September 15, 1998
IRANIAN-AFGHAN TENSIONS: 'A FULL-BLOWN REGIONAL CRISIS IS BREWING'
After a month of increasing tensions between Iran and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, foreign writers sounded the alarm that "a full-blown regional crisis is brewing." Observers called on the leadership in Iran to not let "its anger trigger a military confrontation" and for both sides to find "a diplomatic solution before the situation goes out of control." Many feared a "dreaded scenario" in which nations that are close to the looming conflict geographically, ethnically or in terms of religious affiliation would join sides with either predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran and the faction that it is backing in Afghanistan or with the Sunni Muslim Taliban. Analysts expressly wondered whether Pakistan, India and Russia--all three with nuclear arms--would "enter the fray." Such a conflagration, these writers said, would take the form of "a religious, strategic, regional and economic war" that would "threaten to disturb the delicate power balance in Central and South Asia, affecting an arc of countries from Chechnya to Tajikistan, including Iran." At stake, Madrid's independent El Mundo said, "is more than just vengeance" over the death of Iranian diplomats at the hands of the Taliban. "Whoever controls Afghanistan controls strategic land corridors between Russia, the Middle East and South Asia" and access to important oil and gas resources," the paper said. Most European pundits concluded that the Iranian-Afghan tensions are "in reality... about oil and pipelines" and that the U.S.' search for energy resources in Central Asia led it to back "the wrong horse in Afghanistan"--the Taliban. An Italian paper said, "the Kabul road," which represents the shortest way to convey Central Asian oil and gas toward southern seas and the Karachi oil terminals, is now fraught with "risks and traps" for the U.S. These were salient points in the commentary:
DIVIDING ISLAM: Arab writers were appalled by the prospect of "open warfare" between two Muslim regimes. Doha's semi-independent Al-Rayah maintained that "dividing Muslims will only benefit foreign powers hostile to Muslims, especially the U.S. and Israel."
VARIOUS LENSES: The vast majority of writers viewed the conflict on the basis of where they sat. In Pakistan, English-language papers found it "extraordinary" that Islamabad's leadership "seems to have put the emerging regional crisis on the back burner as if [it] doesn't matter." The Peshawar-based independent Frontier Post judged that the perception that Pakistan is the only nation in the region that still supports the Taliban "is a bad situation for a nation that that has been desperately looking for substantial trade and commercial links with Central Asia." Saudi Arabia's London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat charged that the U.S. has long wanted to involve Iran in a war to weaken it both militarily and economically. Algiers' French-language, independent El Watan said that Algeria has no love for the Taliban or the regime in Iran, since both sponsor international terrorism. Buenos Aires' daily-of-record La Nacion wondered whether the buildup of some 500,000 Iranian troops along Afghanistan's border was motivated by political infighting between Tehran's conservatives and moderates, and noted, "Iranian President Mohamed Khatami...is a moderate leader who aspires to open his country to the West and, something worse, to separate religion from government issues."
This survey is based on 29 reports from 14 countries, September 6-15.
EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke
BANGLADESH: "On Killing Diplomats"
According to conservative Ittefaq (9/15), "The UN Security Council held a closed door session. The Security Council president has spoken about holding an inquiry on the killing of diplomats.... Meanwhile, tension between Iran and Afghanistan is increasing. Not only the U.S., but many fear a regional war between Iran and Afghanistan. War cannot be desirable and war does not solve much. We hope for a solution of the Iran-Afghan issue through the Security Council. The Taliban force has been created with the encouragement of Pakistan. It is hard to say how genuinely they follow Islam. It is really a matter of concern and fear the way they are imposing regulations against women, treating foreign media by labeling it a vehicle of alien culture, and taking revenge against people. The fear is how can people live under the Taliban rule. And the concern is that the Taliban do not care for anybody at home and abroad. Osama bin Ladin is the proof that they sponsor international terrorism."
In the opinion of the independent, English-language Bangladesh Observer (9/13), "The Taliban are introducing all kinds of hardline programs, ignoring human rights and democratic principles in their own country. But when it comes to foreign relations or relations with its neighbors, it cannot make rules of its own choice. Such relations are guided by internationally acceptable principles and decorum. Any nation violates them only at its own peril. The Taliban's hands are full of internal troubles; if Iran joins the fray, the country might go down on its knees before long. This will worsen the situation of the common Afghan people who have already suffered a lot. An escalation of war in the region is a dreaded scenario. We urge a diplomatic solution before the situation goes out of control."
