Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: An Expert on South and Central Asia

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Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: An Expert on South and Central Asia

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from California's 45th District (Huntington Beach), spent two weeks visiting Afghanistan, with stops in Italy, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan at the end of August and the beginning of September. With the fall of the Afghan capital, Kabul, to the Sunni Islamist Taliban militia, and considering Rohrabacher's outspoken criticism of current U.S. policy toward Iraq at a recent House International Relations Committee heating, we felt it would be interesting to our readers to interview him.

Rohrabacher, a native Californian, will be beginning his fifth term in Congress in 1997. Previously he served for seven years as a speech writer in the Reagan White House. He is a member of the House Science and International Relations committees. Within the International Relations committee, his subcommittee assignments have included the Asia and Pacific subcommittee and the International Economic Policy and Trade subcommittee. Although the 105th Congress has yet to be organized, Rohrabacher expects to be on those same subcommittees.

En route to the Middle East, Rohrabacher stopped in Rome to meet with former Afghan King Zahir Shah. In Afghanistan, in addition to spending time in Kabul, Rohrabacher visited with Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostam at his headquarters at Mazare Sharif, in the north. Dostam is now in a position to play a key role in Afghanistan. Although Dostam collaborated with the Communist government in the past, Rohrabacher believes that he wants to put the past behind him and be an important part of Afghanistan's future.

A Disciplined Afghanistan

The potential rise to power of the Taliban does not alarm Rohrabacher, because the Taliban could provide stability in an area where chaos was creating a real threat to the U.S. Rohrabacher says that under the previous situation Afghanistan was becoming a major source of drugs and a haven for terrorists -- "an anarchistic state of narco-terrorism." In contrast, the Taliban leaders have already shown that they intend to establish a disciplined, moral society.

Rohrabacher calls the sensational media reporting of the "harsh" imposition of strict Islamic behavior, with the underlying implication that this somehow threatens the West, "nonsense." He says the Taliban are devout traditionalists, not terrorists or revolutionaries, and, in contrast to the Iranians, they do not seem intent on exporting their beliefs. Rohrabacher would have preferred to see a negotiated compromise among the various factions (but with no role for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) rather than a bloody confrontation. But in the absence of such a compromise, he believes a Taliban takeover would be a positive development.

An interesting speculation that we have not seen elsewhere was Rohrabacher's pointing out that the Taliban are mostly Pushtuns from the Khandahar region of Afghanistan, and King Zahir Shah is also a Pushtun from Khandahar. Rohrabacher says that there is a major faction among the Taliban that supports the return of Zahir Shah, and Rohrbacher would not be surprised to see him return at some point if the Taliban establishes full control over the country. …

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