By Kevin Foley and Julie Moffett
Washington, 15 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department is denying an accusation that Washington is secretly supporting the extremist Islamic militia known as the Taliban that controls most of Afghanistan.
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderfurth said Wednesday that the U.S. has provided no weapons, no training, nor any other form of assistance to the Taliban. He told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that there is not now, nor has there ever been any U.S. government support for the Taliban -- a group that has been accused of massive human rights violations, particularly against women.
Inderfurth said the only thing the Taliban has received from Washington is condemnation for what he called its "repugnant practices." He did, however, say that the U.S. is, as Inderfurth put it, engaged with the Taliban in an effort to bring long-term peace to the region and to combat international terrorism and the illegal narcotics trade.
The charge of secret U.S. support for the militia was raised at the same hearing by Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, a Republican from California. He asserted the government was quietly supporting the Taliban as part of Washington's efforts to secure regional support for oil and gas pipeline links from the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Rohrbacher testified: "I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal and kept Congress in the dark about its policy of supporting the Taliban, the most anti-Western, anti-female, anti-human rights regime in the world. It doesn't take a genius to understand that this policy would outrage the American people, especially America's women."
Rohrbacher -- who is a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee with oversight responsibility on Afghan policies -- also said that many times he officially requested from the State Department all diplomatic documents concerning U.S. policy toward the Taliban. He says he was even personally assured by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the papers would soon be forthcoming. But nearly eight months later, Rohrbacher says he has yet to receive a single document.
During an interview with RFE/RL after the hearing, Rohrbacher said he is frustrated by the lack of cooperation from State Department officials and more convinced that the U.S. government is covertly trying to keep information from the American public about the true nature of its relationship with the Taliban.
"When I see the facts behind this case, and I've looked very closely at what's been going on in Afghanistan, I can determine nothing else but either the State Department is incompetent or that they have a covert policy of supporting the Taliban."
Rohrbacher says if there has been a policy of secret support for the Taliban, it was based on the misconception that the Taliban was going to bring stability to Afghanistan and thus permit the building of an oil and gas pipeline between Central Asia and Pakistan.
"But this stability was being done at a cost of what? Of human rights and democracy? Of fair treatment of women? It was done at the cost of permitting Afghanistan to become a haven for drug lords and terrorists. In fact, the policy didn't create stability anyway, so this policy has failed on all accounts because the conflict and chaos continues in Afghanistan."
But during the hearing, Inderfurth testified that he was in "strong disagreement" with Rohrbacher's statements, adding that such allegations are "very unhelpful." He reiterated that the U.S. is not supporting the Taliban -- not secretly at the State Department or anywhere in the U.S. government.
Inderfurth explained: "Nothing could be further from the truth -- no arms, no training, nor any other form of assistance, nor any quiet encouragement."
Inderfurth also said he was aware of Rohrbacher's repeated request for State Department documents regarding U.S. policy toward the Taliban, but added that according to protocol, a written request must be issued not by Rohrbacher, but by the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee -- Congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-New York).
Inderfurth said the only reason the U.S. is engaged in any way with the Taliban is because the "spillover effect" of the continued conflict in the region touches upon key UI.S. interests in several areas. He said the U.S. is committed to working with the Taliban to stop terrorism, narcotics production and distribution, plight of refugees, arms trafficking, smuggling and ethnic and sectarian conflict.
But during his interview with RFE/RL, Rohrbacher said that having a senior State Department official such as Mr. Inderfurth suggest the U.S. is working with the Taliban in order to thwart terrorism and the drug trade is "ridiculous."
Rohrbacher said: "This is crazy. That statement by Mr. Inderfurth would tend to reconfirm the suspicions of many of us that we've had a covert policy of supporting the Taliban all along