Afghanistan's War - Forgotten but Still Producing Side-Effects Two More Reasons to Pay Attention to the Turmoil in Central Asia:Opium Exports, Terrorist Use of Leftover US Arms

Article excerpt

SEVEN years ago, the Soviet invaders withdrew from Afghanistan; but the war never stopped. The mujahideen, the Islamic guerrillas who had defeated the Red Army, continued to fight against President Najibullah, the Kremlin's man. Even before he was overthrown, in 1992, they turned upon each other.

The flood of weapons to the guerrilla factions from outside hardly ebbed, although the United States ended its support Jan. 1, 1992. One new factor, the Taliban militia, emerged last year to seize a major role in the bloody struggle for power and especially for control of the symbolic ruin that is Kabul, the capital. Some 25,000 people have died in almost incessant rocketing, shelling, and bombing of the city since 1992. The population's lot remains death and devastation in yet another harsh and early winter.

Only one thing has clearly changed. The world, so long fascinated by the Afghan drama, has lost interest.

Today's struggle is a mix of coldblooded tactics and the surreal. Early last August, an Ilyushin-76 transport plane was forced to land in the city of Kandahar. It was a charter flight with a Russian crew, from the republic of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation, loaded with Albanian AK-47 assault rifles for the fighters of President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. It was forced down by the Taliban, who continue to hold the crew despite appeals from Russia, the United Nations General Assembly, and the UN Security Council.

Russia reportedly gives Mr. Rabbani massive help in a covert operation that has been run by Yevgeny Primakov, director of Russia's foreign intelligence service. Long known as a Middle East expert, Mr. Primakov is President Boris Yeltsin's nominee as foreign minister and is reputed to be a more ardent exponent of Russian interests than his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev. These interests, the motor of Soviet intervention in 1979, continue to involve Afghanistan. Turmoil there has spilled over into the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, where Russia has stationed more than one division of troops, worried that Islamic radicalism may spread to all of former-Soviet Central Asia.

Muslim groups and regional strategies

Iran and India also support the Rabbani government. Iran, with close ties to the large minority of Shiite muslims in western Afghanistan, fears for them and for its own influence if the fanatic Sunni come out on top. India's strategic calculus is based on Kashmir, its northernmost province. The rebellion of Kashmir's Muslim majority has poisoned India's relations with Pakistan from the beginning.

During the Afghan war against the Soviet invasion, Pakistan was the supply line to the mujahideen. Even retrospect staggers the imagination. The United States sent the mujahideen an estimated $5 billion in arms, ammunition, and supplies. …

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