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2001-09-14

Osama bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist

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Bush administration officials yesterday officially named millionaire extremist Osama bin Laden as the person they say is behind the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. High-level officials say the U.S. is prepared to engage in wide-ranging military operations that could involve an invasion of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is widely suspected of hiding. [includes rush transcript]

Afghanistan lies in the heart of Central Asia, just south of three of the former Soviet republics. It is bordered on the west by Iran and on the east by Pakistan, where the ruling Taliban enjoys widespread support. Afghanistan has known little but war for the last 20 years, first with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1980, and after 1989, through a devastating civil war that has left it one of the poorest places on earth.

But most people in this country know virtually nothing about Afghanistan or about the U.S. role in aiding the rise of both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, the radical Islamic grouping that controls about 90 percent of the country.

As the Bush administration increasingly prepares for war, it is this story that people in this country need to hear.

Tape:

  • Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, and "Osama bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist." He lives in Pakistan and is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He is also a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the London Telegraph.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Bush administration officials officially named millionaire Islamic militant Osama bin Laden as the person they say is behind the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. High-level officials say the U.S. is prepared to engage in wide-ranging military operations that could involve an invasion of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be hiding.

Afghanistan lies in the heart of Central Asia, just south of three of the former Soviet republics. It’s bordered on the west by Iran and on the east by Pakistan, where the ruling Taliban enjoys widespread support. Afghanistan has known little but war for the past 20 years, first with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1980, and after 1989, through a devastating civil war that has left it one of the poorest places on earth.

But most people in this country know virtually nothing about Afghanistan or about the U.S. role in aiding the rise of both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, the radical Islamic grouping that controls about 90 percent of the country. As the Bush administration increasingly prepares for war, it is this story that people in this country must hear.

We turn now to Ahmed Rashid. He’s the author of the book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, also has a piece on the web right now called "Osama bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist." He lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He’s also a correspondent for the Far East Economic Review and the London Telegraph. I spoke with him just about an hour ago in Lahore and asked him about Secretary of State Colin Powell immediately pointing the finger at Osama bin Laden after Tuesday’s attacks. I asked him what he thought of this.

AHMED RASHID: In all of my writings over the last three or four years, and my coverage of Afghanistan, I’ve been pointing out, especially in American media, that bin Laden is a real threat, that it’s not just a question of getting bin Laden, as it were, but it is a question of bringing peace to Afghanistan, putting international pressure to bear on the neighboring countries, etc., to bring peace to Afghanistan, so that you can oust not just bin Laden but dozens of terrorist groups who have taken sanctuary in Afghanistan. Now, bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan for the last six years. Ten years ago, he started setting up this network, which is called al-Qaeda, which is now spread around the world.

And the real danger at the moment for the United States is not so much what has happened, which is of course absolutely horrifying, but the fact that dozens, and even perhaps hundreds, of sleepers—that is, people, militants who have been placed there in the U.S., Canada—are ready to strike again. Hundreds of these sleepers are living there in the United States. Some of these are militant Arabs and East Asians, Pakistanis, Gulf Arabs, many of them who fought in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and then because they were fighting in that war and thereby supporting the U.S. CIA arms pipeline to the Afghan mujahideen, they were very easily—they very easily were given visas to the United States. Now, many of them went there. Many of them got settled down. Many of them—you know, they have regular jobs. They have a family life, a social life. They have clean identity papers. And then, in the mid-’90s, you had this process where kind of bin Laden gave the call, first from Sudan and then from Afghanistan, and he called many of these people back and spoke to them and got them involved again, inspired them, and even perhaps gave them some training in Afghanistan on specific jobs, and then sent them back. And these guys went back and ran their normal lives.

But what we have seen so far in all the terrorist acts that have been carried out by bin Laden since the early 1990s, they have all been carried out by sleepers inside the country, people living in the country for several years. It’s not that, you know, people have flown out from Afghanistan and rushed into the United States and carried out a bombing and then rushed out again. These are people who are living there, who are part of the social fabric of the country they live in. And this is the biggest threat of all.