The English-language Daily Star opined (9/13), "A war is the last thing that the suffering humanity in war-ravaged Afghanistan needs. And the leadership in Tehran should understand that by thrusting a war on the Taliban they can actually help them put down roots. It is imperative that Iran does not let its anger trigger a military confrontation in that sensitive geopolitical region."
Anti-West Inqilab told its readers (9/13), "Both countries can reach an understanding on issues related to the killing of Iranian diplomats and the landing of Iranian planes in an Afghan city. We fervently hope that Iran and Afghanistan will sit for negotiations avoiding all provocations and the path of conflicts and resolve all issues across the table."
"Possible War Between Iran And Afghanistan"
According to conservative Islamic Sangram (9/13), "Whoever among the renegade Taliban groups carried out the killing of the diplomats has done it out of revenge. This cannot be supported by any means. Similarly, it is not becoming of a responsible and big Muslim country like Iran to take revenge through fighting with a Muslim nation instead of resolving the issue of killing of its diplomats through negotiations. Efforts to create disunity and destroy peace in the region drawing Pakistan into the issue will be a great cause of concern for the entire Muslim world. We hope that the responsible Iranian leadership who has a separate image in the Muslim world will follow a policy of solving issues with patience."
PAKISTAN: "Unaffordable Confrontation"
An editorial in the centrist national daily News held (9/15), "It is extraordinary that with a full-blown regional crisis brewing in the wake of heightened Afghan-Iran tensions, Pakistan's leadership does not deem this worthy of any serious response.... In its frenzied pursuit to manufacture a consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty--after working the public up against this Convention for weeks on end by bombastic official rhetoric--Islamabad seems to have put the emerging regional crisis on the back burner as if this doesn't matter....
"It is astonishing that today in the wake of growing Iranian impatience and anger with events in Afghanistan that has seen the killing of their diplomats as well as the reported mass murders of ethnic Hazara civilians in Mazar-I-Sharif, Islamabad has found it appropriate not to emphatically respond by sending a special envoy to Tehran to remove misperceptions and move swiftly to reduce tensions with Tehran. But then never before has our foreign policy been in such inept hands or worse, on auto-pilot."
"Iran's Flawed Afghan Policy"
An op-ed column by Rahimullah Yusufzai said in the centrist national News (9/15), "By holding Pakistan, along with the Taliban, responsible for the arrest and killing of its diplomats in Afghanistan, Iran is again committing the same mistake which has always marred its Afghan policy.... No civilised country or individual would approve the killings of the Iranian diplomats and the lone journalist in Mazar-I-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.... Third, Iran should have realised that the Taliban had suffered heavily during their previous two attempts to capture Mazar-I-Sharif and there was every possibility of revenge killings once they entered the city. Between 2,500 to 4,000 Taliban were killed and captured in Mazar-I-Sharif in May, 1997. Mass graves and wells stuffed with their bodies were discovered later in the Dasht-I-Laili desert near Shiberghan. Many of those killed and captured were the relations and friends of the Taliban who spearheaded the recent onslaught in northern Afghanistan and attempts by them to take revenge should not have been ruled out by all those involved in the Afghan conflict."
"After Bamiyan's Fall
An editorial in the center-right national Nation said (9/15), "When the season's fighting is over, a final settlement will only be possible if all Afghan parties, whether victorious or defeated, come to the negotiating table, facilitated by all neighbours.... The Taliban are frustrated at not being accorded international recognition, but should realise that they will have to demonstrate that they form a responsible government, which is willing to pay heed to international opinion and accommodate the genuine concerns of their neighbours."
"Taliban In The Dock"
An editorial in the Peshawar-based independent Frontier Post held (9/12), "The Central Asian nations would increasingly abhor the militia's apparent savage ways. Turkey is now playing host to some of the top leaders of the northern forces who are opposed to the Taliban. It would surely support Iran against the militia. In a strong sense, Pakistan is the only nation in the region that is still supportive of the militia. This is a bad situation for a nation that that has been desperately looking for substantial trade and commercial links with Central Asia."
ALGERIA: "Iranian Audacity"
A front-page editorial in French-language, independent El Watan stated (9/6), "Afghanistan arrested some Iranian diplomats serving in Kabul and the Iranian response could be a strike against the Taliban. In order to justify its action against Afghanistan, Iran is arguing that the UN Charter permits a country to defend itself. However, the mullah's regime is in a precarious
position when it pretends to act according to international law. Should we not remind the Iranian regime that Khomeini was the one who started it all by illegally confining U.S. diplomats in 1980 [sic] in Tehran? The U.S. diplomats were released thanks in part to the efforts of Algerian diplomats.... If the Iranians and the Afghans decide to kill each other, Algerian mothers won't be sad to hear it since both bear a responsibility for what is now going on in Algeria. Anyway, Algeria will not help Iran the way it did in 1980."
