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http://argument.independent.co.uk/commentators/story.jsp?story=98181

Robert Fisk: Our friends are killers, crooks and torturers

07 October 2001

Almost four weeks after the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington, we are playing politics on the hoof and allying ourselves to some of the nastiest butchers around.

Mr Blair may believe that "the values we believe in should shine through what we do in Afghanistan" but few of our "friends" in the region have many values, and some of them have a lot of blood on their hands. For as we search for facilities and jumping-off points and air space and access -- and we are now creating policies by the day -- we are being asked to forget a lot of recent history.

First out of the memory goes Chechnya. The savage repression of this Muslim republic -- complete with mass executions, mass rape and mass graves -- was the brainchild of Vladimir Putin, the former serving KGB officer into whose soul Mr Bush believes he peered in Slovenia.

Mr Putin's assault on Grozny was timed to bring him the Russian presidency, and within weeks his indisciplined troops had turned the rubble of Chechnya into something approaching Afghanistan. Mr Putin now seems our strongest ally in the "war against terror". And why not, when he is himself such a master of terror?

Second out of the memory goes the nasty little dictatorship run by the Saudi royal family whose religious "mouttawa" police taught the Taliban how to run their Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

We should forget that women are not even allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, we must ignore the weekly head-choppings outside mosques, the country's disgraceful and unfair judicial system -- everything, in fact, which might remind us of Saudi Arabia's carbon copy, the Taliban, whose destruction we are now seeking.

Then we must turn our attention away from the not terribly democratic regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Only a little while ago, the general was the Pakistani army commander who overthrew the democratically elected -- though corrupt -- government of Nawaz Sharif. Indeed, General Musharraf was rather keen to hang Mr Sharif until President Clinton dropped by Islamabad early last year to condemn Osama bin Laden and appeal for Sharif's life.

Only a few weeks ago, the general appointed himself president. And while the world tut-tutted then, it now respectfully accords General Musharraf the title of "president" too.

Fourth down the memory hole goes our new friend Uzbekistan whose President Islam Karimov currently holds 7,000 political prisoners in his jails. There is no free press, no political opposition.

Mikhail Ardzinov, one of the few human rights activists in Uzbekistan -- who was brutally beaten by Karimov's secret police two years ago -- now says that although America had promised not to sell out human rights to get Karimov's friendship, "We know that the tone will change now". Too true. Karimov has promised that his air space can be "used in the fight against terrorism for humanitarian and security aims".

And this is not the moment to remind anyone that Uzbekistan has its own reasons to destroy the Taliban -- not just because the Taliban has been exporting its revolution over the Afghan-Uzbek border, but because President Karimov wants to run an oil pipeline through Afghanistan to a Pakistani port, a project that will help to fund his bankrupt police state (as well as a few American oil companies).

One of Karimov's allies is the anti-Taliban war criminal Abdul Rashid Dustum whose men went on a rampage of rape in Kabul in the early Nineties and who, for several months, went to fight for the Taliban after receiving a massive bribe for his change of allegiance. So it's amnesia too for the anarchy and mass human rights abuses perpetrated when the Northern Alliance -- our friends in northern Afghanistan -- ruled Kabul. We must remember with sorrow its former leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a genuine patriot murdered by Arab suicide bombers on 9 September, but we must forget his colleague Rasoul Sayaf whose men used Shia women as sex slaves in the early Nineties.

Now it's true that Churchill, when told in 1941 that Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and that Stalin was now his ally, announced that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least make "a favourable reference" to the Devil in the House of Commons. But we're not making any references at all to our "friends" in the region. We have drawn the shining bright sword and have no time to worry if the hands we shake are covered in blood.

This is a war of democracy versus evil, according to President Bush. It's just that there's not an awful lot of democracy around.


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