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U.S.-PAKISTAN TALKS ON MAKEUP OF FUTURE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT
PAKISTAN -- The United States and Pakistan have taken up the key question for the future of Afghanistan: What kind of government is it to have?
The United States has told Pakistan that expelling suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan will not be enough and that Taliban leader Mullah Omar also has to go, senior Pakistani officials said Friday. Omar's removal would have to be followed immediately by a strong central government to prevent the country from relapsing into the brutal civil war between warlords to which the Taliban put and end.
The officials told United Press International that the United States insisted on Omar's removal when Pakistan told U.S. negotiators they opposed bringing the opposition Northern Alliance -- being aided by Russia, Iran and Pakistan's adversary, India -- to Kabul as the new rulers of Afghanistan.
"Replacing Omar and bringing in a new leadership from within the Taliban is one of the options the two sides are discussing," said a Pakistani official, indicating his government's continuing concern with keeping the Islamist Pashtun extremists in power in Kabul.
Islamabad's policy, analysts said, up to now has been to back the Taliban, a Pashtun movement, because of the large Pashtun population in Pakistan and because of sympathy for its extremist Islamic policies among significant parts of Pakistani society.
While Pashtuns have dominated politics in Afghanistan for the past two centuries, the Taliban's attacks on the important Tajik, Uzbek and Shiia Muslim Hazara minorities has raised the question of the role Pashtuns are to play in a post-Taliban government. The Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, represents the ethnic minorities. Islamabad opposes a future government without Pashtun participation -- to what degree is not yet clear.
The United States and Pakistan are believed to have agreed on a broad-based government that would include the Northern Alliance, supporters of the former Afghan King Zahir Shah, Afghan intellectuals living in exile and perhaps most important, Pashtuns disenchanted with the Taliban, the sources said.
Pakistani officials said the United States would welcome a move in which Pakistan succeeds in toppling the present Taliban leadership with the help of Pashtun dissidents.
"But if Pakistan fails and an international force has to enter Afghanistan, it will not go for bin Laden alone," said another official. "Mullah Omar will also be a target of this force."
Both Pakistan and the United States agree that Afghanistan needs a broad-based and representative government that cannot be made up from outside the country, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Thursday.
Soon after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. officials told Pakistan they believed Afghanistan would continue to be "a haven for terrorists" as long as the Taliban militia ruled the country.
They argued that having a Northern Alliance government would restore the pre-Afghan war (1979-1989) situation when Pakistan was sandwiched between hostile neighbors India and Afghanistan. A friendly government in Kabul, they said, "freed Pakistan from the fears of a combined attack from both the eastern (India) and western (Afghanistan) borders."
While showing sympathy to the Pakistani position, the United States argued that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had created "a new situation" and "the Pakistanis, the Indians and the Afghans ... will all require some new thinking."
BRITISH ACCUSE ALGERIAN OF TRAINING SUICIDE HIJACKERS
BRITAIN -- An Algerian pilot facing a demand for extradition to the United States was accused in a British court Friday of training some of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 airliner-suicide attacks on America.
A prosecutor at London's Bow Street Magistrates Court identified 27-year-old Lotfi Raissi as the lead instructor for four of the hijackers, including the man who drove a jetliner into the Pentagon near Washington.
Raissi was in court as the result of an international arrest warrant issued by the United States, technically on a charge of giving false information in connection with a pilot's license.
But "we are looking at far more serious charges," said Arvinda Sambir, a lawyer representing the United States. "We are looking at conspiracy to murder."
She said, "What we say is that he (Raissi) was in fact a lead instructor for four of the pilots responsible for the hijackings" of four airliners -- two which were steered into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon and a fourth which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
"The one we are concerned about is the one involving the plane that went into the Pentagon," Sambir told the court.
She said that part of Raissi's mission involved traveling last summer to Arizona, where some of the hijackers were taught how to fly jetliners. "His job was to ensure the pilots were capable and were trained."
Sambir also said authorities had sufficient documentary evidence that included video footage of Raissi with the hijackers.
