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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 17:58 GMT
Afghan neighbours look to the future
Iran Pakistan Tajikstan Uzbekistan Turkmenistan China
Iran Tajikistan
Pakistan Uzbekistan
China Turkmenistan

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The six states which border Afghanistan have distinct political and economic interests in the country's post-Taleban administration, and their differences - particularly those between heavyweights Iran and Pakistan - may further complicate the task of establishing a new broad-based government in the war-torn country.

Iran has always opposed the Taleban regime on both political and ideological grounds.

Iran, a Shia Muslim state, has found it hard to tolerate an extreme Sunni Taleban regime on its border that gives Pakistan, a Sunni Muslim state and a former sponsor of the Taleban, strategic sway in the region.

Former King Zahir Shah
Iran is not keen on a return of King Zahir Shah
Iran and Afghanistan nearly went to war in the late 1990s over the Taleban's treatment of Shia Muslims and the deaths of Iranian diplomats caught up in Afghanistan's civil war.

Against this background, the country has opted to support and supply the Northern Alliance, the multi-ethnic opposition force which includes the Shia Hezb-i-Wahdat militia group, representing Afghanistan's significant Shia minority.

Iranian leaders have yet to make clear their exact position on post-Taleban political arrangements, but have indicated they would be content with an interim Northern Alliance administration before a broader government is established.

But Iran has opposed suggestions from other states that more moderate members of the Taleban should be invited to join a new administration.

It has also expressed discomfort over the possibility of an administration led by exiled former King Zahir Shah, a member of the same ethnic Pashtun group as the Taleban.

It is thought this is because the former king is backed by the United States, sparking fears that he would bring western influence into play in the region.

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Pakistan, previously the main sponsor of the Taleban and a bitter opponent of the Northern Alliance, has made clear its unhappiness with the fall of Kabul to opposition forces.

The Northern Alliance has few ethnic connections with Pakistan, which traditionally has close links with the Pashtuns - Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.

Taleban supporters burn a US flag in Pakistan
The attack on Afghanistan has met with deep hostility from Pakistan's militants
Pakistan has insisted that the Northern Alliance must not be allowed to establish itself in Kabul, and has demanded that the capital be turned into a de-militarised zone under the control of the United Nations.

It wants to see the international community come up with a broad-based government which will include representatives of the Pashtun community as quickly as possible. This may also mean the inclusion of some members of the Taleban.

Pakistan has backed the US-led action against Afghanistan, and the West has been anxious to keep the country on board in the course of the campaign.

As a result of his support, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has had to deal with occasionally violent protests sponsored by pro-Taleban Islamic groups.

Major riots have occurred, but not on the scale predicted by many. However, members of militant groups have warned that the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance could have grave implications for the country.

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China, which shares a tiny border with Afghanistan, has allowed the Northern Alliance to operate an embassy in Beijing.

Its interest in Afghanistan stems partially from the belief that some members of the Islamic Uighur separatist movement - which have been waging a guerrilla war in the northwest Xinjiang region since the 1990s - received training there.

It has yet to make any official statement on the Northern Alliance takeover of Kabul. Instead, it has stated its preference for a broad-based government.

China is also keen to see the United Nations playing a larger and more active role in the future of Afghanistan.

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Tajikistan has always strongly opposed the Taleban and has strong links with the Northern Alliance, which includes a large contingent of ethnic Tajiks.

The Tajik capital, Dushanbe, has been an important diplomatic centre for the alliance, providing a base for their political leader Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is recognised by the United Nations as the country's president.

A Tajik child feeds itself
Tajikistan has had many problems of its own to deal with
In addition to the historical and ethnic ties with elements of the Northern Alliance, Tajikistan has its own interests in wanting peace and order restored in neighbouring Afghanistan under a more moderate Islamic government.

Tajikistan has experienced its own bloody civil war involving government and militant Islamic forces, and has been seeking to stamp out movements such as Khizbi Tahrir, which originated in Taleban-held areas of Afghanistan.

The country has also been under consistent pressure to allow across the border thousands of Afghan refugees who have fled the fighting between opposition and Taleban forces.

But it has rejected such appeals on the grounds that it is lacking the resources to provide aid. The country is itself facing a famine which could destabilise its fragile power-sharing government.

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Uzbekistan is also an opponent of the Taleban with ethnic ties to the Northern Alliance, which includes ethnic Uzbeks.

The regional superpower among the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan's president went further than any other central Asian leader in offering support for the United States in its military campaign in Afghanistan.

During the 1990s, Uzbekistan lent support to the alliance's General Rashid Dostum, whose forces have now recaptured Mazar-e-Sharif.

Like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan has its own problems with Islamic movements which have Taleban links. But this landlocked country has other specific interests in a post-Taleban government with clear Uzbek ties: it needs access to the sea to increase its number of trade routes.

At the moment that route is through Russia to the north, leaving Uzbekistan subject to Moscow's political and economic demands. Uzbekistan would like to construct a railway line through Afghanistan that would give it a direct link to the Indian Ocean.

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Turkmenistan used to have regular contacts with the Taleban, hoping Afghanistan will be a future route for exporting its huge energy reserves.

Presidential palace in Turkmen capital, Ashgabat
Turkmenistan's energy resources pay for lavish monuments to its leader
President Saparmyrat Niyazov has steered a careful line between the two sides in the Afghan conflict, maintaining consulates in Taleban-controlled territory, while allowing only the Northern Alliance to have an embassy in Ashgabat.

Economically, Turkmenistan relies heavily on income from gas and oil resources, but has failed to capitalise on the huge reserves it harbours. Its current pipeline routes run through Russia, thus limiting Turkmenistan's exports to more lucrative Western markets.

The country therefore has a huge vested interest in the return of stability to the country, whatever form that may come in.

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See also:

13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan concern at Kabul's fall
12 Nov 01 | Americas
Powers search for Afghan settlement
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The Taleban collapse
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Who are the Northern Alliance?
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
01 Sep 01 | Middle East
Khatami lashes Taleban's Islam
21 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
A million Tajiks 'face starvation'
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran weighs up its options
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