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Sunday, August 9, 1998 Published at 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK


World: South Asia

Shockwaves from Moscow to Tehran

Taleban gunners: Making gains in the north

By BBC regional analyst Malcolm Haslett:

The reported capture of the anti-Taleban stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif could have repercussions across the region.

Mazar-e-Sharif is the largest city in northern Afghanistan and is strategically important for both the Taleban and its opponents.

The Islamic movement has previously captured the city, only to lose it in counter attacks.

But if, as seems likely, Mazar-e-Sharif is again under control of the Islamic Taleban the shockwaves could be felt far beyond Afghanistan's borders.

Among those showing most concern are Iran and Russia, both of which have sided diplomatically with the Taleban's opponents.

Pakistan implicated

Iran accepted early reports that the city was falling and turned its attention to the reported detention of 11 of their diplomats.


[ image: Taleban: On a road to victory?]
Taleban: On a road to victory?
This issue is straining relations with Pakistan too because Tehran accuses its neighbour of directly backing the Taleban and has said the safety of its diplomats depends on Pakistan.

But Iran has not said what, if any, evidence it has to back up its accusations.

Russia is concerned at Taleban rule stretching to Afghanistan's borders with the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Joint statement

The Taleban already occupy territory along the border of a third former Soviet republic - Turkmenistan.

Moscow regards the three independent republics as under Russia's protection - President Yeltsin has referred to them as "our external frontier" - and 20,000 Russian troops in Tajikistan have been put on alert.

The secularist, anti-fundamentalist leaders of the Central Asian republics themselves, particularly President Karimov will also, no doubt, be placing their forces on full alert.

Russia and Uzbekistan have shown their concern in a joint statement warning the Taleban to halt their advance across northern Afghanistan, into the territory held by its opponents.

The two nations said only a negotiated settlement involving all parties in Afghanistan could bring lasting peace.

Neighbouring choices

But those who oppose a total Taleban victory will now have to decide what to do.


[ image: Making decisions on how to deal with Kabul]
Making decisions on how to deal with Kabul
Do they get more deeply involved in helping the remnants of the anti-Taleban alliance, despite its recent defeats?

The Russians do not want direct involvement with their own troops - they remember too clearly what their soldiers suffered in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Most likely the Russians and other former Soviet states, as well as Iran, will try to bolster their proxies inside Afghanistan, in the hope that they can rally and fight back against the Taleban.

But at the moment, the only part of the anti-Taleban alliance which seem a threat are the north-eastern Tajiks of Commander Massood. The Taleban's enemies may also find comfort in the fact that the Taleban's roots in the north are not strong.

For the moment, however, the day appears to belong to the Taleban, and slowly but surely they are nearing the achievement of their goal - the unification of the entire country under their control.





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