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Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 16:53 GMT
Analysis: Afghan hijack aftermath

The Taleban have struggled for international recognition

By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

A large proportion of those on the hijacked Afghan airliner - hostages and hostage-takers - have claimed asylum in the UK where the plane landed on Monday.

It is not known whether a plea for asylum was the central motive behind the hijacking or whether there was complicity among any hostages. But there are reasons for Afghan citizens to want to leave their isolated and strictly-governed homeland.

Afghans who have been interviewed after the end of the hijack drama have expressed sympathy, even admiration for anyone attempting to escape.

Twenty years of war have ravaged the country
"The hostages are lucky because they are in Britain," one Afghan in the capital Kabul said. "Though they underwent some ordeal, it is not comparable to the agonies that they experienced over the past 22 years in Afghanistan."

Others said they hoped Britain would allow those on the plane to stay, though they may not know it is an unlikely prospect given London's expressed intention to deport those released and prosecute 19 people who were arrested.

Bitter legacy

The incident is another blow to Afghanistan's Taleban regime, which has struggled for recognition from a hostile world since it succeeded in conquering 90% of Afghanistan three years ago.

Many Afghans are embittered by the imposition of Taleban rule, in particular the insistence of the harshest interpretation of Islamic law anywhere on Earth.

The Taleban emerged from universities and religious schools in the aftermath of the campaign by the Afghan mujahideen to drive Soviet forces from the country in the 1980s.

Starting as loosely-organised student militia, they swept across the country and established control over the capital Kabul in September 1996.

Their rule has been much criticised in the West on human rights grounds and only neighbouring Pakistan and two Arab Gulf countries have recognised their rule and established diplomatic relations.

The rest of the world recognises ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani as the legitimate ruler. Forces loyal to him hold strategic positions in the north of the country.

Rebel connections

At the beginning of the hijack drama it was reported that the hostage-takers were demanding the release of a renowned rebel commander who was captured by the Taleban in 1997.

But the anti-Taleban alliance disassociated itself from the hijacking, calling it an act of terrorism against innocent people.

Kashmiri hijackers slipped away from Kandahar
It blamed the Taleban for allowing the "presence and active involvement of terrorist networks" for creating a climate of terror in Afghanistan, citing in particular Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi militant who, in Washington's eyes, is the world's most dangerous terrorist.

The Taleban responded by saying the hijackers were "closely connected" to the main opposition commander, Ahmed Shah Masoud.

The Afghan authorities now say the whole affair was an elaborate plot to gain asylum in Britain for the hijackers and some of the passengers.

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See also:
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijack timetable
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Stern response to asylum plea
09 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Taleban arrests over hijack
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
The view from Kabul

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