Neighbours discuss aid to Afghan northern alliance
By Sergei Yakovlev
DUSHANBE, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Senior diplomats from Russia, India, Iran and other states hostile to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban met on Thursday and discussed possible assistance to anti-Taliban forces, a diplomatic source said.
The meeting took place in Tajikistan, an ex-Soviet republic to the north of Afghanistan guarded by Russian troops, where an official of the opposition Afghan northern alliance confirmed that a new military chief was standing in for leader Ahmad Shah Masood.
The anti-Taliban forces deny that Masood was killed in an assassination attempt last weekend but admit he was injured. His brother said on Thursday he had now recovered from a coma.
Thursday's meeting of diplomats from Russia, Iran, India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was also attended by Alliance representatives and took place behind closed doors.
"They discussed the possibility of rendering military, technical and humanitarian assistance to the anti-Taliban coalition," a source in Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry told Reuters after the meeting.
An official at Afghanistan's embassy in Dushanbe, still controlled by the ousted government that is a member of the anti-Taliban northern alliance, confirmed that General Muhammad Fahim had taken over for Masood on September 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," the official stressed.
He said exiled President Burhannuddin Rabbani had taken the decision in consultation with Masood, who was still alive after the attack last weekend carried out by two people posing as Arab journalists.
The Taliban, which controls some 90 percent of Afghan territory and aims to build a purist Muslim state, has sheltered Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, who U.S. officials have said they suspect was behind Tuesday's deadly attacks on New York and Washington.
Pakistan is one of only three countries -- and the only one bordering Afghanistan -- that recognise the Taliban as the country's legitimate rulers. Asked if terrorism had been discussed, Indian Junior Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah said that all sides "had come to a conclusion to fight this evil together."
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