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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 15:02 GMT
Analysis: Testing time for Taleban

India Airlines hijacked plane The hijack could improve the Taleban's image

By world affairs correspondent Nick Childs

With the Indian Airlines hijack in its seventh day, the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan continue to play a crucial role in the crisis.

This high profile exposure for a regime widely demonised by western governments may lay the groundwork for an international reappraisal of Afghanistan's fundamental leaders.

The Taleban authorities have already enjoyed public thanks from India in recognition for their efforts in trying to resolve the hijack.

The Taleban have been widely credited with persuading the hijackers to drop two key demands. They have facilitated negotiations between the hijackers and Indian officials.

Islamic credentials

Their Islamic credentials may have helped them in their contacts with those who took over the Indian Airlines jet, who are themselves thought to be Muslim.

But the Taleban insist they are treating the crisis as a humanitarian one, rather than an Islamic issue.

And whether or not they gain any long-term benefit for their handling of the affair will inevitably depend both on its actual outcome and their part in it.

Dangerous extremists

Any appraisal of the Taleban's role will also have to overcome considerable hostility from the outside world, most of which shuns the movement, doesn't recognise it as the legitimate Afghan government, and regards it as providing a haven for dangerous Islamic extremists.

Indeed, hostility to the Taleban encompasses an unlikely coalition of countries, from the United States to Russia and Iran.

The United States has led a campaign at the United Nations to impose sanctions on the Taleban government, which ironically includes a ban on most air travel to and from Afghanistan.

The United States, in particular, is demanding that the Taleban hand over the Saudi-born militant, Osama bin Laden, who Washington accuses of involvement in the bombing of two US embassies in Africa last year and of masterminding a loose network of Islamic radicals hostile to the West.

It's likely to take more than one crisis, whatever its outcome, to make any long-term difference in the Taleban's international standing.

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See also:
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Pressure mounts in hostage crisis
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: India warms to the Taleban
03 Aug 98 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 |  Analysis
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed

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