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Afghan Blames Terrorists, Not U.S., for Air Strikes

(November 16, 2001) Al-Jazeera broadcast an interview Thursday with moderate anti-Taliban Afghan politician Pir Syed Ahmed Gilani, in which he discussed the governance of Afghanistan, terrorism and the American air strikes.

Gilani is the leader of Afghan Islamic National Front, an organization with some sympathies to former Afghan king Zahir Shah.

The interview was conducted by Al-Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Zaydan in Pakistan several days ago, before the dramatic changes in Afghanistan in the last two days.

In the interview, Zaydan and Gilani discussed many issues, such as the past, and future, government in Afghanistan. Among other things, Gilani said he imagined that a future government in Afghanistan could work together with moderate Taliban members who would be willing to cooperate, and he stressed the importance of a constitution and politically experienced leadership for good governance of the country.

Zaydan asked, "Do you expect the Americans to get into an Afghan quagmire as happened to the Soviets?" Gilani said, "No," and said he thought the Americans had different intentions than the Soviets.

The interview included an exchange in which the journalist was trying to draw a condemnation out of Gilani of the American air strikes in Afghanistan, whereas Gilani framed the situation as part of the fight against terrorism, and said that those responsible for stopping the American air strikes were the Taliban and their supporters, who could do so by leaving Afghanistan.

Gilani said, "Unfortunately, the Arabs who want to effect change in Islamic countries or even in the West by terrorism or otherwise, they are present in Afghanistan and with the Taliban." According to Gilani, "This is the reason for the American attacks against the Taliban."

"We don't want to breed terrorists in Afghanistan. Even at the time of jihad [against the Soviets], we did not ever carry out terrorist operations."

Gilani said he did not view the American air strikes as a war against the Afghan people, and he believed that strikes that hit civilian targets did so, "in error."

Zaydan seemed taken aback by this perspective and questioned, "A group, as described, of terrorists in Afghanistan, justifies an attack of this kind in which planes hit civilian sites and kill children? On account of a group, described as terrorists, in Afghanistan, your country is being destroyed. Is that justified in your view?"

(Al-Jazeera journalists qualify the terms "terrorism" and "terrorist" by adding phrases such as "what is described as" and "what is called" terrorism. Gilani responded, "Let me say why this has provided an opportunity for the strikes. The Taliban and those on their side, if they consider themselves Muslims they would leave Afghanistan so it would not be subject to American strikes."

Gilani said that he had in the past been expecting "that the Americans would support the populace, the people inside Afghanistan, to change the government. With change in government, it would be easy to make the terrorists leave."

Then he added, "But the attacks on America in New York and Washington had a great impact on the underlying reasons for these strikes."

Zaydan asked if this meant that he favored the air strikes? Gilani explained, "I am for peace and calm in Afghanistan ... we are against any strikes against our people who are innocents in Afghanistan, but I'm sorry, we must have change in the government in order to bring independence to Afghanistan."

Jennifer Bryson for NewsMax

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