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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
Iran Pakistan Tajikstan Uzbekistan Turkmenistan China
Iran Tajikistan
Pakistan Uzbekistan
China Turkmenistan

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The six states which border Afghanistan all have reason to worry about the crisis, which at best could mean a new refugee exodus and at worst war or instability at home.

Iran opposes the Taleban politically and is already coping with 1.5 million Afghan refugees.

As the birthplace of the Islamic Revolution, Tehran is challenged ideologically by the fundamentalist regime across its border.

President Mohammed Khatami has accused the Taleban of damaging the image of Islam, while his conservative opponents commend the Afghan regime for its rigidity.

Machine-gunner on Iranian tank
Iran has built up a substantial army since its war with Iraq
The country's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said Iran would condemn any action that caused a "new human catastrophe" in Afghanistan.

However, President Khatami is reported to have signalled to the US that his government would not oppose carefully targeted military strikes.

Iran and Afghanistan nearly went to war in the late 1990s over the Sunni Muslim Taleban's treatment of Afghanistan's Shia Muslim minority, and particularly the deaths of Iranian diplomats caught up in Afghanistan's civil war.

Iran has now sealed its border with Afghanistan in order to prevent any new influx of refugees.

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Pakistan hosts two million Afghan refugees and would be the natural destination for many Afghans from the majority Pushtun community, in the event of war with the United States.

Afghan refugees detained in the Pakistani town of Quetta
Afghans are the world's biggest group of refugees
A traditional US ally, Pakistan is also the main supply route of essential goods to Afghanistan, and is now the only state to recognise the Taleban as the legitimate government.

Pakistan has pledged assistance to the US, but may be constrained by the level of popular support for the Taleban within the country.

The Taleban openly threaten any states that would assist the US in the event of war, and Pakistan's ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has indicated that he will not allow the US to deploy troops in his country.

At worst, General Musharraf, who himself came to power in a coup, risks provoking a challenge to his rule from pro-Taleban, anti-US hardliners.

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China has reportedly not only closed its tiny border with Afghanistan but also its frontiers with Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Beijing is concerned about links between Islamic Uighur separatists in its north-western region of Xinjiang and Afghanistan.

Some of the militants, who have been waging a guerrilla war since the mid-1990s, are believed to have received training in camps there.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin
The Chinese president says any US attack must be based on strong evidence
China's position on US military retaliation against Afghanistan is that it must be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

It has also made clear that it expects Washington to back its own tough policies in Xinjiang.

Until now, the US has frequently criticised China's human rights record there.

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Tajikistan has come under heavy pressure to accept Afghan refugees in the past, having strong links to the anti-Taleban alliance, part of which is made up of ethnic Tajiks.

Dushanbe is an important diplomatic base for the alliance, which could be a vital source of support for any US-led force infiltrated into Afghanistan.

Tajikistan would be an ideal location for this force to establish a forward base, but the country's leaders will only agree to such a proposal if Moscow supports it.

Russian guards on Tajik-Afghan border
Russia has about 25,000 troops stationed in Tajikistan
If the recent killing of anti-Taleban leader Ahmed Shah Masood drives the Taleban to launch a new offensive in the north of Afghanistan, Dushanbe could find the pressure to provide sanctuary to refugees overwhelming.

The country is itself facing a famine which could easily destabilise the fragile power-sharing government.

During Tajikistan's ferocious civil war in the early 1990s, Islamic forces opposed to the Moscow-backed government were supplied from Afghanistan.

Russia still keeps substantial military forces in the former Soviet republic, mainly to patrol the border with Afghanistan.

As with Afghanistan's other borders, and notably Iran's, drug-smuggling is a serious problem here.

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Uzbekistan also has ethnic ties to northern Afghanistan but had until recently escaped the strife which has plagued Tajikistan.

However, in the last couple of years President Islam Karimov's heavy-handed secular rule has been challenged by Islamic militants who have been accused of using Tajikistan and Afghanistan as their bases.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Mr Karimov has called for recognition of the Taleban in the past
The regional superpower among the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan could have an important role to play in any action against the Taleban.

Unlike Tajikistan, none of the Afghan territory it borders is held by the anti-Taleban opposition.

Responding to the US appeal for allies, the Uzbek Government said it was ready to discuss "any issue conducive to eliminating terrorism and strengthening stability".

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Turkmenistan, the other ex-Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan, has largely isolated itself from regional affairs under the Stalinist rule of President Saparmyrat Niyazov.

A Foreign Ministry source has ruled out any military involvement in Afghanistan on the grounds of neutrality.

The Turkmen Government has regular contacts with the Taleban, perceiving Afghanistan as a future route for exporting its huge energy reserves.

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Afghanistan’s neighbours: Regional fears
See also:

14 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
01 Sep 01 | Middle East
Khatami lashes Taleban's Islam
01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan halts deportations
21 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
A million Tajiks 'face starvation'
01 Sep 01 | Media reports
Central Asians celebrate their first decade
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran weighs up its options
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