Russian president Boris Yeltsin yesterday instructed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to call a meeting of the presidents of the Central Asian countries to discuss the situation in the region following the downfall of the Kabul government. Also yesterday, a high-level interagency meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow examined the "destabilization of the CIS southern borders" and called for immediate peace talks among all Afghan forces. Both sets of talks, if held, would see an unprecedented increase in the influence of Uzbekistan, and of the ethnic Uzbek factor, in northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan following the Taliban movement’s capture of Kabul.
Afghanistan’s departed leaders, President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are being sheltered by the ethnic Uzbek warlord, General Rashid Dostum, who firmly controls Uzbek-inhabited northern Afghanistan and has links with Uzbekistan. Dostum had supported the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but later stayed out of the struggle between the Kabul government and the Taliban and is now strongly placed to influence the balance of power. Moreover, the downfall of the Kabul government–dominated by Afghan Tajiks — deprives Moscow of its recent ally in containing the northward advance of perceived Islamic fundamentalism, and correspondingly increases Moscow’s interest in enlisting Dostum as a possible ally.
Russia’s chief security official, Aleksandr Lebed, yesterday disclosed the whereabouts of Afghanistan’s departed leaders and called for Russia to support them — and Dostum. The goal would be to forge a common front of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks in northern Afghanistan against the Pathan-based and Pakistan-supported Taliban. Lebed professed to expect Taliban claims on Uzbek territories and suggested that the Taliban would also join the Tajik opposition in Tajikistan in an effort to overcome Russia’s border troops there and to sweep northward. (Interfax, Itar-Tass, October 1)
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