Afghan Opposition Says 'NO' To US Military Strike
September 29, 2001
ROME (AFP) - Afghan opposition leaders meeting in Rome Saturday delivered a clear message to the United States not to strike at targets in Afghanistan, calling instead for US military hardware to oust the terrorists themselves.
"Give us the tools and we shall finish the job," said Mostapha Zahir, special assistant to 86-year-old former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah whom opposition forces and the United Nations alike see as the catalyst for peace in the Central Asian country.
Military commanders from the Northern Alliance, fighting a civil war against the ruling Taliban militia, and non-aligned commanders meeting in Rome, the ex-monarch's adopted home, confirmed to AFP that they did not want US intervention.
Zahir, the ex-monarch's grandson, also called on Washington to bring pressure to bear on Pakistan, a key ally in US President George W. Bush's "crusade" against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
He said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had become "a government within a government" and was assisting its Taliban allies in oppressing the Afghan people.
"The danger to Pakistan may be even greater than to Afghanistan through the process of Talibanisation of the armed forces," Zahir told AFP.
Yunis Qanuni, a key Northern Alliance figure, said the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan was its powerful neighbour.
"They (Pakistan) have brought the terrorists, and now they just want to change their image so that they can continue to wield influence in Afghanistan.
He said the Taliban were merely "tools for the long-term strategy of Pakistan."
Qanuni said the United States "can be very helpful in breaking Pakistan's stranglehold on Afghanistan, and rid Afghanistan of terrorism," but not through direct military action.
He said US help was "important", but Washington should be aware that "the Afghan people can push the terrorists out of Afghanistan themselves."
Zahir told AFP shortly before entering round-table talks with Qanuni and other opposition commanders and technocrats, that everything should be done "to avoid an external intervention in Afghanistan."
"They (the United States) should be aiding in giving the proper tools to the Afghans themselves to combat terrorism, which exists at the moment in some areas of Afghanistan."
Zahir said he was concerned about the civilian casualties which would likely result from a US military assault.
"Whatever the commanders are saying, I do support. And they are saying it must be an Afghan initiative and they're right about that."
Another group of Afghan commanders met the king early Saturday.
"We are all commanders from different parts of Afghanistan. We support the holding of a Loya Jirga (a meeting of traditional chiefs) and we all support the king," one commander, Abdul Khaliq, told AFP.
"We have just started to talk to different groups. All the groups want to talk to each other and to bring peace to Afghanistan, and kick out the Taliban," Khaliq added, indicating he saw no role for a reconstituted Taliban in a new administration.
Khaliq is exiled in the United States and said he longs to go back to a free Afghanistan.
Opposition groups agreed at a meeting here late Friday to create a supreme council and a military council under the authority of the ex-king to prepare an attempt to take power from the Taliban, whom Washington accuses of sheltering Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Department of Defense in Washington.
The widely respected former monarch has already proposed that a Loya Jirga should be held in the country as soon as it was feasible to do so, in a bid to establish a new interim administration.
Zahir said he was confident peace could yet come to Afghanistan without recourse to further bloodshed.
"We are trying to build a consensus," he said, and 10 days of discussions around the king had so far proved fruitful, despite the absence of representatives of the fundamentalist Taliban militia which overthrew president Burhanuddin Rabbani in 1996.
"As long as he is alive he will go through this peace process. He is the cement. The father of his people."
The Taliban were not the united front they appeared to be to the outside world, insisted Zahir.
"They are waiting for a signal, when the talks are concluded here."