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Everything to gain for Tajikistan in aiding US campaign: analysts

DUSHANBE, Oct 12 (AFP) - Tajikistan, the Afghan opposition's rear base, would have much to gain by offering its military bases to US troops targetting Afghanistan but would have to step carefully to avoid offending Islamic sensibilities within its borders, analysts said here.

Washington is believed to be seeking authorisation to use the former Soviet republic's airbases for its anti-terrorist campaign against the ruling Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, not simply for humanitarian aid purposes but also as a launchpad for military operations.

"There are no negotiations under way to the best of my knowledge," foreign ministry spokesman Igor Satarov told AFP Friday.

But he added: "Maybe you'd better ask our military officials."

Dushanbe hinted Monday that it might be prepared to accede to US requests for facilities for the reprisal strikes it has ordered following the September 11 terror attacks on US cities, saying it would allow US planes to use its airbases "if the necessity should arise."

With its 1,200 kilometre (800 mile) common border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan "has every interest in providing generous aid to the Americans" as long as Russia consents, a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

For analyst Sukhrob Sharipov, "if Washington is making these requests, Dushanbe should accept them. The sooner the Taliban threat is removed, the better things will be for this country."

The campaign against Kabul "is exactly in line with our foreign policy" and the whole of central Asia, "destabilised by the drugs trafficking from Afghanistan, should benefit," Sharipov said.

Backing the US-led anti-terrorist campaign "will also help Dushanbe draw closer to the international community and improve its image," he added.

Tajikistan is the poorest country in the region, ravaged by a five-year civil war that left more than 50,000 dead by the time it ended in 1997.

Eighty percent of its six million inhabitants live below the official poverty threshold.

Stability on its southern border would undoubtedly boost the economy, a Western economist said.

"Investors are deterred by the threat from over the Afghan border, and until recently the world community paid little attention to the needs of Central Asia," he said.

A rapid conclusion to the Afghan campaign would also be desirable, limiting the likelihood of a massive influx of refugees, he noted.

Sharipov stressed however that if Dushanbe granted Washington's requests in exchange for security guarantees along its southern border, it would have to do so, "like Uzbekistan, on the quiet, pretending it was only humanitarian aid," in order not to unsettle domestic pro-Islamic movements.

The Taliban cause still has its supporters among Tajik Islamists, and some are linked with Uzbek fundamentalists fighting alongside the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

A majority of Tajikistan's Muslims back the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance, in which ethnic Tajiks are prominent, and do not oppose the US strikes on Afghanistan.

"The Taliban have shown they do not favour a modern Islam but a medieval Islam," said Muhiddin Kabiri, vice-president of the Islamic Renaissance Party, told the weekly Vechernaya Dushanbe.

But once the military campaign is over the divergences could return, he warned, noting that Washington has raised the possibility of a power-sharing agreement that would involve former king Zahir Shah and even some Taliban dissidents, whereas Russia and Tajikistan back the ousted Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

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