Taliban want good ties with Iran but ready along border: spokesman
Sat 17 Oct 98 - 06:34 GMT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct 17 (AFP) - Afghanistan's Taliban militia said Saturday it wants good neighbourly ties with Iran but has taken all possible "defensive" measures by deploying more than 30,000 troops along the border.
"We desire good neighbourly relations but we are ready to defend our motehrland against any eventuality," Mullah Abdul Hae Mutmaen, head of the Islamic militia's information wing, told AFP in an interview.
Independent sources here said the Taliban had distributed weapons among people living near the border and its troops were backed by tanks.
UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar here on Wednesday, securing an agreement by the militia to release all detained Iranians.
Brahimi, who is now in Pakistan, went to Kandahar after talks in Tehran and Islamabad to try to reduce tension between Iran and the Taliban who control 90 percent of Afghanistan.
He expressed optimism about the outcome of his mission and described his talks in Kandahar as "promising."
Mutmaen said Taliban believed Iran had about 30,000 to 40,000 troops along the border and not between 200,000 and 250,000 as has been reported.
"We have enough weapons of mujahideen from the anti-Soviet war here and we also have long-range missiles," the Taliban spokesman said, referring to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.
"History bears testimony to the fact that we have fought successfully against Britishers and Russians and if Iran wants to fight then we are ready," he added.
"We are not afraid of Iran. We are Afghans and have always countered the foreign powers."
Tension between Shiite Moslem Iran, a supporter of the anti-Taliban alliance, and the Sunni Moslem militia grew after the killing of 10 Iranian diplomats and a journalist in August in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif after the Taliban captured it.
Tehran has demanded the killers be arrested and handed over and that the Taliban release all Iranian nationals. Around 25 Iranians are still held in Kandahar after the recent release of an equal number in batches.
The Taliban have said the Iranians, whom it called military officers in the guise of diplomats, were shot dead by "renegades" acting without authority.
Mutmaen said Iran was continuing its "interference" in Afghan affairs. He pointed to the recent seizure of 700 tonnes of weapons in a Central Asian state which he said were meant for the Taliban's opponents.
He accused Iran of atrocities against the Sunni Moslem minority in that country and claimed they were not allowed to worship according to their beliefs.
But Mutamen said the Taliban struggle was not on behalf of any particular sect but "for Islam."
Iran has accused the Taliban, made up largely of ethnic Pashtuns, of persecuting minority ethnic communities including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Shiite Hazaras.
Analysts see Iranian pressure along the border as helping Afghan opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood, whose troops are entrenched in key areas north of Kabul.
The Taliban have launched a winter offensive against Masood to try to subdue the last remaining hurdle to their total control of Afghanistan.
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