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November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Week of November 28, 1997

Forces of northern warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam found 30 mass graves of Taliban soldiers containing between 1,500 and 2,000 bodies. The men were captured in May by ethnic Uzbek general Abdul Malik during the Taliban's brief takeover of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Week of November 14, 1997

The Taliban might be ready to hold peace talks with northern warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam, following his unconditional release of more than 200 militia prisoners. The group called Dostam's move the crucial first step to end the country's 18-year civil war.

Week of November 7, 1997

Kazak Oil Boom Jumps the Gun

The growing Chinese thirst for oil and pipeline bottlenecks westward to other countries mean Kazakstan will export oil to China sooner than planned. Chinese demand is so great that the country does not want to wait until a recently signed plan to jointly develop Kazak oil fields and build a 3,000-km-long pipeline to Xinjiang is finished in five years. A trial export by rail of 14,000 tons of Kazak crude to a refinery in Urumqi is planned for November. The shipments will be from the huge Tengiz field - developed by U.S.-based Chevron and Mobil with Kazakstan - where production is rising fast. Exports westward are crimped by pipeline quotas imposed by Russia. And the projected Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) from Tengiz to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk will not be on stream before 2000.

AFGHANISTAN The Taliban government changed the country's designation from an Islamic state to an Islamic Emirate, a country governed by a Muslim ruler. The change came on the order of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Week of October 10, 1997

Why Xinjiang Continues to Seethe

The entrance routes to Yining - the Xinjiang city that was the scene of Uighur demonstrations in early February - remain firmly barred to foreigners. And scores of mosques inside Yining and other Xinjiang towns are closed to worshippers. Chinese security forces have managed to contain February's violence over the ensuing months, but not the bedrock animosities that detonated the unrest close to the border with Kazakstan.

The capture on Aug. 18 of Ibrahim Ismael, identified by the government as the "nationally wanted arch-criminal," clearly fired radical Muslim resentment. He was pegged as an organizer of the February riots as well as being connected to a series of bomb blasts in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi. But dissident Uighur sources in Urumqi say the continued closure of mosques is the real source of anger, not Ismael's arrest.

When they erupted in the remote area, February's demonstrations were interpreted as an expression of ethnic Uighur resentment over the imposition of Han-Chinese culture on the region. But official Chinese footage of the demonstrations, recently made available to Asiaweek in neighboring Kazakstan, graphically confirmed the Islamic thrust behind the nationalist unrest. The videotape showed an angry crowd of hundreds of Uighur men marching behind a banner with the Islamic creed, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet," burning vehicles, arrests and bodies scattered in the streets. At the time of the outbreak, small back-street mosques had become the focal points of anti-Chinese anger. That is why they remain closed, seven months after the city exploded in frustrated rebellion.

AT THE U.N., the Taliban militia renewed its demand that it be allowed to take the country's seat in the General Assembly. The position is still held by a representative of the government of president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was deposed in September, 1996.

Week of September 26, 1997

In Kazakhstan, the armed forces of Russia, Turkey and five republics of the former Soviet Union joined in military exercises with the U.S. Called Centrazbat '97, American projective ability was put on display when 500 paratroopers - after flying for 19 hours from a U.S. base - dropped into the oil-rich heart of Central Asia.

Week of September 5, 1997

Ahmad Shah Massoud led talks to find a replacement for Abdul Rahim Ghafourzai, the anti-Taliban coalition's shadow prime minister The northern coalition's drive into Kabul halted 25 km from the city. Instead, Massoud's forces opened a new front in eastern Afghanistan, which is spreading to other areas.

Week of August 15, 1997

Beijing Warily Eyes its Western Flank

Think NATO's easternmost expansion stops somewhere west of the Ukraine? Beijing is beginning to wonder. In September, about 12,000 crack troops of the U.S. 82nd airborne division will be dropped into Uzbekistan's Fergana valley, in a "Partnership for Peace" exercise. The maneuver puts the soldiers within 200 km (and the intervening finger of Kyrgyzstan) of China's border, near its most volatile region - Xinjiang. The deployment calls for a division of the American's Rapid Deployment Force to spend 19 hours aloft - refueling in mid-air - before hitting their drop zone. "The idea is obviously to test the logistical preparedness to send U.S. troops into the region, if required," a diplomatic source says. The Partnership is a loose, U.S.-instigated, NATO -backed group originally meant to be a substitute for countries wanting to join NATO. It has become an alternative for those seeking Western ties, but with little chance of becoming full NATO members.

So why does NATO - or is it just the U.S.? - want to wave its flag in Central Asia? The region is a tinderbox of ethnicities sitting on a wealth of natural gas and oil reserves - possibly second only to West Asia. It is not inconceivable for much of Central Asia to come to look like chaotic Afghanistan, but with more at stake. And Beijing certainly knows the situation : Muslim unrest in its westernmost Xinjiang region is a growing internal threat.

