- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

From combined dispatches
PESHAWAR, Pakistan The Taliban regime has begun a massive manhunt for a rebel leader the United States hopes will help topple the hard-line Muslim regime, Taliban officials said yesterday
Hamid Karzai, a top aide of exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah and a potentially unifying figure for anti-Taliban sentiment in southern Afghanistan, slipped into the country several weeks ago from the Pakistani border city of Quetta.
Earlier this week, Mr. Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, said that he was gaining support among Pashtun tribal leaders for a plan that would see a loya jirga, or grand assembly, anoint a post-Taliban government. On Thursday, he narrowly escaped a Taliban ambush in the mountainous Uruzgan province north of Kandahar.
Last week, guerrilla leader Abdul Haq, another prominent Pashtun with ambitions to overthrow the Taliban, was captured and hanged by the regime near Kabul shortly after arriving in Afghanistan. Like Mr. Haq, Mr. Karzai, 46, made his mark fighting the Soviet Union's decade-long occupation of Afghanistan from a base in Quetta.
A member of the influential Durrani tribe, he returned to Kabul and rose to prominence in the early 1990s in the government that replaced the last communist regime. The Durrani are the second-largest tribe of the Pashtun, who widely support the ousted king now living in Rome.
Haji Hayatullah, head of the Council for Understanding, a Pakistan-based group trying to bring the warring Afghan factions together, said Mr. Karzai's family and tribal connections date back to the late 1960s.
Mr. Karzai's grandfather was Abdul Ahad Karzai, a former president of the national council under the king before the monarch was ousted in 1973.
"Their family is respected among their Durrani Pashtun tribe," Mr. Hayatullah said. "Karzai has been inside Afghanistan for 20 days and his mission was the same as Abdul Haq's to convince the Taliban in his tribal area in southern Afghanistan to support the king."
Mr. Karzai is already considered a more formidable Taliban foe than Mr. Haq, with better arms and the resources to operate near his home village on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. It is hoped by operating in the Taliban heartland, he can serve as a catalyst for mass defections against the hard-line Muslim rulers.
U.S. officials would be pleased if forces under Mr. Karzai, working in tandem with the mostly Uzbek and Tajik forces of the Northern Alliance, purged the Taliban from Afghanistan.
In that effort, the United States yesterday stepped up bombing sorties over Taliban front-line positions north of Kabul. B-52 heavy bombers, apparently coordinated with forces on the ground, joined in an attack that blasted a Taliban field headquarters.
Heartened by a more robust American assault, Afghanistan's opposition forces have moved more troops and artillery to the front for a possible assault on Kabul.
Taliban forces defending the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif also came under severe attack. Heavy rain in the region did not disrupt bombing sorties directed at dug-in positions around the city. According to the Northern Alliance, a number of Taliban tanks were destroyed while Taliban anti-aircraft guns were silent.
But the rain has brought an early winter to northern Afghanistan, which could disrupt operations on the ground.
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord fighting to retake the key town of Mazar-e-Sharif, told his commanders yesterday that a major assault had been delayed by the heavy rain but would not be put off indefinitely.
Mullah Omar, a Northern Alliance commander said: "According to my 20 years' experience of fighting, winter is no problem; we just need warm clothes."
He asked his defense ministry for winter uniforms a month ago, but has no idea when they will arrive. "Winter is better than summer; in summer the soldiers get too thirsty. If they cannot provide the uniforms, then it will be like last winter when they fought in thin clothes." he said. "The soldiers get sick, but they don't die."
In Pakistan, the government has expressed doubts about a claim that an anthrax-tainted letter had been sent to a newspaper in Karachi. Past claims of anthrax incidents in Pakistan have proved to be hoaxes. If the suspect envelope is confirmed to contain anthrax, it will be the first such case outside the United States.
In Karachi, protests against the U.S. bombing fizzled yesterday. While 40,000 protesters took to the streets Oct. 26, yesterday they could muster 300. In Quetta, while 25,000 protested a month ago, yesterday 2,000 to 3,000 braved the desert sun to call for jihad.


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