And this is only being made possible, because there is a base, there is a sanctuary, there is a country, which provides—which is providing all the facilities for this to happen, and that is Afghanistan. And this sanctuary is only being made possible because of the continuing civil war in Afghanistan, which is—and until that comes to an end, and until there’s going to be an end to the civil war, a rooting out of all these terrorist groups, etc., which, you know—which the Americans have really not addressed in the last decade, unless this happens, we are going to see a continuation of this process which I’ve talked about.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ahmed Rashid. His book is called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Now let’s step back to 1986, at the time the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, was William Casey. How does he fit into this story and the history? And let’s take a look at the history of the CIA and the Taliban.

AHMED RASHID: Well, the Americans, in the 1980s, spent something like $8 billion arming the Afghan mujahideen, funding and arming which went through Pakistan. These funds were matched by Gulf Arab states and Saudi Arabia. And at that time, the U.S. was very keen to defeat the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and the Soviet invasion. And they were given the idea by Pakistan, actually, to create an international brigade, as it were, of Muslims from around the world who would come and fight the jihad against the Soviets. And this would make the war, the U.S. war, or the war effort against the Soviets, if you like, an international effort. So what happened was that basically you had the American CIA, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence organizing an international brigade, encouraging thousands and thousands of Muslims from all over the Muslim world to come to first Pakistan and then Afghanistan and join the mujahideen in this war.

Now, bin Laden was one of these figures. And at that time, in fact, the Americans were putting a lot of pressure on the Saudi royal family to send a prince to lead the Saudi contingent against the Soviets, because that would kind of give a lot of clout and presence and charisma to the war. But no Saudi prince was willing to go and fight in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was. Bin Laden came from a very rich family, a very well-known family, which was very close to the royal family. So, in many ways, he was a kind of prince, and he was the best that the Saudis could send. So when he arrived in Peshawar in the 1980s, in Pakistan, which was the center for the support base for the Afghan mujahideen, he was fated by the Americans, the Pakistanis and the Saudis as being this high-born, rich Saudi kid who would now lead the Saudi contingent, which he did, very efficiently.

The Saudi contingent fought. They brought in a lot of money from private donations. Bin Laden’s father was head of a construction company, and his father sent in construction bulldozers and all sorts of construction engines to build tunnels and storage depots for the mujahideen in—just inside the border in Afghanistan for these arms supplies that had to be stored and cached away. So, you know, there was a great sort of coming and going and much celebration that this, you know, young, rich, almost princely kid was supporting the war effort.

AMY GOODMAN: His father, Mohammed bin Laden, what was his role in Saudi society?

AHMED RASHID: Well, he didn’t have any direct role, but, I mean, you know, during the war against the Soviets, he had—you know, he was funding his son, and he was supporting his son.

AMY GOODMAN: Also close to King Faisal?

AHMED RASHID: He was very close to King Faisal. In fact, they became rich because King Faisal gave the family, Mohammed bin Laden, a whole heap of construction contracts to renovate the Great Mosque at Mecca and the second mosque at Medina. These are the two most holiest mosques in Islam.

AMY GOODMAN: And his father, Mohammed bin Laden, helped fund the mujahideen, the struggle against the Soviets?

AHMED RASHID: Yes, certainly. I mean, there were—there was an outpouring of private donations from rich Saudis, princes, many of them who were perhaps feeling guilty that they couldn’t go and fight, so they were sending money as a kind of compensation. And, of course, there was a lot of state funding, from the Saudi—from the Saudi state.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what Wahhabism is?

AHMED RASHID: Wahhabism is a sect of Sunni Islam, the mainstream sect of Islam. Islam is divided into two broad streams: Sunni and Shia. Wahhabism arose in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century amongst the Arab Bedouin, the Arab nomads, as a kind of cleansing movement which would get rid of—there was a lot of mysticism, there was a lot of Sufism, there was a lot of worship of saints, of Muslim saints, and reveration of graveyards and shrines. And Wahhabism wanted to get rid of all of this. It wanted to go back to the original desert Islam of the Prophet Muhammad, which was very simple and straightforward and which did not have any paraphernalia attached to it. These were, if you like, the kind of Puritans of the Muslim world, you know, who were against the kind of Catholic, Roman Catholic trappings of Islam that had developed over the last 500, 600 years.

