vice President. These people know what fighting a war is about. They didn't blunder in to Afghanistan the day after the September 11th attacks as some people have been suggesting because they knew that you must take action to be effective not just to be on television.

Bridget Kendall:
Thanks Paul for that. We can now cross over to our correspondent in Indonesia, Richard Galpin who's in Jakarta. Richard we were hearing earlier about the protests there've been today in Pakistan, what about Indonesia? There've been protests there today, were they what was expected?

Richard Galpin:
You know they weren't actually. We had expected, and certainly the radical Islamic groups who've been organising the demonstrations since Monday had been saying, that they would have thousands of people on the streets today. In the end it turned out to be in the hundreds, at the most one thousand, outside the American embassy. It was almost entirely peaceful, there were virtually no clashes at all with the police and they all melted away really quite quickly. So no the expectations were not met and certainly what the groups had pledged in terms of numbers was not met either.

Bridget Kendall:
We've had a question from Scott Wagoner in West Lynn in the United States who wants to know: "These supporters who were there; there may be not very many of them, but how would they join a declared war - holy war."

Richard Galpin:
It's a very good question and certainly a number of Islamic radical groups here have been registering people to take part in a jihad. Two groups in particular: one the youth movement for - the Islamic youth movement - says that it has around about 600 people who've signed up to fight the jihad but they've not really made it clear as to whether they are fighting a jihad here in Indonesia or whether it's a jihad in Afghanistan.

The assumption, initially, had been that they would want to send them off to Afghanistan but then the problem is that they don't have the money to do it, it's obviously expensive either flying or sending people by whatever means is available to Afghanistan and these groups do not have the money to do that. And certainly people who've been asked, after signing up, to join this so-called jihad when we've asked them and say: Well how are you going to get to Afghanistan? - they have absolutely no idea.

So I think maybe it seems that more likely that the idea is to get people signed up for any kind of future kind of problems here or for demonstrations by these radical groups, they then know they've got a pool of people who they can draw on to pull out on to the streets.

Bridget Kendall:
Christopher Stevens who's in Oakland, California is also a bit puzzled about this reaction on the streets. He says: "These people are very far from the issues that rankle Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group - the Israeli occupation of Palestine for example, or the US presence in the Gulf - so why should they feel so angry?

Richard Galpin:
Well I think that Muslims around the world do feel a sense of solidarity and that's certainly something which we have discovered in our interviews, not just with the radical groups but with the mainstream Muslim organisations here - [Muslim organisations in Indonesia]. I think almost everyone we have spoken to, and people that you would regard as being very moderate, very responsible leaders, all say that everyone really is very unhappy with American foreign policy and that what has happened is a result of American foreign policy and that of course means what's been happening in the Middle East - not just the Palestinian and Israeli issue but also what's been happening in Iraq. Virtually everyone here we've interviewed has referred to that issue and what they perceive as being American arrogance in its approach to the Muslim world. So I think there is a real sense of solidarity but of course that does not stretch, certainly here, does not stretch to support for acts of terrorism.

Bridget Kendall:
Well there have been some threats, haven't there, from local Islamic radicals targeting Westerners asking them to leave the country and Michael Allen in Birmingham wants to know: "Do people like yourself, who represent the Western media in Jakarta, are you at risk, indeed are people at risk from these threats?"

Richard Galpin:
I think as far as we're concerned so far it has been fine. We have not felt specific threats, so far at least. Having said that on the streets today it certainly was more aggressive, a colleague of mine - an Indonesian colleague - was actually injured but by a policeman - we don't really understand what was happening there, she was hit in the face by the policeman outside the American embassy. But apart from that we certainly have had more people coming up to us, more of these members of these radical groups saying: Where are you from? and: What are you doing here? - and at times it has felt a little bit intimidating but so far nothing more serious than that.

In terms of the seriousness of the threats to expel the foreign community, and particularly the Americans and the British, I think at this stage it's much more about rhetoric, certainly we interviewed the head of one of the main organisations which is threatening to do this and we said to him: Well can we come out and see one of your searches - they call them sweeps here - for foreigners, so we can come out and film it and see exactly what you're doing? - and he blustered and wasn't able to give us a clear answer as to when any of these would be happening and sort of passed it off on to another of his colleagues who again couldn't give any specific timetable.

So I don't think in reality there have been really serious searches for foreigners here in Jakarta, at least, so far. In one other city, in Solo, also on the island here of Java, there were some searches with groups going around the hotels asking if there were any Americans but at that stage they didn't find any.

Bridget Kendall:
Richard Galpin in Jakarta thanks for joining us. We can now go to our studio in Central London where Reeta Chakrabarti is who's been keeping a close eye on the British Government's view and participation in all of this and of course that includes Tony Blair who's just got back from his latest trip that included Oman and Egypt but not Saudi Arabia - we were talking about that a little earlier. What's been the reaction in Downing Street to his tour? Do they feel it's gone well?

