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Interview with Dr. Marc A.*

Gazette: Dr. A., when and why did you go to Afghanistan?
Kubelka: I am a doctor who has worked in Afghanistan on several occasions some time ago, for a couple of months each time. And I came to like the people and the country. I was a general practitioner, and the first time I was there during the Soviet occupation with an international NGO working for the people in the area - the people in general, which included the Mujaheddin under whose protection we worked with the population. We were mainly engaged in a vaccination campaign which was the important thing to do at the time.

What, in your opinion, is the Afghans' judgement on the American modus operandi?
Of course they can't be happy about the bombings. On the other hand they are used to wars - between themselves and between other powers.
There is a minority inside the Taliban movement where the chiefs associated themselves with the movement, not out of ideology, but out of the wish to see peace. They seem to have been willing to be on the winning side in orde to procure peace in that way.
The Northern Alliance is mainly a tribal grouping, always hostile to the Pashtoun population which is actually under Taliban rule. They have their own ways to get things done. They will do it partly by personal power, partly by group power and partly by survival instinct. The personal power was for example focussed in general Dostum who was first on the side of the communists, then against the communists, than in alliance with various Pashtoun parties, and after that he went against them. In this country, alliances are never fixed.

Is there something like an Afghan society?
The structure or the whole Afghan "society" is based on local und tribal interests. A group either elects or adopts a chief, and the acceptance of the chief depends on he power he wields to achieve a given objective or simply to pay his people. And the chiefs themselves will change alliances according to who has the greater power and who pays them, that is who gives them protection. It is all a very fluid kind of arrangement.

Do you, under these circumstances, see the possibility of a political settlement of the conflict?
Yes and no. Afghanistan has never had a strong central government that has ruled the whole of the country. It ruled Kabul, it ruled the provincial cities, but most of the country went its own ways, chose its own customs. Under the local leaders there has never been an effective tax system, to give you just one example.
But the tribes can come together, and they have come together in the past, in the Grand Council, the Loya Jirga, to settle differences and decide on a common policy. They have traditionally done so over many years.

Is there a "the moderate Taliban"?
There are moderate people in the Taliban entourage at the moment - moderate people who have joined in, who ally themselves with the Taliban. Surely they have no say in the Taliban movement at the moment, but they may speak out once the war is over. For the time being they just don't show. Not anyone who is with the Taliban movement picks up the ideology. So there are people on the Taliban side who must be considered as moderate.

Can such a Grand Council be instigated from outside Afghanistan?
Oh, it can be instigated from the outside, but it must be done through traditional Afghan channels. This just might be the king, but there is no guarantee to that, he is a figure of convenience, rather than a figure who would have nationwide loyalty. As a figurehead he is fine.
If the field is clear for a meeting, then they will weet. I do not think they would need any outside instigation. If someone could provide money, if there are funds available for the parties and for the chiefs - that would be ok, but one should not choose one of them as a privileged partner as has been done in the past. Under these circumstances the people would be happy to talk and something would come out of it.
You can't do an Afghan national policy from outside, that would certainly come adrift. And in my view they are not going to choose any Western model for their society. They will probably accept, as part of a deal, an outside aid to post-war reconstruction, but they will decide on their regional customs and politics for themselves.

What would the overall settlement look like in the end?
What there has always been there in the past: the tribes and the chiefs with a weak central power. The people live under control of the chief, and the chief is in control by the consent of his people. This is a kind of democracy. The chiefs supplies the means for the needs of the population, he provides protection and various other services, for instance medical and health services. Road building may be another matter, possibly under the authority of the central government. But the chief may try to wangle it so that it looks as if he himself had provided the road or the bridge.

Would this be a stable arrangement?
It would be as stable as you can get it. And it has been stable in the past. It is the natural way of things in Afghanistan.

* (name and organisation withheld; interviewer: Stefan Kubelka)

9. November 2001


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