EGYPT: "Islam Will Be The Loser"
Aref El Dessouki wrote in liberal opposition Al Wafd (9/15), "It is clear that both Iran and Afghanistan are being dragged into a war that has more than one goal. The strings of this war are in the hands of others. We Muslims are the worthless victims and the payers of the bill, the stooges. Islam temporarily is the loser until these junkies who call themselves Muslims wake up and know that they are the fuel of war."
"Khatami Won't Make The Mistake Of Getting Mired In Afghani Swamp"
Ashraf Abu El-All, columnist for pro-government Al Ahram, argued (9/11): "Despite the massive Iranian forces gathered on Afghani borders, and discussion of an imminent all-out attack or partial attack on Afghani territories to teach the Taliban a lesson, we don't think Iranian leaders under the leadership of Khatami can commit this military and strategic mistake. What is probable and possible is that Iran will arm and train the Afghani opposition to fight their own war instead of getting involved in this Afghani swamp. No one has entered this swamp and come out safely. The USSR and Britain are witnesses."
QATAR: "Dividing Muslims Will Only Benefit Foriegn Powers"
Semi-independent Al-Rayah held (9/15), "The Iran-Taliban crisis is taking a dangerous turn, in which the Iranian leadership should not indulge due to its responsibility as an Islamic and regional power, and also because it currently holds the presidency of the Islamic Conference Organization. The spiritual leader of Iran yesterday urged Afghan Shiites to repel the Taliban. Such a call should have been addressed to all Afghans, because everyone has suffered from the Taliban's terrorism.... Muslims' unity is a sacred matter that must be treated with great care. Dividing Muslims will only benefit foreign powers hostile to Muslims, especially the United States and Israel."
"Taliban Troop Buildup"
According to semi-independent Al-Watan (9/14): "The Iranian troop buildup along the Afghan border is only a show of force. Its aim is to stop the Taliban from committing massacres in Bamiyan and to put pressure on them so that they can name or even hand over those who murdered the Iranian diplomats. Nonetheless, this show of force can turn into a real confrontation if the Taliban carry out massacres in Bamiyan similar to the ones they committed in Mazar-e-Sharif. It would be very difficult for Iran to restrain itself if that happens, even if it meant having to wade into the Afghan quicksand. Naturally, the Taliban are responsible for any dangerous development of this type. The movement can avert danger by not taking any step that will escalate an already-critical situation. If they unleash themselves and start killing innocent people, they will be inviting innumerable consequences. This is what the Taliban must realize as they celebrate their delusive victory."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Logical End Of Dual Containment Policy"
London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat had this editorial (9/8): "It is no secret that the United States has always wanted, since the Gulf War, to drag Iran into a certain war to create an opportunity to destroy its renewed military machinery and to weaken further its already weak economy.
"This is the ultimate and logical end of the dual containment policy.... It is clear that the states of the region, including the Gulf Cooperation Council states, do not want such a war or any other war at all. Iran and Taliban must contain their differences and to solve it through diplomatic means."
INDONESIA: "Tension at the Iran-Afghanistan Border"
Independent afternoon daily Suara Pembaruan editorialized (9/12): "If tensions mount as a result of the two sides' military maneuvers on the border, there are several possible results. First, Afghanistan will find it more difficult to achieve reconciliation among its conflicting factions. Second, Taliban forces will weaken in the face of another adversary--Iranian troops with comparatively greater and more sophisticated machinery. Third, it is probable that major powers such as the U.S. and Russia will take a hand--as will pro-Afghan countries (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc.) which are geographically and ethnically close to the Northern Afghan tribes. Pro-Taliban Pakistan is unlikely to remain idle. In our opinion, an open battle between Taliban and Iranian troops should be avoided because of the additional suffering it would cause the Afghans."
GERMANY: "Search For Referee In Islamic Conflict"
Thomas Avenarius had this to say in an editorial in centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (9/15), "Iran is planning to station 200,000 soldiers on its border with Afghanistan.... Together with the 70,000 forces the country stationed over the past few weeks, this is a large-scale army which is ready to commence operations. The barefoot army of the Taliban would have almost nothing in its hands to counter such operations. Nevertheless, Iran should not make the mistake of invading. The outcome would be too uncertain and the violation of international law would be too serious. It is more likely that the Iranians will take revenge for the killing of their diplomats with targetted air strikes. Tehran is now rightfully worried about the fate of the Shiite minority living in Afghanistan.... An international commission is to investigate the death of the Iranian diplomats, and an investigation regarding charges of genocide would be in the interests of all. Nobody seriously wants a confrontation between the two Islamic regimes."
Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (9/15) carried this editorial by Karl Grobe: "Iran's religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei is warning against a war in the whole region, and Iran's regime is preparing for it, just as is the Taliban in Afghanistan.... Another alarming sign is that Mehdi Khamran has taken over military coordination. He also led the Iranian forces in the war against Iraq. The killing of Iranian diplomats...could really be the fuse that could ignite the powder keg and result in a large-scale war in the region. The fact that the Iranian leadership is obviously playing with the idea of carrying out a 'punitive action' such as the United States did in Afghanistan, is only an ironic twist. On the surface, the confrontation focuses on the fight against terrorism, but in reality it is about oil and pipelines. The United States is pinning its hopes on the 'Iranian variant': to build pipelines from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan across the Persian North to Turkish Mediterranean ports by bypassing Iraq. The Tehran leadership is also supporting this project."
"Iran Masses Troops Along Afghanistan Border"
Right-of-center Straubinger Tagblatt/Landshuter Zeitung stated (9/15), "It is still hard to assess whether there is something behind the threat of the Iranian Security Council to wage a war against the Taliban. In any case, we must keep in mind that Tehran intends to stage a large-scale maneuver along the border area with Afghanistan at the end of September. But this cannot leave neighboring states such as Russia cold. Russia, in particular, needs peace along its borders. Afghanistan and Iran can also assume that, after the Russian disaster in Afghanistan, Moscow is not likely to have the will, let alone the military power to intervene in countries outside of its own borders."
ITALY: "Religious War"
In the words of left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (9/15), "Iran is only one step away from war with Afghanistan.... This would be a religious, strategic, regional and economic war. All the ingredients are present to ignite a conflict. But probably a final decision will come from the uncertain domestic Iranian front. Not a single day goes by without a new terrorist attack or aggression against a member of the theocratic regime. The radicals seem to be the most eager for war, seeing it as an excellent chance to kill the reformist policy of President Khatami."
"Iran Accuses: U.S. Interferences In Crisis With Afghanistan"
A commentary by Alberto Negri in leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore (9/8): "Bordering on three nuclear powers--India, Pakistan, and China--Afghanistan represents the shortest way to convey Central Asian oil and gas towards southern seas and the Karachi oil terminals in Pakistan.... Too bad for Washington that the Kabul road is so full of risks and traps: The decision to support the Talibans has, for now, proven to be only partially right." Negri, however, concluded on an optimistic note: "Iran is perhaps more committed at this time to ably rebuilding its international relations than willing to engage in a new war. After all diplomacy--political diplomacy as well as oil diplomacy--can be carried out through less ruinous solutions than a conflict."
"The Two Islams"
An editorial in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica held (9/6), "The Iran-Afghanistan conflict is revealing a surprising axis among Iran, Russia, India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan versus the axis uniting the Talibans, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is obvious that, even for the Muslims, in the end the 'reason d'etat' prevails over religion."
POLAND: "Washington Sees In Iran An Ally In Struggle Against Taliban"
Center-left Zycie Warszawy ran this article (9/8) by Jacek Potocki: "Two weeks after the bombing of Osama bin Laden's headquarters, the United States sees a brilliant opportunity to fight the Taliban--which gives seclusion to terrorists--without entering into conflict with its close ally in the Arab world Saudi Arabia--which backs them [Taliban]--by supporting Iran. The U.S. does not want to be directly involved in combating the orthodox Afghans it for years assisted politically, militarily and financially in their fight against Russian invaders. Since the collapse of the Shah and seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Islamic students in 1979, the traditional relationship between the two states has been hostile. Will the Americans propose an Iranian reconciliation and assistance in return for [Iran's]
tormenting the Afghan Taliban?"
SPAIN: "The Taliban Menace"
Independent El Mundo opined (9/12): "Recent military victories by the Sunni Taliban, intent upon imposing the most fanatical and violent interpretation of Koranic law in Afghanistan, threaten to disturb the delicate power balance in Central and South Asia, affecting an arc of countries from Chechnya to Tajikistan, including Iran.... At stake is more than just vengeance [over the death of eleven Iranian diplomats at the hands of the Taleban]; whoever controls Afghanistan controls strategic land corridors between Russia, the Middle East and South Asia. If the ethnic Pushtu Taliban succeed in implanting their medieval system nationwide, millions of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazari Shiites will seek refuge in neighboring countries in a flight from ethnic cleansing. And the danger that Pakistan, India and Russia--all three with nuclear arms--will enter the fray would increase.... Only the great Western powers can avoid an escalation of the conflict and renewed genocide if they apply firm pressure on Pakistan to restrain its 'Koranic students' and to foster a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul among the principal Afghan ethnic groups."
