grants paid for visits by Afghans in '90s
The federal government has
sponsored two visits to the United States in the past four years by
delegations that included Taliban representatives in an effort to
expose Afghanistan's ruling militia to Western ways.
stops included Mount Rushmore and the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration headquarters in
In addition, the federal
government provided $50 million since 1973 to a university center
for Afghan studies. The center's federal funding was stopped in
1995, shortly after the Taliban took power and was described by U.S.
officials as a terrorist organization that engaged in serious human
The Center for
Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha arranged
the visits in 1998 and 1999. The center reached an arrangement in
1997 with oil company Unocal that would give the center $1.8 million
over two years to educate the peasants of
In return, Unocal
hoped that it could establish connections that would allow it to
build a 1,000-mile, $1.5 billion oil pipeline from the former Soviet
republics of Central Asia to the Arabian
The first two visits drew
criticism from human rights groups who questioned the role of a
public university holding hands with private business interests and
engaging with one of the world's worst human rights violators.
Unocal withdrew from the
arrangement in 1998, saying that it found little hope for political
stability in the ravaged nation.
source at the State Department confirmed that at least some of those
visitors were members of the military force that controls 90 percent
"We had direct
contact with these [Afghan visitors] on a regular basis," said a
State Department official, who asked not to be identified. "We
wanted to make sure than they got our message loud and clear, which
was to clean up their act on human rights and narcotics and get
seriously involved in a peace
"Their reaction was to
tell us that bin Laden was a guest and that there are no terrorists
and there are no narcotics," the State Department official said.
"They told us not to impose our culture on them, and that they were
just poor farmers."
Gouttierre, director of the center, said the visits were part of the
center's efforts to implement more schooling for the people of a
Third World nation and to show Afghan leaders the merits of
democracy — ideas the Taliban regime
He denied that the
visitors to the United States were part of the
"I know them," Mr.
Gouttierre said. The visitors "support U.S. actions. The Taliban
members could not, would not,
He also said that his
efforts to establish education programs for women in Afghanistan
were thwarted by leaders of the Taliban
"We would have continued
the effort, but Unocal stopped the program," said Mr. Gouttierre, a
former senior political affairs officer for a U.N. peacekeeping
mission in Afghanistan. "It was an attempt that was, for Unocal, a
business pursuit, but it allowed us to continue to try to help the
people of Afghanistan."
Gouttierre said the project had high hopes for Afghanistan, "a
country we knew had come apart, like Humpty Dumpty. We wanted to
bring it together."
"Then we got
this small grant from Unocal, and brought a group here, thinking it
would be something to help them have dialog and relieve some of
those nagging mistrusts they had of each other. It was a really good
start, but we were unfortunately not able to sustain
Unocal, based in El Segundo,
Calif., laid its plans as fighting was raging between the hard-line
Islamic Taliban and the Northern Alliance. A spokesman said
enterprise and economic development could help stabilize the
The Center for Afghanistan
Studies established campuses in one area controlled by the Northern
Alliance and another in one under Taliban
"There were questions
raised because of the [Taliban] regime," said Unocal spokesman Barry
Lane. "But to put yourself in the 1997 or 1998 mind-set it is
wonderful to have this twenty-twenty hindsight but we suspended all
operations the earliest we
Mr. Gouttierre also noted
that looking back at the visits "means a lot more today than it did
even three months ago."
the Taliban a "naive force in terms of world
"They are not
sophisticated enough to be part of a terrorist network," Mr.
Gouttierre said. "But they are strategically important enough that
they can harbor someone the Taliban has been persuaded by the
Pakistani military forces to do these things."