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Afghanistan: Editor Of 'Strategic Survey' Discusses Findings Related To Unfinished Business

Prague, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL interviewed Jonathan Stevenson, editor of "Strategic Survey 2002-03," via telephone on 14 May about findings related to Afghanistan in a newly released Strategy Survey for 2002-03.

Question: Mr. Stevenson, please explain the main findings related to Afghanistan in your newly released "Strategy Survey" for 2002-03.

Stevenson: The main concern with Afghanistan, as we say in the report, is to finish what is now unfinished business. Obviously, solidifying the [Hamid] Karzai government and also making sure that Pashtuns, in particular, are adequately knitted into the political fabric of Afghanistan so that they are less prone to becoming radicalized as they were by the Taliban.

Question: Are there other aspects of the current situation in Afghanistan that have raised your concerns about stability and security there?

Stevenson: Another factor, of course, is the military and political control of warlords who threaten the overall security and stability of the country. In doing so, [they] make it more vulnerable to terrorist co-optation -- or at least to providing freedom of action for terrorists to move back into Afghanistan from the tribal areas of Pakistan, for example, where some of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban holdouts are decamped.

Question: You seem to suggest that forces outside of Afghansitan also are a cause of concern for stability there -- especially forces in neighboring countries. What do you think should be done about this?

Stevenson: The third factor is to make [Afghanistan] less susceptible to the influences of outside actors, various ones of which are angling for control. These include, for example, Iran and even Russia and some of the Central Asian states. And in particular, to make diplomatically certain that Pakistan, or at least some elements in the Pakistani government, do not attempt to gain undo influence -- which would threaten the stability and counterterrorism objectives in Afghanistan.

Question: So how would you summarize your findings on Afghanistan, then?

Stevenson: The overarching point to be made is that there is still a lot of work to be done in the whole country to make sure that it is stable.

Question: Your survey also suggests that stability is being undermined by the refusal, so far, of U.S. military planners to get involved in disputes involving Afghan warlords in areas outside of Kabul. Please explain that situation.

Stevenson: There's no question that U.S. officials conceded that warlord rule was a kind of necessary evil, and better than the alternative, which was outright anarchy. So I think the dispensation recently has been [for U.S. forces] to avoid involvement in clashes among warlords.

Question: What do you think troops from the United States and other countries in the antiterrorism coalition can do to help on this issue of warlord domination in areas outside of Kabul?

Stevenson: The more ideal situation in the eyes of many, including many European observers, would be to expand ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] to the major cities of Afghanistan and therefore kind of neutralize warlord influence. The U.S. essentially rejected the idea. But that was in March 2002. Since then [U.S. officials] have appeared to be increasingly open to [the idea of expanding ISAF], and increasingly inclined to provide logistical and other support to military forces that might confront the warlords. But up to now, to my knowledge, [the United States] has not been willing to actually commit U.S. troops to it.

Question: Do you think the end of the war in Iraq will lead to a greater willingness on the part of the United States to commit U.S. troops to missions aimed reining in Afghan warlords that do not fully cooperate with Afghanistan's Transitional Authority?

Stevenson: I think it could, but there will be a lag because there are still going to be a lot of U.S. military requirements in the postconflict situation in Iraq.