Transcript: Steve Harrigan on Afghanistan

Following is an excerpt from Fox News Sunday, December 23, 2001.

TONY SNOW, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Now, it's panel time for Fred Barnes, Mara Liasson, Mort Kondracke and...


STEVE HARRIGAN, FOX NEWS: Positions are about a mile — will you get down over there!

HARRIGAN: In Kabul, Afghanistan, Steve Harrigan, Fox News.

HARRIGAN: In Bagram, Afghanistan, Steve Harrigan, Fox News.

HARRIGAN: Downtown Kabul, Steve Harrigan, Fox News.

HARRIGAN: In Kabul, Afghanistan, Steve Harrigan, Fox News.


SNOW: From behind a horse to next to Fred, who knows what's worse?


Steve Harrigan, Fox News foreign correspondent. Brit and Juan are off today.

Steve, welcome.

HARRIGAN: Thank you.

SNOW: Let's talk a little about the transition of power in Afghanistan. We have Hamid Karzai now taking over. Six months from now or within the next six months, they're going to try to convene a tribal council, a loya jirgah.

But a lot of us in America seem to be under the impression that, well, OK, the war is over, it's going to be easy now, Afghans have liberty.

He's got a tough fight ahead.

HARRIGAN: He's got an incredibly tough job. He was almost killed the first day he took office, by friendly fire. His father was assassinated.

The question, I think, is going to be how far can he extend his power. He might be able to take control of Kabul, but in a place with bad communication, bad roads, is he going to be able to extend far, even into the south, or are they going to start fighting each other again?

SNOW: I mean, what's your sense? I mean, you've been around.

HARRIGAN: Well, I think you have to have hope at this point. He's a brilliant man. He's a brave man. He's a guy who came into power. He rode through Taliban frontlines on a motorcycle in disguise to get to his home province to begin the fight. He's an experienced guy. He speaks English. He has ties with the West. Ties with former Taliban.

So there's hope. But, you know, he's just one guy. If he goes, it could be chaos.

FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS: Are his ties with us damaging to him? I mean, he's — some people say that he's viewed as a CIA puppet.

HARRIGAN: Well, I think you're right, that it could be damaging there. You remember, he didn't mention the U.S. in that speech, in his inauguration speech, so maybe he's trying to play that down, but he's clearly at home in the West. I mean, he was wearing three-piece suits and had just a tiny little beard a couple of weeks ago. Now he's got the longer beard and the shawl. But he can move back and forth between those two different worlds.

MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS: What's your sense — the last time there was a change of power in Afghanistan, the different factions did fall to fighting among themselves. That created a vacuum. The Taliban moved in, and Afghanistan became a haven for terrorists.

Do you think that there's a chance that Afghanistan could become porous enough and ungovernable enough that terrorists could come back in, or do you think that is behind them?

HARRIGAN: No, I think that's certainly the history of it. You know, but can you learn from that? One test was when the Northern Alliance did go into Kabul, there wasn't that fight. And remember, the U.S. didn't even want them to go into the city. They did go in, but they did a pretty good job.

BARNES: Is there any thought being given to partitioning Afghanistan? In other words, you have 100 years — many-hundred-year- long ethnic rivalry between the Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north and the Pashtuns in the south. Why not divide the country in half, and have the Pashtuns have their country and then a country in the north?

HARRIGAN: There's definitely talk about that, but you'd have to divide it so many different ways because the Uzbeks in the north wouldn't be happy with the Tajiks. I mean, it would be chaos, I think.

MORT KONDRACKE, FOX NEWS: Where do you think Usama bin Laden is? Do you think he's up in the White Mountains or gone off to some other country?

HARRIGAN: You know, with a plot this diabolical and this clever, he had to have had an exit route probably at the start. The easiest, most obvious route would be to go into Pakistan.

And it is a porous border. I crossed back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan five or six times, never showed a passport. Either it was a bribe or a wink and a nod from someone we were working with. So, all this talk about troops on the border, I mean, you can just drive back and forth.

KONDRACKE: And the Pakistani government wouldn't even know that he was there, or they would know and just conceal it from everybody else?

HARRIGAN: It's hard to say. He's probably traveling with a pretty large entourage of gunmen. So...

SNOW: Now, there's always talk about how Afghans, even though they have tribal rivalries, they see themselves as part of a nation, Afghanistan.

Is that true, and does that form any basis for having some sort of governable country when this is all over?

HARRIGAN: I don't think that is true, and I think that's the key question, really, is that they don't have an idea of themselves as Afghans. Even within the North and the South, even in the North, they don't think of themselves as Tajiks or Northern Alliance, they think, I belong to this boss, I belong to that boss. And even 100 yards down the road, there might be conflict.

SNOW: About 100 years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote a novel called Kim, and it talks about this area. And one of the things he talks about is the Great Game, constant intrigue, and also the fact that the people, their loyalties shift with sort of remarkable swiftness.

Was that your experience?

HARRIGAN: Certainly it was. You know, we had to make a lot of deals there, for drivers, translators, guards. And once the handshake's over, I'm used to, OK, that's our deal, you know, we're paying you $100 a day. But the handshake's only the start there of the deal.

BARNES: What about Mullah Omar? Where do you think he is?

HARRIGAN: They say that he's still somewhere in Kandahar, at least Pashtun fighters who we talked to.

LIASSON: Does that mean that he has support, people who are hiding him? And if so, do the Taliban still remain a force, however dispersed and melted back into the population they are?

