Osama Bin Laden's Popularity Weakens Among Afghans

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Osama Bin Laden is widely known as the most wanted man in the world, but some wonder how the people of Afghanistan view the al-Qaida leader. This week's Anchor Buddy, Faheem Dashty is editor-in-chief of Kabul Weekly newspaper. Dashty discusses how Afghans perceived the attacks of Sept. 11 and how Bin Laden is viewed there.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: a report from the island nation of St. Lucia, as its most dominant political figure is laid to rest. But first, it's time for a visit with one of our anchor buddies, reporters or hosts who help us understand the latest news and happenings from around the world.

Today, we head to Afghanistan. This week, a suicide bomber killed dozens in the south, and extremists released a videotape with Osama bin Laden. Both coincided with the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. We wanted to get an update on the situation in Afghanistan.

And here to talk with us about this is Faheem Dashty, editor-in-chief of Kabul Weekly. He joined us by phone from his home in Kabul. Welcome, sir.

Mr. FAHEEM DASHTY (Editor-in-Chief, Kabul Weekly): Thank you.

MARTIN: Mr. Dashty, this week, many of us have been comparing notes on where we were on September 11th, 2001, and I just wanted to ask you if you remember where you were and if you had a sense then that that event would become the watershed event that it has become.

Mr. DASHTY: Exactly, I do remember where I was at that night. So, of course, in this part of the world, it was night. I was in a hospital in Tajikistan for a hospital (unintelligible), and then I remember that the Afghan foreign minister came to visit us, and he told us what happened on New York on the day. So that's why I remember exactly the moment.

MARTIN: Did you have a sense then that this event would have repercussions for your country, as well as this one? As ours?

Mr. DASHTY: Of course not exactly as we have now, but I was thinking that these two assassination, these two attacks, is done by the same organization, which was al-Qaida. And I was thinking that American may react on that, and I was thinking it may influenced my country, Afghanistan.

MARTIN: And now, is the anniversary of the attacks covered in Afghanistan? Is it a story there?

Mr. DASHTY: Not exactly. Of course, the media is doing something about, but the - not as much as they are doing about the anniversary of Commander Massoud before that. They had real big ceremonies and big meetings here for the 9th of September. Of course, we do remember and we write something and we talk about the 11th of September on TV and (unintelligible), but it's not exactly a big event in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: And, of course, you know that Osama bin Laden released two videotaped messages in recent days. It seemed timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11th. Is the working assumption that he is in your country? Do people in your country think he is in Afghanistan?

Mr. DASHTY: I don't think so. Most of the people in Afghanistan - we heard that even the government officials, they are thinking and they are saying that Osama is living on the northwest province of Pakistan. Of course, there are also rumors that he (unintelligible) between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But here, people believe that he is in Pakistan rather being in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: How do you think he is viewed in your country?

Mr. DASHTY: First of all, I think most of the Afghans are looking at him as a real enemy for the nation and for the country. Secondly, people are thinking that now he is a weak leader because people are thinking that there are some young leader inside the al-Qaida and Taliban, and the people think that he is not as important as he was before 9/11.

MARTIN: And speaking of the Taliban - your newspaper comes out every Wednesday, as I understand it. The cover story this week was about the Taliban. Will you tell me about it?

Mr. DASHTY: On Sunday, on the last Sunday, Taliban announced that they are ready to negotiate with the government. The Afghan government, while trying to negotiate, to find a way to negotiate with Taliban on the last five years, but always the answer of Taliban was negative. And this was the first time that they give a green light, which means they are ready to talk with the government.

But here, politicians are thinking that negotiation between Taliban and the government cannot have any results, because Taliban are against the current process in Afghanistan. They are against the Afghan constitution. They are against democracy. They are against human rights.

So the people are thinking even if they are ready, and even if the negotiation will take place, it will not have any result.

MARTIN: And talk to me about this latest suicide bombing, if you would, in southern Afghanistan. Apparently, it was a very lethal event, something like 28 people were killed. Is the assumption that the Taliban was behind this bombing, or it was someone else?

Mr. DASHTY: Definitely, it's Taliban and al-Qaida were behind this suicide bombing. And we don't have to forget that the first suicide attack in Afghanistan take place on 9th September of 2001 against Commander Massoud. Then, step by step, it was increased. In the year 2004, we had only 12. In the year 2005, he had around 70. The year 2006, we had around 130, and its increase in every year.

MARTIN: And how does this square - this latest bombing square with the Taliban's statement that they are now willing to enter into negotiations? Is it a view that there are different people involved here, or is it just meant to demonstrate that they are still a force to be reckoned with?

Mr. DASHTY: No, no, no. I don't think they feel it's any weaker than before. I think this is one of the way that they want to catch the attention of the international community, as well as they want to introduce themselves for the legal political party in Afghanistan. And the effect just behind the table and are starting negotiation with Taliban agree that the government is look at members in Taliban as a political party. So that's what I think they are trying to take some political credit rather than being serious to make real result for the Afghanistan.

MARTIN: What are some of the other headlines? What are some of the other stories you're covering?

Mr. DASHTY: One of the headlines, which is policies which does not happen every day. It's about a film, about movie, which has to be released in two months. The director of this film is the greatest Afghan director, Siddiq Barmak, who win the Golden Globe twice…

MARTIN: For the best foreign language film, he won the Golden Globe for "Osama." Yes - yes, he is well known.

Mr. DASHTY: For "Osama," exactly. Now, he is making a new film, which was named "Opium War." I wanted to make a report about, and I was surprised. I wrote a (unintelligible) with the people who are working with our director. The actors were American.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. DASHTY: The cameraman was a Russian. The (unintelligible) was Indian. The sound man was Iranian. Some other people were from Tajikistan, and the producers are Korean and Japanian(ph), and I was just surprised how a multinational unit is coming to Afghanistan and working under an Afghan director in making the film, "Opium War," exactly on the time that they have made a new recall on the production of opium in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Oh, my. That is interesting. That is interesting. Now - and now finally, sir, you're the editor-in-chief of a paper that is printed in three languages every week?

Mr. DASHTY: Nothing is normal in Afghanistan. You can see everything, not normal. Yes, we - I do have this kind of - such a newspaper, of which 28 pages, 76 pages on English, the rest is in Dari and Pashto, which are our official languages in Afghanistan. And it's all in the same edition.

MARTIN: Oh. You put me to shame.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let me just say…

Mr. DASHTY: I have to do it, because I have Dari speaker audience, as well as and Pashto speaker audience. And already, there are tens of thousands of expats living in Afghanistan, and I was thinking I have to do something for them as well. So that's why I decide to have this three languages newspaper.

MARTIN: Well, your English is far superior to my Urdu and Pasto, so I congratulate you.

Mr. DASHTY: I - just to be frank, I have no background of studying English. I learned English just on street, and, again, by surprise, I learned it in France.

MARTIN: Well, that's excellent. So, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DASHTY: You are welcome.

MARTIN: Fahim Dashty is editor-in-chief of Kabul Weekly. He joined us by phone from his home in Kabul. Thank you so much again for speaking with us. I hope we speak again.

Mr. DASHTY: You're welcome. I hope so. I hope so.

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