29 September 2001
Turkmenistan Starts Receiving Humanitarian Aid For Afghanistan
28 September 2001
An aircraft carrying a cargo of humanitarian aid for the population of Afghanistan arrived at Ashgabat Airport on 28 September from the town of Brindisi (Italy). The cargo was sent by the UN World Food Program, which is coordinating the deliveries of vital goods to the people of Afghanistan through its representative office in Turkmenistan, with the assistance of the Turkmen authorities. (Turkmen TV, Turkmen Press news agency, Turkmenistan.ru)
Dostum Denies Death Rumors
27 September 2001
Afghan opposition warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum has denied rumors he had been killed in action against the ruling Taliban militia.
Dostum told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that "everything was under control" and that the opposition's actions against the Taliban were continuing.
"I am talking to you from the front line. Other commanders are also here with me. We are in a meeting now. On the front, war continues, but there is no problem. Everything is under control."
Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, is one of the most powerful members in the anti-Taliban alliance. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
UNICEF To Send Aid To Afghanistan Via Turkmenistan
27 September 2001
The UN International Children's Emergency Fund will shortly send to Turkmenistan four lots of humanitarian aid intended for Afghanistan, Sarah Knani, head of the UNICEF office in Ashgabat, told the press on 27 September.
The first 40-ton shipment of essential supplies and medicines will arrive by air from Copenhagen at the eastern city of Turkmenabat, the former Chardzhou, on 30 September, she said.
If refugees arrive in Turkmenistan, the aid will be distributed among Afghan women and children, Knani said. (Interfax)
Russian Companies To Deepen Involvement In Turkmen Fuel Sector
27 September 2001
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov approved on 27 September proposals made by Russia's Zarubezhneft (Foreign Oil) foreign economic association, which, in alliance with Itera corporation, plans to participate in projects to develop Turkmenistan's oil and gas deposits. The aspects of such cooperation were discussed at a meeting held on 27 September between Niyazov and the general director-general of Zarubezhneft, Nikolai Tokarev, and the president of Itera international group of companies, Igor Makarov.
Igor Makarov said, "Our initiative to participate in projects to develop hydrocarbon resources in Turkmenistan together with Zarubezhneft will be crowned by the establishment of a joint company."
Tokarev noted it was the first time his association had offered its services to Turkmenistan. He said the association had made an application for work on land and at sea. At the same time, he declined to identify which deposits the Russian company is due to take part in developing. (Turkmenistan.ru, ITAR-TASS)
Children Deaths To Be Pinned On Adventists?
27 September 2001
Nearly two years after the Adventist church in Ashgabat was bulldozed by the authorities (13 November 1999), police have discovered the bodies of two children in the ruins.
The former church's pastor, Pavel Fedotov, informed the Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) headquarters of the Adventists' Central Asia Conference by fax from Ashgabat on 17 September that the bodies found at the beginning of September in the basement of the ruins were those of children aged nine and 10. Although a senior police official told the Keston News Service from Ashgabat that the Adventists are not suspects, the Adventist community remains concerned that the investigation appears to be focusing more on their beliefs than on establishing who was responsible for the children's deaths.
After demolition local Adventists stopped going to the ruined church, Igor Litvinov, spokesman for the Central Asia Conference, told Keston from Bishkek on 25 September. "This means that the dreadful discovery in the church basement was made almost two years after the Adventists had last attended the church. Nevertheless, many members of our community in Ashgabat are regularly called for questioning." (Keston News Service)
300,000-350,000 Afghan Refugees Likely To Stream Into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan
26 September 2001
Russian experts predict that if a counterterrorist operation is launched in Afghanistan, 300,000 to 350,000 Afghan refugees may stream into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
Russian First Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations Yuri Vorobyov told journalists on 26 September that in the estimate of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Afghan refugees might reach 1.5 million. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan Will Not Allow U.S. Troops On Its Territory
25 September 2001
Turkmen President Niyazov has announced that foreign troops would not enter the territory of Turkmenistan.
Speaking on national television on 24 September, he said that during his telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell they had agreed that humanitarian cargoes for the people of Afghanistan would be transported across Turkmen territory by air and rail. "This will not be military cargo and this conforms with our law," he said.
