December 1998 News

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Concern Over Taliban Inroads in Central Asia

6th December 1998
The Hindu

By: Atul Aneja


India is concerned about reports of the suspected inroads by the Taliban militia into the Central Asian mainland as this could undermine its core long term economic and security interests.

There is credible evidence about limited infiltrations by the Taliban into Tajikistan, highly placed sources said. A few insurgents from the pan-Islamic student militia may have also moved into Kyrghyzstan.

While the effect of this infiltration on regional security is hard to estimate the fact that the Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan have begun to have a definite impact on the evolving political equations in Central Asia is becoming clear.

For instance, the Government of the President Mr. E. Rakhmanov in Tajikistan is now under fire from the Islamists and some fighters who had fought against the Taliban in the Afghan civil war.

"Central Asia is a complex area. Personality clashes among regional leaders are not always subsumed by tactical alliances against larger external threats," a source said.

In the case of Tajikistan, not only are infiltrators from Afghanistan active some fighters loyal to the Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum, also targeting the Government. General Dostum's forces have taken up cudgels for the Karimov Government in Uzbekistan.

Analysts here attribute the hostility of General Dostum's forces against the Tajikistan regime to the intense rivalry between the Uzbek President, Mr. Islam Karimov and the Tajik President Mr. I. Rakamonov.

Uzbekistan's antagonism towards Tajikistan can also be explained in part by Tashkents' bid for recognition as the undisputed leader in the region, analysts say. Uzbekistan they point out, shares common borders with all the rest of the Central Asian Republics and sees itself as the hub of the region's unfolding politics and culture. While resentment to Uzbekistan's ambitions is common. Tajikistan's differences with Tashkent have now become overt.

The Tajiks, in fact, take great pride in their rich Persian influenced culture and see Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan as the seat of their culture. Many feel the geographical boundaries do not align with its ethnic and cultural profile, adding to the fragility of the regions territorial frontiers.

The deployment of General Dostum's forces against Mr. Rakhmanov can be explained by the close proximity between the Uzbek President and General Dostum. "During the war against the Taliban, General Dostum was specially trusted by Uzbekistan for safeguarding it border across Amu Darya with northern Afghanistan," an analyst said.

The Taliban influence may also be turning more pronounced in Kyrghyzstan. For instance, sources say the Taliban's supporters may have had a hand in the seizure in Kyrghyzstan of an arms-laden train from Iran meant for anti-Taliban forces.

India is naturally concerned about the possible spread of the influence of the Pakistan-backed Taliban beyond Afghanistan.

The Taliban, analysts feel, may be the Trojan horse for drawing Pakistani influence in Central Asia. By ensuring the Taliban's high profile in the region's politics and economy, Pakistan is seeking to emerge as power broker there.

According to sources, Pakistan is buttressing its military influence by projecting its advantageous geographical location to Central Asian region is seeking an outlet to the sea. Pakistan, has repeatedly stressed that it can provide this exit through it ports in Karachi and Gwadar, pointing out that region needs to look beyond the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean for a cost effective access to the sea.

Besides, Pakistan wants to be seen in Central Asia as a purchaser of the region's rich gas reserves and the springboard for the sale of oil in key segments of the industrial world. Not surprisingly, it has encouraged the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan along a land alignment in Afghanistan where the Taliban is well entrenched. In future, Pakistani ports can also transport the region's oil to South East Asia.

India is naturally uneasy about the Pakistani bid to increase it regional profile and the instability in the region. New Delhi for instance visualizes a long term stake in Central Asia's hydrocarbon resources. Pakistan's unbridled influence can upset these plans.

Besides, it sees in the Pakistani consolidation, a looming threat to its own long term security interests. Islamabad's entrenchment in Central Asia, including Afghanistan, for instance adds to its capacity to increase the pressure on strife torn Kashmir.


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