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Russia, India, Iran line up in joint opposition to Taliban

By Sergei Yakovlev, Reuters, 9/14/2001

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan - Senior diplomats from Russia, India, Iran, and other states hostile to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban met yesterday in Tajikistan, and a source said they discussed possible assistance to anti-Taliban forces within Afghanistan.

The fate of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban alliance has received new international attention, with talk of possible retaliation against the Taliban for hosting the militant Osama bin Laden, linked by US officials to Tuesday's attacks on the United States.

The anti-Taliban alliance, which controls limited areas of Afghan territory, has been in apparent turmoil since an attack Sunday on its charismatic military leader, Ahmad Shah Masood.

Alliance officials say Masood was wounded but not killed when suicide bombers posing as journalists detonated explosives packed in a video camera.

Masood's brother said yesterday that Masood had awakened from a coma. An alliance official said Masood's interim replacement was still in charge of alliance forces.

Diplomats from Russia, Iran, India, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were joined by alliance representatives at the meeting in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, a former Soviet state whose Afghan frontier is still patrolled by Russian troops.

''They discussed the possibility of rendering military, technical, and humanitarian assistance to the anti-Taliban coalition,'' a source in the Tajikistan Foreign Ministry said after the meeting.

The alliance's battlefield effectiveness may depend on the fate of Masood.

The alliance sent helicopters to rocket the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday in retaliation for the attempt on Masood's life. They blame the Taliban, bin Laden, and Pakistan, the Taliban's main backers, for the attack.

''It has been delightfully noted that Mr. Ahmad Shah Masood, who was in a virtual coma after the suicide attack ... has regained his body movement and is able to communicate slowly,'' said a statement signed by his brother, Ahmad Wali Masood.

But an official at Afghanistan's embassy in Dushanbe, still controlled by the ousted government that is a member of the anti-Taliban alliance, said a general named Muhammad Fahim was still leading the forces after taking over on Sept. 11.

''General Fahim, who was in charge of the security service of the anti-Taliban alliance, will head opposition troops only during Masood's illness,'' he said.

Russian news reports have quoted intelligence sources as saying Ahmad Shah Masood died after the attack.

Moscow, which sent troops into Afghanistan in the 1980s and fought a costly counterinsurgency campaign there, has assumed responsibility for defending former Soviet states in Asia from what it says is Islamic militancy spreading from Afghanistan. It openly backs anti-Taliban forces.

India and Iran, which is mainly populated by Shiite Muslims, are also wary of the purist form of Sunni Islam espoused by the Taliban.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 9/14/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.