Niyazov quoted Powell as saying that America doesn't wish grief or trouble to the Afghan people and that ahead of winter the United States wants to help the Afghans. Powell also said that thorough, delicate work has been done to keep civilian casualties in Afghanistan to a minimum. (Interfax, GazetaSNG.ru, CAN, Turkmen TV)
Turkmenbashi Suggests Creation Of UN Special Representation In Ashgabat
25 September 2001
Speaking on 24 September at a government session, President Niyazov put forward the idea of creating a UN special representation in Ashgabat that would undertake the mission of developing a solution to the problem in Afghanistan. The neutral Turkmenistan, "having equal and good mutual relations with neighbors," has all conditions to be the center of such negotiations, said Niyazov. (Turkmenistan.ru)
Turkmen Mufti Backs 'Islam Against Terrorism' Conference
25 September 2001
Turkmen Mufti Nasrullakh ibn Ibadullakh backs an idea of calling an international conference under the slogan "Islam against Terrorism."
"The struggle against terrorism is a sacred duty for each Muslim as protection of his people and homeland from enslavement and oppression," he said, pointing to a consolidating role as the future conference.
"Terrorism, whose victims number into thousands of innocent people, should be uprooted in every country and in the world as a whole," Ibadullakh emphasized.
Turkmen Muslims fully approve of the stand of their country on denouncing international terrorism, the mufti continued.
Turkmenistan repeatedly sponsored peace talks between warring Muslims in the course of its 10-year history.
Ashgabat was the venue for inter-Tajik and inter-Afghan talks, he stressed. Turkmenistan's experience as a mediator and participant in a search for peaceful options of settling conflicts can be used also in the present situation, the mufti noted. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmens Offer Humanitarian Corridor For Action Against Afghanistan
24 September 2001
Turkmenistan is to allow the use of its ground and air transport corridors for humanitarian purposes during any U.S. operation against Afghanistan, the Turkmenistan.ru website reported.
"Turkmenistan has given its consent to the use of its own ground and air transport corridors to deliver humanitarian freight in the course of the antiterrorist operation in the region," the report said.
It said that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had made this statement at a cabinet meeting on 24 September.
The Turkmen leader said that the country he heads adheres strictly to the principles of neutrality and non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, but in this situation Turkmenistan considers that the evil must be punished.
Ashgabat considers, however, that all measures and acts intended to root out hotbeds of international terrorism must be targeted, must not hurt innocent people, must meet the standards of international legislation, and must be coordinated by the UN. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Turkmenistan.ru, Turkmen TV, AFP)
Turkmenistan Will Receive Loan To Install Fiber Optic Network
23 September 2001
The Turkmen state foreign economic bank will sign a loan agreement with the Islamic Development Bank to install a fiber optic communication network between Ashgabat, Balkanabat (former Nebitdag), and Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk), and expand the telephone network in Ashgabat, a source with the presidential office has told Interfax.
It is expected that a loan of more than $15 million will be granted for 14 years with a 2-year grace period. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)
NEWS FROM THE NEIGHBORS
Powell: U.S. Asking Central Asia For More Help
25 September 2001
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 24 September that Washington was seeking further support in fighting terrorism from Central Asian states near Afghanistan, which is accused of harboring Osama bin Laden.
"We've made requests, and we've heard back from some of them, and they've been forthcoming. We're pursuing some other requests that I'm not at liberty to discuss,'' Powell told Reuters in an interview.
The former Soviet Central Asian states could prove crucial to the U.S. effort to get Afghanistan's Taliban leadership to hand over bin Laden, whom Washington accuses of being behind attacks with hijacked planes on 11 September in New York and Washington and left thousands dead.
In Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, an official at the capital's civilian airport said two U.S. C-130 cargo planes delivering intelligence equipment had landed on 21 September. The government has not confirmed the report.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the countries were being forthcoming with offers of support for humanitarian operations but less clear about the broader issue of military access.
A key country that has not yet made its position clear was Uzbekistan, which has the region's largest airport and a military base nearby that could house up to 20,000 troops, the U.S. official said.
The U.S. official said the diplomatic effort was directed at acquiring overflight and landing rights. (Reuters)
CIS Prime Ministers Call For Global Antiterrorist Action
28 September 2001
A high-level meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States on 28 September condemned "the unprecedented act of international terrorism committed on U.S. territory."
The prime ministers of CIS member countries, in a statement issued during a meeting in Moscow, expressed their deep condolences to all those affected by the terrorist attacks. "We emphasize that the brazen challenge of the terrorists must receive a joint rebuff from the world community," the document said.
"It is essential to move from political statements to concrete steps and efforts and to work out a strategy and mechanism for long-term international cooperation to ensure the effectiveness of antiterrorist measures.
A CIS antiterrorist center has emerged, the statement said. "We intend to raise the standards of mutual confidence and efficiency in the operation of the security agencies and special services of the member states in order to make antiterrorist cooperation in the CIS framework more productive."
