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Afghanistan: Ambassador Discusses Security, Extremism, And Afghan Diaspora

  • Francesca Mereu

Afghanistan's newly appointed ambassador to Russia is Ahmad Zia Massoud, the 46-year-old brother of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander who was assassinated 9 September by suicide bombers suspected of working for Al-Qaeda. Zia Massoud, who like his brother fought against the Soviet troops during the 10-year Soviet war in Afghanistan, shared his views on a wide range of issues at a press conference yesterday in Moscow. In addition to discussing current Russian-Afghan relations, Massoud talked about Central Asia and the alleged expansion of Islamic extremist groups from Afghanistan to the region.

Moscow, 16 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia, Ahmad Zia Massoud, says Afghans welcome the presence of the U.S. and other coalition troops in their country as a necessary part of the fight against terrorism. He adds that the U.S. military presence cannot be compared to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, because the U.S. troops, in his words, "work in the interest of the Afghan people."

Massoud, speaking yesterday at a press conference in Moscow, was asked to describe what kind of relations there are now between Russia and Afghanistan and what kind of help the country is expecting from Russia. The Afghan ambassador said his country is hoping Russia will help in the reconstruction efforts already under way in Afghanistan.

"Relations between Afghanistan and Russia are now very good. Russia offered its help during the national fight against [Taliban] extremism and terrorism. And we are really grateful to Russia for this. But Afghanistan still needs to be reconstructed. In Afghanistan, many buildings were built with Soviet help [during the 1979-1989 invasion], but now most of them are destroyed and they need to be rebuilt. Now that the [rebuilding] work has already begun, we hope Russia will offer us more intensive help and assistance in the general course of the country's reconstruction," Massoud said.

RFE/RL asked what kind of security role Russia -- together with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries -- can play in Afghanistan. Massoud said Russia and the CIS could provide valuable assistance in helping to train the country's military.

"We think that Russia and the other CIS countries can really help us create the Afghan national army, to train our military corps and the Afghan police. Moreover, Russia can help us to organize those forces [that are] able to guarantee security in our country. Such help is important to assure security in Afghanistan," Massoud said.

Russian officials are concerned about the situation in Central Asia, fearing that Islamic extremist groups may flow from Afghanistan into the region, which Russia considers its backyard.

Asked whether such a threat exists, Massoud said the U.S.-led campaign has effectively eliminated extremist groups in Afghanistan. "I have to say that the Afghan people are neither extremist nor fundamentalist. They are a balanced and quiet people. Yes, of course, we had extremist groups in our country, but they were Arabs and Pakistanis and people from other countries. Those groups used the difficult situation in our country to develop extremist views in Afghanistan. They wanted also to spread their ideology to the countries of Central Asia and to other regions. But after that they were destroyed [with the help of the U.S.-led campaign], the threat doesn't exist anymore now."

Moreover, Massoud said that Afghanistan's interim government now has control of 85 percent of the country's territory. He said that while terrorist groups still linger in the country's south and east, they will soon be routed by coalition forces.

Journalists asked the Afghan ambassador if the interim government will be able to eliminate the country's infamous drug trade that provided the Taliban with a large portion of its income and that has shown signs of spreading through Central Asia into Russia. Massoud said Afghanistan alone cannot conquer drug trafficking, and that other countries must aid in the fight.

"The production of narcotics is forbidden by law everywhere in the Afghan territory. But there still are some regions, like Kandahar, where [the interim government] is fighting to stop opium production, and we have achieved good results in fighting it. We think this is still a big threat, even if opium production has been stopped now in our country. But if we talk about drug trafficking, this is not only an Afghan problem -- I mean the problem of a country that still needs to stabilize and build its security. It is also a big problem for countries that have full control of their political situation. Even they are unable to stop drug trafficking. So we need common efforts to solve the problem," Massoud said.

RFE/RL asked Massoud about the fate of the 150,000 Afghans living in Russia, most of whom left their homeland after Najibullah, the last Communist leader of Afghanistan, was overthrown by the mujahedin in 1992. Many Russian Afghans do not feel welcome to return to Afghanistan, where they say the interim government sees them as still sympathizing with communist ideals.

But Massoud said these Afghans can go back to their country and participate in the rebuilding of normal life in Afghanistan. "They can participate in our military force. Now we have a lot of people [coming back], and many people that were Communists are now working toward our military unity. They can participate, they can come to Kabul. I invite them all the time to the embassy and I talk with them about ways to go back to Kabul. Unfortunately, there isn't a proper way for them to go to Kabul now. There's [little] means of transport [and] I think they have some difficulties [in getting] visas or something like that. But now we are working to provide some ways for them if they want to go to Afghanistan. Now they can set up their own business in Afghanistan. There's a national government [and] Afghanistan is their country. Also through the United Nations they can find some jobs in Afghanistan."

Massoud declined to speculate on the outcome of next month's Loya Jirga, or grand council, which is tasked with appointing an 18-month transitional government that will serve until national elections are held. He also refused to say whether he would seek a post in the new administration.