- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

From combined dispatches
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Afghanistan's ruling Taliban said yesterday it did not want a war with the United States and called once again for direct talks and evidence linking Osama bin Laden to the bloody September 11 attacks there.
Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told CNN in an interview that the suicide hijacking attacks on New York and Washington were not Islamic and suggested that they would hand over bin Laden if any link could be proved.
"We prefer the negotiations than the war," he said. "The negotiations are the way of solving our problems."
The message on CNN was similar to an earlier appeal for negotiations in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Meanhile the fundamentalist Islamic movement raced yesterday to shore up internal support while appealing for negotiations to head off U.S. military strikes over their refusal to give up Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man.
With the world's most modern military force gathering against a state modeled on a society that existed at the beginning of the last millenium, the puritanical Taliban pitched the crisis as a battle of the United States against Islam.
"If they want to solve it, they should start negotiating," Mullah Zaeef told reporters in the western Pakistani city of Quetta. "Surrender is not the way . We need evidence; we need proof," the ambassador said in Quetta.
However, the United States has already ruled out talks as it masses forces in the region, saying it has proof enough.
Even Pakistan a fellow Muslim nation and the only country still to recognize the Taliban leadership distanced itself on Monday when President Pervez Musharraf said the Taliban's days were numbered.
In the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, protesters burned effigies of President Bush and the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, as thousands shouted "Down with America" and pledged to fight if there was an attack, one local official said.
As the Taliban defied the outside world, desperately needed food aid was flooding into Afghanistan, with humanitarian agencies warning that 400,000 Afghans faced imminent starvation.
Even as the threat of U.S. military strikes intensified, U.N. World Food Program (WFP) officials said convoys were rolling into the country from Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan with nearly 1,500 tons of wheat for an estimated 8 million Afghans in need of emergency assistance.
The situation "is much more dire than we thought," WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour said, referring to earlier estimates that 320,000 people in the northern provinces of Faryab and Balkh could run out of food by the end of this week.
To prepare for a military strike, Taliban ministers were moving around the country, officials said.
Some traveled from Kabul to confer with the leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, in the southern city of Kandahar.
Taliban Defense Minister Obaidullah Akhund was in the east to mobilize Taliban forces and reassure inhabitants who fear the presence of Arabs in the area will draw U.S. strikes.
In the south and southwest, ministers were in talks with the tribal leaders who traditionally hold great sway in Afghanistan to muster support and prevent any uprisings by restless clans.
"There were a few isolated cases in the southern provinces where locals distributed leaflets urging people to stand in favor of Zahir Shah," one Taliban official in Kabul told Reuters news agency.
"There were also reports that dozens were even armed to stage a revolt, but we have heard that the danger has diminished," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Other ministers were forging new alliances and urging their troops to defend the cause of their Islamic movement, which last week marked the fifth anniversary of its capture of the capital.
At the United Nations in New York, where the General Assembly is drafting a treaty against terrorism, several Middle Eastern nations warned that the problem of terrorism would never be solved unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was settled.

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