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NY 14 Jan 2002

THEY'RE ONLY SLEEPING Militant islamicists in Central Asia aren't going to go away. BY AHMED RASHID

A few miles outside Dushanbe, the Acapital of Tajikistan, the road heading north into the Garm Valley is enveloped by the majestic Pamir Mountains. It winds across the valley floor through green fields that are punctuated with poverty-stricken villages, empty factories, and blackened chimney stacks. For the first part of the drive, the valley is broad and open, but higher up it narrows and the road cengs precariously to the mountainside, with the Surkhob River thunden'ng below. In villages that hang from sheer, rock-faced slopes, Tajiks dressed in colorful robes tend teahouses that have long wooden benches covered with carpets and cushions. Tleir patrons are weary drivers of donkey and horse caravans and of ancient, exhaust-spewing, Soviet-era trucks that wend slowly down from the Garm district with fiuit and vegetables for Dushanbe's markets. Halfivay up the valley, where the river broadens into a magnificent vista, a narrow road leads into the Tavildara Valley. The Garm Valley road continues up to the towns of Garm, Tajikabad, Holt, andjirgatal before crossing into Kyrgyzstan. The Tavildara Valley road has been roughly hewn out of rock faces so steep that the mountain peaks aren't visible above it. Even in spring, the temperatures are often below freezing and the high passes blocked by snow and landslides. The Tavildara Valley was one of the strongholds of the Islamicist guerrillas who fought against government troops during the civil war that was waged in Tajikistan from 1992 to 1997. Some of the biggest battles of the war were fought there. This is ideal guerrilla country, where a handfid of men can hold off an army. Halfway down the valley on the left is a long, narrow gorge, at the end of which, in the village of Sangvor, is the fortified camp, logistics base, and perinanent garrison of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Half a dozen men could defend the mouth of the gorge, and attempts to bomb the massive jumble of rocks and overhanging cliffs wotad be fiitile. I was there last spring, a few months afterjuma Namangan' , the military leader of the I.M.U., had spent some time in the valley. "Every day, there were Enes of people coming to see him-Kazaks, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Arabs, Chechens, Uighurs, Pakistanis, and Afghans-they all wanted to join him and do jihad in Central Asia," a farmer in the village of Tavildara told me. "Every day, there were hundreds of people he had to feed'and house and give money to," another said. Namangani had also met with many "sleepers," who Eve inconspicuously in the villages of the region, going about their daily business and waiting for his call to arms. They were in Sangvor to plan for the I.M.U.'s summer offensive. The biggest event during Namangani's stay was his marriage to his second wife, a local Tank woman with two sons whose husband had been killed during the Tajik civil war. Hundreds of people attended the wedding feast. The bride was one of the most renowned beauties in the Pamir. Their marriage not only cemented relations with local Tajlk clans but also fulfilled a MusEm duty established at the time of the Prophet Muhammad: a marriage to the widow of a shabeed, or martyr in jihad, is doubly blessed.

Namangani is a legendary figure. There are few photographs of him, he doesn't give interviews, and the I.M.U. rarely issues statements to the press. Namangani's stature among Muslims in Central Asia is rather like that of Che Guevara after he disappeared into South America for his last revolutionary adventure. People say that the advance guards of the I.M.U. are beautiful female snipers armed with the latest scopes and night-vision goggIes, and that the . e guerrillas knapsacks are filled with dollar bills that they distribute to the farmers who feed them. I.M.U. guerrillas have been blessed by Muslim holy men to make their bodies impervious to wounds or, conversely, to keep their bodies sweet smelling after death. The I.M.U. is believed to have been funded by Saudis, Pakistanis, Turks, Ira nians, and Osama bin Laden. Naman gani was one of the most important "for eign Taliban' commanders in northern Afghanistan during the recent fighting there. He led a pan-Islamic force of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pakistanis, Chechens, and Uighurs from Xinjiang province in 'o China. They fought on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but their longrange goal was to establish an Islamic state throughout Central Asia. In mid-November, rumors began circulating that Namangarn' had been killed by American bombs, but there was no proof that this was so, and the details of the rumors were not consistent-some said that he had been wounded and taken to Kabul, where he died in a Taliban hospital, some that he had been killed ' in one place or another in the north. Toward the end of the month, after the surrender of the Taliban had been negotiated and the city of Kunduz fell, Namangani's headquarters in Kunduz, a walled compound near the central square, was turned into a Northern Alliance barracks. It had been looted by civilians before the soldiers arrived, but there was still plenty of evidence that it had been used for training recruits in an international Islamic jlhad. Manuals in several languages described techniques for operating weapons, rigging booby traps, assembling car bombs. In late December, the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov, and the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, held a joint press conference. Rakhmonov claimed that he had "accurate and reliable information" that Namangani was dead. President Karirnov was less clear on the issue, although one would think that he would be the first to welcome such evidence. Namangaru' has been sentenced to death in absentia for subversive activities, murder, and bombings in Uzbekistan. One of the bombings, which took place in 1999, shordy after the I.M.U. was formed, was apparently intended to kill Karimov The brutal suppression of Muslims in Uzbekistan led to the formation of the I.M.U., and human-rights organizations say that Karimov's regime has accelerated the harassment in recent years. juma Namangani is the nom de guerre of jumaboi Ahmadjonovich Khodjiyev. He was bom in 1968 in Namangan, an Uzbek city in the [email protected] [email protected] heart of Central Asia. The people of Central Asia are predominantly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Arab invaders brought Islam to the Fergana Valley in the seventh cenwq, and it has been a hub of Islamic culture and politics ever since. To the west lie the ancient Muslim capitals of Bukhara and Samarkand. The two hundred and forty mosques and one hundred and thirteen madrasahs of medieval Bukhara [email protected] scholars who spread their faith throughout Russia, China, South Asia, and the Middle East. Russia captured much o4modemday Uzbekistan, Turkmeni*n, and Tajikistan in the late nineteenth &ntury, although nomadic tribes resisted Russian nile for several decades, and periodic revolts broke out in the Fergana Valley. To assert control, the Russians began resettling the region with ethru'c Russians and Cossacks. They developed vast irrigation projects and turned much of the land over to cotton production. New industries manned by Russian workers were also introduced, and the region was linked with Russia through a railway network that for the first time brought the Russian Empire to the borders of Afghanistan, Persia, China, and British India. After the Russian Revolution, Central Asians, led by Muslim "Basma
chis"-bandits, as the Bolsheviks caged them-resisted becoming part of the new Soviet Union. The Basmachis were subdued, more or less, by 1924, and Stalin began redrawing the map of the area into five Soviet republics-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The new borders were established not along geographic or ethnic lines but in ways that seemed likeliest to suppress dissent, dividing clans, villages, and ethnic groups. The Fergana Valley was split among three republics. The Tajiks were given their own republic, but it did not contain the Tajik cultural and economic centers, Bukhara and Samarkand, which went to Uzbekistan. Millions of Central Asians died during the forced land-resettlement and collectivization programs and political purges of the late nineteen-twenties and the thirties. Then, for more than sixty years, Central Asia was cut off from contact with the outside world, as the Soviet Union closed its borders with Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and, later, China. Central Asians learned nothing about the ideas that shaped the twentieth century, including developments in Islamic thinking and politics that were taking place just across their borders. Mosques were shut down and converted into workshops, Mushm worship and ceremonies were banned, women were forbidden to wear the vefl. People could not even read the Koran. The government of Uzbekistan opened an officially sanctioned madrasah in Bukhara in 1946 and another in Tashkent, the capital city, ten years later. The Soviets introduced a policy that came to be known to its critics as "official Islam." Munahs were trained in both Islamic and Soviet studies and then appointed to a registered mosque. But tiunofficial" Islam sustained the true faith. Unregistered mosques flourished clandestinely, and itinerant munahs and fakirs carried out religious rites. The Fergana VaHey was home to a large number of unofficial madrasahs, and children from all over Central Asia came there to study. In the late nineteen-eighties, when perestroika began to take hold in the Soviet Union, there was an explosion of interest in Islam in Central Asia. Thousands of mosques were built, Korans and other Islamic literature were brought in from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and distributed free among the population, and the itinerant mullahs became public prayer leaders on collective farms and in villages. It [email protected] really an "explosion," of course, since Islam had never disappeared, not even during the worst repression of the Soviet era. But there were external factors that contributed to the revival of Islam in this period. And these new factors led to a disturbing trend in Central Asia, one that is still dominant-the rise of Islamic militancy.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, thousands of Central Asians were drafted into the Red Army to fight the Afghan.mujahideen. Central Asian Muslims were thus reintroduced to the umma, or Islamic world community, through a war against their co-religionists, and many were deeply affected by the dedication of their opponents. Hundreds of Uzbek and Tajik Muslims travelled secretly to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to study in madrasahs or to train as guerrilla fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Many Mushms in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, later, the Fergana Valley were radicalized in madrasalis run by the Deobandis, members of a Sunni Islam revivalist sect that was established in British India in the nineteenth century. During the late nineteen-eighties, leading Deobandi madrasahs in Pakistan began to reserve places specifically for Central Asian radicals, who am'ved @thout passports or visas and received a free education and a living allowance. The most significant ideological contribution of the Deobandis to Sunni Islam was the revival of the concept of jihad. The Deobandis and the Taliban were especiaUy influential among the generation of militants who later fon-ned the Islarm'c Movement of Uzbekistan. The other major Sunni Islam sect that found a foothold in Central Asia was Wahhabism. The strict Wahhabi creed has its roots in an eighteenthcentury movement to purify Islam led by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. In the twentieth century, it became the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, and after the od boom in the nineteen-seventies it was a feature of Saudi foreign policy. Although Wahhabis had first arrived in Central Asia in 1912, when a native of Medina, Sayyed Sharie Muhammad, set up Wahhabi cells in the FerL-ana Vallev, their doctrine was at odds with the moderate Islamic traditions of Central Asia, and it was not [email protected] popular. But in the nineteen-eighties, as Saudi fiends flowed to Wahhabi leaders among the mujahideen in Afghanistan and, later, in Central Asia-----many of whom trained in Saudi madrasahs-Wahhabism began to play an influential role. In Uzbekistan, the revival of Islamic militancy began in the city of Namangan while the Soviet Union was couapsing. Several young men from Namangan had forged close ties to Saudi foundations, and late in 1991, with Saudi money and some five thousand young followers, the men estabeshed a Wahhabi mosque and a madrasah. The mayor had refused to give them land for the mosque, and they had attacked the headquarters of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan and seized it. The men were led by Tohir Abdukhalilovich Yuldashev, a twenty-four-year-old college dropout and local mullah from the Islamic underground. He was aided by jumaboi Ahmadjonovich Khodjiyev, who later became juma Namangani. Jumaboi had been conscripted into the Soviet Army and had seen action in Afghanistan as a paratrooper in the late nineteen-eighties. According to some of his friends, his experiences there had turned him into a born-again Muslim. YtAdashev began to insist that strict Islamic practices be observed in Namangan. People were required to pray regularly, and women had to wear the chador. Yuldashev also set up neighborhood watch committees to combat crime. He demanded, with some audacity, that President Karimov impose Sharia-Islamic [email protected] the country, and he invited Karimov to debate the issue in Namangan. President Karimov arrived on December 9, 1991, to talk to the militants, but the meeting soon became a shouting match. Yuldashev made several impossible demands-for example, that Karimov declare Uzbekistan an Islamic state. Yuldashev's followers were initially members of the Islamic Renaissance Party, or I.R.P, which was formed in the Soviet Union in 1990 and was intended to have an independent branch in each Central Asian country, although in Uzbekistan it has never been able to register as a legal party. When the I.R.P was slow to demand an Islamic political state, the young militants in Namangan set up the Adolat, orjustice, Party, which called for an Islamic revolution. They had no respect for official Islam, no patience with tradition, and no fear of the political regime, which they considered to be on the verge of disintegration and collapse. Government ministers in Tashkent told me that in the beginning they had no idea who the militants were or what they wanted-they didn't even know what
Wahhabism was. Finally, however, the government cracked down on Adolat. Twenty-seven of its members were arrested in March, 1992. Yuldashev fled to Tajikistan and studied for a short time at a madrasah in Dushanbe, but in May civil war broke out in Tajikistan between the government and opposition groups that included Islamicists, democrats, and nationalists. He left for Afghanistan and helped spread I.R.P. propaganda from there, but he soon began to travel, first to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and later to Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, making contact with other Islamic parties. He also met with intelligence agencies in these countries. Pakistan's InterServices Intelligence, which had helped run the Afghan war against the Soviets and later supported the Taliban, gave Yuldashev fiends and a sanctuary. From 1995 to 1998, Yuldashev was based mostly in Peshawar, the center not only of Pakistani and Afghan Islamic activism but also of pan-Islamicj'ihadi groups. Here he met with "ArabAfghans," Arabs who had gone to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and stayed to fight for Osama bin Laden. Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema Islam Party, which later backed the Taliban, raised funds for Yuldashev in Peshawar and enEsted his young Uzbek activists in its madrasahs. Russian and Uzbek officials claim that Yiddashev also received filnding from the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey and from Islamic charities and organizations in those countries. He travelled to the Caucasus, where he met with Chechen rebel commanders and established himself as the spokesman, grand strategist, and spiritual guide for Islamic revolution in Uzbekistan.

