By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 21In the wake of President Bush's tough speech last night, the populations of countries in Central Asia are in turmoil as they try to get out of the way before U.S. bombs start to fall in Afghanistan.
The Indian press reports that the only land route between Pakistan and India, the Attari-Wagah checkpoint, is a scene of frenzied activity. Hindus in Pakistan say they are being intimidated by Taliban followers who demand: "Either adopt Islam or leave the country." They say Buses going into Pakistan are nearly empty. Those traveling from Pakistan to India are packed.
Some 20,000 refugees are reported to be massed along the Afghan-Tajikistan border facing Russian troops. Tajikistan supports the Northern Alliancethe Taliban's enemyand has been asked by the U.S. to become a staging area for a war against the Taliban. So far it is unresponsive because the precarious government could fall if it openly supports the U.S., inciting the fundamentalist pro-Taliban opposition.
The Tajikistan border is patrolled by Russian soldiers, who traditionally have played courier for Afghan opium on its way to Moscow and European markets. Last weekend the troops were put on alert.
Mountainous Tajikistan has a population of 6.6 million. Most of the people live in dire poverty. Per capita GDP is $1140. For the last year 10,000 Afghans have been living in a squalid refugee camp just inside the country.
Pakistan claims to have closed its border with Afghanistan, although fundamentalist pro-Taliban fighters in the past have moved easily from hundreds of training camps and schools in Northwest Pakistan to Afghanistan.