- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

So, after denying any knowledge of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, the Taliban now admits holding him in a secret location and says that it wants to negotiate with the United States the conditions of his release. The Taliban's game of lies proves that negotiations are not a viable option in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Despite the Taliban's continued refusal to hand over bin Laden after his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, there is a schism within the administration on how to handle the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell has advocated giving the Taliban incentives and allowing it to remain in power if it gives the United States what it wants bin Laden and al-Qaeda. President Bush has put special forces on the ground in Afghanistan and has said demands are not open to discussion. He is right. The Taliban is not only unwilling to work toward ending terrorism, it is sponsoring continued aggression. On Wednesday, Taliban fighters and Afghan protesters set fire to the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Kabul, chanting "Long live Osama" and "Death to America." With such a backdrop, the administration must ask not how to negotiate with the Taliban, but how to dethrone it and who will replace it.

The first mistake was making Pakistan, who has continued holding talks with the Taliban over the past weeks, the special envoy for the United States. The United States used Pakistan to try to set up a replacement government in Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the pro-Soviet leftists were defeated, and the political void they created assisted by the United States' unwillingness to act to fill that void led to the Taliban's takeover. Pakistan also sheltered bin Laden in the 1980s and allowed him to base his resistance movement there. The Pakistani government continues to have an interest in seeing that the Taliban is not overthrown.

If the United States is serious about getting rid of the Taliban, it must support groups such as the Northern Alliance the main opposition within Afghanistan which has the determination to ensure that the Taliban is removed from power. Also, while Mr. Bush has argued against nation-building, the United States must consider the long-term implications of removing a terrorist sponsor from power. Terrorists do not sleep where there is a governmental void. The United States must learn from history and ensure that the Northern Alliance does not become the Taliban of the future.

The war against terrorism will not be successful if the administration politely asks the Taliban to step aside. It will not be successful by pleading through a third party for the Taliban to hand over one terrorist or, for that matter, several terrorists. The first step in the fight must be a concerted effort to get rid of the Taliban once and for all.

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