According to a former Tajik poetical activist with the I.R.P., Juma Namangani also fled Uzbekistan in 1992 and went to Kurgan, in southem Tajlkistan, with some thirty Uzbek militants and a few Arabs who were acting as liaisons between Saudi Islamic foundations and Adolat. "Within a few months, Namangani's force had swelled to some two hundred Uzbeks, as more young men fled the crackdown in the Fergana Valley and arrived to join him," the activist said. "Arabs from Afghanistan who were fed up with the sickening civil war there' the fighting among the mujahideen that led to the rise of the Taleban 'also joined him'. As a former Soviet soldier, Namangani knew the tactics of the Soviet Army and special forces, which was extremely useful to the I.R.P. because it was dealing with the Soviet-trained army of Tajikistan. He knew all about bombs and mine warfare and used them effectively in ambushes. He had money from the Saudis and contacts with the Afghans, so he was not alone." The I.R.P. added Tajik guenihas to Namangani's group and moved him to the Tavildara Vatley, which became his base after 1993 and is still the most important I.M.U. base in Central Asia. Namangani captured and lost the town of Tavildara twice during the Tajik civil war. I.R.P. leaders who knew him at the time say that he commanded loyalty from his troops and was a tough disciplinarian and good speaker who could mobilize people, but that he was also erratic, temperamental, and authoritarian. He often flouted orders from I.R.P. poetical leaders. None of his fanner friends and ales credit him with much understanding of Islam. "He is essentially a guerriUa leader, not an Islamic scholar," said Moheyuddin Kabir, who was involved in the I.R.P. negotiations with the Dushanbe government that ended the civil war in june, 1997. "He is a good person but not a deep person or intellectual in any way, and he has been shaped by his own military and poetical experiences rather than by Islamic ideology, but he hates the Uzbek government-that is what motivates him above all. In a way, he is a leader by defawt, because no other leader is willing to take such risks to oppose Karimov." Namangani objected to the ceasefire and the peace settlement in Tajikistan. "When the I.R.P. leaders said stop the jlhad, Namangani said no," Moheyuddin Kabir said. "His methods of work and alms were orayjihad, and he did not have the political flexibility to understand that sometimes compromise is necessary." Eventually, Namangani was persuaded to come down from the mountains. He dispersed most of his forces but retained a core group of Uzbeks and a few guerrillas at his camp in the Tavildara Valley. He settled in Holt, a small village near Garm, where he bought a large farm and became the owner of several trucks that carried goods to Dushanbe. Some say that to raise funds to keep his organization going and feed his ever-growing entourage at Holt, Namangani became heavily involved in the transport of heroin from Afghanistan to Tajlkistan and on through Kyrgyzstan to Russia and Europe. Namangani and Yuldashev met at the farm in Holt to discuss their future. The Tajlk civil war had ended; they had lost their bases in the mountains, their manpower, and some of their weapons caches. Several former I.R.P. military commanders were now ministers or senior officials in the Tajik coalition government in Dushanbe, and the I.R.R did not want to appear to be breaking the ceasefire by continuing to support a small group of Uzbek dissidents. Back home in Uzbekistan, the situation had worsened. Leading Islamicists had been kidnapped and killed by the security forces. "Namangani was now a businessman and a farmer, but every day there were people coming in from all over Uzbekistan-the Fergana Valley, Tashkent, Samarkand-md telling him about atrocities that Karimov was committing," says a businessman in Garm who used to see Namangani once a week when he Eved in Holt. In 1992, the Uzbek government had begun to use the term "Wahhabi" for anyone who was perceived to be an adherent of radical Islam or who held anti-government sentiments as part of his Islamic beeefs. Five years later, the government was labelling as Wahhabis even ordinary Muslims who practiced Islam in unofficial mosques or who engaged in private
prayer or study. Any Muslim who associated with prayer leaders or taught children how to read the Koran was called a Wahhabi. To many, the term came to mean simply persecuted Muslim faithful. President Karimov launched a particularly harsh crackdown against Muslims after an Uzbek policeman was beheaded in Namangan in December, 1997. That same month, the chairman of a collective farm and his wife were also beheaded and three policemen were killed in a shoot-out. Nobody claimed responsibility for the killings, but the government arrested more than a thousand people in the Fergana Valley. Police questioned any man with a beard. Human Rights Watch reported "a government policy of intolerance" toward MusEm believers: arbitrary detentions and arrests, beatings and threats, fabn'cation of evidence, and torture. Uzbek refugees arriving at the farm in Holt put pressure on Namangani and YLddashev to respond. They agreed to do something, but first they needed a new sanctuary. Tajikistan was no longer a rehable base for their operations. It made more sense to use Afghanistan. YL11dashev had been introduced to the Taliban in Kabul, and they had every reason to offer him refiige: President Karimov was belligerently anti-Taliban, and Uzbekistan was backing the anti-Taliban opposition in Afghanistan. Yuldashev had also met with Osama bin Laden, who was living with the Taliban leaders in Kandahar. In 1998, Yuldashev settled in Kabul, where the Taliban gave him a house in the diplomatic quarter of Wazir Akbar Khan. He had another house in Kandahar. That summer, he and Namangani formed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Several months later, on February 16, 1999, six car bombs exploded in the center of Tashkent, in an apparent attempt to assassinate Karimov. The most powerful bomb, set off by two men who jumped from their car and opened fire on police guards before they escaped, exploded at the entrance to the building that housed the office of the cabinet of ministers-one of the most heavily guarded locations in Uzbekistan. Karimov had left his country residence and was on his way to attend a cabinet meeting when his driver was alerted by police that bombs had gone off. Although no officials were harmed, sixteen people were killed and more than a hundred were injured. Within a few days, at least two thousand people were brought in for questioning. A common theory among Uzbeks is that the bombing was carried out by Karimov's rivals within the regime, but Karimov blamed the Islamicists, claiming that some of the bombers had fled to Pakistan, others to Turkey, and still others to Kazakhstan. Yuldashev was alleged to have organized the assassination attempt from the United Arab Emirates. Throughout the summer, officials in Uzbekistan complained that the Tajiks were harboring Namangani. Although he was clearly there, "harbon'ng" may not have been the best way of describing the situation; Tajlkistan was not in a position to take on the I.M.U. Nevertheless, the Tajik President, Emomali Rakhmonov, did exert pressure on I.R.P leaders in the coalition government to get rid of Namangani or, at the least, to send him to Afghanistan.

