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European Nations Worry about United States’ Headlong March to War

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A team of senior Pakistan officials is to fly to Kandahar today to press the ruling Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden and help prevent a potential catastrophe in the region. The Taliban, however, continue to insist neither they nor bin Laden had the capacity to organize an international plot that saw trained pilots hijack large passenger jets and Boston in Washington. [includes rush transcript]

The spiritual leader of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement, Mullah Mohammed Omar, on Sunday called an urgent council of senior Islamic clerics to discuss the situation. Mullah Omar on Saturday issued a call for jihad (holy war) against the United States — and neighboring states such as traditional supporter Pakistan — if they attacked or assisted an attack on Afghanistan.


  • Imogen Lamb, reporter speaking from Paris. She was in Afghanistan this spring and spent time with the Taliban.

Related Story

StorySep 17, 2001Thousands of Civilians Try to Flee Afghanistan, Fearing U.S. Attack
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! in Exile, Ground Zero Radio, just blocks from where the World Trade Center once was and where hundreds of people continue to comb through the rubble, shipping it away. Tons of stones and cement, steel, have been taken away over the weekend, as the emergency personnel attempts, slowly, but surely, to find at least a living person. It has been a very, very difficult last few days. While the weather has been good, there has been very little hope or finding of people in the rubble.

This piece by Ron Howell in Newsday. “As New York struggled to return to its bustling self—preparing for the reopening today of public schools and the Stock Exchange—New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani invoked the memory of Winston Churchill, who 60 years ago rallied the British as they withstood Nazi air attacks on London. 'Just as Londoners had been heroes,' Giuliani said, 'so, too, are New Yorkers.' He said, ’We’re not the first people that have gone through being attacked,’ pointing out that he’s been reading the book Five Days in London for courage over the past week.”

And in the New York Times today, in a piece by Suzanne Daley, “After offering expressions of support immediately following this week’s attacks on the United States, European allies are showing signs of backpedaling.

“The NATO allies have said they could support some military action. But now the caveats are beginning to roll in, making clear that the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will not translate into an unconditional writ for American retaliation.

“Particularly as talk in Washington has grown tougher, the allies have begun showing signs [that] they want a carefully thought out plan to combat terrorism, not a burst of military might that turns out to be brutal and ineffective.

“Many politicians [here] have begun distancing themselves from Washington’s saber rattling. While President Bush has repeatedly described the terror attacks as 'acts of war,' European officials are going out of their way to avoid such language.

“On a radio program the Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, said the European Union was 'on watch' and 'mobilized.' But he added, 'We are not at war.'

“In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has cautioned [that] there is no [quote] 'war against Islam or the Arab-Muslim world.' Moreover, he signaled that France would not automatically support military action. 'Our humane, political and functional solidarity with the United States,' [he said,] 'does not deprive us of our sovereignty and freedom to make up our own minds.'”

We turn now to Paris, France, to Imogen Lamb, who is a reporter with RFI, Radio France International.

Welcome to Democracy Now! in Exile.

IMOGEN LAMB: Thank you. Hello.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Before we talk about Afghanistan, where you were in April, let’s talk about France and the political climate there after the attacks on the United States.

IMOGEN LAMB: I think France, like the other European countries, has reacted with full support for the United States in these very, very difficult times that it’s going through, but, as you say, has been cautious in the use of the word “war.” Europe feels that it has to support the United States in these times, but it doesn’t want to go so far as to speak of an all-out war in progress here.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the French left right now, the whole political spectrum? What kind of response?

IMOGEN LAMB: What’s extraordinary is that reading both right- and left-wing newspapers, much of the commentary is very similar in expressing its support for the American people, at the same time pointing out that American foreign policy could very much be responsible, in a way, for what has happened, because of the irresponsible attitude of American leaders in the past few years, to take just Afghanistan as an example, because of the involvement of the American government in that country over the years and the support that it gave the Taliban in the early years. And in this kind of reaction, there is very little difference, strangely enough, between right and left.

AMY GOODMAN: Imogen Lamb, you have spent a good deal of time in Afghanistan, most recently in April. Can you talk about Afghanistan today, Afghanistan in the year 2001?

IMOGEN LAMB: Afghanistan is a country that has been at war for over 20 years. It’s a country that’s almost totally destroyed. It has few or no infrastructures, and its people have suffered tremendously and are continuing to suffer terrible, unimaginable hardships. And the very thought that they’re going to suffer even more in the days of weeks to come is absolutely frightening.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the people there, the people and the government?

IMOGEN LAMB: Well, I think one has to be very careful. When you talk about Afghanistan, you talk about the Taliban. The vast majority of people in Afghanistan are not Taliban. They are Afghan civilians who are suffering an extremely difficult situation. They’re people who really have very little left. Many have been forced to flee their homes, forced to flee the country, because of war, because of drought, because of famine in the past few years.