And now, Wahhabism is the official kind of state religion of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are all Wahhabis. And the Wahhabis are very keen on pushing—pushing this sect around the Muslim world, increasing their membership and support. And one of the actions of the Saudi intelligence was to actually fund Wahhabi groups amongst the Afghans and Wahhabi groups in Pakistan, so that the Wahhabi message would spread, even though Wahhabism was extremely unpopular in Afghanistan, because the Afghans had their own traditions of Islam, which had a lot to do with mysticism.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ahmed Rashid in Lahore, Pakistan, about Osama bin Laden, about his going to Afghanistan and his interconnection with the CIA. So, can you continue on with his relationship, as he gained in power in Afghanistan, with U.S. intelligence?

AHMED RASHID: Well, the relationship really ended in 1989, when the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, and America withdrew from the scene. And I think, you know, that has remained one of the major problems that Afghanistan has faced, because the U.S. has just totally ignored Afghanistan for the last 11 years. And it has been extremely detrimental. The U.S. really only started taking some interest in Afghanistan—real interest, I would say—not even in 1996, when bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but perhaps in 1998, when the two U.S. embassies were bombed in Africa. But really, you know, the relationship ended then.

And I think the turning point in bin Laden’s life was the 1990 Gulf War with Iraq. He left Afghanistan in 1990. He was very disillusioned by the civil war that erupted in Afghanistan. He went back home to Saudi Arabia. And then he was horrified by the fact that the Saudi royal family had invited American troops into Saudi Arabia to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq. And he was urging the Saudi royal family—and he had a lot of influence with them—to call in his mujahideen from Afghanistan and call in—make an international brigade of Islamic fighters who would defend Saudi Arabia, which was of course something that the Saudis were totally horrified at also, and they didn’t think that this was even credible. So he had many fights with very senior princes in the royal family, including the interior minister, the defense minister and the intelligence chief. And these fights, these kind of verbal fights, were so serious that he was forced to leave Saudi Arabia. He went to Sudan. And there, he joined the Islamic revolution that was taking place there under Hassan Turabi and helped fund it. He set up businesses there. And it was after that, we see this enormous hatred for the United States, enormous hatred for the Saudi royal family, and this belief that the U.S. is the fountain of all evil and will pervert the Muslim world and will lead the Muslim world astray.

And it is while in Sudan he starts setting up al-Qaeda. He calls back in all or many of his comrades from the anti-Soviet war. And don’t forget, these were not just Arab comrades, but comrades—Muslims from all over the world who had fought in that war. He called some of them to Sudan. He sets up a new organization called al-Qaeda, and which means "The Base." And this acts as a kind of umbrella grouping for many of these Muslim militants from around the world, who by now had left Afghanistan themselves, had gone back home, and had set up Islamic groups in their countries. And we’re talking here, for example, of the Algerians, who went back to Algeria from Afghanistan, and as we know, a brutal civil war erupted there; Filipinos, who went back to the Philippines, the Moros, the Muslim Filipinos, and started an Islamic movement in the southern islands of the Philippines; Indonesians; Pakistanis—Muslims from all over the world who now had their own agendas, their own local Islamic movements. He calls them in, and he kind of says that we should now kind of work together and coordinate. And, of course, they all knew each other from the Afghan war. They all had close links to each other.