When Namangani took up arms in the early summer of 1999, he pledged to the local population and the Dushanbe government that he would not interfere in Tajikistan's politics or attempt to revive the Islamicist movement in Tajikistan; he asked only that he be given transit rights so that he could cross the Tajlk-Kyrgyz border into the Fergana VaRey. There were few military checkpoints on the roads then, and he was able to use trucks and taxis to transport supplies up the Garm Valley road to Jirgatal, where the goods were loaded onto donkey and horse caravans and sent on treks of four or five days across the mountains and into the foothills at the southern edle of the FerLyana Valley. Uzbekistan has mined its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in an attempt to stop the I.M.U., and local villagers who cross the border illegally are arrested. But the border controls have led to a thriving business in smuggling, and many of the smugglers gave the I.M.U. logistical support. In August, 1999, fearing that Karlmov would force the Tajikistan government to attempt to disband his fighters, Namangani took the initiative. ln a small village west of Osh, in Kyrgyzstan, a twenty-one-man l.M.U. unit kidnapped a district officer and three Kyrgyz officials, demanding money, supphes, and a helicopter to fly them to Afghanistan in exchange for the hostages. The panic-stricken Kyrgyz government, which was unprepared for such an incursion, quickly succumbed. The hostages were freed after the guerrillas were given safe passage back to Tajlkistan. There were persistent reports that the Kyrgyz had also paid them fifty thousand dollars. President Karimov reacted furiously, accusing Kyrgyzstan of collusion with the I.M.U. He sent Uzbek bombers to attack the Jirgatal and Garm districts. Predictably, the destruction sparked protests from Tajikistan and heightened tensions-exactly the kind of interstate conflict that Namangani wanted. More I.M.U. groups moved into the area around Batken, the most undeveloped district in Kyrgyzstan. Its rich soil has turned to salt because of overirrigation during the Soviet period and the closing of canals at the Uzbekistan border. Rusting factories have been abandoned, electricity is available for only four hours a day, and there are no jobs. The milk plant, the oa mill, and a wine-making factory have been shut since 1991, and the government has made no attempt to revive them. GuerriUas entered three villages and captured a major general in the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry and four Japanese geologists who worked for a mining agency. As Kyrgyz troops mobuized and Russian military units were sent to try to find the Japanese hostages, four thousand Kyrgyz herdsmen and their families fled the surrounding mountains, creating an enormous humanitarian crisis. By late August, the I.M.U. groups held some twenty hostages, whom they gradually freed as they fought running battles with the Kyrgyz Army. But they hung on to the japanese geologists. Several Japanese secret-service agents and diplomats arrived, opening negotiations with neighboring states in an attempt to find a link to the I.M.U. Uzbek planes attacked I.M.U.-held villages around Batken and Osh, killing four Kyrgyz farmers and destroying dozens of houses. The Kyrgyz Army launched an offensive, seeking to cut the guerrilla groups off from one another and drive them back into Tajlkistan. The Japanese hostages were finally released in late October. Although both the Japanese and Kyrgyz leaders insisted that no ransom had been paid, Western diplomats reported that Japan had secretly given between two and six million dollars to Kyrgyz officials, who delivered it to the I.M.U. With winter fast approaching, when the passes into Tajlkistan would once more be closed by snow, the I.M.U. retreated to Tavildara. Tank government ministers from the I.R.P were already there; they had come to persuade Namangani to go to gha stan. In the first week of November, some three hundred I.M.U. militants, along with their wives and children, were escorted across the Afghan border by Russian soldiers. In Afghanistan, they were received by a jubilant Yuldashev and the TaEban. The I.M.U. guerrillas were housed in Mazar-i-Sharif, and their families were moved into a former U.N. refugee camp. The Taliban allowed the I.M.U. to set up a training camp, open pohtlcal offices in Kabul, Kandahar, and Mazar, and take in fresh recn-tits who were trickling down
from the Fergana Valley Yiddashev had struck a deal with the Taliban in which the I.M.U. would be free to carry out its military operations against Uzbekistan. In return, the I.M.U. would fight for the Taliban against the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Defense Minister of the Northem AlEance. For the first time since the Basmachi revolt, the spectre of a mietaryjihad rose across Central Asia. That winter, Namangani and Yuldashev travelled frequently to Kandahar, where they met with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar to plan strategy and negotiate for arms, ammurntion, and money. According to Russian intelligence officials, bin Laden paid for tfirce MI-8 transport helicopters. Namangani reportedly received more than twenty mileon dollars from bin Laden in the spring of 2000, and his backers in Saudi Arabia and other countries provided another fifteen minion for hightech equipment Eke sniper rifles, communications devices, and night-vision goggles. Bin Laden's growing Enks with the I.M.U offered him a new base of operations in Central Asia-an area where previously he had had few contacts. Much of the I.M.U.'s financing came from the lucrative opium trade through Afghanistan. Ralf Mutschke, the assistant director of Interpol's Criminal InteUigence Directorate, estimated that sixty per cent of Afghan opium exports were movinly throulyh Central Asia and that the "I.M.u. may be responsible for seventy per cent of the total amount of heroin and opium transiting through the area." Wherever the I.M.U. appeared, it was clear that its fighters were never short of funds, and they were careful to pay for all the supplies they took from local villagers. Namangani reportedly pm 'd his guerrillas montmy salaries of between a hundred and five hundred dollars in U. S. dollar bills. This rumor alone was enough to insure that more recruits would join him from the povertystricken Fergana Valley.

In July, 2000, Namangani went back to the Tavidara Valley from Afghanistan with a force of several hundred well-armed men, which he began to move into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan for a new offensive. He spent several months quietly infiltrating fighters into the mountains of the Uzbek province of Surkhandarya, where they built a heavily fortified camp, manned by some hundred and seventy I.M.U. guerrillas. The Uzbek Army had no idea they were there until fighting broke out. Foreign diplomats in Tashkent told me that Uzbek special forces who had been trained by the Russians and had just returned from commando training in the United States were outgunned and outclassed. It took a month of heavy fighting, including aerial bombardment, before the Army was able to storm the camp. During the operation in Surkhandarya province, Uzbek troops forcibly evacuated more than two thousand people from five villages high up in the mountains. These were ethnic-Tank herdsmen who for generations had Eved far from any town or government control. Their plight became a sorry example of Uzbekistan's ability to alienate and traumatize its ovm people while trying to deal with the I.M.U. The previous fall, the herdsmen had attempted to alert the Uzbek Army to the presence of armed guerrillas in the mountains, but they were ignored. Once fighting broke out, the Uzbek authorities accused the herdsmen of providing food to the I.M.U. "They're very simple and hospitable people," a resident of the town of Sariasio in Surkhandarya told a reporter. "Anyone who comes their way will be invited in, even if he's got a submachine gun hanging around his neck. What's more, in the mountains there's no work, and if they had the chance to sell something, then, of course, they wouldn't refuse." The Army destroyed the herdsmen's villages and placed the men in a military camp for two months, where they were given almost nothing to eat. They were relocated to an even more desolate area, where some died of cold and hunger. When, in their naivet6, they asked to see President Karimov to describe their plight to him, they were beaten. One man, Hazratkul Kodirov, gave an interview to the BBC describing the miserable conditions. He was tortured and killed by the Uzbek Army. When the family received his body, his brother reported that his head had been crushed, his arms and legs broken, and at least fifty wounds made on his body by a screwdriver. Seventy-three villagers were eventually charged with subversion, terronsm, and abetting the I.M.U. In August, ten mountain climbers, four of whom were Americans, were kidnapped by guerrillas in Kyrgyzstan. The guerrillas and their hostages were soon surrounded by Kyrgyz specialforces troops. After several days of pursuit, the Kyrgyz killed six guerrillas, captured two others, and rescued the climbers, whose story later became a magazine article and a book. The fact that Americans were involved in the incident had a lot to do with the decision made shortly thereafter by the U. S. government to declare the I.M.U. a terrorist group. At the end of October, Namangani withdrew his forces and moved back to Afghanistan. The I.M.U., now based in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz, was fast becoming a pan-Islamic force. It numbered two thousand fighters from Kyrgyzstan, Tajlkistan, the Caucasus, and the Chinese Muslim province of )Gnjlang. They were becoming experienced in the integrated use of armor, artillery, and airpower, and had been involved in field operations with global jihadi networks like Al Qaeda. That fau, in Tashkent, Namangani and Yuldashev were sentenced to death in absentia. In December, Namangani crossed into Tajlkistan from Afghanistan with a multinational force of about three hundred militants. Karimov again accused the Tajik and Kyrgyz govemments of harboring the I.M.U., and cut off their gas supplies in retaliation. He stepped up the mining of Uzbekistan's borders, fiirther disrupting families, villages, and trade. Karimov then started expelling refiigees from Tajikistan. These were ethnic Uzbeks who had fled Tajikistan during the civil war. There were thousands of such people. The government of Tajlkistan resented Karimov, particularly since he had given sanctuary to several Tajik dissidents. Nevertheless, under enormous pressure from Uzbekistan and the international communit
y, Tajik ministers went to Tavildara to try and persuade Namangani to return to Afghanistan. He agreed to leave-again under the supervision of Russian border guards. Injanuary, 2001, Russian transport helicopters airlifted Namangani and three hundred men from Tavildara to the Afghan border. Conspiracy theories in the streets, in government ministries, and in foreign embassies in Dushanbe had it that the Russians were playing a double game. While Russia officially opposed the I.M.U., it turned a blind eye to Namangani's forays from Afghanistan because Moscow was trying to pressure Karimov into accepting Russian troops and greater Russian influence in Uzbekistan. The Russians never explained why Namangani was not simply arrested.

As the summer of 2001 approached, governments across the region prepared for another l.M.U. assault, which was not long in coming. In late July, two Army posts on the TajlkistanKyrgyzstan border were attacked, and a few days later guerrillas attacked a Kyrgyz television transmitter. The guerrillas had not come from Tajikistan. They were I.M.U. sleepers in Kyrgyz villages. Namangani appeared to have permanent guerrilla forces in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and a new, independent command structure that could operate without his presence. Uzbekistan celebrated the tenth anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union on September lst, and as part of an anniversary amnesty President Karimov freed some twenty-five thousand of the sixty-four thousand prisoners in Uzbek jails. The government reduced the jail terms for another twenty-five thousand prisoners, but seven thousand Mushms were not covered by the amnesty. Pressure from human-rights groups and Western governments had forced Karimov to impose the amnesty, but on September llth his situation vis-A-vis the international community changed dramatically. Within days of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Karimov was being wooed by Washington, as the United States sought to establish mifitary bases and landing rights in Uzbekistan in preparation for an assault on the TaEban. On September 20th, in an address to Congress, President Bush suggested that the I.M.U. was linked to Osama bin Laden and could be a target for United States counterterrorism efforts. Central Asian leaders feared that giving the United States overt help in fighting the Taliban would provide a propaganda coup for the I.M.U., allowing it to depict the regimes as lackeys of the Americans. Guerrilla attacks could be justified as retribution for the seleng out of national interests and also for allowing an infidel force to be based on Central Asian soil with the sole purpose of conducting a war against Mushms. Shortly after Uzbekistan opened its territory to .American forces, the World Bank sent a delegation to Tashkent to discuss new loans. The l.M.U. reacted predictably. In a radio interview on October 9th, Yuldashev said that the I.M.U. was "willing to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Taliban' against their enemies, including Uzbekistan. Karimov's willingness to cooperate with the United States was described as support for the infidels against the believers.