I was in the center of the country, one of the worst-hit—one of the parts worst hit by drought earlier this year. It hadn’t rained there in three years. And I spoke to families who had been forced to flee their villages because of the drought, who had nowhere to go to, who had very little food to eat. I went through villages, towns, where there was no more meat available, no eggs, no dairy products, no flour. Afghanistan used to be a big wheat-producing country. It used to export wheat to its neighbors. So—and in towns the situation is little better. In Kabul itself, the people are struggling to survive. One-quarter of the population is surviving thanks to handouts by international organizations, particularly thanks to subsidized bread. I met many people who live on bread and tea, black tea with no sugar, and that’s all that these families are living on right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Imogen Lamb, what about the women of Afghanistan, some—an issue that we hear something about? There’s an organization RAWA, the Radical Association of Afghani Women, that we get information from on the web. We have done interviews with them in exile in Pakistan. But there is not a tremendous amount known about what they are going through today.

IMOGEN LAMB: Well, I can talk to you about the women of Kabul. I spent two weeks in Kabul, and I met many women in their homes, although I wasn’t allowed to. Women are not allowed to receive foreigners in their homes. Their life is extremely difficult. They’re not allowed to go out without a male member of their family to accompany them. They have no work, because they’re not allowed to work.

For many, their husbands are unemployed, because unemployment is rife since the Taliban took over Kabul. Many civil servants were sacked. People don’t have jobs. So the women’s situation is very difficult. They’re having to feed their families with very little money coming in. Many women have sold all their possessions, which is why, in the first few months, they were able to eat, to buy food. And now, I spoke to women who say, “We’ve sold everything. We have borrowed from our neighbors. Our neighbors have nothing anymore. They cannot lend us anything. They have no more food either. We’ve nothing more to sell.” And their situation is really, really, very, very serious.

Many have fled. Those who could have fled the city have fled abroad. But many more cannot flee, and they’re living in their homes, no chance of an education, no chance of a job, no proper food, not enough food to give their children, very little medical treatment at their disposal. So you can imagine what these women are going through right now.

AMY GOODMAN: All over the world, it is the case that, with war, it is overwhelmingly civilians who suffer the brutality of war. When it comes to Kabul, what would be your picture of what would happen if it’s bombed?

IMOGEN LAMB: Half the city is already completely bombed and destroyed. Many people live in the ruins of the city. For those who do have homes, I can’t begin to imagine the devastation, because, as you say, it’s the civilians who are hit first and foremost in any kind of bombing attack. I imagine that the authorities, most of the Taliban authorities, will have sought shelter, will have taken care of themselves and their families. That leaves the vast majority of the people in Kabul, the civilians, who have nowhere to run to, who have no bomb shelters to go to, and who are going to be totally devastated.

Those who are injured will have very little treatment, very little medicine at their disposal. Although there are some hospitals working in Kabul, most of those won’t accept women for treatment, for example, or girls. So any girls or women who are injured in any attack only have—there’s only one hospital in the city where they can turn to. That treatment has been run with the help of international aid organizations. Those expatriate workers have had to leave the country. So it’s unclear at this stage how much aid will remain in the city for people in need of help.

AMY GOODMAN: Imogen Lamb, how much discussion in France is there now of the involvement in U.S.—of the United States in the training, for example, of Osama bin Laden, the CIA’s training of him when he came originally to Afghanistan, and also the fact that the U.S. just recently gave $40 million to the Taliban regime, ostensibly for the so-called war on drugs?

IMOGEN LAMB: Everybody’s aware of it. There’s a lot on that in the newspapers. People are talking about it. And as I said earlier, people are very supportive of the American people at this time. At the same time, they are talking about the responsibility of successive American governments, and they are saying that the United States can no longer continue this kind of support of Islamic fundamentalist movements. It cannot continue, as it has done up 'til now, its foreign policies, and it's got to revalue its position in the world and its involvement in world politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a sense that the U.S. will clearly be attacking soon, not exactly clear where? And do people in France feel themselves getting on a war footing?

IMOGEN LAMB: Most people think that the United States is definitely going to attack. Many think that it will be in Afghanistan. They don’t really know how—who they’re going to attack there or how they’re going to find Osama bin Laden, for example. They’re not so clear about French involvement. France has expressed support, but when—it’s funny, when you talk to the older French men and women, they remember the Americans’ role at the end of the Second World War. They remember when the Americans landed in France, and they say, “The Americans helped us. It’s for us to help them now.” So I imagine they’re thinking more on the terms of military help. The younger people are not necessarily. They think we should be supportive but not necessarily militarily.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Imogen Lamb, I want to thank you very much for being with us from Paris, France, just having returned in April from Afghanistan. And that does it for today’s program. For those of you who are staying with us for our second hour, we’ll be interviewing Robert Fisk in Beirut, Lebanon. He’s interviewed Osama bin Laden, as well one of the parents of one of the men believed to have been part of the attack on one of the planes that went into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We’ll also be hearing from a peace vigil that took place this weekend in New York.

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Next story from this daily show

Robert Fisk Recounts His Interviews with Osama bin Laden, as Well as Father of Alleged Hijacker

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