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Watching the news, I'm confused about which countries are our friends and which ones are our enemies. All those istans" can get confusing. Please help."

Don't Panic!... Terror tips for the terrified

I understand your confusion. I can hardly keep my "istans" straight and I have a degree in Middle Eastern history.

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As far as alliances go, this stage of the war is likely to be the easiest because nobody anywhere likes the Taliban regime, except maybe their mothers. (Note: Since the Taliban don't allow women to speak, this writer can't know that for sure). I'll focus this answer on the key players in our current conflict with Afghan-istan, starting with the "istans." By the way, "istan" as a suffix simply means "land of."

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'istans:

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1. Afghan — Since we're waging a massive war there with a goal of toppling the government and destroying an entrenched network of foreign terrorists, this one isn't too hard to figure out. ENEMY.

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2. Pak -- Their military government has kindly allowed the use of Pakistan as a staging ground for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but their PR spin at their own citizens is that they're only allowing us to use Pakistan for search-and-rescue missions. There's a robust Islamic fundamentalist movement in Pakistan, and our military being there fires them up. FRIEND, but don't vacation there any time soon.

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3. Uzbek — They're Muslim, but decades of Soviet-style socialism (and vodka) means that they've got no time for fundamentalism or the Taliban. So they've let us base the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division there, which is great for us because they share a border with Afghanistan. (By the way, where are the first nine Mountain Divisions?) FRIEND.

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4. Tajik — They share a border with Afghanistan, hate the Taliban and are closely allied with Afghanistan's rebels, many of whom are ethnic Tajik. They've offered us support, but they're coy about it because they don't want to encourage their own Islamic militant movement. Flirts. FRIEND.

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Non-'istans

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For now, Saudi Arabia is a friend. Ditto United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Egypt doesn't have much oil, but we're allied with their government if not their people. Iran doesn't like us or Taliban, but they're keeping quiet for now. Turkey is a strong ally, member of NATO, and will be crucial if we battle Iraq again. And there's always our regional superfriend, Israel.

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E-mail your war questions to andisheh@creativeloafing.com

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