Shortly after the Taliban surrendered in northern Afghanistan, Yuldashev was reported to have been in the fort at Mazar-i-Sharif where hundreds of Taliban prisoners were killed during an uprising. At the press conference in late December, President Karimov said that Yuldashev was most likely now in Pakistan. Namangani may indeed have been killed during the American bombing campaign. Certainly, hundreds of their troops were lost. Support from Osama bin Laden has ended, and the I.M.U.'s sources of financing from the Uzbek diaspora and Arabs in the Gulf states have been dramatically cut back. But if Namangani and Yuldashev are still alive, they will soon reorganize and begin carrying out acts of terrorism against the Karimov re 'me and against American targets in 91 the cities of Uibekistan. In any case, the I.M.U. fighters who have escaped from Afghanistan will regroup, probably among the sleepers who remain in Central Asia, with their secret organizational structure intact. Funds are still available from the heroin trade. The poppy-planting season began in November in Afghanistan, where the new government is unlikely to be stable for years to come, if ever. Uzbekistan and other Central Asian regimes have made no gesture toward reforming their grotesque record of human-rights abuses. Mushm believers remain in Uzbek jails, elections are a farce, there is not even minimal freedom of the press or of assembly, and torture is commonplace. In this landscape of repression, which appears to many to be sanctioned and rewarded by the United States, the I.M.U. and other radical lslamic parties seeking to end the status quo cannot help but find supporters.

A VANISHED GENDER: WOMEN, CHILDREN AND TALIBAN CULTURE

Taliban Ahmed Rashid ISBN 0-330-49221-7 Pan McMillan London 2001

Nobody ever wants to see the inside of Maulvi Qalamuddin's sparse office in the centre of Kabul. Half the population never will Nanyway, because the Maulvi does not allow women to even enter the building. A huge Pashtun tribesman with enormous feet and hands, a long thick nose, black eyes and a bushy black beard that touches his desk while he talks, Qalamuddin's physique and name generate fear across the city. As head of the Taliban's religious police, the stream of regulations he issues from this office has dramatically changed the lifestyle of Kabul's once easy-going population and forced Afghan women to disappear entirely from public view. Maulvi Qalamuddin runs the Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahi An alMunkar, or the Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He himself prefers the translation as Department of Religious Observances. In the streets, people just call the department's thousands of young zealots, who walk around with whips, long sticks and kalashnikovs, the religious police and even more derogatory names. The day I visited him for a rare interview in the summer of 1997, he had just issued new regulations which banned women from wearing high heels, making a noise with their shoes while they walked or wearing make-up. 'Stylish dress and decoration of women in hospitals is forbidden. Women are dutybound to behave with dignity, to walk calmly and refrain from hitting their shoes on the ground, which makes noises,' the edict read. How the zealots could even see women's make-up or their shoes, considering that all women were now garbed in the head to toe burkha was mystifying (see Appendix 1). The new edict formalized previous restrictions on disallowing women from working, but it now also banned them from working for Westem humanitarian aid agencies, except in the medical sector. 'Women are not allowed to work in any field except the medical sector. Women working in the medical sector should not sit in the seat next to the driver. No Afghan woman has the right to be transported in the same car as foreigners,' the edict continued. Education for boys is also at a standstill in Kabul because most of the teachers are women, who now cannot work. An entire generation of Afghan children are growing up without any education. Thousands of educated families have fled Kabut for Pakistan simply beause their children can no longer receive an education. I nervously asked Qalamuddin what justified the Taliban's ban on women from working and going to school. 'We will be blamed by our people if we don't educate women and we will provide education for them eventually, but for now we have serious problems,' he replied. Like so many multahs and despite his size, he is surprisingly soft-spoken and I strained to catch his words. 'There are security problems. There are no provisions for separate transport, separate school buildings and facilities to educate women for the moment. Women must be completely segregated from men. And within us we have those men who cannot behave properly with women. We lost two million people in the war against the Soviets because we had no Sharia law. We fought for Sharia and now this is the organization that will implement it. I will implement it come what may,'Qalamuddin said emphatically. When the Taliban first entered Kabul, the religious police beat men and women in public for not having long enough beards or not wearing the burkha properly. 'We advise our staff n6t to beat people on the streets. We only advise people how to behave according to the Sharia. For exAmple, if a person is about to reverse his car into another car, then we just warn you not to reverse now,' Qalamuddin said with a broad grin on his face, obviously pleased with his modem metaphor. The Department is modelled on a similar govemment organisation in Saudi Arabia and it has recruited thousands of young men, many of them with only a minimum madrassa education from Pakistan. The department is also the Taliban's most effective intelligence agency a bizarre throwback to KHAD, the enormous intelligence agency run by the communist regime in the 1980s. KHAD, which later changed its name to WAD, employed 15,000 to 30,000 professional spies as well having 100,000 paid informers.' Qalamuddin admitted that he has thousands of informers in the army, government ministries, hospitals and Western aid agencies. 'Our staff all have experience in religious issues. And we are an independent organization and we don't take advice from the Justice Ministry or the Supreme Court as to what we should implement. We obey the orders of the Amir Multah Mohammed Omar.'

Qalamuddin's edicts are broadcast regularly on Radio Shariat (formerly Radio Kabul) and cover every aspect of social behaviour for the population (see Appendix 1). One addresses public attendance at sports events, which the Taliban had initially banned. 'All onlookers, while encouraging the sportsmen, are asked to chant Allah-o-Akbar [God is Great] and refrain from clapping. In case the game coincides with prayer time, the game should be interrupted. Both the players and spectators should offer prayers in congregation,' said the edict. Kite-flying, once a favourite pastime in the spring for Kabutis, is still banned as are all sports for women. For the Taliban anyone questioning these edicts, which have no validity in the Koran, is tantamount to questioning Islam itself, even though the Prophet Mohammed's first task was to emancipate women. 'The supreme, unmistakable test of Islam was the emancipation of women, first beginning to be proclaimed, then more slowly on the way to be achieved,' said Ferdinand Braudel.' But the Taliban did not allow even Muslim reporters to question these edicts or to discuss interpretations of the Koran. To foreign aid-workers they simply said, 'You are not Muslim so you have no right to discuss Islam.' The Taliban were right, their interpretation of Islam was right and everything else was wrong and an expression of human weakness and a lack of piety. 'The Constitution is the Sharia so we don't need a constitution. People love Islam and that is why they all support the Taliban and appreciate what we are doing,' said Attomey General Maulvi Jalituilah Maulvizada.' However the plight of Afghan women and Afghan society as a whole began well before the Taliban arrived. Twenty years of continuous warfare has destroyed Afghan civil society, the clan community and family structure which provided an important cushion of relief in an otherwise harsh economic landscape. Afghanistan has one of the lowest rated indices for the human condition in the world. The infant mortality rate is 163 deaths per 1,000 births (18 per cent) the highest in the world which compares to an average of 70/1000 in other developing countries. A quarter of all children die before they reach their fifth birthday, compared to one tenth that number in developing countries. A staggering 1,700 mothers out of 100,000 die giving birth. Life expectancy for men and women is just 43-44 years old, compared to 61 years for people in other developing countries. Only 29 per cent of the population has access to health and 12 per cent has access to safe water, compared to 80 per cent and 70 per cent respectively in developing states. Children die of simple, preventable diseases like measles and diarrhoea because there are no health facilities and no clean water.' Illiteracy was a major problem before the Taliban appeared, affecting 90 per cent of girls and 60 per cent of boys. There were huge swathes of rural Afghanistan where schools had been destroyed in the war and not a single one remained. Thus the Taliban's gender policies only worsened an ongoing crisis. Within three months of the capture of Kabul, the Taliban closed 63 sch(-)ols in the city affecting 103,000 girls, 148,000 boys and 11,200 teachers, of whom 7,800 were women.' They shut down Kabul University sending home some 10,000 students of which 4,000 were women. By December 1998, UNICEF reported that the country's educational system was in a state of total collapse with nine in ten girls and two in three boys not enrolled in school.' The Afghan people's desperate plight was largely ignored by the outside world. Whereas in the 1980s the war in Afghanistan attracted attention and aid, the moment the Soviets withdrew their troops in 1989, Afghanistan dropped off the radar screen of world attention. The ever dwindling aid from wealthy donor countries, which did not even meet the minimum budgetary requirements of the humanitarian aid effort, became a scandal. In 1996 the UN had requested US$124 million for its annual humanitarian aid programme to Afghanistan, but by the end of the year, it had only received US$65 million. In 1997 it asked for US$133 million and received only US$56 million or 42 per cent and the following year it asked for US$157 million but received only US$53 million or 34 per cent. By 1999 the UN had drastically scaled down its request to just US$113 million. In the words of scholar Barnett Rubin: 'If the situation in Afghanistan is ugly today, it is not because the people of Afghanistan are ugly. Afghanistan is not only the mirror of the Afghans: it is the mirror of the world. "if you do not like the image in the mirror do not break the mirror, break your face," says an old Persian proverb." When Kabul's women looked at themselves in the mirror, even before the Taliban captured the city, they saw only despair. In 1996 1 met Bibi Zohra in a tiny bakery in Kabut. She was a widow who led a group of young women who prepared nan, the unleavened baked bread every Afghan eats, for widows, orphans and disabled people. Some 400,000 people in Kabul depended on these bakeries funded by the WFP, which included 25,000 familes headed by war widows and 7,000 families headed by disabled men. Zohra's mud shack was pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes. lt had first been destroyed by rockets fired by Gulbuddin Hikmetyar's forces in 1993, then shelled by the Taliban in 1995. With six children and her parents to support she had donated part of the tiny plot of land where her house once stood to WFP for a bakery. 'Look at my face, don't you see the tragedy of our lives and our country marked all over it?' she said. 'Day by day the situation is worsening. We have become beggars dependent on the UN to survive. It is not the Afghan way. Women are exhausted, depressed and devastated. We are just waiting for peace, praying for peace every minute of the day.'

