- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

The Afghan foreign minister has vanished after contacting Pakistani officials and the former king of Afghanistan seeking a deal that could lead to the surrender of terrorism kingpin Osama bin Laden.
The machinations offer encouragement to U.S. officials, who hope to split the Taliban and have proposed that "moderates" within the Afghan regime could have a place in a future government.
Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil traveled this week from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where he offered to consider turning over bin Laden if the United States would ease its bombing campaign, reports said.
A Western diplomatic source was quoted as saying Mr. Muttawakil had asked Pakistan to convey that message to the United States.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said yesterday, however, that the United States had not received any message from the Taliban foreign minister.
"The idea he passed some message to us was wrong," Mr. Reeker said in an interview.
News of the movements by the Taliban foreign minister reflected a growing belief that the Taliban was crumbling under U.S. air attacks and its international isolation for protecting bin Laden.
Analysts yesterday suggested that Mr. Muttawakil might have gone to one of the Persian Gulf states, the source of most of the funding for the Taliban since it took power in 1995, or have quietly returned to Afghanistan.
A representative of the exiled Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, said in Rome that the Taliban foreign minister had been in touch with the king's office and was definitely outside Afghanistan.
"He has been in touch with one of our staff outside Italy, and we are still trying to find out why he left," the representative said.
The United States and Pakistan on Tuesday proposed a role in a future Afghan government for "moderate" Taliban officials.
"To the extent that they are willing to participate in the development of a new Afghanistan with everybody being represented, then we would have to listen to them or at least take them into account," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, appearing at the same news conference in Islamabad, was more direct in calling for inclusion of some Taliban members in the government once U.S. military action achieved its goal of overthrowing the regime of Mullah Mohammed Omar.
"Certainly there are a lot of moderate Talibans," said Gen. Musharraf. "Yes, I certainly believe so. Extremism is not in every Taliban. I wouldn't like to get into the details of who are moderates, but one knows for sure there are many moderate elements within the Taliban community."
The Northern Alliance, which had been fighting the Taliban on the ground for the past six years, rejected any idea of sharing power with them, saying there were no moderates among the religious group.
"There is no such thing as a moderate or extremist Taliban," the alliance's Washington representative Mohammed Eshaq said in an interview.
"They are all the same. And there is no proof on the ground. There is no movement against them except for us we have been against them for years."
U.S. officials note that Talib means seminary student and say that some of the militia's members might be able to participate in a broad inclusive government if they are not tainted by criminal activities.
The United States accuses the Taliban of sheltering bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Mr. Powell said there was "anecdotal evidence that some of the leaders are defecting and that some of the provinces have shifted allegiance. But it doesn't yet paint a complete picture that I can have confidence in."
Mr. Eshaq said the reports of a Taliban split were "fabricated by Pakistan to save some of the Taliban."
He dismissed wire service reports that Taliban troops in Kandahar had battled Arab fighters of bin Laden as the Arabs were seeking to loot an aid warehouse. The Taliban simply wanted to show they were in control of Kandahar, said Mr. Eshaq.

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