Pakistan on bring-Laden mission
Push from Central Asia
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Islamabad, Sept. 16: 
Pakistan is sending a delegation to Afghanistan tomorrow to “persuade the Taliban government to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States or to some other third country,” sources said.

The sources said the team, which will include officials of the foreign office and perhaps the Inter-Services Intelligence, will try to convince the Taliban leaders that if they did not hand over bin Laden, it would be difficult for Pakistan to stave off an imminent catastrophe.

The message, couched in this friendly language, will be: give up bin Laden or get bombed. Under pressure from the US to offer its facilities for launching attacks on Afghanistan at the risk of incurring the wrath of the Taliban – and, more important, that of fundamentalist outfits within — it appears to be a last-minute attempt by Pakistan to settle the crisis out of the battlefield.

Bin Laden, whom President George W. Bush yesterday named as a prime suspect in Tuesday’s strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, denied the charge. In a statement released through the Afghan Islamic Press, he said: “The US is pointing the finger at me but I categorically state that I have not done this.”

“Those who have done it, they have done it in their personal interest,” bin Laden said in the statement sent by his aide Abdul Samad.

This is the first time the former Saudi citizen has issued a personal denial of involvement in the attacks, in which up to 5,000 people may have died. Previous denials have been issued by unidentified aides or by officials of the Taliban. Bin Laden said he did not have the means to organise terrorist attacks because of restrictions placed on his contacts with the outside world by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

“I’m living in Afghanistan. I’m a follower of Amir Ul-Momineen (Omar) who does not allow me to participate in such activities,” he said.

Mullah Omar has called an urgent meeting of senior clerics to discuss the defence of Afghanistan. “Veteran honourable ulemas (clerics) should come to Kabul for a Shariat decision,” he said. This meeting, not expected before Wednesday, could issue a fatwa declaring holy war against the US if it attacked Afghanistan.

Islamabad’s decision to send a delegation to southern Afghanistan with a message for Mullah Omar, who never moves out of Kandahar, was taken after talks between Bush and Musharraf last night.

The team is expected to set a three-day deadline to the Taliban to comply. But, sources in Pakistan said, such ultimatums to hand over bin Laden are routine decisions taken at official meetings in Islamabad.

After talks here with Chinese and Saudi officials, Musharraf could now make quick trips to Beijing and Riyadh, Pakistan’s closest allies.

At a meeting with newspaper editors today, Musharraf said the situation demands “a unified response”. “We have proved to the world that Pakistan is for peace and against international terrorism and we have reiterated this position to the world community.”

He expressed confidence that the government, opinion leaders and the people of Pakistan “will be unifocused” at this critical time. He assured the editors that national interest would remain uppermost while taking whatever steps were necessary.

But pressure is mounting on Musharraf from religious parties. An influential Islamist leader and chief of Pakistan’s main religious party warned the President and the US of “grave consequences” if Afghanistan was attacked.

Jamaat-i-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed told an emergency gathering of some 30 religious and secular parties in the eastern city of Lahore that an attack on Afghanistan would be disastrous. “We advise Pakistani rulers and the United States to keep away from a path that had in the past led to the defeat and destruction of the Soviet Union,” he said.


Washington, Sept. 16: 
The beat of war drums in America has revived unpleasant echoes of the Cold War in South Asia.

Pakistan is seeking to recreate the scenario that prevailed in its neighbourhood in the 1980s as the price for cooperation with the US in Washington’s war against Osama bin Laden. This means, at the very least, tacit US support for Islamabad on Kashmir as in the Cold War and pressure on India to resolve the dispute.

For starters, Pakistan wants the Bush administration to bracket India along with Israel and be kept completely out of any operation against bin Laden: this will help General Pervez Musharraf to gain legitimacy at home and in the Islamic world for cooperating with the US.

He can also use India’s absence as a post-dated cheque while settling the bills later with the Americans for his cooperation in Washington’s hour of need.

Musharraf further wants the US to loosen its purse strings in assistance to Islamabad the way Ronald Reagan showered dollars on General Zia ul Haq in return for allowing Pakistan to be used as a base against the Soviets in Afghanistan all through the 1980s.

National security adviser Brajesh Mishra arrived in Moscow on Sunday in an airdash reminiscent of close, speedy and intense Indo-Soviet consultations during much of the first 50 years of independent India’s foreign policy.

But the key to India’s role in the emerging aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington may lie in a meeting in the remote Central Asian city of Dushanbe on Thursday at which India was represented by Omar Abdullah, the minister of state for external affairs.

The meeting brought together India, Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The line-up in Dushanbe on Thursday may ultimately prove to be the most crucial element in any effective resolution to the problem of terrorism in Afghanistan. While America’s massive military machine may deliver a heavy physical blow on Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help, its impact will merely be symbolic and telegenic unless the Bush administration can co-opt the states which met in Dushanbe in its effort to tackle terrorism.

Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have borders with Afghanistan while Russian troops still patrol Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Twenty-five per cent of Afghans are Tajiks, 15 per cent are Hazaras who look up to Iran and six per cent are Uzbeks. If these ethnic groups, which are now opposed to the Taliban, decide to support the mullahs of Kandahar in the wake of a perceived national threat to Afghanistan, there is no way American military might can get the better of either the Taliban or bin Laden.

Already, Pashtun tribal chiefs in Afghanistan, whose support for the Taliban has hitherto been lukewarm and divided, resolved this weekend to support the Islamic militia in the event of an attack.

This precisely was the advice the White House and the state department received during the weekend from another Central Asian state, Kazakhstan, which did not attend the Dushanbe meeting, but shares the concerns of those who gathered in Tajikistan’s capital.




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