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An interview with Richard Haass

Richard N. Haass is director of the U.S. State Department's Policy Planning Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell's personal representative on Afghanistan policy. This interview was conducted earlier this week by Dan Biers of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

On Monday in Berlin, the United Nations will convene a meeting of Afghan factions to determine the shape of a post-Taliban government.

GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: Has the Northern Alliance capture of Kabul made formation of a post-Taliban government more difficult?

HAASS: It's good that the Northern Alliance has had the military victories it has. Secondly, the president and secretary of state stated their preference that the Northern Alliance not move into Kabul. The Northern Alliance determined that it needed to move into Kabul for military purposes.

What we have focused on most of all is the need for the avoidance of reprisals. One didn't want to have behavior or actions by the Northern Alliance that would discourage Pashtun defections elsewhere in the country or which would in any way discourage emerging unity of the country.

The challenge now is to work with the Northern Alliance and to get them to participate in efforts to forge a political alternative to the Taliban.

GV: Is there room at the table for defecting Taliban?

HAASS: There's no room at the table for the Taliban leadership. But there is potentially room at the table for people who represent important elements of a southern or Pashtun society. And I think it is up to Afghans themselves to do the so-called vetting; they've got to decide whether these people deserve or merit a place in the political future of Afghanistan.

GV: Is the former king still seen as part of the political future of Afghanistan?

HAASS: I think it is too soon to answer the question of what precise role the former king will play. People have been hoping that he could constitute some sort of a national unifying figure, and it is quite possible that role will still come about. We simply don't know enough of how the steps will unfold.

GV: The United States has dominated the military phase in Afghanistan. Will it play a similar dominant role in bringing together a new Afghan government?

HAASS: In the so-called diplomatic phase, I would think that the United Nations would most likely be the dominant external actor.
GV: What other roles can the United States play, beyond military and humanitarian aid?

HAASS: One is economic reconstruction. On Tuesday we co-hosted a meeting with Japan. The purpose was to bring together senior officials from leading potential donor countries, leading international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, and set in motion the process that will lead to a major economic reconstruction effort. We're talking about billions of dollars. We're talking about many years.

The purpose of this is both humanitarian and moral on one hand, but it also has got a strategic purpose. It is meant in part to signal to the Afghans that the international community is there to stay. We are going to help them rebuild their country.

And it's got a strategic purpose in another sense. We don't want to have to go back and do this again in a couple of years. We don't want Afghanistan to deteriorate to where it becomes again the sort of place where terrorists have a home and a base.

I would think, as this process continues, others will take important roles, (including) the European Union (and) the Organization of Islamic Conferences. I could see others playing a role. But I see the United States continuing to play a major role in this effort.
Lastly there's the role we play in security arrangements. For the time being, we still have forces on the ground. We have special forces on the ground in many parts of Afghanistan. We are also beginning to see the entry of forces from other countries in various population centers.

I think you are going to see other countries pretty soon. We are still working on the exact structure of this force. We're looking at the question of what might be the circumstances down the road when we might transition to a more traditional, multilateral, so-called "coalition of the willing'' that might help keep security in populated areas, such as Kabul.

What I don't know is exactly the dimensions of the U.S. role. This is something we are still refining.

Given all the political players in Afghanistan -- many warlords, many ethnic groups -- is putting together a new government a "Mission Impossible''?

The short answer is no. But it is a "Mission Difficult.''
It is important not just simply to set out what it is we are trying to do but what it is we are not trying to do. No one is trying to impose a particular blueprint on Afghanistan.

Second, we understand something about the political tradition of the country. I would say it is extremely likely at the end of the day that the central government will be relatively weak and that you will have an awful lot of decentralized authority, where local tribal leaders will still play a major role (and) certain cities will have an awful lot of autonomy.

To sound a little bit like a political scientist, the power balance between the center and the periphery will in many places be skewed toward the periphery. That's what Afghanistan is all about. We're not trying to turn Afghanistan into Singapore here.

On the other hand, we do want it to be a functioning place that does not harbor terrorists, that does not grow and export poppy (and) that does not continue to force people into becoming refugees or turning into displaced persons.
What this suggests to me is almost a "Goldilocks'' challenge, where we, along with the United Nations and along with others, need to get involved enough so we can meet these basic requirements.

On the other hand, I think we have to respect the limits to what outsiders can accomplish. We need to respect the fact that Afghans are going to have to work a good deal of this out themselves. We don't want to get overextended there, and we don't want to get into traditional nation-building. And we don't want to end up fighting the very culture and nature and traditions of this society. That'll be the challenge, to get this balance right.

((c) 2001, Pacific Council on International Policy. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 11/21/01)