The statement said CIS states are ready to participate in building a global system to offset new threats and for close cooperation in this work with all states, international organizations, and regional bodies. (Interfax)
Representatives Of Afghan Factions Gather In Rome For Talks With Former King
28 September 2001
Representatives from various Afghan factions are arriving in Rome for talks with the country's former king, Zahir Shah, on a possible future government.
Aides to the king said consultations with Zahir Shah could start on 29 September, though some representatives have already opened a conference. The representatives said a procedure for electing members of the Loya Jirga, or Supreme Council, has already been approved. The group has also agreed to the king's suggestion of forming a military organization consisting of field commanders currently fighting in Afghanistan, and representatives of various Afghan ethnic groups and tribes.
The 86-year-old king is seen by many as the best compromise for unifying the country after more than two decades of war. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Northern Alliance Steps Up Offensive In Afghanistan
28 September 2001
Hostilities have intensified in Afghanistan between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.
The Northern Alliance is preparing to storm the towns of Talukan and Mazar-i-Sharif, military-diplomatic sources in Dushanbe told Interfax on 28 September.
They said some 15,000 Taliban fighters are concentrated in the area of Bagram, keeping their opponents from reaching the road to Kabul.
General Dostum, a key figure in the anti-Taliban coalition, has reported killing 185 Talibs and the capture of over 200 in the area of Mazar-i-Sharif.
According to estimates of Northern Alliance representatives, the Taliban may have up to 1,000 Soviet-made tanks (T-54, T-55, and T-62), about the same number of armored vehicles, over 20 surface-to-surface SCUD systems, some 20 MiG-21 and Su-22 planes, and over 20 helicopters (MI-8, Mi-17, Mi-26, and Mi-35).
Sources say the Taliban is energetically recruiting new forces. Mercenaries are being recruited throughout the world and sent to Afghanistan in roundabout ways. Sources in Dushanbe know of a group of 35 Arabs who left Bosnia-Herzegovina a few days ago and reached Afghanistan.
At the same time over 17,000 refugees fleeing the country ahead of the U.S. armed operation have concentrated in the immediate vicinity of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan.
Tajik migration services estimate that the number of refugees in the area may triple to 50,000 in the nearest future. (Interfax)
Rabbani's Government Asks For Urgent Humanitarian Aid
25 September 2001
Burhanuddin Rabbani's government is calling on the international community to provide Afghanistan with urgent humanitarian assistance, Sahi Gairat, official spokesman for the Afghan embassy in Moscow, told a 25 September press conference in Moscow.
Today, Afghanistan is facing a real "human catastrophe," he said.
A great number of people are leaving the Taliban-controlled regions in which the Northern Alliance's forces are operating, the diplomat said. "We are very short of medicines and food," the Afghan embassy spokesman said. (Interfax)
Northern Alliance Ready To Join Anti-terrorist Front
25 September 2001
The current offensive of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan is unrelated to the retaliatory operation being planned by the U.S., the first secretary of the Afghan embassy in Moscow, Sahi Gairat, told Interfax on 25 September.
He said that after the murder of Northern Alliance military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Taliban launched an offensive and the Northern Alliance "was forced to defend itself, but gradually the alliance took the initiative."
Gairat spoke of "constant work to coordinate efforts with Russia and other countries in resisting terrorism."
"Terrorism is an international phenomenon so naturally the world community is uniting to uproot the evil," he said.
"The people of Afghanistan will surely join the united anti-terrorist front," he said.
"In the framework of the antiterrorist campaign, strikes should be delivered only at terrorist bases," the diplomat said.
He ruled out the possibility of the Taliban participating in the formation of a broad coalition government in Afghanistan.
"The tactics of violence, intimidation, and war is the religion of the Taliban," he said.
He said there are few Afghans among the Taliban -- as 60 percent to 70 percent of them are Pakistanis and Arabs.
"If the channels of support for the Taliban from Pakistan are stopped, the struggle of the Afghan people against it will be effective," Gairat said. (Interfax)
Tajik President, Iranian Envoy Discuss Central Asia, Afghanistan
28 September 2001
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and the Iranian president's special envoy, Moukhsin Aminzadeh, discussed the Central Asian and Afghan situation on 28 September.
Air strikes alone will not neutralize international terrorism in Afghanistan, Aminzadeh told the press after the meeting. Such strikes can result only in the loss of life and a humanitarian disaster, he said.
Aminzadeh said he fears that if the air strikes are carried out, the number of refugees may rise to 3 million.