The technicality under which the chubby, windbreaker-clad pilot was held centered on his previous conviction for theft and a history of medical problems. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman told United Press International the FBI had 60 days during which to provide grounds for Raissi's extradition to the United States.
Legal sources told UPI the processes of sending the man to the United States could take much longer. Three men already in British custody for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are fighting extradition in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament and Britain's appeal court of last resort.
Hugo Keith, Raissi's attorney, said his client "categorically denies" any involvement in the terrorist attacks and that "we put the U.S. government on notice we will be demanding proof."
Raissi was ordered held in custody pending that proof. The pilot is scheduled to return to the magistrates court on Oct. 5 for a further hearing.
On Thursday, Scotland Yard told United Press International that it had received more than 100 requests from FBI that related to suspected terrorist operations with links to Britain.
The stepped up activity by Britain's anti-terrorist forces comes amid renewed warnings from senior government officials that fresh attacks cannot be ruled out. Minister for Europe Peter Hain said Thursday night he believed more attacks were planned for the coming weeks by people working with Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's al Qaida group.
TALIBAN MESSAGE DELIVERED TO BIN LADEN ASKING TO LEAVE
AFGHANISTAN -- Taliban officials said Friday a message from their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had been delivered to Saudi terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden, urging him to voluntarily leave Afghanistan.
The announcement followed an earlier claim by the Taliban they were unaware of bin Laden's whereabouts.
Bin Laden, the No. 1 suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, has been lived in Afghanistan since 1996 when U.S. pressure forced him to leave Sudan.
Last week an assembly of 600 Muslim clerics in Kabul appealed to bin Laden to leave Afghanistan. Omar initially refused to accept their recommendation saying it was not binding on him, but later he agreed to endorse their appeal.
The United States has, however, rejected the appeal saying that the time for talks was over and the Taliban should hand over bin Laden and other suspected terrorists and dismantle all terrorist camps inside Afghanistan if they wanted to avoid U.S.-led international action against their country.
Meanwhile, a delegation of 10 Muslim clerics from Pakistan arrived at the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar, southwestern Afghanistan, on a last-ditch effort to persuade Omar to expel bin Laden and other suspected terrorists.
Another delegation of clerics from a coalition of Pakistani religious parties opposing their government's decision to back the expected U.S. military action against Afghanistan may also visit Kandahar soon.
IN OTHER NEWS
TALIBAN DENY INVITING JACKSON TO BE MEDIATOR
PAKISTAN -- The Taliban ambassador in Islamabad denied Friday that it had invited the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Afghanistan to act as a mediator in talks on Osama bin Laden's possible expulsion. The Taliban said the offer of help came from Jackson. The civil rights leader has not yet decided whether he will go.
"He offered to help resolve our dispute with the United States, and we accepted his offer," said the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad, Abdus Salam Zaef.
Zaef's assertion, published in the Pakistani newspaper Jasarat, which is run by a pro-Taliban religious party called Jamaat-i-Islami, was also confirmed by another Taliban official.
Tayyab Agha, a director at Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's headquarters in Kandahar, southwestern Afghanistan, when asked to comment on Jackson's peace mission, said: "Mr. Jackson offered to mediate, and we gratefully accepted his offer."
"Our leader (Omar) has ordered Taliban officials to extend full cooperation if Jesse Jackson visits Afghansitan. He is a good man. We welcome him," said Zaef.
Jackson, however, said he was invited by the Taliban deputy ambassador in Islamabad, Mohammed Sohail Shaheen, who called his office in Chicago and asked him to visit Afghanistan.
Some Pakistani-Americans afraid of "the impact of a war on Pakistan and Afghanistan ... helped facilitate the call. I was frankly surprised when he called here," Jackson told United Press International on Thursday.
He said he believes Taliban leaders want an alternative to a possible U.S. military strike should they not heed U.S. demands to turn over bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
He said he called U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as soon as he heard from Shaheen. Powell said Thursday that he told Jackson that the U.S. position was clear and the decision to accept or decline the invitation was up to the civil rights leader.