SWEDEN: "Talibans, A Worry Also To Iran"
Stockholm's independent, liberal morning Dagens Nyheter (9/10) held, "There is a risk of the spread of the militant Islamic movement in the unstable Middle East, Asia region.... In washington, which has strained relations with both Baghdad and Kabul, to say the least, there is concern that an armed conflict might destabilize the entire region.... It seems that now another powder keg is forming before the very eyes of a powerless international community; preventive diplomacy once again has run into difficulties.... But what could have been done? Are there reasonable, non-military ways to handle a regime which brutally wants to take its people back to the Middle Ages?"
TURKEY: "Iran And Taliban"
Fikret Ertan wrote in pro-Islamic Zaman (9/15): "The tension between Iran and Taliban prompts the question of whether Iran is going to launch a military strike in Afghanistan. The Taliban- ran relationship was not good, even before the present tension. Iran now has two demands: The Taliban leadership should turn over the bodies of murdered Iranian diplomats, and hand over the murderers to Iran. It seems this will not happen. The second demand is that Taliban should issue a formal apology, something which is rejected by Taliban.... Iran will never accept discontinuing its influence over Afghanistan. A clash between Taliban and Iran seems inevitable."
"A New Fireball"
Sami Kohen wrote (9/8) in mass-appeal, circulation Milliyet: "Despite its strong show of force against the Taliban, Iran is not expected to attack Afghanistan. Iran somehow wants to intimidate the Taliban from going further and gaining total control, and wants to give the opposition forces time to collect themselves. Pakistan on the one side, and Iran and Russia on the other, want to manipulate developments in Afghanistan. If Taliban seizes full control over Afghanistan, Kabul will inevitably become a center for exporting its fundamentalist regime, a development that will surely destabilize Central Asian countries. Turkey is worried that about 6 or 7 million Turkic people might be oppressed, or assimilated in the northern parts of the country. Turkey is also concerned that Afghanistan might become a haven for terrorists, and a center for the narcotics trade. That is why Ankara is supporting a coalition administration for Afghanistan, with the participation of all political forces in the country. Unfortunately, President Demirel's call on interested countries to cooperate for a solution is being left without a response."
ARGENTINA: "Alleged Iranian Attack In Afghanistan"
Ricardo Lopez Dusil, international analyst for daily-of-record La Nacion held (9/11), "The military tension between Iran and Afghanistan, the two most radical Islamic regimes in power, places the whole of Central Asia at a point of conflict. It has not been ruled out that a possible escalation of war between the two countries...could spread to other neighbor countries, especially the six Muslim countries disintegrated from the former Soviet Union...with which the Kremlin keeps an agreement of mutual economic defense and cooperation....
"Most nations in the world keep on recognizing Burhanudin Rabbani, as president of Afghanistan, who was overthrown by Talibans and is currently exiled in Turkey. In addition to merely recognizing Rabbani as president of Afghanistan, Iran and Russia provide military and economic support to the forces which keep loyal to Rabbani.... The Taliban government...is only recognized by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. A wide fringe of countries, including the United States, keeps a prudent distance, which aims at preserving valuable interests in the region....
"Iran's military maneuvers... consisted of the deployment of 70,000 soldiers and several fighter bombers on the borderline (with Afghanistan). U.S. sources admitted that it was the greatest military exhibition in Iran since the triumph of the Islamic revolution in 1979. The fact that Talibans are Sunni and Iranians Shiite is not enough to explain the mutual hatred...one should bear in mind that wars are always politicial, not rather than religious. One kills because of power, not faith, except when faith grants power. Jihad...is only aimed at getting the support of people.... Perhaps the Iranian demonstration of force is not only aimed at the Taliban, but also a product of an internal political fight. Iranian president Mohamed Khatami...is a moderate leader who aspires to open his country to the West and, worse, to separate religion from government issues. The real power in Iran is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his role of Iran's spiritual guide.... Although the Tehran establishment despises Khatami because he...visits and supports the poor but does not have any power, one may not ignore his incredible popularity. In fact, which is what keeps him standing."
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