War-weary Afghans nervously eye growing tension with Iran
Thu 17 Sep 98 - 12:45 GMT
KABUL, Sept 17 (AFP) - Battered by 20 years of war, Kabul's long-suffering residents are watching with trepidation the spiralling war of words with Iran even though few believe their powerful neighbour has the stomach for a fight.
"People certainly fear a war with Iran although they don't believe it is likely," said an Afghan observer here, as Iran massed thousands of troops on Afghanistan's western frontier.
"Many are worried because after 20 years of war the last thing they want is another conflict which will push the prospect of peace in the country even further away," he added.
Another Afghan said the Iranians had no interest in a full-scale war against the ruling Taliban Islamic militia as they fear they could become bogged down in a costly and morale-sapping conflict inside Afghanistan.
He said an Iranian invasion would stir up nationalist sentiment in Afghanistan, and would put the Iranian-backed Afghan opposition in a tight squeeze and force many opponents of the Taliban to join their ranks.
Shiite Moslem Iran has been fiercely opposed to the Sunni Moslem Taliban militia since it emerged from religious schools in Pakistan in 1994, and has consistently supported the opposition forces.
Tension between Iran and the Taliban erupted into open threats of war after Taliban soldiers killed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist after the militia's troops seized the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif last month.
Iran has vowed to avenge the deaths, and has announced that 200,000 troops will join around 70,000 Revolutionary Guards already stationed on the Islamic Republic's border with Afghanistan.
Tension between the two sides has been exacerbated by the reported massacres of thousands of Shiites by the Taliban during its offensive in the north, which left the militia in control of around 80 percent of the country.
While Iran's leadership has veered between calls for a diplomatic solution, insults and war-mongering, observers in the Afghan capital do not believe Iran is keen on a full-scale war.
Instead they point to the possibility of limited air strikes on specific targets or a limited invasion from the west which would allow the creation of new opposition bases stocked with fighters from the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have taken refuge in Iran.
However the fractured Afghan opposition is currently in disarray after a series of military defeats at the hands of the Taliban in the past few months.
After storming the opposition's effective capital Mazar-i-Sharif last month, the Taliban have since seized a vast swathe of new territory -- culminating in the capture this week of the central city of Bamiyan.
Bamiyan was the stronghold of the Shiite Moslem Hazara movement Hezb-i-Wahdat, Iran's closest opposition ally, and its capture is a devastating blow to Tehran's efforts to stop the Taliban controlling the whole country.
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