The plight of Bibi Zohra's children and other kids was even worse. At a playground set up by Save the Children in the battered, half-destroyed Microyan housing complex, rake-thin Afghan children played grimly on the newly installed swings. lt was a playground littered with reminders of the war discarded artillery shell cases, a destroyed tank with a gaping hole where the turret once was and trees lopped down by rocket fire. 'Women and children face the brunt of the conflict,' Save the Children's Director Sofie Elieussen told me. 'Women have to cope with no food and malnutrition for their children. Women suffer from hysteria, trauma and depression because they don't know when the iaext rocket attack will come. How can children relate to a mother's discipline or affection when they have seen adults killing each other and mothers are unable to provide for their basic needs? There is so much stress that the children don't even trust each other and parents have stopped communicating with their kids or even trying to explain what is going on,' said Elieussen. A UNICEF survey of Kabul's children conducted by Dr Leila Gupta found that most children had witnessed extreme violence and did not expect to survive. Two-thirds of the children interviewed had seen somebody killed by a rocket and scattered corpses or body parts. More than 70 per cent had lost a family member and no longer trusted adults. 'They all suffer from flashbacks, nightmares and loneliness. Many said they felt their life was not worth living anymore,' said Dr Gupta. Every norm of family life had been destroyed in the war. When children cease to trust their parents or parents cannot provide security, children have no anchor in the real world. Children were caught up in the war on a greater scale than in any other civil conflict in the world. All the warlords had used boy soldiers, some as young as 12 years old, and many were orphans with no hope of having a family, an education or a job except soldiering. The Taliban with their linkages to the Pakistani madrassas encouraged thousands of children to enlist and fight. Entire units were made up of kids as loaders for artillery batteries, ammunition carriers, guarding installations and as fighters. Significantly a major international effort in 1998 to limit the age of soldiers to 18, rather than the current minimum age of 15 met with resistance by the US, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. A 1999 Amnesty International report said there were over 300,000 children under 18 enlisted as soldiers worldwide.' The plight of women and children would get much worse after the Taliban capture of Kabul. Every Kabuli woman I met during 1995-96 and reporters could then easily meet and talk to women on the street, in shops and offices knew their precarious lives would only get worse if the Taliban captured Kabul. One such woman was Nasiba Gul, a striking 27-year-old single woman who aspired to be part of the modern world. A 1990 graduate of Kabul University, she held down a good job with an NGO. Dressed in a long skirt and high heels, she rarely bothered to cover her face, throwing just a small scarf over her head when she travelled across the city. 'The Taliban just want to trample women into the dust. No woman, not even the poorest or most conservative wants the Taliban to rule Afghanistan,' said Nasiba. 'Islam says women are equal to men and respect should be given to women. But the Taliban's actions are tuming people against even Islam,' she added. Nasiba's fears were iustified, for when the Taliban captured Kabul, women disappeared from public view. Nasiba was forced to stop working and left for Pakistan. The Taliban leaders were all from the poorest, most conservative and least literate southem Pashtun provinces of Afghanistan. In Multah Omar's village women had always gone around fully veiled and no girl had ever gone to school because there were none. Omar and his colleagues transposed their own milieu, their own experience, or lack of it, with women, to the entire country and justified their policies through the Koran. For a time, some aid agencies claimed that this was the Afghan cultural tradition which had to be respected. But in a country so diverse in its ethnicity and levels of development, there was no universal standard of tradition or culture for'women's role in society. Nor had any Afghan ruler before the Taliban ever insisted on such dress codes as compulsory beards for men and the burkha. The rest of Afghanistan was not even remotely like the south. Afghan Pashtunsi I istani Pashtuns, were proud to send their girls to school and many continued to do so under the Taliban, by running village schools or sending their families to Pakistan. Here aid agencies such as the Swedish Committee supported some 600 primary schools with 150,000 students of whom 30,000 were girls. When Pashtun tribal elders demanded education for girls, Taliban govemors did not and could not object.' In Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan tens of thousands of Pashtun girls studied. Outside the Pashtun belt, all other ethnic groups vigorously encouraged female education. Afghanistan's strength was its ethnic diversity and women had as many roles as there were tribes and nationalities. Afghanistan's cities were even more diverse. Kandahar was always a conservative city but Herat's female elite once spoke French as a second language and copied the fashions of the Shah's court in Tehran. Forty per cent of Kabul's women worked, both under the communist regime and the post,1992 Mujaheddin government. Women with even a smattering of education and a job exchanged their traditional clothes for skirts, high heels and make-up. They went to the movies, played sports and danced and sang at weddings. Common sense alone should have dictated that to win hearts and minds, the Taliban would have to relax their gender policy according to the prevalent realities in the areas they took control of Instead they viewed Kabul as a den of iniquity, a Sodom and Gomorrah where women had to be beaten into conforming with Taliban standards of behaviour. And they viewed the northemers as impure Muslims who had to be forcibly re-Islamicized. The Taliban's uncompromising attitude was also shaped by their own intemal political dynamic and the nature of their recruiting base. Their recruits the orphans, the rootless, the lumpen proleteriat ftom the war and the refugee camps had been bought up in a totally male society. In the madrassa milieu, control over women and their virtual exclusion was a powerful symbol of manhood and a reaffirmation of the students' commitment to jihad. Denying a role for women gave the Taliban a kind of false legitimacy amongst these elements. 'This conflict against women is rooted in the political beliefs and ideologies, not in Islam or the cultural norms. The Taliban are a new generation of Muslim males who are products of a war culture, who have spent much of their adult lives in complete segregation from their owm communities. In Afghan society, women have traditionally been used as instruments to regulate social behaviour, and as such are powerful symbols in Afghan culture,' said Simi Wali, the head of an Afghan NGO." Taliban leaders repeatedly told me that if they gave women greater freedom or a chance to go to school, they would lose the support of their rank and file, who would be disillusioned by a leadership that had compromised principles under pressure. They also claimed their recruits would be weakened and subverted by the possibility of sexual opportunities and thus not fight with the same zeal. So the oppression of women became a benchmark for the Taliban's Islamic radicalism, their aim to 'cleanse' society and to keep the morale of their troops high. The gender issue became the main platform of the Taliban's resistance to UN and Westem govemments' attempts to make them compromise and moderate their policies. Compromise with the West would signal a defeat that they were wrong all along, defiance would signal victory. Hardline Taliban tumed the argument of the outside world on its head. They insisted that it was up to the West to moderate their position and accommodate the Taliban, rather than that the Taliban recognize universal human rights. 'Let us state what sort of education the UN wants. This is a big infidel policy which gives such obscene freedom to women which would lead to adultery and herald the destruction of Islam. In any Islamic country where adultery becomes common, that country is destroyed and enters the domination of the infidels because their men become like women and women cannot defend themselves. Anybody who talks to us should do so within Islam's framework. The Holy Koran cannot adjust itelf to other people's requirements, people should adjust themselves to the requirements of the Holy Koran,' said Attomey General Maulvi Jalilullah Maulvizada." The Taliban could not explain how a deeply rooted religion like Islam could be so undermined at the hands of adulterers. All tribal Pashtuns also followed Pashtunwali, a social code which gave the tribal jirga or council the right to make judgments on cases from a traditional pantheon of laws and punishments, especially when it came to disputes over ownership of land and women and murder. The line between Pashtunwali and Sharia law has always been blurred for the Pash, tuns. Taliban punishments were in fact drawn largely from Pashtunwati rather than the Sharia. But Pashtunwali was practised in varying degrees, to a lesser or greater extent across the Pashtun belt and it certainly did not govern the practices of other ethnic groups. The fact that the Taliban were determined to impose Pashtunwali-Sharia law on these ethnic groups by force only deepened the ethnic divide in the country. NonPashtuns saw this is an attempt to impose Kandahari Pashtun laws on the entire country. There were no political conditions in which the Taliban were prepared to compromise. After every military defeat they tightened their gender policies ferociously, under the assumption that harsher measures against women would sustain morale amongst their defeated soldiers. And every victory led to another tightening because the newly conquered populations had to be shown Taliban power. The policy of 'engagement' with the Taliban to moderate their policies, advocated by the international community, gave no dividends. And their insistence that they would allow women's education after the war was over became more and more meaningless. The capture of Herat in 1995 was the first indicator to Afghans and the outside world that the Taliban would not compromise on the gender issue. Herat, the heart of medieval Islam in the entire region, was a city of mosques and madrassas, but it had an ancient, liberal, Islamic tradition. It was the home of [email protected] arts and crafts, miniature painting, music, dance, carpet-making and numerous stories about its redoubtable and beautiful women. Heratis still recount the story of Queen Gowhar Shad, the daughter-in, law of the conquerer Taimur who moved the Timurid capital from Samarkand to Herat in 1405 after Taimur's death. One day in the company of 200 'ruby-lipped', beautiful ladies-in-waiting, the Queen inspected a mosque and madrassa complex she was building on the outskirts of Herat. The madrassa students (or taliban) had been asked to vacate the premises while the Queen and her entourage visited, but one student had fallen asleep in his room. He was awoken by an exquisitely attractive lady-in, waiting. When she rejoined the Queen, the lady was panting and dishevelled by the exertions of passionate love-making and thus she was disco, vered. Instead of punishing her or the student, the Queen ordered all her ladies-in-waiting to marry the students in a mass ceremony so as to bless them and ensure they avoided temptation in the future. She gave each student clothes and a salary and ordered that husband and wife should meet once a week as long as the students studied hard. It was the kind of story that epitomized the liberal, human tradition of Islam and madrassa education in Herat. T'he Taliban had no knowledge of Herat's history or traditions. They arrived to drive Herati women indoors. People were barred from visiting the shrines of Sufi saints of which Herat had an abundance. The Taliban cancelled out years of effort by the Mujaheddin commander Ismael Khan to educate the population, by shutting down all girls' schools. Most boys' schools also closed as their teachers were women. They segregated the few functioning hospitals, shut down bathhouses and banned women from the bazaar. As a result Herati women were the first to rebel against Taliban excesses. C)n 17 October 1996 more than 100 women protested outside the office of the Governor against the closure of the city's bathhouses. The women were beaten and then arrested by the Taliban religious police, who went from house to house warning men to keep their women indoors. The intemational media and the LN largely chose to ignore these events in Herat, but several Westem NGOs realized the profound implications for their future activities. After a long intemal debate and fruitless negotiations with the Taliban in Herat, UNICEF and Save the Children suspended their educational programmes in Herat because girls were excluded from them." The suspension of these aid programmes did not deter the Taliban, who quickly realized that other UN agencies were not prepared to take a stand against them on the gender issue. Moreover they had succeeded in dividing the aid-giving community. UN policy was in a shambles because the UN agencies had failed to negotiate from a common platform. As each LJN agency tried to cut its own deal with the Taliban, the UN compromised its principles, while Taliban restrictions on women only escalated. 'The LJN is on a slippery slope. The UN thinks by making small compromises it can satisfy the intemational community and satisfy the Taliban. In fact it is doing neither, the head of a European NGO told me." The world only woke up to the Taliban's gender policies after they captured Kabul in 1996. The UN could not avoid ignoring the issue after the massive intemational media coverage of the Taliban's hanging of former President Najibullah and the treatment of Kabul's women. Protest statements from world leaders such as UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the heads of UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR and the Euro@ pean Commissioner for Human Rights met with no Taliban response.1' Beauty, hair and make-up salons were shut down in Kabul, as were women's bathhouses the only place where hot water was available.

