- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Islamic clerics hold the fate of their people in their hands today as they consider what is worth more their long-time guest, terrorist Osama bin Laden, or the lives of the Afghan people. A Pakistani delegation carried the ultimatum to the Taliban and warned Afghanistan to be ready for a strike by the weekend if they did not hand over the terrorist, who is now the prime suspect in masterminding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For the Taliban, the Pakistani message serves as an urgent warning after many chances the United States has already given Afghanistan, which has harbored bin Laden through other events he is suspected of masterminding, such as the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the bombing of the USS Cole. For Pakistan, this is an historic opportunity to prove its support of the United States.
The Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, gave no indication that he would hand over bin Laden yesterday, and the Pakistani delegation decided to stay for an additional day. This is an appropriate response, considering the alternative action they could face from the United States should they fail to cooperate. Pakistan has worked closely with the Taliban and is one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government. Pakistan's military officials worked together with bin Laden in the 1980s in staging the Afghan resistance movement against the pro-Soviet government and the Soviet invasion. Bin Laden had also made Pashawar, Pakistan, the staging area for the resistance from 1984 to 1989. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, where he promptly gave the Taliban $3 million to capture the capital city of Kabul and the city of Jalalabad, James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation reported in his paper, "Defusing Terrorism at Ground Zero: Why a New U.S. Policy is Needed for Afghanistan."
Now it appears that the Taliban is just as determined to stay loyal to its benefactor. Pakistan's army said yesterday that the Taliban had deployed 20,000 to 25,000 fighters to the border of Afghanistan and closed its air space. Pakistan has given full support to the United States, closing its border with Afghanistan to everything but food, giving us the use of its air space the right to use it as a military base, cooperating on intelligence gathering and stopping all fuel supplies to Afghanistan. A Pakistani officer said its army had been deployed along the border as well.
Pakistan's cooperation comes at a cost to its stability. Already pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan are calling for demonstrations across the country, and militant Muslim leader Abdul Ahad, in northwest Pakistan yesterday, was vowing to support the Taliban militarily if Afghanistan is attacked. The Pakistan government must work hard to suppress such sentiment. The intense efforts this week to gain Afghanistan's cooperation in fighting terrorism, even if belated, are a good first step. The alternative is grim.

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