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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban, Tajiks Differ Over Pilot's Gun-Running Claim

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Tajik officials Friday denied allegations by Afghanistan's Islamic Taliban movement that one of Tajikistan's military airports had been used to supply arms to the anti-Taliban alliance.

Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, No. 2 man in the Taliban hierarchy, said Thursday that a pilot who recently defected to the Taliban had flown ammunition from Kulyab in southern Tajikistan to Bagram, north of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, for opposition chief Ahmad Shah Masood.

"Tajikistan's territory was never used to transport arms to the anti-Taliban coalition in Afghanistan," Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov said.

He conceded that Tajik planes had flown into neighboring Afghanistan, but said they had taken only humanitarian supplies to Afghans suffering famine and disease as a result of the war.

The renegade pilot said at a news conference in Kabul that he had been flying arms for Masood from Russia and Iran, adding weight to Taliban allegations that Afghanistan's neighbors were intervening in the civil conflict. He said he regularly flew ammunition from Tajikistan for Masood.

Saidov called such allegations a "provocation" and "bare-faced lie."

Rabbani urged the United Nations, which does not recognize the purist Moslem Taliban militia as the Afghan government, to use its influence to halt "the flow of weapons and the interference."

Saidov countered that "Tajikistan has always been and remains adherent to the principle of noninterference in Afghanistan's internal affairs and favors an embargo on all kinds of military supplies to Afghanistan from other states," Saidov said.

Tajikistan is itself suffering from political instability after years of civil war in which tens of thousands died.