SLUG: 5-48672 Yearender - Foreign Policy (3) DATE: NOTE NUMBER:










INTRO: One of the first foreign-policy issues to confront the Bush administration will be Afghanistan. The Clinton White House is preparing more severe sanctions against the Taleban, who control most of the country. They have not yielded to U-S demands to surrender Osama bin Laden, who is held responsible for various acts of terrorism. There is even talk of a combined U-S-Russian military strike against Afghanistan's inflexible rulers. (In the last of three reports surveying the Bush administration's foreign-policy choices,) V-O-A's Ed Warner describes the mounting pressure on the Taleban.

TEXT: Thanks to war, drought and isolation, Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on earth. The rigidly Islamist Taleban are still fighting opposition forces in the far north, and have not been able to govern effectively. Life-threatening diseases are rapidly spreading, and sanctions already in place keep out badly-needed goods.

Even so, under U-S pressure, the United Nations is preparing to impose additional sanctions. These would cut off arms sales to the Taleban, but not to its oposition. They would also prevent the Taleban leadership from flying out of the country, and shut down their small missions abroad.

In some exasperation, U-S officials say they have pleaded in vain with the Taleban to hand over Osama bin Laden, who is held responsible for the bombing of two U-S embassies in Africa. The U-S government says Afghanistan also harbors several other terrorists.

Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs, says the United States has little choice.


Because of the Taleban's support for terrorist organizations and the fact that they allow terrorist training camps in Afghan territory, we believe the Taleban present a threat to the international community. This has forced the international community to actively consider further measures to bring the Taleban into compliance.

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Mr. Inderfurth says the proposed sanctions should not harm the Afghan people, because they are targeted at the Taleban leadership. Humanitarian assistance will continue, to which the United States contributes.

But a report of the U-N Office for Humanitarian Affairs disagrees, citing the many relief workers who have already left Afghanistan in anticipation of the sanctions, even though the Taleban assured them they would be safe.

Critics of the sanctions note the irony in the United States siding with Russia in what amounts to a second invasion of Afghanistan. The Washington-based Jamestown Foundation reports that Moscow television has shown Russian multiple rocket launchers and helicopters in action against the Taleban in the north. That means Russian instructors and crews are almost certainly involved.

But Assistant Secretary Inderfurth says the earlier Russian aggression is no longer relevant.


The world has changed since then. The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is no more. The Russian Federation is a country that is moving toward establishing democratic practices, and it is a country that we wish to be involved with internationally, as do others. We see that we are now living in a new international situation, and the United States will respond to that.

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Richard Newall is a retired professor of history at North Iowa University who has written extensively on Afghanistan. He says the great powers continually make the mistake of getting involved militarily in Afghanistan. Don't do it again, he warns. Even capturing Osama bin Laden will be no easy matter:

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I do not think the Afghans are particularly a danger to anybody, except themselves, perhaps. The problem with trying to move things around in that area now is to notice just how weak the whole system is. The Taleban are weak in almost everything that counts, except fighting what is left over of the Mujahideen. It is like trying to push things around when there is nothing to push making probably the worst off nation in the world all the worse off.

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Skeptics ask, what follows the weakening or overthrow of the Taleban, whose leaders themselves were the product of chaotic conditions. Where will further chaos lead?

The United States says it needs to cooperate with Russia, notes Ted Carpenter, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at Washington's Cato Institute.


But if this is the vehicle for improving relations with Russia, then I think we ought to avoid the temptation. All this would do is further damage America's reputation throughout the Islamic world. It is not going to solve anything.

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Regardless of the consequences, U-S officials say it is crucial to drive the lesson home that terrorism does not pay.

So far, at least publicly, the Bush team has not had anything to say about Afghanistan. (Signed)