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    From the Taliban web site: A verse from Quran calling on the faithful to kill those who conspire against Islam.

    Standing against Taliban - together
    Afghanistan crisis calls for U.S.-Iran cooperation

    By Hooshang Amirahmadi
    October 1, 1998
    The Iranian

    Iran and Afghanistan are on the brink of war. The crisis threatens regional and global peace and stability. At the same time this crisis exposes the need for renewed cooperation between Iran and the United States. Both governments must take advantage of this new window of opportunity to change the unfortunate course of their relations while disarming the conflict.

    In August the Taliban militia executed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist after overrunning the Iranian Consulate during the capture of Mazar-i Sharif. Iran's support for the alliance against the Taliban may have been the militia's main motive for the murder. Iran reacted with a show of force sending 70,000 troops to its eastern border with Afghanistan. Tehran also began a diplomatic campaign against the Taliban and its regional supporters, Pakistan in particular.

    Meanwhile, Iran demanded that the Taliban return the remains of the victims, officially apologize, release the remaining Iranian captives, and halt their campaign against ethnic and religious minorities. The Taliban responded by returning the bodies, but refused to extend an apology or free the Iranian captives. They also continued their assault capturing Bamiyan, the last stronghold of anti-Taliban opposition.

    The United States warned both parties to refrain from hostilities and search for a diplomatic solution while stating its neutrality in the case. Foreign ministers of neighboring countries alnog with the U.S. and Russia met at the U.N. to seek a solution to the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif were among the participants. Pakistan has sent its Foreign Minister to Tehran hopping to convince the Islamic Republic of its neutrality.

    It is important to understand the origins of the Taliban in order to grasp possible solutions to the current crisis and the opportunities it raises for both Washington and Tehran. The Taliban are the product of three shortsighted policies: Iran's misguided attempts to export Islamic revolution to its neighbors in the eighties, the United States' pointless policy of containing Iran, and the dubious efforts of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to check Iranian influence in the region. Ironically, the militia will not serve the interests of any of these countries.

    The militia follows a strict interpretation of Islam that has translated into barring women's rights to education and even forcing men to grow beards. They have also violated international law, oppressed religious and ethnic minorities, and suppressed all political opposition. The militia promotes drug trafficking and terrorism against the United States. Usama bin Laden is indeed a partner of the Taliban and their most notorious financial backer.

    It is obvious that the Taliban do not serve the interests of the Afghan people. Besides, the militia will neither enhance regional security nor further the ambitions of any government. With this in mind, the world community must check Taliban's power. This requires genuine international cooperation, particularly between the United States and Iran. There are four avenues for achieving this end.

    First, the international community must hit the Taliban economically. There are three financial sources supporting the militia: the Saudi government, Usama bin Laden, and the Taliban's own drug trade. In this regard, the U.S. decision to freeze bin Laden's bank account was a step in the right direction.

    Saudi Arabia has recalled its diplomat from Kabul. But further international cooperation is needed to dry up this source. Saudi Arabia had been a cash register to the Taliban movement. While the Saudis may have had reasons to pressure Iran through the militia in the past, their recent thawing of relations with Tehran contradicted their previous support of the Taliban. Moreover, support for the Taliban conflicted with the Saudi's partnership with the United States and the international community as a whole.

    The Taliban's drug trade hurts everyone. Globally and in the region especially, the drug trade and terrorism are bedfellows. Iran is in a position to assist in this regard, but it needs international support with money and technology. The Iranian military forces currently deployed on the Afghan border should be used to seal off drug traffic instead of for an ill-conceived invasion. U.S. cooperation is particularly critical because much of the resources Iran needs to battle the drug trade are subject to U.S. sanctions.

    Second, political and strategic support for the Taliban must end. Pakistan, another U.S. ally, has been the Taliban's proud patron. As in the past with the Saudis, Pakistan's aid serves no purpose to their national interests. Pakistan is the orphan of the region. They have no regional allies and their recent nuclear testing has only aggravated this situation. Pakistan's support of the Taliban will further isolate them and could even lead to an alliance among Iran, Russia, and India.

    Pakistan has every incentive to cooperate with an international effort to check the Taliban; nonetheless, the United States must exercise its influence to change Pakistan's irrational policy. Meanwhile, Iran must build up its current pressure on Pakistan making it clear that if Pakistan does not end its support of the militia, it will be guaranteed further isolation and hardship.

    Third, the international community must take diplomatic action to end the crisis. The U.N. initiative that brought together the foreign ministers of neighboring states along with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was a good first step. The session was the first meeting between high-ranking American and Iranian officials and could prove to be a turning point in the two nations' relations.

    The U.N. must also call on its members to withhold recognition of the Taliban government and request Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to rescind their recognition. At the same time, the U.N. must outline the conditions under which such recognition could be allowed. This includes the formation of a national reconciliation government, the holding of fair elections under international observation, and the recognition of the human rights of the entire population of Afghanistan. Equally important is the Taliban's cooperation with the world community in fighting drug trafficking, terrorism, and regional conflicts.

    Only the concerted efforts of the U.N. and the United States in these three areas will diffuse the conflict between Iran and the Taliban and prevent its possible escalation into an international conflict. Iran's current policy aims to reduce tensions with its neighbors. However, Tehran needs to strike a balance between that policy and protecting its image as a regional power. The global community must acknowledge this fact.

    The people of Iran want peace but not at the expense of national humiliation. Iran has a powerful and experienced military including the Revolutionary Guard who favor conflict as a means of regaining their fading prestige. Unlike the Soviet Union, Iran has cultural links to Afghanistan where the majority speak Persian and is more familiar with the harsh terrain of the region. Currently two million Afghan refugees live in Iran, most of whom despise the Taleban.

    Most seriously, the hard-liners in Tehran are calling for a tougher approach to the crisis and will roll back domestic reforms if the international community does not respond to Tehran's concerns. All the democratic gains of the Iranian people are at risk as is regional stability. This process has already begun: last month Tous, a popular Tehran daily, was closed down by the conservatives.

    All these facts point to the need for the United States to take the leading role in diffusing tensions between Iran and the Taliban. President Mohamad Khatami's visit to New York City to address the U.N. General Assembly was an extra incentive to act. The meeting between high level Iranian and American officials also indicated a further thaw in their icy relations.

    The Iranian government must also recognize the significance of the moment. The crisis represents an opportunity for Tehran to address United States' grievances while serving their own interests. A partnership with the United States will release Iran from economic sanctions and political pressures. It will also increase Iran's international integration while discouraging Iraq, the shared enemy of the two governments, from exploiting the conflict for its aggressive intents.

    Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi is a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planing and Public Policy of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is also President of American-Iranian Council..


    Also by Amirahmadi on the Afghan crisis:
    * Afghanistan: National interests come first
    By Hooshang Amirahmadi

    * Afghan survey: No to war

    * We don't need this
    On a seemingly impending war with Afghanistan
    By Laleh Khalili

    * Prepare for the worst
    But work for reconciliation
    By Siamak Namazi

    * Opinion
    * Cover stories
    * Who's who
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