New Delhi, Oct. 30: Nearly a year after initiating the armed action in Afghanistan, the US has said Kabul was no longer the “principal base” of international terrorism, but many Taliban and al Qaida key figures have found safe haven in Pakistan and in areas near the border.
US President George W. Bush’s special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said: “There are key al Qaida and Taliban figures near the border and across the border into Pakistan. There are some Taliban key figures such as Osmani who are in Pakistan and we would like them arrested as soon as possible.”
Khalilzad, who is of Afghan origin, made it clear that the US was now in the “manhunt” phase to get these terrorists and expressed hope that with cooperation from President Pervez Musharraf, it will be able to arrest them sooner rather than later.
He said Washington was closely watching the developments in Pakistan, particularly the rise of pro-Taliban and “anti-American” forces after the recent general elections in areas bordering Afghanistan, but was not going to pre-judge them.
“We will have to see what the new governments do in these regions,” he added.
On leaders like Fazlur Rahman who have established a following because of their anti-American stand, Khalilzad said: “Some people change with time and new opportunity. We should wait and see what they do rather than what they say. I hope people have learnt from their past mistakes and don’t try to adopt the same tactics they had in the past.”
Khalilzad today discussed developments in Afghanistan and in the neighbouring region with the Indian leadership that included national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
The attempt, he said, was to find a common approach that will ensure early stability in Kabul and improvement of the economy in the war-ravaged country.
Emphasising on the “manhunt” phase to arrest the Taliban and al Qaida terrorists, Khalilzad pointed out the Bush Administration was not looking for any alternative in Pakistan to Musharraf. He stressed that the Pakistani president has iterated his commitment to cooperate with Washington in its fight against international terrorism.
The cooperation from other Pakistani security agencies, especially lower down the order, can, however, be improved, the envoy said.
On the probable impact of the US-proposed war against Iraq on the Afghan operations, Khalilzad said: “We are determined to succeed in Afghanistan, no matter what happens elsewhere.”
The envoy appreciated India’s wide-ranging support to Afghanistan not only in terms of financial help but also in its reconstruction. He expressed hope that other countries, especially those pledging their support for the economic rebuilding of Afghanistan, should fulfil their commitment at the earliest.
He said both India and the US shared a strong common interest on emergence of a stable government in Afghanistan that can give security to the people and rebuild the country’s shattered economy. “We want an Afghanistan that is not a threat to the world and which is in peace with its neighbours.”