The Coastal Post - November, 1999

Going Deep Into The Middle-East

By Karen Nakamura

News from the media is so filtered nothing much remains, especially concerning the Middle-East, in this case, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Coastal Post spoke with two people with ties to this region: Tom Cole and Nick Fara.

Marinite Tom Cole writes for the London-based "HALI" magazine, specializing in antique carpets and textiles. He has written on Tibetan rugs and the unique Baluch rugs from the region of Afghanistan closest to Iran. Cole is also an antique rug and textile dealer and has traveled extensively in the area.

His last visit to Afghanistan was March, 1997 and Pakistan in April of 1998. He reads Pakistani newspapers on the internet. We asked him about opinions of the Pakistani people he knows and of his trip.

Cole says it's important to remember that Pakistan and Afghanistan are each distinct and very different countries.

"They approach things differently. Afghanistan has been at war for years while Pakistan, despite military intervention and disruption, has a climate of secular democracy based on the parliamentary legacy of the British. Recently the government was pressured by the United States to accept the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world that recognizes the Taliban government. The US sits in the background funding the Taliban. The US is thought to be doing it to stabilize the region.

"The US wants to build a pipeline across the area to the Gulf Sea," Cole says. "It needs stability. This situation has been going on for years. Rudyard Kipling, when discussing the British-Russian wars of domination in the area, called it 'The Great Game.' The game is still being played. Only the players have changed.

"Now that Pakistanis have given their endorsement to Islamic Fundamentalists, they're caught in a big fix. When push come to shove, as it is now with a bill to incorporate Islamic law into secular government, they're having second thoughts. At first, the Taliban sounded okay. Now they've seen a lot of nuts getting into the process and they're worried."

Cole observes, "I read the letters to the editors in the Pakistani newspapers. Nine out of 10 don't want religion playing a part in government. In fact, there seems to be a growing sentiment to put the idea on the back burner and hope it goes away.

"The Pakistanis have their own problems with various sects. The country is predominately Sunni as are the Taliban. They also have close ethnic and tribal ties. However, they have a large Shiite population and, at first, were very close to the Iranians. Their support of the Taliban and the Taliban's behavior towards Iranians caused strains in the relationship."

Then came the kidnapping of Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. When diplomats were found slaughtered along with hundreds of Shiites in Western Afghanistan, the Iranians exploded. To make matters worse was a rumor Pakistan mercenaries were among the Taliban when the slaughter took place. Most Pakistanis take the position the Taliban is extreme.

Cole continues, "The Pakistani government is also in trouble because of the expense of the recent nuclear tests. People are starving. They can't fix that but they can spend money to set off a bomb. These tests were important to the pride of the Pakistanis, but there's been an economic backlash. The United States has applied sanctions and the International Monetary Fund is tightening the screws. A result of this is a rise in the cost of electricity, water and gas. The price of sugar and rice and food items are going way up. Ninety-percent of the nation is suffering while 10 percent are extremely rich."

Cole observes, "The Pakistanis' problems are their own making. It was their decision to explode the bombs and support the Taliban which, in turn, caused the economy to lose steam. Pakistanis are really decent people. When I told them I love Pakistan, they'd break out into grins. They're very sensitive to the perception that India is the place to go. There are hardly any tourists in the country. They also realize that there is a prejudice against Muslims. People, especially Americans, make no pretense about their hatred towards Muslims.

"The Taliban are terrible. They have virtually enslaved the people. Women have to wear the Burqa and they can't go out without a male member of their family. There's a certain tradition going on here. Problem is, because of the war, many women have no males alive. So, in order to get something to eat, they are subjected to beatings by the religious police. Even the men are forced to wear beards cut to a certain length. What they're doing is depersonalizing the population by being totally intrusive and aggressive. That way they weed out the dissenters until there's no resistance and they have complete control.

"Whether Americans believe it or not, most people in central Asia and the Middle East believe the CIA, the Mossad and the Saudis are behind this. If a country isn't being threatened, like the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, then it doesn't want to be associated. It does nothing to enhance these countries' main objective, to join the community of nations on their own terms."

An August 18 edition of the IRAN Daily newspaper published in Teheran, ( quoted Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri:

"Iran has so far been patient with the Taliban. But, whenever we feel they intend to upset regional security, then we will defend national interests." He added that those responsible for future consequences will be the Taliban and their foreign supporters.

The same issue of the IRAN Daily discussed security talks held by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. "The presidents expressed the unanimous opinion that military action (in Afghanistan) demand detailed discussion regarding the enforcement of regional security in Central Asia." Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have already formed a "troika" to fight Islamic fundamentalism.

Nick Fara had this to say. "You have to understand the Taliban and fundamentalists in Iran don't want to associate with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Mullah are loosening up a bit because they don't want to be associated with these guys. They consider them too far out. The fight is more political than religious.

"Iran's real problem is with the refugees pouring over its borders. They have taken in two to four million since the Soviet occupation. At the same time Iran's gotten no help from the West or the United Nations. Amazingly, there's been little hostility. I have to admit most Iranians don't like Afghans. It's much the same as with (Americans and) the Mexicans. But Iranians aren't cruel to them and don't blame them for what's going on. They give subsistence aid and their conditions are very poor but they are treated hospitably. What Iran wants is a stable government so the refugees can go home again."

When asked what most Iranians feel about Afghanistan, he answered readily. "This is a rivalry between different factions. Iran was with the US in wanting the Soviets out and supporting the Mujahadeen. When the Soviets pulled out Iran preferred a more moderate government. The US backed the Taliban. Outside forces left more arms and ammunition in the country than anyone could ever use. People think the United States is still supporting the Taliban. How do they keep getting replacement parts? And how do they have the money to undertake bombing foreign embassies? Iran wants to see a mullet-faceted, mullet-ethnic government that will accommodate all the factions.

"In Teheran I met some college students. They told me most people believe the United States buys up the drugs (heroin) the Taliban make. Then it sells it in the US and Europe. The students said a lot of energy was spent by Iran to keep drugs out along the Afghan border. They thought most of the drugs move through Pakistan. There are a number of documentaries on TV about this."

Tom Cole thinks that's a reactionary opinion born of the propaganda fed Iranians. "Everybody knows the real story is about oil and natural gas. UNOCAL is in there making deals. Even TCI signed a $250,000,000 deal in Afghanistan to put in a cell phone system. They don't have television but they're putting in a nationwide cell phone system. UN health organizations have been forced to leave for fear of getting killed. And TCI is in there making deals? Why do the Taliban need cell phones? To control their people. The US and Pakistan want the pipeline to go through Afghanistan. Iran wants it to come through their territory. Drugs are peanuts compared to the riches of oil."

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