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Afghanistan: lessons to learn for winners and losers

The Taliban are given a final warning from British Prime Minister Tony Blair: surrender Bin Laden or surrender power. As the crisis management situation switches into top gear in pre-conflict mode, who are the winners and losers and what are the lessons to be learned?

The fact that intelligence services around the world are saying that by mid-July 2001, there were rumors of an impending large-scale action by terrorists raises the question as to how it was possible for three aircraft to be flown with such sickening simplicity into their targets. Certainly the first lesson to be learnt by all is that through close collaboration between the intelligence services, better preparations can be made. It transpires that in the weeks after September 11th, the Russian FSB provided the USA with valuable data on terrorist plans.

Secondly, it should be remembered that the Clinton administration had Bin Laden’s organization under close scrutiny. In August 1998, an attempted raid on his training camps failed because it arrived one hour late. The former US Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, has confirmed that the former administration took many steps to cut off the financial support of Al-Qaeda, freezing Taliban assets in US banks. This was in July 1999. The fact that two years later, the same organization could carry out such a massive terrorist attack on US soil should raise some eyebrows.

Apart from the sheer audacity of the attacks, which defy logic and bend the laws of human imagination almost beyond reason, it appears that there was a certain tension between the White House and the FBI during the Clinton years and this, coupled with the other distractions during the administration’s tenure, would have done little to unite the several arms of the US Intelligence Network.

The losers, as usual, will be those on the bottom rung, in the Less Developed Countries (LDCs). The World Bank has predicted that average growth rates in industrialised countries will drop from 2.2% to 0.95% in 2002, meaning that there will be less investment in LDCs and a resulting 40,000 more child deaths in the under-five age bracket. Private capital investment into LDCs is estimated to decrease from 240 billion 160 billion USD.

The winners will, as usual, be the arms manufacturers, as a lot of old or ageing equipment is used or used up. The world’s richer lobbies will also gain, as institutions such as the International Monetary Fund gain backing from donors and the corresponding trade-offs will be made.

Other losers will be all in the area of Central Asia if the region flares up as a result of the impending attacks, unless the Taliban have an attack of goodwill or good sense. Neither seems probable at present. The likelihood of a split in the Taliban ranks is a real option, with the Pashtun of Paktia and Nangarhar showing clear signs of revolt from Kandahar, the Taliban Headquarters.

The Taliban are from the Pashtun tribe, but those from Paktia and Nangarhar have a strong traditionalist history. The fact that Bin Laden is a foreigner (although a Moslem) could be a decisive factor in dividing Taliban ranks.

The current mood within Afghanistan is a mixture between “Come and get us” and “Well, we are thinking about it," regarding the surrender of Osama Bin Laden. In either case, the real losers are the Taliban, who will face the determination of the might of the western powers’ Special Forces, with their financial backers firmly behind them.

If the Taliban government splits into various factions, all Pashtun, the marriage between them and the Tadjik-inspired Northern Alliance would seem more complicated to consummate, given that the eventual return of the King, Shah Ahmed, also a Pashtun, would not be regarded by all as an ideal solution.

The region, however, is not only Afghanistan. Already, there is a clear split visible in the leadership of neighboring Iran. While President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi have indicated that they are willing to join the fight against international terrorism, the hard-liners of the regime controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei, through the voice of Admiral Shamkami, have drawn a different line of action: to shoot down any American or British aircraft that enters their airspace.

“We are military men. We will strongly defend our airspace and will confront planes if they use our airspace," said the Admiral. While his words reflect the normal muscle-flexing of the military during crisis management issues, it is also a fact that inside Iran, the abuse of the Shiite Moslems by the Taliban is regarded with anger.

Iran has recently bought 5.5 billion worth of weapons from Russia, much of which is believed to be anti-aircraft systems. Caught between a sword and a hard place, the regime in Teheran has to decide where it stands – on the side of right, or reason. The same goes for the governments of other countries in the Middle East or Central Asia.

While it is a sensitive issue for Muslims to fight against Islamic States, it is also a fact that the lives of thousands of people are being ruined through the heroin trafficking of the Taliban. The lives of thousands of people were taken by the September 11th attacks. The lives of their families and loved ones, around the world, were deeply affected by that horrific event.

There are the true losers.

Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL