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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Dramatic developments on the world stage
US President George Bush (right) and Secretary of State Colin Powell
The Bush administration has been busy building
By BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

In the two weeks since the devastating attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington, the diplomatic landscape too has changed beyond recognition.

The impact has been felt in western Europe, Russia, the Middle East and of course South Asia.

The most obvious effect is the isolation of the Taleban rulers of Afghanistan.

Pro-Taleban demonstrators protest in Pakistan
The Pakistani leadership has faced a tough choice
Two of the three states which recognised their government, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have broken relations.

Only Pakistan remains, sitting uneasily next door.

The move by the Saudis was of deep significance.

They had financed the Taleban, often through private donations, and indirectly inspired them through a particularly puritanical brand of Islam.

On the government level at least, they have now cut them off.

Counting the days

The surviving rivals of the Taleban inside Afghanistan, the fragmented Northern Alliance, have been stunned to witness the opposite phenomenon.

They are now courted by the US. As experts on the ground, they may be of pivotal importance to any military operation against the Saudi-born militant, Osama bin Laden, and his network.

Former king Mohammed Zahir Shah
Afghan's ousted king is a serious candidate for power
The old King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was deposed nearly 30 years ago and forgotten in exile in Rome.

Now people are taking him seriously as a possible figure-head for a new transitional government.

The reason for these dramatic changes is the belief that the days of the Taleban in power are numbered.

And that is reinforced by hints from Washington and London that their overthrow is essential to the war against terrorism proclaimed by President Bush.

Pakistan's problems

The crisis is almost as perilous for Pakistan. The initial protests at home were contained, but the danger of social or political upheaval remains.

In retrospect, the military government's decision to side with the US looks inevitable.

It was impossible to allow Pakistan's rival, India, to exploit any refusal. And the rewards have been swift: an end to sanctions and the rescheduling of debts.

Under the pressure of events, relations between the US and other key players have shifted gear.

The Russian government's attitude has been transformed, spurred on by the chance to build a new relationship with Washington and gain more respect in the West.

President Vladimir Putin
President Putin: mixed signals and then a green light
Russia does not want to get directly involved in Afghanistan again: the memory of the traumatic war of the 1980s is too painful.

But President Vladimir Putin has now undertaken to channel arms to the Afghan opposition, to open Russian air space for aid supplies, and to pass on intelligence about alleged terrorists.

Most significant of all, he has given the green light to central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan, which used to be part of the Soviet Union, to co-operate in American military operations.

Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are now free to make their own deals with the United States on things like air space and the use of military bases.

Give and take

There are implications for Russia's future influence in the region it regards as its back yard.

There are also things the Russians would like from the West in return.

One is an undertaking not to expand NATO further into the Baltic states.

EU flags at half-mast after the US attacks
The EU seems to have forgotten Kyoto
The US will not have struck any such explicit bargain.

But another idea - that Russia itself might be a potential member of the alliance - has become less unthinkable.

The effect of the crisis on the international position of China has not been so far-reaching.

Geography does not give it an equivalent central role.

All the same, the Chinese are offering intelligence co-operation, and tensions between Beijing and Washington have for the moment dissipated.

EU turnabout

Much more can be said for America's allies in Europe.

Only a few weeks ago, European resentment of many policies pursued by the Bush administration was pervasive.

Politicians complained about the US abandoning the Kyoto treaty on global warming, walking out of negotiations to ban biological weapons and pressing on with anti-missile defences in the face of all opposition.

Now complaints about Washington's unilateralist tendencies and alleged arrogance have been stilled.

The emergency summit of the European Union in Brussels agreed that retaliation for the attacks was legitimate, provided only that it was targeted.

Member states could join in action not only against the perpetrators but also against governments supporting them.

It is of course the nature and effect of American military action that remains the big question mark over how permanent all these changes are.

The international coalition looks most fragile, as always, in the Middle East.

There have been striking developments: Colonel Gaddafi of Libya condemning the attacks; the foreign minister in Sudan's Islamic government signing a book of condolences at the American embassy; people lighting candles in Teheran.

But the running sore of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians has not been healed; that continues to feed anti-American anger among the Arabs.

World-wide, the Bush administration has been able to use the feeling of common humanity generated by the atrocities to build alliances.

It now has to be careful not to undermine or destroy them.


Political uncertainty






See also:

25 Sep 01 | Middle East
25 Sep 01 | Europe
24 Sep 01 | Middle East
20 Sep 01 | Europe
19 Sep 01 | Americas
19 Sep 01 | Middle East
16 Sep 01 | Americas
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