Maclean's SPECIAL REPORT

A QUAGMIRE OF ALLIANCES AND ENMITIES

Michael Snider October 8 2001
Maclean's SPECIAL REPORT

A QUAGMIRE OF ALLIANCES AND ENMITIES

Michael Snider October 8 2001

A QUAGMIRE OF ALLIANCES AND ENMITIES

Michael Snider

Afghanistan’s neighbours have played varying roles in the Central Asian country’s ongoing conflict. Some of the players:

PAKISTAN: Supported by the CIA, Pakistan funded, trained and equipped the mujahedeen during their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Those training camps became, in effect, virtual universities for Islamic militants. Afterthe Soviet withdrawal, and the Taliban taking control of the government in 1996, Pakistan was one of only three states to formally recognize the new regime. Together with the Taliban, Pakistan has continued to cultivate militants to fight in the contested province of Kashmir against India, which supports the Northern Alliance.

SAUDI ARABIA: The government funded the antiSoviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan. During the civil war that broke out after the Soviet withdrawal, Saudi Arabia supported the Taliban financially and politically. But after the 1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia came under increasing criticism from hardline Muslims for allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country, and the relationship with the Taliban cooled. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Kabul after the 1998 terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in Africa, allegedly orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, and withdrew diplomatic recognition last week. But there is still support within the country for the Taliban, and calls for a U.S. withdrawal from Saudi soil.

TAJIKISTAN: As one of five former Soviet republics with a growing Islamic underground, Tajikistan supports the Northern Alliance. Ethnicity plays a part: the Taliban is largely Pashtun, while the Alliance is made up of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and others. Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated mere days before the Sept. 11 attack, was an ethnic Tajik who kept a major resupply base in Tajikistan. Russia also maintains 25,000 troops in Tajikistan, and in an unprecedented move, approved the country opening its air space to U.S. coalition forces. Tajikistan and neighbouring Uzbekistan have reportedly provided bases for U.S. special forces.

UZBEKISTAN: Fearful of Islamic militants who have already tried to assassinate President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan funds and supplies the Northern Alliance. Meanwhile, Taliban-supported troops-mostly Uzbek dissidents-have launched raids into the country. Uzbekistan, which along with Tajikistan is part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, is forging closer ties with the U.S.

IRAN: Iranians are Shiite Muslims, the Taliban are Sunni. That’s one reason for the country’s support of the Northern Alliance, also partly Shiite. But Iran is also threatened by the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan, one of its regional rivals. Iran moved to invade Afghanistan in 1998 when the Northern Alliance stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif fell and the Taliban executed 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists.