Expert on Afghanistan says: Understand, then fight

Expert on Afghanistan says: Understand, then fight


GLASSBORO - His afternoon interview on Tuesday was with the Chicago Tribune. At night, it was Newsweek on the phone.

He has been the subject of stories in the New York Times and the Kansas City Star and on Dateline NBC.

Next week, he will consult with the State Department about Afghan society.

Thomas Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies and dean of international studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has become a primary gatekeeper to understanding the Afghan people and culture. The center is the only institutional base in the United States exclusively concerned with Afghan affairs.

At Rowan University in Glassboro yesterday, Gouttierre spoke to 800 high school and college students and faculty members about the Central Asian country that has defined his career.

He said he was hopeful that Osama bin Laden would be captured.

"Ultimately, we're going to find him. There are a lot of places to hide . . . [but] it's hard to go anywhere in Afghanistan without somebody knowing it," said Gouttierre, a former United Nations political-affairs officer who has cultivated his ties to Afghanistan over 40 years, 10 of
them as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Understanding the Taliban is a key component in fighting it, said Gouttierre, who has testified before the U.S. Senate about human rights in the region.

"People of the Taliban are not highly sophisticated people," Gouttierre said. Many are from rural areas, ignorant of their own history, and minimally educated, he added.

As for bin Laden, Gouttierre said: "He believes that the Western world with its commercial culture, MTV culture, was trying to subvert the economy and culture" of Afghanistan.

"Whether he's killed or captured, he will become some type of martyr for some people."

But to find bin Laden, the United States must build a closer relationship with Pakistan and make allies of the many Afghans who do not support the Taliban, said Gouttierre, whose address at Rowan was titled "The Unholy Alliance: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Pakistan."

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Date Published: Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 12:03
Source URL: The Philadelphia Inquirer