Now they had developed separate agendas, their own separate domestic agendas, but they were all united in their kind of common hatred of the United States and their own regimes, who were seen—who they saw as kind of flunkies of the United States. So, you know, out of this comes a network, and this whole process becomes—you know, becomes much faster, rolls along much faster, when he leaves Sudan and comes to Afghanistan in 1996 and meets up with the Taliban, because the kind of facilities he can get—he gets in Afghanistan are even more than that he got in Sudan. So, it was—you know, in Afghanistan, he was able to train hundreds of people. He was able to, you know, get funds in, get funds out, get involved in drug smuggling, raise more money, raise more fighters, and train his fighters in—because he put them up with the Taliban and trained them in real battle conditions. So it was an amazing opportunity to really develop the network.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ahmed Rashid in Lahore, Pakistan. His book is called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. And we’ll be back with him in just a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with our special on Afghanistan and a look at Osama bin Laden with a man who has written a definitive work on the issue, Ahmed Rashid of Lahore, Pakistan. His book is called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. So, you started by telling us, Ahmed Rashid, about how, in 1986, CIA Chief William Casey had stepped up the war against the Soviet Union by taking, at that time, what were highly secret measures. he persuaded the U.S. Congress to provide the mujahideen with American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Soviet planes and provide U.S. advisers to train the guerrillas. No U.S.-made weapons or personnel had been used directly in the war effort. Joining with the CIA, Britain’s [MI6] and the ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, agreeing on a provocative plan, you write in your book, to launch guerrilla attacks into the Soviet Socialist republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the soft Muslim underbelly of the Soviet state, from where Soviet troops in Afghanistan received their supplies. And then you told us how Osama bin Laden came to Afghanistan, his power grew, went back to Saudi Arabia, and then returned to Afghanistan.

When did the U.S. start to remonitor him?

AHMED RASHID: You see, after the Americans, if you like, withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, what you had was a complete American disregard for these thousands of Islamic militants who they had supported. And in fact, I quote in my book Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was, I think, national security adviser to President Carter. He was asked once, well, you know, "What about all these militants who you’ve just kind of left—you know, you’ve just left them on the loose?" And he said, "Well, I mean, you know, what does it matter about a bunch of Islamic militants? What on earth can they do? We defeated the Soviet Union. That was the main thing." And I think, you know, that attitude was prevalent in the U.S. successive administrations throughout the '90s, that, you know, "Well, you know, these angry young men, they've gone back to their countries. They’ve created a few problems for their countries. But, you know, this doesn’t affect U.S. It doesn’t affect United States national security." And I think, you know—I mean, many people, I mean, including myself, for many years have been pointing out that, well, you know, there is going to be a backlash. There’s going to be a repercussion of this, because their main target may be their own regimes, but really it is the U.S. itself.

So, you know, when bin Laden comes back to Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban had already been around for two years. They had captured about half the country by then. And they took the capital, Kabul, in 1996. Now, until then, the U.S. was actually very sympathetic to the Taliban. It was, if you like, supporting the Taliban even. It wasn’t providing money or arms to them, but it was supporting them through two United States proxies in the region. One was Pakistan, and the other was Saudi Arabia.

It encouraged Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Taliban for several reasons. The first reason was that the Taliban were seen, and are, virulently anti-Shia and anti-Iran. And the U.S. was interested in having a group come to power in Afghanistan which would keep Iran at a distance and isolate Iran. The second reason was that the U.S. felt it owed something to Pakistan, and Pakistan was giving blind support to the Taliban, in fact wanted the Taliban to take the whole country and rule the country. And the third reason was that the U.S. oil companies wanted to use Afghanistan as a transit for oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to the Gulf, which would have to cross Afghanistan. And they wanted, if you like, a pro-U.S. faction to be—or a pro-U.S. warlord to be in charge of that region of southern Afghanistan, where these pipelines would run. And conveniently, the Taliban were in control of southern Afghanistan. So the U.S. goes—you know, has this policy of supporting the Taliban, allowing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to pump money and weapons and fuel, you know, to the Taliban, allowing them to expand and grow and defeat other warlords, other ethnic groups.

And it’s only in 1996, when the Taliban take Kabul, we see a rapid embarrassment at that moment for the Clinton administration. Madeleine Albright was then the secretary of state. And what you see then is that two or three things happen very, very quickly. The Taliban take Kabul, and suddenly U.S. reporters are in Kabul, and they—and the U.S. reporters suddenly wake up to this new Taliban factor, even though they’d been around for two years. And you start getting these horrendous stories about the way they treated women. And you got, almost immediately, an incredibly strong reaction from U.S. women’s organizations, who put a lot of pressure on Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright and other luminaries. And then, at the same time, you got Taliban atrocities against the civil population. And really, the U.S. public, or a section of the public, and the administration only woke up to the dangers of the Taliban in 1996, after they had taken half the country.

