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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S., Russia Turning Again to Afghan Woe


BONN -- The United States and Russia, long-time rivals in Afghanistan, are showing a renewed interest in the war-torn Asian country that could help it inch toward peace, the new UN special envoy said Monday.

Meanwhile, the new Kabul government of Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has tried to outflank Taliban, its fundamentalist opponents, by instituting a strict Islamic regime over the weekend, closing cinemas and banning music from radio television.

German diplomat Norbert Holl, who has succeeded Tunesia's Mahmoud Mestiri as the top UN diplomat for Afghanistan, said growing outside economic interest in the region had added a new dimension to a country at war since 1979.

"Economic interests could have a positive and moderating effect," said Holl, who until now has been head of the German Foreign Ministry's South Asia division.

Asked about the new big-power interest in shattered Afghanistan, he said: "I see this as positive, not negative."

Washington and Moscow were on opposing sides of the 10-year war pitting the forces of Afghanistan's Marxist government and the Soviet Union against Moslem rebels backed by the United States, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. "The Russians seem to have rediscovered Afghanistan recently," Holl said, noting Moscow that had named a special envoy for the country in May. "This is a trend I welcome very much."

Holl declined to speculate about the new coalition between President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Hekmatyar, who only last year was trying to fight his way to power in Afghanistan's capital.

On Sunday, Hekmatyar closed movie theaters and banned music on television and radio, claiming both were repugnant to Islam.

Under Soviet rule, dress codes were more lenient and alcohol was allowed. Theaters and music stores did a thriving business. After that regime fell in 1992, the new rulers imposed a strict Islamic government, closing movie theaters, banning music, destroying alcohol, banishing women to the home and insisting they wear veils in public.

Within months, the new regime relaxed its controls. Movie theaters reopened. Women returned to offices, albeit in traditional scarves.

"This is the repeat of an unsuccessful experiment,'' said Abdul Hafeez Mansour, chairman of the state-run Bakhtiar news agency. "We tried to close everything four years ago and we failed. People don't want this.''

The Taliban militia, an army of former religious students turned guerrilla fighters who rocket Kabul almost daily, wants to make Afghanistan even stricter. ()