Tailors were ordered not to measure women for clothes, but teamed to keep the measurements of their regular customers in their heads. Fashion magazines were destroyed. 'Paint your nails, take a snapshot of a friend, blow a flute, clap to a beat, invite a foreigner over for tea and you have broken a Taliban edict,' wrote an American reporter." Until Kabui, the UN's disastrous lack of a policy had been ignored but then it became a scandal and the UN came in for scathing criticism from feminist groups. Finally the UN agencies were forced to draw up a common position. A statement spoke of 'maintaining and promoting the inherent equality and dignity of all people' and 'not discriminating between the sexes, races, ethnic groups or religions'." But the same UN document also stated that 'intemational agencies hold local customs and cultures in high respect'. It was a classic UN compromise, which gave the Taliban the lever to continue stalling, by promising to allow female education after peace came. Nevertheless, by October 1996 the UN was forced to suspend eight income-generating projects for women in Kabull because women were no longer allowed to [email protected] in them. During the riext 18 months, round after round of fruitless negotiations took place between the UN, Noos, Westem govemments and the Taliban, by which time it became clear that a hardline lobby of Taliban ulema in Kandahar were determined to get rid of the UN entirely. The Taliban tightened the screws ever further. They closed down home schools for girls which had been allowed to continue and then prevented women from attending general hospitals. In May 1997 the religious police beat up five female staff of the US NGO Care intemational and then demanded that all aid projects receive clearance ftom not just the relevant ministry, but also ftom the Ministeries of Interior, Public Health, Police and the Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. This was followed by a demand that all Muslim female humanitarian workers coming to Afghanistan be accompanied by a male relative. Finally in July 1997 the Taliban insisted that all 35 UN and NGO agen, cies move out of their offices to one pre-selected compound at the destroyed Polytechnic building. As the European Union suspended ftirthur humanitarian aid, the UN and the NGOs left Kabul. The plight of Afghanistan's women often hid the fact that urban males did not fare much better under the Taliban, especially non-Pashtuns. All Kabul males were given just six weeks to grow a full beard, even though some of the ethnic groups such as the Hazards have very limited beard growth. Beards could not be trimmed shorter than a man's fist, leading to jokes that Afghanistan's biggest import-export business was male facial hair and that men did not need visas to travel to Afghanistan, they just needed a beard. The religious police stood at street comers with scissors cutting off long hair and often beating culprits. Men had to wear their shalwars or baggy trousers above the ankle and everyone had to say their prayers five times a day. The Taliban also clamped down on homosexuality. Kandahar's Pashtuns were notorious for their affairs with young boys and the rape of young boys by warlords was one of the key motives for Mullah Omar in mobilizing the Taliban. But homosexuality continued and the punishments were bizarre if not inhuman. Two soldiers caught indulging in homosexuality in Kabul in April 1998 were beaten mercilessly and then tied up and driven around Kabut in the back of a pick-up with their faces blackened by engine oil. Men accused of sodomy faced the previously unheard of 'Islamic' punishment of having a wall toppled over them. In February 1998 three men sentenced to death for sodomy in Kandahar were taken to the base of a huge mud and brick wall, which was then toppled over them by a tank. They remained buried under the rubble for half an hour, but one managed to survive. 'His eminence the Amir-ul Momineen (Mullah Omar] attended the fu;action to give Sharia punishment to the three buggerers in Kandahar,' @rote Anis, the Taliban newspaper." In March 1998 two men were killed by the same method in Kabut. 'Our religious scholars are not agreed on the right kind of punishment for homosexuality,' said Mullah Mohammed Hassan, epitomizing the kind of debates the Taliban were preoccupied with. 'Some say we should take these sinners to a high roof and throw them down, while others say we should dig a hole beside a wall, bury them, then push the wall down on top of them."' The Taliban also banned every conceivable form of entertainment, which in a poor, deprived country such as Afghanistan was always in short supply anyway. Afghans were ardent moviegoers but movies, TV, videos, music and dancingwere all banned. 'Of course we realize that people need some entertainment but they can go to the parks and see the flowers, and from this they will leam about Islam,' Mullah Mohammed Hassan told me. According to Education Minister Mullah Abdul Hanifi, the Taliban 'oppose music because it creates a strain in the mind and hampers study of Islam'." Singing and dancing were banned at weddings which for centuries had been major social occasions from which hundreds of musicians and dancers made a living. Most of them fled to Pakistan. Nobody was allowed to hang paintings, portraits or photographs in their homes. One of Afghanistan's foremost artists, Mohammed Mashall aged 82, who was painting a huge mural showing 500 years of Herat's history was forced to watch as the Taliban whitewashed over it. Simply put, the Taliban did not recognize the very idea of culture. They banned Nawroz, the traditional Afghan New Year's celebrations as anti-Islamic. An ancient spring festival, Nawroz marks the first day of the Persian solar calendar when people visit the graves of their relatives. People were forcibly stopped from doing so. They banned Labour Day on I May for being a communist holiday, for a time they also banned Ashura, the Shia Islamic month of mourning and even restricted any show of festivity at Eid, the principle Muslim clelebration of the year. Most Afghans felt demoralized by the fact that the Islamic world declined to take up the task of condemning the Taliban's extremism. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states have never issued a single statement on the need for women's education or human rights in Afghanistan. Nor did they ever question the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia. Asian Muslim countries were also silent. Surprisingly, Iran issued the toughest defence of women's rights under Islam. 'Through their fossilized policies the Taliban stop girls from attending school, stop women working out of their homes and all that in the name of Islam. What could be worse than committing violence, narrow-mindedess and limiting women's rights and defaming Islam,' said Ayat?llah Ahmad Jannati, as early as 1996." Iranian criticism of Taliban policies escalated dramatically after the deaths of their diplomats in Mazar in 1998. In Mazar stands the Tomb of Rabia Balkhi, a beautiful, tragic medieval poetess. She was the first woman of her time to write love poetry in Persian and died tragically after her brother slashed her wrists as punishment for sleeping with a slave lover. She wrote her last poem in her own blood as she lay dying. For centuries young Uzbek girls and boys treated her tomb with saint-like devotion and would pray there for success in their love affairs. After the Taliban captured Mazar, they placed her tomb out of bounds. Love, even for a medieval saint, was now out of bounds.