And then, because of these domestic lobbies on the Clinton administration, Clinton had to walk away from the Taliban, and then had to condemn them, and then had to try and tell Pakistan, "Well, you know, try and rein them in, make them more moderate. You know, cool them down. Don’t let them be so extreme." And Pakistan was in no mood to listen. Pakistan now had this kind of proxy government in Kabul, a client government that it wanted very much. The Saudis were in no mood to listen.

And you do get some monitoring then of the linkages. You know, as bin Laden comes into Afghanistan, he makes friends with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban. He goes to live with him. He builds Mullah Omar a house. He builds him a new mosque. He gives money to Mullah Omar. He brings in his Arab fighters to fight for the Taliban. You then get growing U.S. concern. But it’s not really until August 1998, when you get the bombing of the two U.S. embassies in Africa, that the U.S. suddenly wakes up to the fact that, "Oh, we have a problem here."

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s go to the present and talk about what happened on Tuesday, these deadly attacks in Washington and New York. Now, there is a rounding up of people. There is a naming of those possibly who were involved, the naming of the hijackers who died in the hijacked plane crashes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers. Did this surprise you?

AHMED RASHID: Well, I mean, obviously the horror and the kind of—you know, how big it was, obviously horrified me. But no, it didn’t horrify me. I mean, in the sense that one always felt that there would be an attack soon, but one thought it would be against the U.S. embassy or a U.S. ship or maybe one aircraft. But no one could imagine that it would be so violent and so widespread.

AMY GOODMAN: Today’s Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Vernon Loeb write, "The CIA has been authorized since 1998 to use covert means to disrupt and preempt terrorist operations planned abroad by Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden under a directive signed by President Bill Clinton and reaffirmed by President Bush this year. [...]

“U.S. intelligence has observed the elusive multimillionaire, thought to be hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, several times this year, one source said, adding that this holds out the prospect that military strikes could be directed against him.

"But reliable intelligence on the whereabouts of bin Laden, who was fingered yesterday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as a prime suspect in Tuesday’s suicide attacks [against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon], has been rare, despite what one source called a 'rich and active' surveillance program."

How effective do you think that surveillance is right now? And what is your knowledge about where Osama bin Laden is right now?

AHMED RASHID: Well, you know, despite what Bob Woodward has written, the fact is that what—the surveillance he’s talking about is electronic and satellite surveillance. The real problem for the U.S. is that since it walked away from Afghanistan in the last decade, it doesn’t have field intelligence. It doesn’t have people on the ground. It doesn’t have—it’s been relying on intelligence from Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia, from other countries, you know, which are not necessarily, perhaps, all that honest, you know, with the United States. And I think, you know, the main problem has been that, yes, you can probably see a convoy of bin Laden’s jeeps as they travel across the desert, and you could probably hit them, but you have no idea on the ground as to the extent of the network and the branches of the tree, as it were. So, you know, that is the main problem. And in fact, you know, here was a country which, in the ’80s, the U.S. had amassed a huge amount of intelligence on and was working, and the CIA was there, and everybody was there. And then you walk away, and then you totally ignore the country for 10 years, so—and then you come up with a problem like this where you need, you know, intelligence on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, we have a piece in Salon online where a senior Near East division operative is saying the CIA probably doesn’t have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist, who would volunteer to spend years of his life in the mountains of Afghanistan.

AHMED RASHID: Well, I think that’s probably very true. And he’s talking about Arabs. I mean, you probably don’t even have an Afghan who would be willing to do that, you know. So I think, you know, that is a real problem. And as I say, I mean, you know, the network now is huge. It’s extensive. It spreads to 30, 40 countries around the world. And now it’s not just a question of bombing Afghanistan or bombing bin Laden in Afghanistan; it’s a question now of how Western countries are going to be able to root out the networks in each individual country, you know, run by these sleepers.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, finally, the issue of now the U.S. saying that they have—they’re bringing together all the NATO forces and that Pakistan is coming on board, where you are right now. How significant is Pakistan’s role, and what exactly is happening with its relationship with the United States?

