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Bin Laden, Taliban Created During Cold War Era

Bin Laden, Taliban Created During Cold War Era

BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines"

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media

For release Oct.1, 2001

Osama bin Laden and Taliban Products of Cold War Against Soviet Union Interview by Scott Harris.

* Afghan Women's Mission's Sonali Kolhatkar says that in the 1980s, the U.S. government, through the CIA, gave billions of dollars' worth of arms, weapons and training to the seven most fundamentalist, extremist parties that the United States could find to fight the Soviets

During the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations directed billions of dollars to support a number of Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting Soviet troops propping up an unpopular regime in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11th terror attacks in New York and outside Washington, D.C., was among those who were trained by, and fought alongside the CIA during those years.

After the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan in 1989, U.S. allies there continued to fight one another, killing an estimated 45,000 civilians. The chaos and near total destruction of Afghanistan paved the way for a takeover of the country in 1996 by the extremist Taliban movement, with critical support provided by Pakistan. Once in power, the Taliban brutally suppressed women, homosexuals and non-Muslim Pakistan citizens.

In the wake of the Sept. 11th terror strikes, the Bush administration has stated its intention to support the Northern Alliance, an army which continues to fight the Taliban government that provides safe haven to Osama bin Laden. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Sonali Kolhatkar, vice president with the Afghan Women's Mission, who summarizes the history of U.S. relations with Islamic fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan, while expressing concern about the character of new U.S. allies there.

Sonali Kolhatkar: This is quite possibly the worst thing that could have happened for the Afghan people. Of course, it's also the worst thing that has happened to the American people. But if you put it in perspective, in the last week (after the attacks) alone, the threat of U.S. attacks caused 100,000 people from Kabul, the capital city, to flee. The refugees were massing near the borders of Pakistan and Iran in fantastic numbers in a very short period of time. Probably the thing that I'm most concerned about and really afraid of is the (potential scenario) that the World Food program released, which revealed that in the northwest region of Afghanistan -- if this war does happen -- about 1.6 million people will run out of food by this December because there's a massive drought going on at the same time. So we're going to see something like mass starvation if U.N. aid officials and other international aid offices are not able to go back into Afghanistan.

Between The Lines: Could you briefly summarize some of the history of U.S. relations with the Taliban and other groups in Aghanistan that are important to know at this moment?

Sonali Kolhatkar: Yes, it's very, very important to realize that the United States is the main government that has been responsible for empowering these fundamentalists Mujahideen who were the men that were hired in the 1980s to fight off the Soviet occupation. The men that the United States government funded through the CIA were in seven different parties who were the most fundamentalist, extremist men that the United States could find. And they gave them billions and billions of dollars' worth of arms, weapons and training to fight the Soviets. And this is a fact we hear very little of. Back in the 1980s, these men were called "freedom fighters." And what happened was they fought the Soviets in a long, brutal 10-year war, and then in 1989 when the Soviet Union withdrew, the United States government just forgot about the Afghan people. In the period between 1992 to 1996, the worst period in the history of Aghanistan was when these Mujahideen groups predictably turned upon themselves to fight one another in a bid for power over the country.

This was the worst period of Afghan history and it was least covered in western media. If you study the coverage of the war in Afghanistan, you'll see that coverage drops dramatically during the early 1990s when this was happening. This was the time when these Mujahideen destroyed Kabul, they rocket-shelled it. There's nothing left to bomb in Kabul any more, it's just rubble. Forty-five thousand people were killed in the crossfire and we never heard about it. At the same time, when people were dying in Sarajevo in Bosnia, we heard about it -- there was a huge deal made about it -- international attention was focused on it, but Afghanistan was forgotten.

The leadership of the Taliban has from the outset been working very closely with Pakistan. When they first came into power in 1996, the U.S. government officials looked upon them pretty favorably as being sort of a force for stability in the country. It didn't matter what kind of stability of course, brutal stability, but certainly some kind of stability. And then when the human rights abuses became public, that support was withdrawn.

Between The Lines: In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the United States is reportedly funding the Northern Alliance, which is holding onto a small area of land in the northern region of Afghanistan, a group that has been fighting the Taliban. Could you for our listeners describe who these people are -- the Northern Alliance? Their leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was assassinated just two days before the attacks in New York and Washington.

Sonali Kolhatkar: It's actually very interesting because the Northern Alliance are simply a conglomeration of the Mujahideen warriors that the United States has worked with in the 1980's, armed, funded and trained to fight off the Soviets. These men were all fighting one another until the Taliban stepped in, when they were forced to join forces against the Taliban. They have controlled the northern part of the country for the last few years. It's actually quite a heavily populated part of the country.

I was incredibly shocked to hear that Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was the commander of the Northern Alliance forces was assassinated a day or two before the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City. I've heard people say that for Afghans who lived in that area, that was as shocking as the Kennedy assassination was here. It was a very, very shocking thing -- he was a very charismatic man -- albeit a commander of one of the Mujahideen forces who are all guilty of human rights violations. So certainly not a man that I would like to see in a position of leadership in Afghanistan.

So anyway, these are the men who the United States are going to use yet again. I fear for the Afghan people, because if they do beat the Taliban, if they do win, the country is not going to be in any better state than it was 10 years ago because these are the same men who were fighting one another and destroying the country in the process.

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See related links and listen to an excerpt of this speech in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: for the week ending 10/05/01.


Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Oct. 5, 2001.

We wish to extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims who so tragically lost their lives on Tuesday, Sept. 11 and to all those who are suffering as a result of our nation's recent violent catastrophe. We trust that the global community will come together to work for peace and justice to overcome the cycle of violence and create a safer world for our children and generations to come.

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