SHIA VERSUS SUNNI: IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA

here was a sense of change and renewal in Tehran in the spring of 1999. For nearly 20 years since the Islamic revolution, Tehran's Twomen had shrouded themselves in the dictated garb of hijab the uniform black tents. Now suddenly the hijab was sprouting faux-leopard, skin trimmings and fur. Some women were wearing raincoats or donning the hijab like a cape revealing short skirts, tight jeans, black silk stockings and high heels. Rather than an imposed dress code, female modesty now appeared to be up to the individual. The loosening up of the hijab was only one sign of the transformation of Iranian society after the election of Sayed Mohammed Khatami to the Presidency in May 1997, when he took 70 per cent of the popular vote in a stunning victory against a more hardline conservative candidate. Khatami had garnered the votes of the youth, who were fed up with 25-per-cent unemployment and high infla@ tion and hopeful that he would usher in economic development and a more open society. Khatami's victory created an immediate thaw in Iran's relations with the outside world as it opened up to the West, wooed its old enemy the USA with the need for 'a dialogue between civilizations' and sought an improvement in relations with the Arab world. Afghanistan was to become the primary issue in helping thaw relations between Iran, the USA and the Arab world. During his visit to Kabul in April 1998, US Ambassador Bill Richardson had already signalled that the USA saw Iran as a dialogue partner to help resolve the Afghan crisis. Iran was also talking to an old foe, Saudi Arabia. 'T'he positive climate between Iran and Saudi Arabia is encouraging and both sides are ready to co-operate for the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan,' Iran's new Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in May 1998.' A suave, English-speaking diplomat who for 11 years had represented Iran at the UN, Kharrazi's soft diplomatic manner and style were representative of a revolution that had mellowed. Iran's new leaders were deeply antagonistic to the Taliban, but they were pragmatic enough to realize that peace in Afghanistan was necessary for economic development and political liberalization in Iran. Stability in their neighbourhood would also help Iran end its intemational isolation. Khatami was far from looking for a fight with the Taliban, yet just six months later, after the Taliban killed nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar, Iran had mobilized a quarter of a-) million soldiers on its border with Afghanistan and was threatening to invade. As tensions with the Taliban escalated, the new relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia took on even more importance. Afghanistan has been just one area of conflict in the intense rivalry between the Persians and the Arabs. Both peoples have conquered and ruled one another against a background of dispute between Sunni Arabia and Shia Persia. In 1501 Shah Ismail of the Safavid dynasty turned Iran into the first and only Shia state in the Islamic world. Both the Persians and the Arabs had ruled over Central Asia and Afghanistan, although Persian rule and its culture and language was much more long-standing and left a permanent mark. In the twentieth century the long war between revolutionary Iran and Iraq (1981-88), which led to some 1.5 million casualties, only deepened this rivalry as all the Arab states had supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq. As that war began, another was just beginning in Afghanistan and here too the age-old rivalries would continue this time in the context of the Cold War and the US aim to isolate Iran with the help of the Arab states. Ostensibly both Iran and Saudi Arabia were on the same side in the Afghan conflict. They strongly opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, supported the Mujaheddin and backed intemational measures to isolate the Afghan regime and the Soviet Union. But they supported opposing factions of the Mujaheddin and Iran never severed its diplomatic links with the Kabul regime. Saudi support to the Mujaheddin was in line with the US and Pakistani strategy of providing the bulk of funds and weapons to the most radical Sunni Pashtun groups and ignoring the Shia Afghans. The Saudis also separately funded Afghans who promoted Wahabbism. Dollar for dollar, Saudi aid matched the funds given to the Mujaheddin by the US. The Saudis gave nearly US$4 billion in official aid to the Mujaheddin between 1980 and 1990, which did not include unofficial aid from Islamic charities, foundations, the private funds of Princes and mosque collections.' There were also direct funds given to the ISI, as in 1989 when the Saudis handed over US$26 million dollars to bribe Afghan leaders during the negotiations to form the Mujaheddin interim govemment in exile in Islamabad.' The Mujaheddin leaders were obliged to appoint an Afghan Wahabbi as interim Prime Minister. In March 1990, the Saudis came up with an additional US$ I 00 million for Hikrtietyar's Hizb-e-Islami party who were backing an abortive coup attempt from within the Afghan army against President Najibultah by Hikmetyar and [email protected] Tanai in Kabul .4 After 1992 the Saudis continued to provide funds and fuel to the Mujaheddin govemment in Kabut. The fuel, chanelled through Pakistan, became a major source of corruption and patronage for successive Pakistani govemments and the ISI. Due to the estranged relations between Iran and the USA, the Afghan Mujaheddin groups based in Iran received no intemational military assistance. Nor did the two million Afghan refugees who fled to Iran receive the same humanitarian aid which their three million counterparts in Pakistan received. Tehran's own support to the Mujaheddin was limited on account of budgetary constraints because of the Iraq-Iran war. Thus throughout the 1980s, the USA effectively blocked off Iran from the outside world on Afghanistan. It was a legacy which only further embittered the Iranians against the USA and it would ensure much greater Iranian assertiveness in Afghanistan once the Cold War had ended and the Americans had left the Afghan stage. Iran's initial support to the Mujaheddin only went to the Afghan Shias, in particular the Hazaras. It was the era in which Iran's Revolutionary Guards funded Shia militants worldwide from Lebanon to Pakistan. By 1982, Iranian money and influence had encouraged a younger generation of Iran-trained radical Hazaras, to overthrow the traditional leaders who had emerged in the Hazarajat in 1979 to oppose the Soviet invasion. Later, eight Afghan Shia groups were given official status in Tehran, but Iran could never arm and fund them sufficiently. As a result, the Iranbacked Hazaras became marginal to the conflict inside Afghanistan and fought more amongst themselves than against the Soviets. Hazara factionalism was exacerbated by Iran's short-sighted, ideological policies in which the Hazaras loyalty to Tehran was viewed as more important than unity amongst themselves. By 1988, with the Soviet withdrawal now imminent, Iran saw the need to strengthen the Hazaras. They helped unite the eight Iran-based Hazara groups into the single Hizb-e-Wahadat party. Iran now pressed for Wah@ adat's inclusion in intemational negotiations to form a new Mujaheddin government, which was to be dominated by the Peshawar-based Mujaheddin parties. Even though the Hazaras were a small minority and could not possibly hope to rule Afghanistan, Iran demanded first a 50-per-cent and then a 25-per-cent share for the Hazaras in any future Mujaheddin govemment. As the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia intensified with the Saudis importing more Arabs to spread Wahabbism and anti-Shiism inside Afghanistan, Pakistan kept the balance between them. A close ally of both states, Pakistan stressed the need to maintain a united front against the Kabul regime. The Iran-Saudi rivalry escalated after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops when Iran drew closer to the Kabul regime. Iran considered the Kabul regime as the only force now capable of resisting a Sunni Pashtun takeover of Afghanistan. Iran rearmed Wahadat and by the time Kabul fell to the Mujaheddin in 1992, Wahadat controlled not only the Hazarajat but a significant part of western Kabul. The Saudis meanwhile suffered a major set back as their two principle neo-Wahabbi prot6g6s, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, split. Hikmetyar opposed the newly constituted Mujaheddin govemment in Kabul and joined up with the Hazaras to bombard the city. Sayyaf supported the Mujheddin govemment. This division was an extension of the much larger Saudi foreign policy debacle after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. For 20 years the Saudis had funded hundreds of neo-Wahabbi parties across the Muslim world to spread Wahabbism and gain influence within the Islamic movements in these countries. But when Riyadh asked these Islamic groups for a payback and to tend support to Saudi Arabia and the USA led coalition against Iraq, the majority of them backed Saddam Hussein, including Hikmetyar and most Afghan groups. Years of Saudi effort and billions of dollars were wasted because Saudi Arabia had failed to evolve a national interest-based foreign policy. The Saudi predicament is having a westemized ruling elite whose legitimacy is based on conservative fundamentalism, while those not part of the elite are radically anti-Westem. The elite has promoted radical Wahabbism, even as this undermined its own power at home and abroad. Ironically only the moderate Afghan groups, whom the Saudis had ignored, helped out the Kingdom in its hour of need.' As the Afghan war intensified between 1992 and 1995, so did the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and the Pakistanis made frequent attempts to bring all the factions together. However, they also made every effort to keep Iran and the Hazaras out of any potential agreements. In the 1992 Peshawar Accord which Pakistan and Saudi Arabia negotiated between the Mujaheddin on how to share power in Kabul and in the subsequent, but abortive, 1993 Islamabad and Jalalabad Accords to end the civil war, Iran and the Hazaras were sidelined. The exclusion of Iran in the 1990s by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, similar to treatment by the USA of Iran in the 1980s, was to further embitter Tehran. The Iranians had also become more pragmatic, backing not just the Afghan Shias but all the Persian-speaking ethnic groups who were resisting Pashtun domination. Iran had a natural link with the Tajiks they originate from the same ancient race and speak the same language but the Iranians had been incensed by Ahmad Shah Masud's brutal attacks on the Hazaras in Kabul in 1993. Nevertheless, Tehran now'realized that unless it backed the non-Pashtuns, Pashtun Sunnis would dominate Afghanistan. In 1993, for the first time, Iran began to give substantial military aid to the President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul and the Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum and urged all the ethnic groups to join with Rabbani. Iran's new strategy intensified its conflict of interest with Pakistan. Isla, mabad was determined to get its Pashtun prot6g6s into Kabul and both the Pakistanis and the Saudis were determined to keep the Hazaras out of any power-sharing arrangement. Pakistan's adroit diplomacy in the 1980s in providing a balance between Saudi and Iranian interests was now abandoned in favour of the Saudis. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of Central Asia had given Iran a new impetus to end its intemational isolation. Iran moved swiftly into Central Asia with a path-breaking trip by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayti in November 1991, who signed an agreement to build a railway line between Turkmenistan and Iran. But here too the USA tried to block Iran with US Secretary of State James Baker declaring in 1992 that Washington would do everything to block Iranian influence in Central Asia.' The neo-communist rulers in Central Asia were initially deeply suspicious of Iran, fearing it wanted to spread Islamic fundamental. ism. But Iran resisted this temptation and also forged close ties with Russia, following the 1989 ice-breaking visit to Tehran by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze when he met with Ayatollah Khomeini. The Ayatol, lah's sanction of closer Iranian-Soviet ties just before his death, gave the new Russia a legitimacy in Iranian eyes. Also between 1989 and 1993, Russia provided Iran with US$lo billion worth of weapons to rebuild its military arsenal. Iran improved its standing in the region by forging links with other non-Muslim former Soviet states such as Georgia, Ukraine and Armenia. Tehran declined to support Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia, even though 20 per cent of the Iranian population is Azeri and helped Russia and the UN to end the civil war in Tajikistan.7 Crucially, Iran and the CARs shared a deep suspicion of Afghan-Pashtun fundamentalism and the support it received from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Thus, an alliance between Iran, Russia and the CARs in support of the non-Pashtun ethnic groups existed well before the Taliban emerged. In contrast, Saudi Arabia made few state-to-state attempts to improve relations with Russia or the CARS. The Saudis took nearly four years before they established embassies in Central Asian capitals. Instead the Saudis sent millions of Korans to Central Asia, funded Central Asian Muslims on the Haj and gave scholarships for their mullahs to study in Saudi Arabia where they imbibed Wahabbism. These measures only perturbed Central Asia's rulers. Within a few years the rulers of Uzbekis-, tan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were to call Wahabbism the biggest political threat to stability in their countries.'

Saudi Arabia viewed the Taliban as an important asset to their dwindling influence in Afghanistan. The first Saudi contacts with the Taliban were through princely hunting trips. Maulana Fazlur Rehman head of Pakistan's JUI organized the first bustard hunting trips for Saudi and Gulf princes to Kandahar in the winter of 1994-95. The Arab hunting parties flew into Kandahar on huge transport planes bringing dozens of luxury jeeps, many of which they left behind along with donations for their Taliban hosts, after the hunt. Saudi Intelligence chief Prince Turki then began to visit Kandahar regularly. After Turki visited Islamabad and Kandahar in July 1996, the Saudis provided funds, vehicles and fuel for the successfW Taliban attack on Kabul. Two Saudi companies, Delta and Ningarcho, were now involved in the gas pipeline projects across Afghanistan, increasing local business pressure on Riyadh to help ensure a Taliban victory.

But it was the Wahabbi movement in the Kingdom who played the most influential role in urging the Royal Family to back the Taliban. The ulema play a leading advisory role to the Saudi monarch in the Council of the Assembly of Senior Ulema and four other state organizations. They have consistently supported the export of Wahabbism throughout the Muslim world and the Royal Family remains extremely sensitive to ulema opinion.' King Fahd had to call a meeting of 350 ulenia to persuade them to issue a fatwa allowing US troops to be based in the Kingdom during the 1990 war with lraq.'o Saudi Intelligence co-operated closely with the ulema as did numerous state-run Islamic charities, which had funded the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s and now began to do the same for the Taliban. Moreover, the ulema had the vast network of mosques and madrassas in the Kingdom under their control and it was here during Friday sermons that they built up public grass-roots support for the Taliban."

