THE "barbarians" are practically on Russia's doorstep. Moscow and Central Asian CIS members, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrghizstan, are trying to devise a common policy to stave off military and religious threats of the Taliban offensive. "We should be on alert and prepared for anything unexpected. But we have enough forces to defend ourselves," says Uzbek president Islam Karimov.
Central Asian leaders are worried about the impetus Taliban victories could give to radical Islam trends in their countries. Retreating Northern field commanders may also try to relocate their forces to Uzbekistan to create a new fighting base, which would be difficult for CIS to control. Russia, of course, will bear the brunt of it—17,000 Russian border troops guard the Tajik-Afghan border under the CIS' collective security agreement. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also host 4,000 troops of the Russian 201st motorised division.
The Taliban has also sent shock waves through Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei was the first to condemn the Taliban: "What is being done in our neighbourhood in the name of Islam by a bunch of people who are unaware of this religion is neither related with Islam nor concords with its principles." Iran, like Russia, recognises the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. Says Susan Ghaemi, a journalist: "We should teach Pakistan a lesson. On the one side Islamabad was saying that the Afghan issue can't be solved through weapons and then they provided military help to the radicals." Iranians are also irked with the Taliban because they have kidnapped Iranian diplomats, a journalist and several other people.
After President Seyed Mohammad Khatami came to power last August, he has been trying to project a liberal face of Islam. Criticising the Taliban, he says: "The worst aspect is that all this violence is being carried out under the name of Islam."