Reeta Chakrabarti:
Downing Street does feel that it's gone well. He went to Egypt and to Oman of course, there are some 20,000 British service men and service women who stationed in Oman at the moment and he went to talk to them, to rally them if you like and to prepare them for possibly - for active service at some time in the future. Downing Street are saying that they feel that diplomatically it did go very well, Tony Blair was taking with him the message that he repeats time and time again which is that this isn't a war against Islam, it's a war against terrorism and he's very keen to underline this.

Part of his trip was also, though, to put the Middle East peace process or the Middle East crisis again further centre stage because there is a growing consensus, I think, in London and also in Washington that the trouble between Israel and the Palestinians has got to be focused on and the reason that he went to talk to the Egyptian President - Hosni Mubarak - was to focus on that very issue.

There was, you mentioned there, Saudi Arabia which seemed to be something of a hiccup in the Tony Blair tour in that there were reports that Mr Blair had been snubbed by the government there because it is such a sensitive time. There are major worries within Saudi Arabia about the bombing attacks on Afghanistan and there were rumours, published through a Saudi Arabian newspaper, that the Saudi Arabian government didn't feel that it would be politic to be seen to be meeting Mr Blair at this time. But Downing Street in fact rebutted that and said that wasn't true, it was simply a logistical matter - their diaries were too full and they couldn't meet this time. And in fact the Saudi Arabian government has also issued a statement today saying that the reports were untrue.

Bridget Kendall:
Julie in Barcelona wants to know: "Why is Tony Blair and the British government sticking his neck out so far? Surely," she argues, "that would make Britain into a target when the terrorist target, up till now, the primary one, has very much been the United States."

Reeta Chakrabarti:
Well I think that there are several answers to that question. The first, which is one about the two countries if you like, is that Britain and America have traditionally enjoyed a very close relationship and for that very simple reason Tony Blair was very quick straight after the attacks in America to say that Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with America.

I think another reason rests with the very personality of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair is a very moral man in a way - he's a Christian - he gave a speech to the party conference this year, in Brighton, which was a very moral speech about the responsibilities of the world, of the civilised world, of this big international coalition to fight terrorism, using this phrase that he uses very frequently that action would be more dangerous than inaction and I think that he believes that in a strange sort of way some good may come out of these atrocities that took place on September 11th in that it's shown that there can be this worldwide coalition, this sense of community and that by acting in concert with other countries, in concert with other people, actually terrorism can be overcome. Now of course it remains to be seen if he is in fact right but it is that spirit that drives him if you like.

Bridget Kendall:
What about the British forces and their participation in what's happening now? Jo Kerr in England, in the UK, asks: "They seem to have been involved on the first day but not since." Is that the case?

Reeta Chakrabarti:
Well so far it does appear to have been the case. I think the point was made really by Britain being involved on that first night attack that this was a coalition, it wasn't just America acting by itself, it was in coalition at least with one other country and that this could happen again, if you like, and once the war expands, if and when ground troops are sent in, that it again will probably not be America acting by itself. So I think once that point was made, in a sense, until Britain is needed again it needn't necessarily act again but we know that all sorts of military troops are on standby, in that first night missile firing submarines were used, that on the same day reconnaissance aircraft, tanker aircraft, were sent to the region and they are there on standby.

Bridget Kendall:
Reeta Chakrabarti thank you. And we can now go back to Paul Reynolds who's still with us in Washington. And Paul just one question I wanted to bring to you which is from Martin Bushker who's in Duisburg in Germany. He's interested in the Muslims in the United States and he asks: "Does this all mean that the American dream has failed to work out for Muslims?"

Paul Reynolds:
I don't think it's failed to work out for Muslims living here, many of them are doing very well in the American dream and the administration has made a particular point, quite successfully in my view, of trying to protect their interests during this current crisis. I would add one thing in the wider context, Bridget, on this is that there's some analysis here about whether it is American foreign policy which led to this and I think there's a dual view on this. Yes, there may be some elements of American foreign policy which have upset people in the Middle East but equally it is conditions in some Middle East countries which is the primary cause of some of these terrorist groups - Egypt and Saudi Arabia - this is where these people came from. Osama bin Laden comes from Saudi Arabia and his deputy - Zawahri - comes from Egypt, was involved in a group which assassinated President Sadat. So I think it's some of the conditions within the Middle East itself which need examining as to the causes of this international violence.

Bridget Kendall:
But there is at the same time some soul searching in the United States about American foreign policy and whether it needs changing?

Paul Reynolds:
There is some soul searching but that is at a lower level and the Americans feel that they have not done wrong, they feel that wrong has been done unto them.

Bridget Kendall:
Paul Reynolds in Washington thanks very much for joining us. And that's where we must leave it for today. Thank you for your questions and than you too to Susannah Price, Richard Galpin, Paul Reynolds and Reeta Chakrabarti here in London for answering a selection of them. I'm Bridget Kendal and for now goodbye.

Links to more Forum stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Forum stories