AHMED RASHID: Well, Pakistan is really absolutely critical, of course, I mean, you know, because it has—first of all, it’s a very difficult situation for Pakistan, because it has been supporting the Taliban for the last seven years. But Pakistan share—has a 2,000-mile border with Afghanistan. All the bases of bin Laden are very close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The U.S. would need military facilities here to attack these bases and camps. And it has—you know, it has good intelligence about what’s going on inside Afghanistan. It has people inside. So, you know, Pakistan is absolutely critical to the U.S. But, of course, it is going to involve a U-turn by Pakistan in its policies, because Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban, encouraging these militant Islamic groups who go and fight for the Taliban. Pakistan has several thousand Islamic students who are fighting with the Taliban right now. My own estimate is that it’s something like 4,000 Pakistani students fighting with the Taliban at the moment. Now, what does Pakistan do about these young kids? I mean, you have to bring them back. I mean, these are now, if you like, the enemy. And whereas yesterday, you know, they were part of your foreign policy. So, you know, these are huge dilemmas for this military regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us. We understand at this point that thousands of people are fleeing Afghanistan, concerned that the U.S., with perhaps allies, will begin bombing there. What is it like for you in Pakistan right now? And is that your sense of what is going to happen imminently?

AHMED RASHID: Yeah, there’s a great amount of tension here, and people are very sober and very nervous, because—nobody’s expecting the Americans to bomb Pakistan, and certainly, you know, it will be very concerned—it’s a much bigger issue for the Afghan population, but the fact is that Pakistan is a front-line state now. Pakistan is very nervous about a reaction here from Islamic parties, Islamic fundamentalists. There could be terrorist acts here. The arrival of, say, American troops or American aircraft here could spark off enormous amount of unrest. There’s a great deal of uncertainty and nervousness here.

AMY GOODMAN: And if Pakistan gets involved, if India gets involved, you’re also talking—of course, the United States, as well—about nuclear weapons.

AHMED RASHID: Well, yes. I mean, I just hope that, you know, that the—there is an India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, and I just hope that that does not get raised at the moment, or levels of that do not go up at the moment. Many Indian hawks, in fact, are advocating that this is the moment to crush Pakistan and get the Americans to do it. I just hope that tempers in both capitals, leaders of both countries, you know, stay cool and do not take this as an opportunity to wreak vengeance on each other, because there is a common fight here, a common global fight, which all countries are involved, including India and Pakistan, against terrorism. And this should not be exploited by any one country to try and get their own individual agendas carried out.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have the $40 million that the U.S. in May gave to the Taliban of Afghanistan, supposedly to fight the drug war.

AHMED RASHID: Well, no, the U.S. has actually given $120 million so far this year, in food aid, basically. It’s given wheat, because of the devastating economic conditions of Afghanistan. And I think the U.S. has made pretty sure this time that most of this wheat has not gone to—it has gone through NGOs, through the United Nations organizations, to the people, rather than to Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think military response is the solution?

AHMED RASHID: Well, I just hope—what I’m hoping is that the U.S. will give a little time to Pakistan, to influential countries with the Taliban—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Gulf Arab states—to really put the pressure on the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, you know. I hope there will be—I think there is already a kind of time period. It’s not long. Maybe it’s just a week, 10 days. But, you know, a gap, much as we saw in the war, in the Gulf War in Iraq, that a gap will be given for some of the neighboring countries to play a diplomatic role and to get the Taliban to back down and hand over bin Laden. I’m just hoping that something like that could work. But clearly, if it doesn’t, then, you know, it’s inevitable that the U.S. will go in militarily.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Rashid of Pakistan, with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. His book is called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. It’s published by Yale University Press. You can also read his articles online. I found one most recently at CommonDreams.org, "Osama bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist."

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