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    FORMER SOVIET AIR BASE IN AFGHANISTAN PASSES UNDER CONTROL OF FIELD COMMANDER

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    ISLAMABAD/MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) - During the fights between the supporters of the governor of the province of Gerat (Afghanistan's northwest on the border with Iran - in the west and Turkmenistan in the north), ethnic Tajik Ismail-khan (one of the military figures of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, who after Taliban seized Gerat had to hide in Iranian territory up to late 2001) and field commander-Pashtoon Amanulla-khan near the city of Shindand, at least 21 people died.

    This was reported on Sunday by the Pakistani National TV with reference to Afghan Defense Ministry representatives.

    According to reports from the clash area, Amanulla's fighters seized Shindand military airdrome 120 km south of the capital of the Gerat province. Two commanders loyal to governor Ismail-khan died - the garrison chief Seifulla and commander of the border brigade, General Zakim-khan. (The air base in Shindand was established in 1960s by Soviet military experts. A Soviet interceptor fighter regiment was deployed there then. Now the base is used by the American Air Force to patrol the Afghan western frontier).

    Amanulla called what happened an uprising against despotic rule of Ismail-khan.

    The Shindand air base does not become a zone of military clashes between the detachments of local field commanders and armed formations of the province governor (the country's national army is still being restored now) for the first time.

    International observers link activation of antigovernment protests in Afghanistan with presidential elections scheduled for October 9 (In line with decisions of the Berlin international conference on Afghanistan on March 31-April 1, 2004, the presidential and parliamentary elections in the country must be held at the same time - in the beginning of June, then they were postponed until early September), whose favorite is acting head of the transitional administration, Pashtoon Hamid Karzai.

    The decision to postpone the elections (parliamentary elections will be held only in spring 2005) became a result of a behind-the-scenes fight of different factions inside of the Afghan leadership. Looks like the position of those who believe that the vote in September may again bring chaos into the country is dominating. In most Afghan provinces, the regional national-tribal elite still rules, and the numerous opponents of the pro-American administration in Kabul render fervent resistance to elections. These are not only influential "disguised" supporters of the Taliban radical movement, who actually control the country's eastern and southeastern provinces, but also field commanders who formally declared their loyalty to Hamid Karzai and Washington that stands behind him.

    The point is that in case Karzai is elected President, his authorities become legitimate. Taking into account the decision to increase, on request of Karzai, the contingent of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan from 6,500 to 10,000 servicemen, confirmed at a recent NATO summit in Istanbul, as well as the U.S. promise to create "teams to restore order in provinces," it becomes evident that the provincial "princes" who can also on full grounds be called drug barons cannot expect anything good for them.

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