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U.S. in a diplomatic hard place in dealing with Afghanistan's Taliban

veiled October 8, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT)

An analysis by State Department Correspondent Steve Hurst

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is disturbed about the expanding human rights abuses in Afghanistan since the ruling Taliban militia overran the capital of Kabul two weeks ago and launched a crackdown on women's rights.

But as is often the case, the U.S. is hamstrung by conflicting goals where support for human rights often, in the short term, conflicts with strategic aims.

The draconian Islamic regime that has swept Afghanistan in the name of the Taliban has also made women prisoners of their homes and veils, and has shut girls out of schools.

The U.S. and the United Nations have joined in condemning the Taliban for human rights abuses, and threaten to withhold vital aid.

"If we continue to see policies that absolutely restrict the right of women and girls to be normal people, it will have an effect... on the ability of the international community to lend and to give assistance," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.


The U.N. runs many aid programs in the country, including UNICEF and the World Food Program, and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has threatened to curtail assistance.

"The international community is speaking with one voice here," said Sylvana Foa, U.N. Secretary-General spokeswoman. "All the aid agencies went today to the Taliban to express their concerns, and I think this was quite surprising to them."

But as the Taliban reduces the rights of women, it likewise is paring the vast network of anti-U.S. terrorist training camps that sprang up among Afghan rebel factions after the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989.


Since the U.S. embassy closed and there has been no representation in Kabul, U.S. officials say privately that the Taliban have made overtures to Washington seeking good relations.

The United States wants good ties as well, but can't openly seek them while women are severely repressed.

Washington has dispatched an envoy to Kabul but he still has not reached the Afghan capital which, after a half decade of fighting among Afghan rebels, is in ruins.


If the Taliban, now fighting two remaining warlords in the north of the country, manage to evolve from a fighting to a governing force, international aid and recognition will become critical to rebuilding.

China and many Muslim nations oppose the criticism of the Taliban crackdown on women's rights. Even Washington feels edgy about being too noisy.

It's a classic diplomatic dilemma, one the U.S. faces in relations with China, for example: how to balance geopolitical considerations against human rights.


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