NATO's plans are well along. The commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, Gen. John Sheehan, visited Uzbekistan earlier this month, setting the stage for the maneuvers. China's defense minister, Gen. Chi Haotian, has been to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, shoring up relations. The Chinese have a clear intention of being the largest consumer of the region's fossil fuels. The stage seems set for a classic tussle between Beijing and Washington for influence over Central Asia.

Week of August 8, 1997

Taliban fighters north of Kabul, came under more pressure from forces loyal to Ahmad Shah Massoud. His men drove to within 25 km of the city by July 28. The Taliban responded angrily to Amnesty International reports that it had arrested 2,000 Tajiks and Hazaras in the city while under the military threat.

Week of July 18, 1997

Afghanistan's International Vortex

Chaos beckons in Afghanistan. Its neighbors, allies and enemies seem incapable of keeping themselves from the maelstrom. Set aside the country's civil war with its array of fiefdoms and warlords, and consider this list of international players: Predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan and Shia Iran, friends over the years despite their religious differences, are rapidly becoming antagonistic toward each other. The alliance of Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in support of the Taliban - in control of most of Afghanistan, including Kabul - clearly threatens Tehran. "We were hoping that there would be some way of resuming our friendship with Iran, but the strain is very severe," a senior Pakistani official told Asiaweek in Islamabad. And within Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif faces resentment from military commanders over his increased involvement in Afghanistan. They are wary of a peaceable solution that might undermine the Taliban. Tehran distances itself from Islamabad's high-profile efforts to broker some sort of Afghan peace agreement and pursues its own line. The Taliban shut down Iran's embassy in Kabul last month. Rebels in Mazar-i-Sharif closed Pakistan's consulate there, saying they feared anti-Pakistan demonstrations from the city's residents.

Now, toss in the American factor, in which any enemy of Iran's is a friend of Washington's. Even though the Taliban's militant Sunni version of Islam is as threatening to U.S. long-term interests as Iran's Shia version, Washington is trying to learn to live with the Taliban. The U.S. wants a chance to nab Saudi millionaire-turned-pan-Islamist Osama bin Laden, the man Washington says masterminded the bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Bin Laden, they say, is living under Taliban protection in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. It wants to replicate the FBI's snatch-and-grab inside Pakistan last month of Amil Kansi, the man they accuse of killing two agents in an attack outside the CIA's headquarters in 1994. According to reports in Islamabad, the Taliban moved bin Laden to Kandahar from Jalalabad, which was too close to the Pakistan border. Bin Laden's calls for a jihad against the West left his hosts uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Week of July 11, 1997

AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN Islamabad wants to host a conference aimed at resolving the Afghan crisis. It will invite Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with Russia and the U.S. as observers, to attend. Pakistan is also speaking with various factions within the country.

Week of June 13, 1997

AFGHANISTAN Iranian diplomats were given 48 hours to leave Kabul after the Taliban government closed down their embassy. It accused the envoys of "seeking to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere and brotherly relations existing between Kabul citizens."

Week of June 6, 1997

Standing Pat, for Now, in the Panjshir

Despite stunning Taliban victories in northern Afghanistan, one opposition warlord has yet to throw in the towel. Asiaweek has learned from sources close to Ahmadshah Massoud that, after long and agonized debates in their Panjshir Valley redoubt, he and his mujahideen advisers have decided to fight it out on the ground. They did have an option of withdrawing by helicopter into nearby Tajikistan. Instead, they opted to go to war with the Taliban - in the same valley they started out battling against the Soviet Union in early 1979.

"Our support has always come from the people of Panjshir and the area. We simply cannot leave them now," Massoud is quoted as saying. Valiant words, but do they present a viable option?

Few people are optimistic about Massoud's prospects. His erstwhile ally Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani have both fled the country. And unlike the anti-Soviet war he waged through the 1980s, Massoud will not be able to count on resupply from Pakistan, which has thrown its logistical support - and as of May 25 its official recognition - to the Taliban rulers in Kabul. Nervous governments in Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are likely to seek a swift accord with the Kabul regime, too. That leaves Massoud's fighters and civilian supporters boxed in, with few friends.

Massoud's decision to stand firm looks like a desperate move. One of his own military commanders - Abdul Basir - deserted him in late May when he found himself squeezed from the north and south by the relentless Taliban drive. It was Basir who ceded the strategic Salang Valley and tunnel linking northern and southern Afghanistan to the Taliban without a battle. Basir opted to neither fight nor retreat, but simply to defect to the other side and declare himself Talib.

Week of May 23, 1997

Tehran called for massive international aid after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, hit Khorasan province in northeastern Iran on May 10. About 2,000 Iranian volunteers rushed to the region to help search for survivors. Initial death-toll figures went as high as 4,000, but were later revised to 1,560. Some 65,000 people have been made homeless

Week of May 9, 1997

SCUDs at the Ready

Former government military commander Ahmadshah Massoud is a man who plans well in advance. Before he fled Kabul in September, he secreted a stock of the government's Russian-made SCUD-B intermediate range missiles out of the besieged city. Asiaweek has learned that more than 20 SCUDs - which pack 1,000 kg high-explosive warheads - are installed in two locations in side valleys off the main Panjshir Valley. The sites were readied months before the capital's fall. While SCUDs have never been a decisive weapon in Afghanistan or anywhere else, they pack a potent psychological punch against dense static targets like troop concentrations or cities. With a range of 280 kms, the SCUDS cover most of eastern Afghanistan and, as Pakistan is uncomfortably aware, could reach Peshawar.

