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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 13:14 GMT
Uzbeks review role in Afghanistan
By the BBC's Monica Whitlock in Tashkent

The victory of the Northern Alliance in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan opens the crucial question of what relationship it will now have with Uzbekistan, which lies only 60 kilometres (37 miles) away along a flat road through the desert.

The Uzbek Government has made no comments on events, as is usual for the Tashkent authorities, but there is doubtless much discussion about what steps Uzbekistan should take next.

During the 1990s Uzbekistan and Russia lent much support to General Rashid Dostam, then the strongman of Mazar-e-Sharif, the role that he has just resumed.

President Islam Karimov
The Uzbek President has been a key US ally
When the news came through that General Dostam was in Mazar-e-Sharif it was followed quickly by word that Alliance forces had taken Hairaton on the river Amu.

Hairaton is important, because it lies just a few minutes' drive from Uzbekistan, across a bridge from the city of Termez.

Border concerns

Uzbekistan once poured aid of various kinds through Hairaton to General Dostam, in the hope of maintaining a friendly buffer zone to keep its frontier safe - always a key factor in Uzbek policy.

The fact that Russia also played a role was masked to an extent by the openness of the Uzbek contribution, from wheat to electricity, to - according to General Dostam's people - guns and aircraft.

It was even possible to watch Uzbek television in parts of Mazar-e-Sharif.

General Dostam
General Dostam has close contacts with Tashkent
When General Dostam fell from power in 1997 and fled Afghanistan, Tashkent shut the bridge behind him. Now General Dostam is strong again, many people believe that Uzbekistan will naturally take up its former role, if that has not happened already.

Yet it would be rash to make assumptions. President Islam Karimov has played a subtle political role since the 11 September.

He has gone further than any other central Asian leader in offering support for the United States. But he says, there are provisos.

He says he wants guarantees for instance, from the United Nations, that Uzbek borders will be protected should the need arise.

And the Russians for the moment seem to be focusing on other parts of the Alliance.

For the time being at least the bridge and the border remain closed, at least as far as the public eye can see.

See also:

11 Nov 01 | South Asia
Northern Alliance advances on Kabul
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: General Rashid Dostum
13 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
US and Uzbekistan agree pact
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Mazar-e-Sharif's bloody history
28 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uzbekistan
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