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Saturday, October 16, 1999 Published at 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK

Spotlight on Pakistan's Taleban connection

Will the army increase support for the Taleban?

The sudden emergence of a military government in Pakistan has sparked unease not only in India and the West, but in other powers in the region.

Pakistan in crisis
Commentators in Iran, Russia and China, with more than half an eye on events closer to home, have raised the spectre of what some loosely refer to as "Talebanisation".

Aleksandr Konovalov, President of Russia's Institute for Strategic Assessment, said closer military co-operation between Pakistan and the Taleban would mean "a greater potential threat of increased tension in our south, including in the Caucasus".

[ image: Russia is fighting another war in Chechnya]
Russia is fighting another war in Chechnya
"Two countries have been openly supporting the Taleban in Afghanistan - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan," he said. "Now the military has come to power in Pakistan, hardliners. Naturally, military co-operation with the Taleban will increase."

Mr Konovalov said Moscow knew from intelligence reports that Chechen envoys had recently visited Afghanistan with a view to buying Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and had received four of them "as a gift".

Chinese fears

Officials in Beijing have so far reacted cautiously to the military takeover, noting merely that the two countries were "friendly neighbours" and that China was watching the situation closely.

But some press comments have focused on what is seen as a growing rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, a development with clear echoes across the Chinese border.

[ image: Might Pakistan follow Afghanistan?]
Might Pakistan follow Afghanistan?
A commentary in 'Zhongguo Jingji Shibao', the daily of the Chinese State Council's Development Research Centre, said fundamentalism was quietly emerging as a force in Pakistan

"Amid the economic downturn, political corruption and diplomatic failure... Fundamentalism is becoming a stimulant for the people's bewildered hearts," the paper said.

It quoted one Pakistani shop-keeper as saying: "We need a Khomeini-style or Taleban-style campaign to cleanse society."

Even more worrying, the paper wrote, was the fact that fundamentalism was gradually entering the Pakistani military, "Talebanising" it.

Iran attacks West

By contrast, Iran's centrist daily 'Jomhuri-ye Eslami' took the opportunity to attack the West for what it said was its backing for the Taleban and Pakistan's military support for Kabul.

"Will the new rulers of Islamabad decide to end their military interference in Afghanistan? Will Islamabad, by stopping its support for the usurpers of power in Afghanistan, make an effort to end its political isolation which stems from their backing for the Taleban? Will the disclosure of the behind-the-scene secrets of Afghanistan reveal the hands of America and other supporters of the Taleban?" the paper asked.

"By witnessing the depths of the concern expressed by Washington and London one can conclude that the answers to these questions may be positive".

Meanwhile, in Taleban-controlled Kabul itself, the official radio, Voice of the Shari'ah, was unambiguous in its reaction to what it called the "latest sudden changes in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan".

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers the changes to be Pakistan's internal affair; the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has sincere sympathy with the Muslim nation and government of Pakistan and wants to have good and friendly relations with each successive government, the radio said in its main evening news bulletin.

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