According to the Saudi analyst Nawaf Obaid, the key players in the ulema who pushed for Saudi support to the Taliban were Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, the Grand Mufti and Chairman of the Council of Senior uletw and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Juber, the Minister of Justice and a key member of the Council of the ulema." In retum, the Taliban demonstrated their reverence for the Royal Family and the ulema and copied Wahabbi practices such as introducing religious police. In April 1997, Taliban leader Mullah Rabbani met with King Fahd in Riyadh and praised the Saudis effusively. 'Since Saudi Arabia is the centre of the Muslim world we would like to have Saudi assistance. King Fahd expressed happiness at the good measures taken by the Taliban and over the imposition of Sharia in our country,' Rabbani said." Meeting King Fahd five months later, Taliban leaders said the Saudis had promised more aid. 'King Fahd was too kind. The Saudis have promised us as much as they can give us,' said Mullah Mohammed Stanakzai." Riyadh's support for the Taliban made them extremely reluctant to exert any pressure on the Taliban to deport Osama Bin Laden, even though the USA was urging them to do so. Only when Prince Turki was personally insulted by Mullah Omar in Kandahar did the Saudis curtail diplomatic links with the Taliban. Significantly, it was a personal insult that guided Saudi decision-making rather than an overall change in foreign policy. Saudi Arabia still appeared to have leamt little from its negative experiences of trying to export Wahabbism. Saudi Arabia's initial support for the Taliban convinced Iran that the USA was also backing them in an intensification of its 1980s policies to surround Iran with hostile forces and isolate it. The USA, according to Tehran, had a new aim to promote oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia which would bypass Iran. After the Taliban captured Kabut, Iranian newspapers echoed the long-held views of officials. 'The Taliban capture of Kabul was designed by Washington, financed by Riyadh and logistically supported by Islamabad,' wrote the Jomhuri Islami newspaper." However, for Tehran the real fall-out with Afghanistan was intemal. T'he leadership was divided between hardliners, who still hankered after supporting Shias worldwide and moderates who wanted a more measured support for the anti-Taliban alliance and less confrontation with the Taliban. Iran suffered from the same problems as Pakistan in having multiple departments and lobbies trying to push their personal vested interests in the making of Afghan policy. The Iranian military, the Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence agencies, the Shia clergy and the powerful Bunyads or Foundations which are run by the clergy and control much of the state sector economy and also finance foreign policy adventures with their large, unaccounted funds, were just some of the contending lobbies. All these lobbies had to be kept on an even keel by the Foreign Ministry and Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the Deputy Foreign Minister for Afghanis, tan. Boroujerdi, who ran Afghan policy for more than a decade was a smart diplomat. He had outlasted the earlier regime of President Akbar Ali Rafsanjani to take up the same appointment under President Khatami, until he was forced to resign after the Iranian diplomats were killed in Mazar. He could be both a dove and a hawk on Afghanistan depending on whom he was talking to and he also had to ensure that Iran's conflict of interests with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia did not get out of hand. In contrast, in Saudi Arabia, the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisall deferred Afghan policy to his younger brother Prince Turki and Saudi Intelligence." The collapse of the Afghan state increased Iran's own insecurity by creating a massive influx of drugs and weapons. The spectre of Afghanistan's ethnic conflict threatened to spill into Iran along with the economic burden of supporting millions of Afghan refugees, who were deeply disliked by ordinary Iranians. There are an estimated three million heroin addicts in Iran the same number as in Pakistan although Iran, with 60 million people, has half the population of Pakistan. The smuggling of fuel, foodstuffs and other goods out of Iran to Afghanistan created losses in revenue and periodic economic problems just when Iran faced a dramatic fall in revenue because of the drop in world oil prices and was trying to rebuild its economy. Of even greater concem to the Iranians was that, since 1996, the Taliban were also secretly backing Iranian groups who were anti-regime. In Kandahar, the Taliban had given sanctuary to Ahl-e-Sunnah Wal Jamaat, which recruited Iranian Sunni militants from Khorasan and Sistan provinces. Its spokesmen from Iran's Turkmen, Baluchi and Afghan minorities, claimed that their aim was to overthrow the Shia regime in Tehran and impose a Taliban-style Sunni regime. This was a bizarre aspiration given -that over 90 per cent of Iran's population was Shia, although it presumably helped to bolster support among the small band of insurgents. The group received weapons and support from the Taliban and the Iranians were convinced that the Pakistanis were also sponsoring them. Iranian military aid to the anti-Taliban alliance escalated after the fall of Kabul in 1996 and again after the fall of Mazar in 1998. However, Iran had no contiguous border with the alliance and was forced to either fly in or rail supplies to Masud's forces, which involved getting permission from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 1998, Iranian Intelligence flew in plane-loads of arms to Ahmad Shah Masud's base in Kuliab in Tajikistan and Masud became a frequent visitor to Tehran. The danger which the Iran supply line faced was highlighted when Kyrgyzstan's security forces stopped a train in October 1998, in which were discovered 16 railcars loaded with 700 tons of artns and ammunition. The train had been travelling from Iran to Tajikistan with the weapons disguised as humanitarian aid.

The Taliban were incensed with Iran's support for the alliance. In June 1997, the Taliban closed down the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, accusing Iran of destroying peace and stability in Afghanistan'." A Taliban statement in September 1997 after their failure to capture Mazar was explicit. 'Iranian planes in gross violation of all intemationally accepted norms intrude our country's air space to airlift supplies to airports controlled by the opposition. The grave consequencs of such interference will rest with Iran which is the enemy of Islam. Afghanistan is capable of harbouring opponents of the Iranian government inside Afghan territory and thus of creating problems for Iran,' the statement said.'9 However, it was the killing of the Iranian diplomats in Mazar in 1998 that nearly forced Iran into war with the Taliban. There was enormous popular support for an Iranian invasion of westem Afghanistan, which was further manipulated by hardliners in Tehran wanting to destabilize President Khatami. Even the reticent Foreign Minister Kamat Kharrazi was forced to adopt extremely tough language. [email protected] Taliban are Pushtuns and cannot sideline all the other ethnic groups from the political scene without sparking continuing resistance. In such circumstances there will be no peace in the country. I wam the Taliban and those who support them that we will not tolerate instability and conspiracy along our bor, ders. We had an agreement with Pakistan that the Afghan problem would not be resolved through war. Now this has happened and we cannot accept it,' Kharrazi said on 14 August 1998." Iran felt betrayed by Pakistan on several counts. In 1996, just when President Burhanuddin Rabbani, under Iranian advice, was trying to broaden the base of his govemment and bring in Pashtuns and other groups, the Taliban captured Kabul. Iran was convinced that Pakistan had sabotaged Rabbani's effort. In June 1997, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Tehran. Together with President Khatami the two leaders called for a cease-fire in Afghanistan and declared that there could be no military solution. But Iran considered that Pakistan had no intention of sticking to the agreement. 'Pakistan has left no room for our trust and has destabilized its position with the Iranian people. We cannot accept seeing Pakistan cause problems for our national security,' wrote the Jomhuri Islam." Then, in the summer of 1998, Pakistan persuaded Iran to participate in a joint diplomatic peace mission. Mid-level Iranian and Pakistani dip, lomats travelled together for the first time to Mazar and Kandahar on 4 July 1998 to talk to the opposing factions. just a few weeks later, the Taliban attacked Mazar and slaughtered the Iranian diplomats, scuttling the initiative. The Iranians were convinced that Pakistan had duped them by pretending to launch a peace initiative, just as the ISI was preparing the Taliban for the attack on Mazar. Moreover, Iran claimed that Pakistan had promised the safety of its diplomats in Mazar. When they were killed, Iran was furious and blamed the Taliban and Pakistan. Iranian officials said that Mullah Dost Mohammed, who allegedly led the Taliban seizure of the Iranian Consulate, had first gathered the diplomats in the basement of the building and spoken by wireless to Kandahar before shooting them dead .22 The Taliban replied, correctly as it appeared, that the Iranians were not diplomats but intelligence agents involved in ferrying weapons to the anti-Taliban alliance. Nevertheless, in the diplomatic skirmishing that followed, trust between Iran and Pakistan evaporated." The Iranians were also furious that the Taliban actions had endangered its growing rapprochement with the USA. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had said in June 1998, the critical role that Iran plays in the region, 'makes the question of USA-Iran relations a topic of great interest and importance to this Secretary of State."' The Iranians had been encouraged that the USA was taking them seriously for the first time. USA-Iran co-operation on Afghanistan, 'certainly can be an exemplary case and shows that the US has a better understanding of the reality in this region and the role that Iran can play for the promotion of peace and security,' Kamal Kharrazi told me. 'We have been trying for a long time to tell them [the USA] that Iran is a key player in the region."' Iran and the USA had also drawn closer because of Washington's changed perceptions about the Taliban. Both countries now shared the same views and were critical of the Taliban's drug and gender policies, their harbouring of terrorists and the threat that the Taliban's brand of Islamic fundamentalism posed to the region. Ironically for the USA, the new threat was no longer Shia fundamentalism, but the Sunni fundamentalism of the Taliban. The Taliban were now even proving an embarrassment to Saudi Arabia, which helped bring Tehran closer to Riyadh. The Taliban's harbouring of Bin Laden had exposed their extremism and posed a threat to Saudi stability. Significantly, the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia did not falter, even when Iran was threatening to invade Afghanistan in 1998. In May 1999, President Khatami visited Saudi Arabia, the first Iranian leader to do so in nearly three decades. T'he Taliban pose a security threat to the Saudis, especially through their support for Saudi dissidents. In the past the Saudis had deferred to the Taliban's fundamentalism, without giving due thought to what kind of state, political compromises and power-sharing should evolve in Afghanistan, but they could no longer afford to take such a casual attitude. With so much of Saudi foreign policy run on the basis of personal relationships and patronage rather than state institutions, it has become difficult to see how a policy towards Afghanistan, geared more to Saudi national self-interest and stability in the region, rather than Wahabbism, can evolve. If President Khatami were to push forward his reform agenda at home, the Iranian regime would increasingly desire and need a peace settlement in Afghanistan to end the drain on its resources from funding the antiTaliban alliance, stop the drugs, weapons and sectarian spillover from Afghanistan and move towards a further rapprochement with the USA. Ironically, the Taliban's extremism had also helped bring Iran and Saudi Arabia closer together and weakened Pakistan's relationship with both countries. The big loser from Iran's retum to the diplomatic mainstream was Pakistan. However, to end its isolation from the West, Iran needed to demonstrate that it was a responsible and stabilizing member of the intemational community. Its first and biggest test could be in helping to bring peace to Afghanistan.