Iran will not take part in a military operation against Afghanistan carried out under the U.S. command but may provide aid if this is done under the auspices of the UN, he said. (Interfax)
Tajik, Uzbek Presidents Step Up Cooperation In Fighting Terrorists
28 September 2001
The Tajik and Uzbek presidents, Imomali Rakhmonov and Islam Karimov, have agreed to improve cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of their countries in fighting terrorism.
In a telephone conversation they discussed thoroughly the situation in neighboring Afghanistan and the Central Asian region in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States, an official in the Tajik Foreign Ministry's Information Department told Interfax on 28 September.
Both presidents agreed on the need to strengthen the border with Afghanistan and to prevent terrorists and extremists from penetrating into Central Asia. They also discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, in particular economic and political cooperation.
"Full understanding was reached on all issues discussed. The two leaders also agreed on the need for regular consultations on all regional security issues," the official said. (Interfax)
Tajik, Afghan Presidents Call For Aiding Afghan Refugees
28 September 2001
Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov have called on the international community to provide the maximum aid to the Afghan population, which is suffering from military actions and a severe drought, the Tajik Foreign Ministry's Information Department told Interfax on 28 September.
Talking on the phone on 28 September, Rakhmonov and Rabbani shared serious concerns about the sharp deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
The presidents agreed to coordinate their actions with international organizations, chiefly the UN, and other countries to settle the Afghan crisis fairly. (Interfax)
Tajik Defense Ministry Denies Arrival Of U.S. Commandos
25 September 2001
The press center for the Tajik Defense Ministry has denied information released by some mass media that a U.S. plane carrying reconnaissance equipment and commandos has arrived in the republic.
The press center also said in a statement released in Dushanbe on 25 September that Tajikistan has not received any requests from Russia or the U.S. to allow the use of the Dushanbe airfield as a U.S. base for striking Afghanistan.
"Tajikistan has not received such requests from the U.S. or Russia," the press center said. (Interfax)
Afghan Situation Leads To More Drug Trafficking In Central Asia
26 September 2001
The escalating violence in Afghanistan is provoking an increase in drug trafficking in Central Asia, Alma Yesirkegenova, the program coordinator of the UN drugs control agency, said at a news conference in Almaty on 26 September.
From 1998-2000, Afghanistan became the chief producer and supplier of opium group narcotic drugs, she said.
The UN estimates the production of opium in Afghanistan at 2,100 tons in 1998 and 4,600 tons in 1999 and believes that its output increased still further in 2000, Yesirkegenova said.
With the situation in that country and in the entire region deteriorating, drug trafficking could get completely out of hand, Yesirkegenova said. Central Asia is now the chief transit route for Afghan drugs into Russia and Europe, she said. The low quality of border controls in Central Asia is partly responsible for this.
By contrast, the "grandiose steps" taken by Iran in the mid-1990s in tightening border control and toughening legislation, in particular by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking-related crimes, brought the trafficking through that country to a halt, Yesirkegenova said. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)
CIS Antiterrorist Center Fears Influx Of Afghan Refugees In Central Asia
28 September 2001
A possible influx of Afghan refugees remains the main security threat to Central Asia, the deputy chief of the CIS antiterrorist center, Valery Verchagin, told Interfax on a working visit to Bishkek.
He estimated the number of Afghan refugees who may enter the region at 15,000.
He did not rule out that terrorists and rebels may try to enter Central Asian countries together with refugees and in this connection the CIS countries party to the antiterrorist center are tightening passport and visa regulations.
For instance, visa and passport controls have been tightened in the Batken district, south Kyrgyzstan, on checkpoints on the border with Tashkent. Kyrgyz security services are keeping a close eye on the Osh-Khorog highway linking Gorno-Badakhshan bordering on Afghanistan with south Kyrgyzstan.
Verchagin believes the influence of radical Islam on Central Asian countries will increase. The operations of extremist religious centers nowadays are not limited to the territory of Afghanistan.
Verchagin said that the present situation calls for stepping up efforts against terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking in that part of the world. (Interfax)
Kyrgyzstan Ready To Offer Air Corridor To U.S. Air Force, Accept Afghan Refugees
26 September 2001
Kyrgyzstan is ready to offer the U.S. an air corridor for delivering strikes against international terrorist bases in Afghanistan, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev told the press in Bishkek on 25 September.
He said the United States had requested the Kyrgyz leadership to allow its combat aircraft to use Kyrgyz air space.
Akaev said that the decision to grant the United States a corridor through Kyrgyz air space was made after consultations with signatory countries of the collective security treaty.
