Pakistan Delivers Ultimatum to Taliban

Following an eight-hour meeting between high level Pakistani and Afghan officials, a Taliban spokesman said 20 Islamic clerics would convene a special meeting in the capital of Kabul to consider the matter.

Senior Pakistani officials met with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive Taliban leader, to warn that Afghanistan would suffer U.S. military strikes if it does not cooperate with demands to turn over the prime suspect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Early reports said that Mohammed Omar set out several conditions for giving up bin Laden.

The conditions, according to Pakistani officials, include that evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks must be presented to the Shura, the Taliban’s inner circle. The Taliban also said that the surrender of bin Laden must be approved by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an international organization that includes some militant Islamic groups, and that if bin Laden is tried outside Afghanistan, at least one of the judges must be Muslim.

Pakistan is key to the U.S. diplomatic and military strategy, as it is one of three nations to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban and still has an embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, decided to relay the ultimatum after days of intensive discussions between American and Pakistani officials. Pakistani sources said American officials warned they would use eveything “short of war” to punish Pakistan unless it cooperated.

According to regional experts, the decision poses risks for General Musharraf, who heads a nuclear-armed nation of 140 million people that is dependent on ties to the West but facing a rise in radical Islam.

Pakistani Islamic militant groups have staged protests against the government’s support of U.S. policies, but thus far, President Pervez Musharaff has promised Washington full cooperation.

In response to U.S. requests, Pakistan closed its 1,560-mile border even as tens of thousands Afghans attempted to flee in fear of U.S. attacks. Troops from Pakistan and Afghanistan were deployed along the border. Pakistani officials also agreed to authorize the use of Pakistani airspace for any U.S. military overflights.

Over the weekend, the Taliban issued a statement that it is prepared for possible U.S. strikes. The government also warned neighbors that they would face reprisals if they complied with U.S. requests.