Independent observers in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said the Taliban might have invited Jackson, but were now denying doing so because of the U.S. administration's apparent lack of interest in a role for Jackson.
The father of a U.S. aid worker being held by the Taliban also is asking for Jackson's help. And Jackson said he is considering another request from parents of two Christian aid workers to help secure their daughters' release, along with six other detained Western aid workers held by the Taliban.
UZBEKISTAN TO ALLOW U.S. USE OF ITS AIRSPACE
UZBEKISTAN -- Uzbekistan announced Thursday that it is ready to offer the United States the use of its airspace for humanitarian and security purposes if its own security could be guaranteed against retaliation by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.
President Islam Karimov said: "I would like to make it clear to everyone that we are ready to consider offering the use of our airspace ... in the fight against terrorists, should the need arise."
However, a source close to the Uzbek Defense Ministry told United Press International Thursday that U.S. military aircraft had already landed in Uzbekistan.
Earlier this week, another source told UPI that U.S. troops were seen near the Uzbek city of Termez, across the Afghan border. Uzbek officials have denied reports of any U.S. military presence near the city.
The Soviet Union used Termez as a major military base when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
The implications of Karimov's statement in regard to any U.S. strike on Afghan targets remains unclear.
In an address to the Tashkent city council on Wednesday Karimov said Uzbekistan wished to play a role in the U.S.-led international coalition to fight terrorism. But the president said the security of his country was a high priority in the wake of threats by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban that it would wage jihad, or holy war, on Uzbekistan if it allowed the United States to use its airspace for strikes in Afghanistan.
He also stressed the importance of cooperating with the United States and its allies and the readiness of Uzbek troops in light of the threats made by the Taliban.
"We must cooperate with powerful states and our neighbors even more closely, and be ready for all possible tense situations," said Karimov. Analysts saw the reference to powerful states and neighbors as a tip of the hat to Russia on which Uzbekistan is dependent for defense aid and whose military are unhappy at the possibility of even a temporary U.S. military presence in the country
CHECHENS SAID TO CONTACT RUSSIANS AS ULTIMATUM EXPIRES
RUSSIA -- As President Vladimir Putin's 72-hour deadline for the start of disarmament talks with Chechen rebels expired Thursday night, a senior Russian official announced that a representative of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov had made contact.
Viktor Kazantsev, Putin's special representative in the southern region, told Russian television networks that "a representative came from Maskhadov, we had discussions and explained ... that, if the conditions announced by the president are met, negotiations are possible."
Kazantsev said the negotiating process was in the very early stages, but added that he was sure of a result.
Meanwhile, Maskhadov's representatives dismissed the reports and insisted that their side had not made contact with the federal authorities in response to Putin's ultimatum, which was given Monday night.
The ultimatum, largely ignored in Chechnya, gave the rebels three days to disarm and walk away free, Russia's state-controlled RTR and ORT networks said Thursday. Toward the end of the 72-hour deadline, only seven Chechens gave up and handed over their weapons, Moscow's independent Ekho Moskvy radio station reported.
The weapons were turned in by Chechen civilians who wanted to avoid charges of illegal possession of firearms, a criminal offense in Russia. Four grenade launchers, two handguns and a submachine gun were recovered, Ekho Moskvy reported.
Earlier, Kazantsev's office released a statement which said the president's ultimatum was aimed at getting rebels to establish contacts with federal authorities to discuss terms of their surrender, not to have them disarm within that deadline.
Ekho Moskvy reported Thursday that the rebels were trying to establish contacts with authorities through relatives who live in the Russian-controlled areas of the province.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in a newspaper interview Thursday, said that intensification of Russia's crackdown on the rebels could be expected unless they accepted the ultimatum.
"There are no adversaries left there to conduct an active (large-scale) operation," Ivanov told the Trud daily. "As regards the degree of decisiveness and intensity of operations against the terrorists, I think that they will be stepped up in the coming days."