Kyrgyzstan is ready to honor its commitments on taking refugees from Afghanistan, the director of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry's migration department, Tolen Turgonbaev, has told Interfax.
Kyrgyzstan will receive Afghan citizens coming from combat areas, as corresponding negotiations on supporting these people were held with UN representatives, who guaranteed granting humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan in the case of an influx of refugees, he said. The aid will consist of warm clothing, food, and medicines, along with the building of tent camps.
Kyrgyzstan already has experience in receiving refugees, as it housed over 20,000 Tajik refugees from 1993 to 1997, Turgonbaev said. Meanwhile, he said he believes that Afghan refugees will likely use the territory of Central Asian states for transit to Europe, as they are interested in finding themselves in economically affluent Western countries. (Interfax)
Uzbekistan May Allow U.S. To Use Its Air Space For Humanitarian Flights
27 September 2001
Uzbekistan is ready to consider the assignment of an air corridor to the U.S. for humanitarian supplies, President Islam Karimov has said at an extraordinary session of the Tashkent City Council.
The U.S. demands to the Taliban are founded, Karimov said. "Uzbekistan can attribute itself to the countries which have experienced the activity of terrorists and support the U.S. demands. This complies with our wish to preserve peace and tranquility on our land, and the national security interests," he remarked.
"We are interested in doing away with the sources of terrorism in our region, and we think it natural to help the planned measures of the United States in the fight against terrorism," the president said.
Yet every decision will be taken with due account of the goals of national peace and stability, Karimov added. "Guarantees of national security and territorial inviolability are essential for us. Bearing in mind the exacerbated situation in the region, we should enhance the combat ability of the armed forces and the vigilance on our borders," he said. (Interfax)
Security Measures Tightened In Uzbekistan
26 September 2001
Uzbek Interior Minister Zakirzhon Almatov has issued an order to tighten security measures in the republic.
Sources in the Uzbek Interior Ministry told Interfax on 26 September that the interior troops are on alert. The security of facilities of state importance and state enterprises and organizations will be increased, and measures to prevent terrorist acts will be taken in public places, markets, and department stores.
Terrorist acts may be organized by religious-extremist groups and by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the sources said.
The security of the state borders, primarily the 200 kilometer Uzbek-Afghan stretch, will be tightened, too. (Interfax)
Russia Supplies Northern Alliance With Soviet-era Weapons
27 September 2001
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced that Moscow is supplying Afghanistan's Northern Alliance exclusively with Soviet-era weapons and military hardware.
"The Northern Alliance commanders prefer Soviet-made weapons. They know how to handle them and are saying that they do not need other weapons, even modern Russian weapons," Ivanov told journalists in Brussels on 27 September.
"As far as tanks go, the Northern Alliance needs T-55 tanks which have been used in Afghanistan for 20 years. The Afghans also say that no rifle in the world is better than the Kalashnikov," the Russian defense minister said.
He announced that the Northern Alliance also needs "ordinary artillery systems and ammunition, and ordinary armored vehicles and armored personnel carriers."
Noting that Russia carries "the main workload" in supporting the Northern Alliance, Ivanov said that Russia "would not object if the countries concerned, whose number is growing daily, gave it material assistance.
"Such international aid might have two aspects: the airlifting of weapons, and humanitarian supplies to the Afghan regions controlled by the Northern Alliance," Ivanov said.
"It is not difficult to predict that when an anti-terrorist operation begins in Afghanistan, flows of refugees will stream to the north of the country. They will need tents, food, and medicines. The Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations is considering this problem now," he said.
"The refugee problem should not be allowed to spill over to countries bordering on Afghanistan, including Russia," said Ivanov.
"The organization of an air bridge for delivering humanitarian aid would clearly demonstrate that the civilized work is fighting against the terrorists, not the Afghans," the Russian defense minister said. (Interfax)
Russia Warned UN About Terrorist Training In Afghanistan In March
27 September 2001
Moscow is surprised that the Western press has just noticed a Russian document about terrorists training in bases and camps on Afghan lands under Taliban control.
Russia presented the notice about Taliban to the UN Security Council's Committee on Sanctions several months ago, diplomats told Interfax on 27 September.
The document of March 2001 said that Osama bin Laden had about 55 bases in Afghanistan. The main base was located in Rishkhor, to the south of Kabul, and housed 7,000 gunmen, among them 150 Arabs, and a Pakistani army regiment. Bin Laden's deputy Kari Saifulla Akhtar was the commander of the base.
