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South Asia: U.S. Fears Spread of Afghan Terror Bases

The United States contends that the staging point for international terrorism has shifted from North Africa and the Middle East to Afghanistan, particularly the regions controlled by the radical fundamentalist militia known as the Taliban. Snior U.S. officials outlined Afghanistan's role in international terrorism for the House of Representatives International relations Committee Wednesday. NCA's Senior Correspondent K.P. Foley reports.

Washington, 13 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Senior State Department officials say the terrorists operating from Afghan sanctuaries not only threaten South Asia, but parts of the former Soviet Union as well.

The State Department's coordinator for international terrorism, Ambassador Michael Sheehan, told the members of Congress that: "The terrorism that emanates out of this part of the world threatens regional stability, as mentioned by some of the members here, in Pakistan itself, the Kashmir conflict, other conflicts in Central Asia, reaching into the Caucasus and the Middle East and beyond."

Sheehan said the main reason South Asia has become the focal point of terrorism is the complete collapse of the state of Afghanistan that began in 1979 with the Soviet invasion. In addition, Sheehan said: "The proximity of Afghanistan to other conflicts such as Kashmir and others in Central Asia also contribute to making it a hub of this type of activity."

Sheehan added that the situation in Afghanistan is exacerbated by an explosion of narcotics trafficking, a virtual arms bazaar throughout the country, and a religious extremism cultivated in many schools in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Alan Eastham, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, said Pakistan is crucial to the anti-terrorist effort in the region. Explaining why, Eastham said: "After all, Afghanistan is next door to Pakistan. It has considerable influence in Afghanistan with the Taliban. Pakistan has made known its view that the presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan is an obstacle to stability. "

The U.S. blames Osama bin Laden for planning and financing terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 that killed more than 200 people.

Eastham also said that, while the U.S. is concerned about terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan, "the country has taken some recent very welcome steps to address this problem." He said Pakistani authorities have arrested a number of suspected terrorists and that they are closely monitoring foreigners.

He also cited Pakistani press reports stating that a delegation from the Interior Ministry will go to Afghanistan later this month to talk to the Taliban authorities about terrorism and narcotics. Eastham said the U.S. welcomes the visit "as a manifestation of Pakistan's intent to deal with the problem."

The U.S. recently renewed its unilateral sanctions on the Taliban. The militia is denied access to any of its financial assets in the U.S., and American citizens and companies are forbidden to trade with the Taliban.

However, Eastham said the U.S. plans to continue contributing to humanitarian programs in Afghanistan. He said the U.S. is, among other things, the major donor of food to Afghans. He said the U.S. has had a positive impact on the lives of ordinary Afghans. Eastham said Afghans should not suffer "because the people who control that country support international terrorism."