HARRIGAN: I think he definitely still has a lot of supporters. And there's real anti-American sentiment, especially in the South.

SNOW: Talk about, a little bit about that, about your experience when you were going into Kandahar and simply trying to find a place to live.

HARRIGAN: Yes, we drove across — it took us six days, really, just to make it across the border, until they thought it was safe enough for us to go in. We rented a little house, $50 for a month. You know, we thought we were set, carrying the bags out. And then suddenly there was a large crowd of people from the village who said, absolutely not. So we had to pretty much run for it.

SNOW: That's amazing.

BARNES: How shocked, Steve, do you think the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces were by the firepower that the U.S. mustered through air attacks?

HARRIGAN: You know, I think this was a real — the story of this war is the success of air power. I mean, the Northern Alliance just walked into Kabul. If you went to the local hospital after they took Kabul, you might see between three and 10 wounded. So they took the capital with no losses.

SNOW: All right. I'm going to switch gears here a little bit and go from Afghanistan to American politics. Want to run through a couple of quick things to make sure we get it covered here today.



SNOW: Got this economic stimulus package, we've now heard from John Breaux that he thinks something may happen.


SNOW: What's your prediction? Are Americans going to see some sort of action by Congress in the next few months?

BARNES: No, I suspect not. I think the economy's beginning to recover anyway. And there doesn't seem to be a lot of give in Senator Daschle's position on that and on a number of other things as well.

I mean, look, Daschle took a lot of slings and arrows. The public inside the Beltway, we look at the stimulus — or a lot of people do — and say, you know, we don't need it and so on. Outside the Beltway, it is very popular.

And for Daschle to stand up and block it, actually representing a lot of Democrats and interest groups that wanted to block it, too, he took a lot of slings and arrows. It's going to be hard for him to change that position. He's already suffered what he's going to suffer.

LIASSON: Yes. I think if the economy continues to do a little bit better, the reasons for a stimulus package, obviously, will get weaker. But there is the non-stimulative portion of the package, which is help for the unemployed, health benefits, et cetera.

Now, that's something the Democrats might decide to continue attaching to everything that comes up in the Senate. And because unemployment is usually a lagging indicator, in other words, it gets better later than other parts of the economy, they could get some political points out of that.

KONDRACKE (?): Well, exactly. Tom Daschle has said that he would attach these unemployment benefits, unemployment insurance extensions and also health care benefits to passing bills. And what I assume will happen then is that the 60-vote rule will be applied to that by the Republicans, which may give the Democrats an opportunity to regain some of the lost political ground.

SNOW: So expect more finger-pointing, folks.

Issue number two: Bill Clinton convened his own loya jirga in Harlem this week...


... where he assembled his elders to go forth and spread the good word about his presidency. Why now, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, I think it's because he feels that his — the good that he did for the country for eight years is not being appreciated and he'd like it to be appreciated more.

He wants still to be a major player in the Democratic Party. And he does believe that if his story was told better, it would actually help the Democratic Party, in addition to burnishing his legacy. Because right now the Democrats, except for Tom Daschle, who is certainly an embattled leader right now, they don't have a major figure.

SNOW: Let's — I want to get a quote from Hillary Rodham Clinton, because she delivered a quote to The New York Post. She said, "My husband made the country richer and safer and smarter and stronger, but these accomplishments have been eliminated or reversed by President Bush in the space of a year."

KONDRACKE: I mean, it's garbage, clearly. I mean, safer? Really?

You know, the fact is that I think that one of the reasons is the meeting was called was because of a Washington Post series which indicated that, although there was a plot by Clinton to get Usama bin Laden, nothing was ever really done about it except a couple of cruise missile strikes, which missed, right. So Clinton was getting the blame for Usama's survival and success.

Now, one answer that the Clintons can make is that, well, nothing really happened during the first nine months of the year. But the fact is that Usama thought that the United States was a paper tiger, basically, because of his experience with Clinton.

SNOW: Steve, is that your sense? Do you think people in Afghanistan, the fighters, have a perception of American presidents and their personalities and their conduct in office?

HARRIGAN: No, I think they don't know what's going on about that. I mean, they didn't even see those strikes against the World Trade towers. They don't have electricity. They don't have TVs. They don't know what's going on, as far as that goes.


KONDRACKE: We saw them hundreds of times, that's for sure.

You know, Bill Clinton, as Mara touched on it, did have a point. Obviously, he's a narcissist who wants to be in front of the cameras all the time. But the Democratic Party, since he left, has veered sharply to the left, and he did have a centrist legacy. He was a centrist president who was electorally successful because of that, and I think he'd like the Democrats to move back a little toward the center.

SNOW: OK, we got 30 seconds. I want you all to be quick. I'm going to start with Steve.

Is Rudy Giuliani really the man of the year?

HARRIGAN: You'd have to think George Bush would be a great man of the year, at this point.

BARNES: Would be, but Time's criterion is it can be a bad guy, and the guy who changed history the most was Usama bin Laden.

LIASSON: I think Rudy Giuliani is a good choice for man of the year. He displayed the kind of leadership in New York City that I don't think that we've ever — we haven't seen for 50 years.

KONDRACKE: No. It's either Usama bin Laden or Bush, one or the other. Time chickened out.

SNOW: All right, panel. Thank you so much.

And a special thanks to Steve Harrigan who, not only is kind to join us but, like most Fox people, he's tall.


Copyright © 2001 by eMediaMillWorks, Inc. No portion of this transcription may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the express written authority of eMediaMillWorks, Inc.