Most of the training camps and bases of bin Laden were around Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Mazar-i-Sharif, the document says. They were deployed on the premises of former bases of the Afghan army, on farms, and in caves.
The training system of bin Laden catered to more than 15,000 people from 16 countries and regions, among them Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Bangladesh, the document says. Instructors from Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt worked there.
About 2,560 Chechens worked for bin Laden or were trained at his camps and bases.
The document gives the names of 31 Pakistanis, servicemen and diplomats, who were advisers to the Taliban.
A Pakistani AWACS reconnaissance plane was stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif for watching the borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the document says. (Interfax)
Russia Not To Take Part In Operation In Afghanistan
26 September 2001
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has ruled out the participation of Russian servicemen in military actions in Afghanistan.
"I absolutely rule out the use of Russian servicemen in any military action on the territory of Afghanistan," the minister told reporters in Brussels on 26 September.
"We are not planning to take part in the antiterrorist operation on the territory of Afghanistan in any form, either weapons or people," Ivanov said.
"Russia today is actually conducting antiterrorist action on two fronts: in Chechnya directly and in Afghanistan by supporting the Northern Alliance," the minister said. (Interfax)
FEATURES AND ANALYSIS
U.S. Separates Military Options from Afghanistan's Political Future
28 September 2001
By Charles Recknagel
During the past week, the U.S. has stepped up pressure on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia to turn over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, even as the Taliban has given no sign it will do so.
Washington has dispatched aircraft carrier groups to the region and begun calling up U.S. military reservists to provide American forces with the logistical support they need for a campaign overseas.
At the same time, U.S. President George W. Bush has maintained his ultimatum to the Taliban that they must "hand over the terrorists or share their fate."
But as the pressure on the Taliban has mounted, Washington this week also sent a clear message that it does not view the goal of any operation in Afghanistan as creating a new government for the country.
Bush said the best way to bring the terrorists to justice is "to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place." He added, "We are not into nation-building...We're focused on justice."
RFE/RL asked regional experts to analyze what this week's statements concerning U.S. military and political objectives reveal about Washington's strategy on Afghanistan.
Roy Allison, at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, says Washington is signaling that it is determined to pursue a two-track strategy on Afghanistan.
The first track is that the U.S. wants to punish bin Laden and his suspected terror organization Al-Qaeda. The second is that it wants to build an international consensus over the shape of Afghanistan's future. And, Allison says, this week's messages underline that Washington wants to keep the one track from interfering with the other. Roy Allison:
"I think there are different issues here. One is the attempt to locate bin Laden and his infrastructure and Al-Qaeda and to act against that. The other is looking forward to what kind of governance would be best [for Afghanistan] and would also command international support. In practice, the latter is something that could be endlessly discussed because different countries have different views, and many of them would say they want [all issues] run through the United Nations. The UN should have a role, [nevertheless] I anticipate that there will be a [U.S.] military response to what is seen by America as an act of war."
Allison says that by seeking to keep military action separate in the public mind from Afghanistan's political future, the U.S. administration may also be seeking to reassure Afghans and people in neighboring states that any upcoming operations are not an attack upon the Afghan people. The Taliban has sought to convince Afghans that Washington wants to impose its own government on their country. Allison:
"[Washington's] concern is that if it was perceived that the political objective would be to install in some way from outside a government -- particularly if that was one which represented essentially the (opposition) Northern Alliance -- then not only would that be unacceptable to Pakistan, which has been supporting the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, but it would also be unsustainable within [Afghanistan] because it would not have the support of a significant part of the population, the Pushtun."
But even as Washington says it is not in the business of nation-building, many analysts say that the U.S. -- as well as many other countries -- believes some long-term solution to Afghanistan's political problems now finally must be reached. The country has been wracked by more than two decades of war since the 1979 Soviet invasion; it has no functioning legal economy; and it is the source of the world's largest population of refugees.
Fiona Hill, a regional specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, interprets this week's statements by Bush as signaling that he wants any "nation-building" for Afghanistan to be an international responsibility.
Hill: "This is [an instance] where the United States will be operating in a multilateral, multinational fashion. I think it is very true that the United States does not want to be solely responsible for this. So, this will be a coalition and the United Nations' [Secretary-General] Kofi Annan has already expressed a desire to be actively engaged in this, in the future of Afghanistan, as well as in the fight against terrorism."