IRAN-AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN Border battles between governments and drug smugglers are rising. Iranian security forces have lost hundreds of men in clashes with Baluchi drug runners. Pakistan's poorly manned and equipped interdiction effort has also met with little success.

Week of April 25, 1997

AFGHANISTAN U.N. peace envoy Norbert Holl admits that he has made no progress in stopping fighting in the country. Originally sent to negotiate a settlement to the war, he lowered his expectations to building a ceasefire when the Taliban captured Kabul in September.

Week of March 14, 1997

Coming to Pass in Afghanistan

It might be sink-or-swim choices for the beleaguered tripartite anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan. And at least one faction seems ready to go under rather than tread water with its partners. Karim Khalili's Shia Hizb-e-Wahdat will not let reinforcements from other members into its home territory, which includes the strategic 3,250-meter-high Shebar Pass. Taliban forces will have to get through there on their drive to take the north of the country. They already hold the adjoining areas to the east.

"We've offered to send men. But they say they don't need help and that they can defend their own area themselves," says one senior alliance source. If Khalili's forces - the weakest link in the group - lose the pass, the wide plains it opens on to will make it almost impossible to turn back the Taliban drive.

An earthquake on Feb. 28 and severe aftershocks left at least 965 people dead in the mountainous terrain of northern Iran. Aid workers fear as many as 3,000 people are dead. About 40,000 people were left homeless in more than 80 villages.

Week of March 7, 1997

Looking for a Homeland

Beijing saw it coming and took steps to head it off. Early last year, China shored up its relationships with the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and Russia as well. Those efforts might be paying off, particularly with Kazakhstan, which borders China's Xinjiang province, where ethnic Uighur groups are becoming increasingly confrontational. Despite press reports to the contrary, it is highly unlikely that Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev will throw his support to the three Almaty-based Uighur groups pushing for their own country - Uighurstan - in Xinjiang. At least one faction - the United Revolutionary National Front, led by firebrand Yusupbeg Mughlisi - is calling for an outright armed struggle against the Chinese.

Consider Nazarbayev's position: Kazakhstan is wracked by strikes, food shortages and a massive energy shortfall that has one third of the nation's homes without electricity or gas. The last thing he needs is a bruising confrontation with his giant neighbor and trading partner, China. With a potentially restive 200,000-strong Uighur minority in Kazakhstan, he is walking an increasingly precarious tightrope. So for now, the Uighurs will have to go it alone.

Week of February 21, 1997

Morale is brittle in Mazar-i-Sharif, the northern stronghold of the Dostam-Massoud-Khalili alliance. Taliban forces are poised to move on Bamiyan to the south, headquarters of the Shia faction led by Karim Khalili. Northern Afghanistan could fall to the Taliban in the coming weeks or months. Faction commanders are struggling to work out a unified strategy.

Week of January 31, 1997

Afghanistan's Bosnia Specter

It seems eerily familiar. Thousands of cowed and freezing civilians driven from their homes at gunpoint by conquering soldiers - of different ethnicity. Is Afghanistan about to be convulsed by the same sort of ethnic cleansing that swept Bosnia? Perhaps not, but an ominously similar virus may be loose. Following an impasse at U.N.-brokered peace talks in Islamabad last week, the fervently Islamic Pushtun Taliban drove north in a lightning offensive against forces of the former Kabul government. The Taliban seized the key Bagram airbase and the town of Charikar. Then, the Taliban began cementing their gains by expelling Charikar's Tajik population suspected - accurately enough - of sympathizing with the former Kabul government commander Ahmadshah Massood, a Tajik.

Taliban leaders and their rivals continue to champion a united Afghanistan. But the war, increasingly, is fanning racial hostilities at the grassroots level. Since they captured Kabul last September, the Pushtun Taliban have arrested and interrogated hundreds of Tajiks suspected of sympathy for the ousted government. In November tens of thousands of Pushtun refugees were driven from northeastern Badghis province by advancing Uzbeks. Last week's evacuation of Charikar marked the first time Taliban troops ethnically "cleansed" a large town. And although a Taliban spokesman in Kabul said Tajiks were leaving Charikar of their own accord, it seemed possible that what to date had been a conflict among rival Afghan elites is already assuming an ethnic flavor.

Week of January 10, 1997

Taliban forces north of Kabul have broken a six-week deadlock and pushed the forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostam 10 km back after a 24-hour battle. Rebel forces responded the next day with air attacks on Kabul, hitting the airport and the presidential palace. U.N. workers say damage to the airport was minimal, and they will continue to use it to deliver supplies to the city.

News from Central Asia in 1996

News from Central Asia in 1995

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This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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