Pakistan Warns U.S. Against Alliance With Afghan Rebels
The group, known as the Northern Alliance, is composed of a collection of Afghan warlords and includes some members of the former Afghan government, toppled by the Taliban in 1996.
“We ourselves, learning lessons from history, knowing our brethren in Afghanistan and their fierce attachment to the independence of their country, did not in the past and will not in the future commit the blunder of trying to foist a government on the country,” Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said.
Pakistan is now the only nation to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government, after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed their ties with the group in the past few days.
The Taliban, which rose to power in 1995, is composed largely of members of the Pashtun ethnic group, which is the dominant group in Afghanistan and in northwestern Pakistan.
Pakistan has pledged their cooperation in Washington’s “war on terrorism”, but urged the U.S. to focus on suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, not the Afghan civil war.
“We fear that any such decision on the part of foreign powers to give assistance to one side or the other in Afghanistan is a recipe for great disaster for the people of Afghanistan,” Foreign Minister Sattar said.
U.S. officials have addressed the issue of finding a replacement government in Afghanistan if the Taliban is overthrown, but President Bush said Tuesday the U.S. is “not into nation building.”
The Bush administration has named Saudi fugitive bin Laden as the prime suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that left over 6,000 people missing and presumed dead.
Officials suspect that bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, but leaders in that country have refused U.S. demands to hand him over and say now they are unable to locate him.
Despite moves from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to isolate the Taliban, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he thought it important for his country to maintain its diplomatic ties.
“We should maintain contact, at least there should be one country who ought to be able to have an access to them, to be able to engage them,” Musharraf told reporters. “I do not really see much of a requirement of breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban.”
Pakistan closes borders
Citing an influx of refugees and security worries, Pakistan closed the 1,560-mile border it shares with Afghanistan.
Officials say they have concerns that bin Laden and members of his Al-Qaeda network may try to leave the country disguised as Afghan refugees.
Some reports say bin Laden’s second-in-command, an Egyptian surgeon named Ayman al-Zawahiri, may have already fled the country.
Thousands of refugees have poured over the Pakistani border as fear of a U.S. attack grows. Officials said the refugees already in the country would be allowed to stay, even if they arrived in the country illegally.