Hill says U.S. officials recognize that nation-building in Afghanistan would be an extremely complicated process, one that could only succeed if it involved neighboring states as well as the people of Afghanistan themselves:
"We [would be] trying to do something quite similar to the case of East Timor after the violence there. And if you also look at the Balkans, at Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is a perfect example of just how difficult it is to nation-build and just what a long-term venture this is. Because certainly in the case of rebuilding Afghanistan, every single neighboring state has an interest, every single neighboring state has a serious concern, and obviously the people of Afghanistan themselves need to have some major say in their future. So this is a venture of the highest order, just as difficult as putting together an international coalition to tackle Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda."
The UN has a forum for seeking a regional solution to Afghanistan known as the "6+2 Group." The group, formed in 1997 under the leadership of the UN secretary-general, comprises the six states bordering Afghanistan, plus Russia and the United States.
But whatever efforts the international community makes, Allison says that ultimately it is the Afghan people who must decide their own future.
"Ultimately, Afghanistan will need to find its own political solutions because I don't think that a significant part of the Afghan population would support a government that they feel is not theirs. One option would be to convene a traditional tribal council at some stage, which would then form an interim government. And then these two together could then set the ground rules for an election process to form a more permanent government."
For many observers, it remains an open question whether -- after the 11 September terrorist attacks -- the Taliban can still play a role in Afghanistan's political future. The militia, like other factions fighting in Afghanistan, depends on outside sources for its financial and military support. And whether or not it is toppled in strikes against bin Laden that support can be cut off -- particularly from Pakistan, which is now a member of the antiterror coalition. That might happen if it is demonstrated that the Taliban has become inextricably linked with bin Laden's terrorist network.
Allison: "If it appears that in reality bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization and the Arab Islamists there and the Taliban government are so bound together, then it is very difficult to see how you can act against the source of this terrorist attack and eradicate the danger of similar occurrences in the future and keep the Taliban as such in power."
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has refused to surrender bin Laden and told his people that anyone aiding the United States will face the wrath of the militia. (RFE/RL)
What Will Central Asian States Gain By Cooperating?
26 September 2001
By Bruce Pannier
Long accustomed to playing minor parts on the international stage, the five states of Central Asian -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- are now finding themselves in a starring role in the global effort to force Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and members of his Al-Qaeda organization.
Martha Olcott of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says one important role that the Central Asian states can play in the war on terrorism is clear:
"I think the Central Asian states could play the role of a launching pad for military engagement."
Oksana Antonenko of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies says there is more that the Central Asian states can offer any coalition against terrorism.
"Tajikistan with Russian forces present there, as well as Uzbekistan, have been maintaining a close relationship with the Northern Alliance [the group fighting the Taliban inside Afghanistan] and understand quite well how they operate. They have provided them with equipment. So the Northern Alliance fighters have been trained how to use the equipment. So if the United States decides to use the Northern Alliance as the main force in whatever operation they undertake, I think the expertise that has been developed in these countries (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) can be important."
Even Turkmenistan, which has had good relations with the Taliban and which has so far offered use of its air space solely for humanitarian shipments to Afghanistan, could offer assistance. Antonenko:
"Turkmenistan can offer the opportunity to maintain a dialogue with the Taliban because -- although they don't have an official relationship and they do not recognize officially the Taliban -- they did establish an informal dialogue with the Taliban over the last three or four years."
That is what the Central Asian states can offer the coalition. What are the reasons motivating these states to pledge their support to the new global war against terrorism?
Antonenko points out that terrorism is nothing new in Central Asia:
"The Central Asian states over the last decade or more have been experiencing the direct impact of the terrorism emanating from Afghanistan on their territory. They have been trying to develop capabilities to deal with it. Of course, these capabilities are very limited."
Extremists calling themselves the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, fought against Kyrgyz and Uzbek troops in 1999 and 2000. U.S. President George W. Bush named the IMU this week as one of those organizations whose bank accounts and assets will be frozen in the U.S.
Olcott said U.S. troops -- should they use military bases in Central Asia to strike targets in Afghanistan -- would also be looking for members of the IMU.
"The destruction of the IMU is one of the goals of this campaign, as well. It [the IMU] has been linked to Osama bin Laden. The president [Bush] introduced it to the American people as a target. So I think we are unlikely to leave the region without it [IMU] destroyed, as well as the terrorist camps of bin Laden."
Olcott and Antonenko admit that Western criticism of human rights abuses among the Central Asian states may be muted in the coming days, weeks and months as the Central Asian states ally themselves with the international coalition.
Olcott: "I'd like to think that ignoring these issues [human rights and democratic reform] will be a temporary phenomenon, that as we move into the next phase of this military operation, from targets to rebuilding, these societies will pay closer attention to these issues. I think if we don't, we're looking to create new sources of terrorism down the road."
