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Pakistan: Relations With Central Asian States Deteriorate

  • Bruce Pannier



Prague, 7 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan's relations with the Central Asian states have recently deteriorated, primarily because of its support for the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

Taliban members have studied and received military training in Pakistan. In the 1980s many of its future leaders lived in refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Pakistani military officers have been credited with successful planning of Taliban's operations. There have been numerous reports of Pakistani soldiers being captured by forces fighting the Taliban and of Pakistani aircraft flying missions in Afghanistan against the opposition.

The scope and intensity of Pakistan's involvement with the Taliban movement have prompted concern in the region, affecting Islamabad's relations with numerous countries.

Following the sharpening of the conflict between Iran and Taliban over the issue of the arrest --and possible execution-- of Iranian prisoners in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in early August, Iran said that the arrests could have an impact on Teheran-Islamabad relations as well.

Iranian officials have already called many times on Pakistan to use its influence with Taliban to obtain the release of the prisoners. Earlier this week, at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Non-Aligned Movement in South Africa, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi called again on Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to intervene. There has been no indication of Aziz' response.

Iranian clerics have decried the Taliban's version of Shari'a (Islamic law) as "medieval." This criticism has received a measure of support from Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, who said if Taliban ideas spread throughout his country it would mark a return to the dark ages.

Pakistan has also been accused by governments of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan of backing groups identified as Wahhabis (radical Muslim fundamentalists) on their territories.

Wahhabis were alleged by the Uzbek government to be responsible for several murders in Uzbekistan's part of the Fergana Valley in December last year. A series of trials conducted in Uzbekistan in the first half of 1998 produced testimony from suspects in which they claimed they were intent on overthrowing the government and establishing a new Islamic state. Many of them were also said to have received training in Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Wahhabis, who also claimed they were trained in Pakistan, were arrested later in Kyrgyzstan. The Tajik government denied any support for the Wahhabis. That mountainous country is recovering from a five-year civil war and still not fully under government control.

The Tajik government expelled four Pakistani citizens found in the Tajik capital in August. The four were reportedly spreading propaganda, said by some to have been pro-Taliban and by others to have been pro-Wahhabi, in local mosques. Tajik Radio reported last month that other Pakistani citizens had been taken into custody in the Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Region on similar charges.

The nuclear tests conducted by both India and Pakistan added to the Central Asian states' concerns. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have held conferences promoting a nuclear-free Central Asia. Kazakhstan voluntarily gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. China has given up testing nuclear devices in Xinjiang Province which borders Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The last week's visits by Pakistan's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Siddiki Kanju to several Central Asian states met with a cold response. Kanju went to Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Only in Turkmenistan did its president, Saparmurat Niyazov, agreed to meet Kanju. The others declined. The apparent reason was Pakistan's Afghan connection.
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