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CIS Refuses to Fight Taleban
As the US-led coalition closes in on the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, the heads of the security and secret services of CIS member countries have been meeting in Dushanbe to hammer out a common position.
Their principal concern, voiced at a two-day summit earlier this week, was whether Russia, or the CIS as a whole, would be dragged into a new war, and how this would impact on their common security.
It was no accident that Tajikistan was chosen as the site of the summit. Of the three Central Asian states which share a border with Afghanistan, it's is by far the longest. Therefore, it will be most affected by any strikes launched on its neighbour.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian federal security service, announced after the conference that the CIS countries had agreed not to involve themselves directly in the American campaign. "The regular armies and other units of the armed forces of the commonwealth will not participate in retaliatory action," he said.
Patrushev said Russia and the CIS states would help the US in the fight against international terrorism, but that this support would take the form of exchanging information, in order to find the alleged terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, and providing humanitarian aid shipments.
Russia reckons a military operation is only feasible if it spares the civilian population. "If the US possesses reliable information and is ready to strike at the terrorists, this should not be delayed," Patrushev said. "But if America is not ready and the strikes may lead to civilian deaths, military action should not be carried out."
In their statement, the heads of the CIS security and secret services said the fight against the likes of Bin Laden ought to be carried out under UN auspices, but that the conditions that spawn terrorism needed to be addressed as well. "We need to eliminate the causes of this phenomenon," they said. "This should not only be done through the use of force, but through coordinated long-term measures undertaken by all states."
President Vladimir Putin has already said the US will be allowed to use Russia's airspace to transport humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Turkmenistan made a similar offer. Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan announced they will also permit US flights over their territory, but did not specify whether these would be humanitarian or military. Unofficial sources report that American aircraft have already landed in Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan has made no public pledges over the use of its territory or airspace, out of concern that this might trigger armed retaliation from the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
In exchange for their support, the Central Asian states expect to receive US financial backing in the form of credits and investments.
Alexandre Ramazanov, a Russian analyst, believes Moscow's unwillingness to participate directly in the military campaign is explained firstly by its own military unpreparedness and secondly by fears of Islamic fundamentalism within its borders.
"There is a concern that the participation of Russia and the Central Asian republics in such an operation against an Islamic state might immediately activate Islamic fundamentalist movements within these states," he said.
Such fears seem borne out by the remarks of worshippers in the main mosque of Dushanbe. Many said they supported the fight against terrorism but wanted to see the US produce evidence of Taleban collusion in terrorism before any bombs fell on Afghanistan.
"If the US deploys troops in Afghanistan without sufficient grounds and peaceful people die as a result, a jihad could and should be declared against the Americans," said one man. "This is only just."
Ramazanov also suggests that Russia will want to avoid a direct role in the military operation to safeguard its long-term relationship with the post-war regime in Kabul. "Sooner or later the situation in Afghanistan will calm down and then the Afghans may recall that Russia took part in bombing their country, which will lead to the loss of Russian influence in the country," he said.
Vladimir Davlatov is an IWPR correspondent
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