- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf yesterday gave visiting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell an open-ended commitment to back the U.S. military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan "as long as the operation lasts."
Gen. Musharraf made the offer as pressure against Afghanistan's Taliban government grew, with forces of the opposition Northern Alliance pushing toward the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and new fighting reported with other opposition forces near the Iranian border in the west.
U.S. jets pounded Afghanistan for the ninth day, targeting airports and military installations in the capital city of Kabul, in Kandahar and in Mazar-e-Sharif. In Kabul, the air strikes hit an International Red Cross warehouse, injuring a guard and destroying wheat and other food stockpiles, Red Cross officials said.
[In Washington, the Defense Department last night acknowledged that a U.S. warplane mistakenly dropped bombs on Red Cross warehouses in Afghanistan.
[U.S. forces did not know the warehouses were being used by the Red Cross, and believed they were part of a complex where the Taliban militia stored military equipment, the department said in a statement. Military vehicles had been seen in the area, the statement said.
[Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested anti-aircraft fire from the ground could have been responsible.]
In Afghanistan, a Taliban official said yesterday an attack by an AC-130 gunship struck a hospital in southern Kandahar, killing five persons, Al Jazeera television in the Gulf state of Qatar reported. The report gave no further details and could not be confirmed independently.
Meanwhile, U.N. relief officials here revealed yesterday that armed Arabs in Afghanistan, many of whom belong to al Qaeda terrorist network of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, have clashed with the Taliban amid increasing lawlessness in Kandahar.
The clash between the Arab gunmen and the Taliban, who so far have refused U.S. demands to deliver bin Laden, broke out last week in the southern seat of Taliban power when the Arabs tried to loot an aid office.
Gen. Musharraf, who faces potentially explosive opposition from Taliban sympathizers in his own country, urged the United States to keep its bombing campaign as short as possible.
"We have decided to be with the coalition in the fight against terrorism and whatever operation is going on in Afghanistan within the three parameters that have been enunciated that is, the intelligence cooperation, use of air space and logistical support," he said.
"And to this extent, we will certainly carry on cooperating as long as the operation lasts. There are no deadlines," he said at a joint press conference with Mr. Powell in Islamabad.
But he added: "One hopes that military objectives are achieved and the operation is short."
The makeup of a post-Taliban government was a key issue in yesterday's talks, with Pakistan especially concerned that the new regime reflect the country's volatile ethnic mix, including Pashtuns who are the largest single ethnic group in Afghanistan and have significant ties to Pakistan's Pashtun community.
Mr. Powell agreed, saying: "All elements have to be included in discussions of the future of Afghanistan. That would include the Northern Alliance, the southern tribal leaders," and even members of the Taliban who are "willing to participate in a different kind of government."
Pakistan, which actively supported the Taliban against the Northern Alliance until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, has publicly asked Washington not to help bring alliance leaders to power.
Pakistan's main argument is that the alliance is composed primarily of ethnic Tajik and Uzbek minorities and largely excludes the Pashtuns, who dominate in the south and mainly back the Taliban.
But with Washington confining its military campaign so far mainly to the air, the Northern Alliance has emerged as a de facto surrogate army fighting the Taliban on the ground.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported alliance claims that its fighters had advanced close to the center of Mazar-e-Sharif after capturing the airport and several towns on the outskirts of the city. The report, which Taliban sources denied, could not be independently confirmed.
The alliance said yesterday it would focus its military efforts in northern areas of Afghanistan instead of attempting to take over Kabul.
"The Northern Alliance army on its own could march into Kabul," said Abdullah Abdullah, the alliance's foreign minister. But he said that would not happen. "A new government must include all sections of Afghanistan society, which are many."
Mr. Abdullah also said the alliance hopes to coordinate future military moves with the United States.
But alliance leaders in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, yesterday pulled back from a tentative agreement with Afghanistan's former king, now living in exile in Rome, to convene a council of the country's various opposition factions to determine the makeup of a post-Taliban regime.
Mohajeddin Mehdi, first secretary of the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, said his government still supports forming a "loya jirga" a traditional council to choose a leader but not until a few years after the Taliban is defeated militarily.
In Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf admitted that most people oppose the U.S. air strikes, although he claimed a majority also supported his decision to support the United States in its efforts to wipe out global terrorism.
In thousands of religious schools in Pakistan, especially in provinces bordering Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden the Bush administration's prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks is a hero, with tens of thousands of graduating students awaiting an opportunity to join the Taliban in a jihad, or holy war, against U.S. forces.
As President Bush praised U.S. children yesterday for contributing money to help relief efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistani religious schools, known as madrassas, began a fund-raising campaign of their own to help Taliban fighters.
"Starting from today, we hope to collect millions of dollars," said Hazarat Ali, 28, who expects to graduate this year.
Standing in a shaded courtyard at the Daarul Aloom Sarhid madrassa in downtown Peshawar, he held a stack of freshly printed receipt books for the school's 700 students as they begin the fund-raising drive.

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