Antonenko agrees but says this sudden thrust into the international spotlight and their newfound importance to the West may end up modifying the internal politics of the Central Asian states:
"I think over the long run, if one looks beyond the immediate military operation, I think if the Central Asian states would want to diversify their relationships and would want to develop a long-term partnership with Western countries, they would have to address the issue of human rights in whatever relationship they are going to develop with, particularly, European institutions, such as the Council of Europe or OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]."
Olcott said this new situation is forcing the Central Asian governments to play a new, more mature role on the world stage:
"I think from the point of view of Central Asia, this is really a new stage of state building. These states now are engaging with international actors for greater global needs as opposed to pulling in the U.S. and Russia to help them deal with their own security problems. This is a much more complex role that they're playing in the international community, and this means that they've kind of come to some degree of maturity as states."
The tragic events of 11 September now offer the Central Asian states a unique opportunity to become more assimilated into the world community. As international strategies are planned for battling global terrorism, it appears as if the Central Asian governments will not be able to return to business as usual if they wish to maintain the favorable positions they occupy at this moment. (RFE/RL)
Russia Offers Central Asia Star Role On World Stage
25 September 2001
Russia has handed the Central Asian states a chance to forge independent identities on the world stage by giving them a green light to offer practical support to U.S. military action in neighboring Afghanistan.
The ex-Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan remain little known in the West despite a decade of independence. Russia, which views them as strategic assets, is their largest trading partner and guarantor of security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 24 September ended days of speculation on whether he would seek to block U.S. involvement in the region by saying he was in "complete mutual agreement" with Central Asian states on providing limited support.
This opportunity to help Washington, including giving the Americans the possible use of air bases north of Afghanistan, gives the states a chance to establish warm ties with the world's only superpower without incurring a Russian backlash.
The United States is seeking broad support as it prepares to attack Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, "guest" of the ruling radical Islamic Taliban militia and prime suspect in the 11 September aircraft attacks in New York and Washington.
The presidents of the three ex-Soviet states, which border Afghanistan, have all already expressed outrage at the attacks. Now they have been allowed to offer more than words.
Putin said Russia was ready to offer airspace to U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid and added that his position was shared with Central Asian states which "do not exclude for themselves the possibility of offering their [airfields]."
RUSSIAN TROOPS IN TAJIKISTAN
Tajikistan has the longest border of the three with Afghanistan, stretching 1,300 km (815 miles). It is also the only one directly dependent on the Russian military.
Chronically weakened by a 1992-1997 civil war, Tajikistan relies on 6,000 troops of Russia's 201st motorized division and a further 11,000 Russian border guards for its defense.
Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement in 1999 for Russia to build a military base there, but it has not yet done so.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 25 September that Tajikistan may offer the United States use of the country's main airport in the capital, Dushanbe, although Tajik officials would not comment immediately. Tajikistan could also offer the United States use of the southern air bases of Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube.
Even before Putin's speech on 24 September, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov had expressed "our readiness to cooperate with the world community, including the government of the United States, in the fight against international terrorism and extremism." Cooperation now could yield dividends in future if Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet state and facing a drought which UN officials say threatens the lives of a million people, is rewarded with the kind of humanitarian aid given to Afghanistan but so far largely denied its northern neighbor.
Uzbekistan's authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, was quick to say: "Uzbekistan is ready to consider any question with the United States on fighting international terrorism."
Since then, airport sources have told Reuters that two U.S. military transport planes landed at Tashkent airport on 21 September and took off two and a half hours later.
Neither Uzbek nor U.S. officials have confirmed this. But Tashkent airport is the best equipped in Central Asia, and there is a separate military air base, Kuzel, in the capital.
With another two bases in the south, Kakaidi and Karchi-Khanabad, both capable of taking heavy aircraft and both used in the Soviet Union's own ill-fated 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has a lot to offer the United States.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said on television on 24 September that his country, which has sought to style itself a neutral state in the volatile region, was ready to offer the use of air corridors to U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid.
"They have asked us to transit across our territory humanitarian cargoes of flour and other things, and I have given my agreement," Niyazov said after speaking to both President Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said the country's neutrality meant it would play no military role, but even what he has offered could boost ties with the United States, long worried by Turkmenistan's human rights record.
Ex-Soviet Central Asia received a boost to its international image this week when Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan. By allying themselves with the United States, Afghanistan's former Soviet neighbors could now take the process of finding a place in the world arena a great deal further. (Reuters, RFE/RL)