- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Tribal leaders in Pakistan say their Afghan counterparts are expecting Osama bin Laden to arrive in the rugged Afghan border province of Paktia, the site of numerous al Qaeda training camps destroyed by U.S. bombers in 1998.
But bin Laden would likely be sold out "for a few pennies" if he tried to hide on the Pakistani side of the border, said Abdul Lateef Afridi, a tribal elder and now a prominent lawyer in Pakistan's border city of Peshawar.
Bin Laden and several hundred al Qaeda stalwarts have been rousted from their last refuge in the cave networks of Tora Bora and forced to flee into snow-covered peaks near the Pakistani border.
Media speculation on a possible destination has centered on the Pakistani side of the border an area with mountains even more rugged and inaccessible than Tora Bora and a population of local tribesmen known to be sympathetic to bin Laden.
But tribal elders in Pakistan say the terrorist kingpin would never find shelter in Pakistan, noting there are some 10,000 Pakistani soldiers camped along the border and that local public opinion has turned dramatically against bin Laden.
"The rebels know very well that in the tribal areas they would be sold for a few pennies," said Mr. Afridi, who represented the border area nearest Tora Bora in Pakistan's parliament before a military government took power.
"You don't need to spend $25 million. A few dollars is enough," said Mr. Afridi, referring to the reward being offered by the United States for information leading to bin Laden's capture, dead or alive.
Mr. Afridi, an elder in the Afridi tribe, said he has been in touch with people in the Afghan province of Paktia and they are anticipating bin Laden's arrival.
The area contains a number of al Qaeda training camps that were targeted by U.S. cruise missiles in retaliation for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.
Moreover, Paktia is one of the few areas where the Taliban militia retains some influence.
"In the beginning everyone was with the Taliban, but now [Mullah] Omar and Osama bin Laden have disappeared, and we know something is wrong. They were just using the name of Islam," said Munsif Ali Khan, another Afridi elder.
Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is believed to have fled from the southern city of Kandahar toward the Pakistani border, a direction that could just as easily take him to Paktia province.
Sheraz Khan, another elder in the Afridi tribe, said people in the area have been suspicious of Mullah Omar since shortly after the September 11 attacks when he ignored the advice of Afghan clerics that bin Laden be asked to leave the country.
"After that, there was a meeting of tribal elders in Kyber Agency," he said, referring to the tribal district south of Tora Bora in Pakistan.
"We sent a message to Mullah Omar, saying, 'You are free to do what you like in your own country, but we will never permit this in our country.' After that, we did not support him."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Sunday he did not know whether bin Laden is still in Afghanistan.
But he added: "We will get bin Laden.
"Whether it's today, tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now, the president has made it clear that we will not rest until he is brought to justice or justice brought to him."

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