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The Taliban: Exporting Extremism

REWRITING THE RULES OF THE GREAT GAME

"Talibanization," the destabilizing export of Afghan-style radical Islam, may be a new term in the American political lexicon. But in Central and South Asia, where the repercussions of the superstrict Taliban rule of Afghanistan have been widely felt, the word has become all too familiar. As political fragmentation, economic meltdown, ethnic and sectarian warfare, and Islamic fundamentalism tighten their grip on Pakistan and much of the rest of the region, the dangerous behavior of Afghanistan's new leaders is no longer a local affair.

More and more, chaos in Afghanistan is seeping through its porous borders. The ongoing civil war has polarized the region, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia backing the Taliban regime while Iran, Russia, India, and four former Soviet Central Asian republics support the opposition Northern Alliance. The confrontation is producing enormous economic disruption throughout the area, as the Afghan warlords' dependence on smuggling and drug trafficking grows insatiable.

Into the political vacuum left by 20 years of war and the collapse of stable government has marched a new generation of violent fundamentalists, nurtured and inspired by the Taliban's unique Islamist model. Thousands of foreign radicals now fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan are determined to someday overthrow their own regimes and carry out Taliban-style Islamist revolutions in their homelands. For example, the Chechnya-based militants who took over parts of Dagestan in July included in their ranks Arabs, Afghans, and Pakistanis, most of whom had fought in Afghanistan. So had the 800 Uzbek and Tajik gunmen who took over parts of southern Kyrgyzstan in August. The state breakdown in Afghanistan offers militants from Pakistan, Iran, the Central Asian republics, and China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang province a tempting package deal: sanctuary and financial support through smuggling.

Meanwhile, Washington's sole response so far has been its single-minded obsession with bringing to justice the Saudi-born terrorist Usama bin Ladin -- hardly a comprehensive policy for dealing with this increasingly volatile part of the world.

For Western nations to

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