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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Anti-Taleban leaders plan strategy
Ahmed Shah Masood press conference
Ahmed Shah Masood (centre) recently visited Europe
By Kate Clark in Islamabad

The opposition in Afghanistan say a crucial meeting has taken place between the two most powerful anti-Taleban commanders.

General Abdur Rashid Dostum, who has just returned to Afghanistan after a three-year absence met senior commander Ahmad Shah Masood in his stronghold in the Panjshir valley.

The meeting took place on Monday but news of it has only just been released.

The meeting was a crucial preparation to the opposition's ability to wage war against the Taleban this summer.

Military strategy

Morale among anti-Taleban forces is already reported to have risen since General Dostum returned from exile.

General Dostum
General Dostum: Back from exile
He still commands the loyalty of many fighters and it is thought his return will swell the ranks of the opposition.

There has been no official details yet of his meeting with the most senior anti-Taleban commander, Ahmad Shah Masood.

But reports suggest General Dostum will try to re-conquer his old strongholds in the north.

The meeting with Commander Masood will have been crucial to cement the new alliance and plan a joint military strategy.

The two men have been brought together solely by their hostility to the Taleban.

Bitter past

In earlier stages of the Afghan civil war they have been both allies and bitter enemies.

It was General Dostum's defection to the Mujahideen which brought about the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992.

Afghan refugees
Fresh fighting could lead to an exodus
Later he joined forces with other factions to fight Commander Masood in an attempt to oust him and his government from power.

The bitter fighting between Mujahideen factions was accompanied by looting and lawlessness.

People in the capital remember General Dostum's militia as among the first to oppress the civilian population.

But the recent fate of civilians under Taleban control has not been much better.

Taleban soldiers have killed non-combatants after re-capturing several areas in the centre of the country in the last 18 months.

As both sides in the civil war gear themselves up for a new round of fighting, a new exodus of civilian refugees seems likely.

All this comes at a time when people are desperately trying to survive drought and hunger, and the country's borders are sealed tighter than ever.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Anti-Taleban leader calls for support
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban lose key city
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
16 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan war threatens region
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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