- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

TORKHAM, Pakistan The road that links Pakistan and Afghanistan through the historic Khyber Pass remained open yesterday for supply trucks moving into Taliban territory and for trucks returning empty.
But the road was closed to thousands of Afghan refugees seeking refuge in Pakistan, fearful of a U.S. retaliatory strike.
Pakistani diplomats have been recalled from Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as Jalalabad and Kandahar, the nation's spiritual capital and home of Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Tens of thousands of Afghans are now bypassing the border crossing and infiltrating into Pakistan through unpatrolled mountain passes.
The unmarked border, known as the Durand Line, is porous, with the same Pathan tribesmen living on both sides of the frontier. The new arrivals are swelling the ranks of some 2 million Afghan refugees already in Pakistan.
Asked about conditions inside Afghanistan, one Afghan refugee stalled behind a fence at Torkham was evasive. "We can neither tell you the truth nor can we tell you a lie," he replied cryptically.
The Taliban the Islamic fundamentalist group that controls more than 95 percent of Afghanistan has set up roadblocks on all major routes out of its cities.
A check at other border posts on the main road between the two countries showed truck traffic flowing normally with supplies moving into Afghanistan. The Taliban regime is entirely dependent on Pakistan for everything from wheat flour to oil.
A Pakistani customs officer said the border traffic will remain open until the authorities in Islamabad decide otherwise.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, this week send a delegation headed by Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Gen. Mahmood Ahmed to Kabul to try to persuade the Taliban to hand over to another country Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi named by the Bush administration as the mastermind of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Mullah Omar subsequently decided to leave the fate of bin Laden in the hands of the Afghan clergy. Some 1,000 clerics from every province are convening in Kabul and are expected to debate the issue today.
The Pakistani delegation carried a letter from Gen. Musharraf to Mullah Omar in which the Taliban was urged to "act with prudence because the life of the Afghan people is at stake."
Gen. Musharraf could have added in his letter that the life of the Pakistani people is also at stake. Pakistan's fundamentalist clergy is, for the most part, pro-Taliban and anti-American. Mullahs and muftis the ulema have been agitating the masses with vitriolic disinformation.
Citing the Quran, some mullahs are saying that a Christian or a Jew can never be a Muslim's true friend. "President Musharraf would be considered a traitor to Islamic norms of life if he joins hands with the Americans and the Jewish lobby," said one cleric.
Qari Abdul Rasheed, a prominent cleric, eyeing reporters present, said in English: "We are not gathered here to communicate that we are encouraging terrorism. In fact, Islam is the religion of peace and humanity.
"We are simply here to communicate that the Jewish lobby was behind the attack [on New York and the Pentagon] and Osama bin Laden should not be victimized on mere vague allegations."
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador in Islamabad, tells visiting journalists that Afghan militiamen will wage war on any country that allows either its air or ground to be used for attacks on Afghanistan. He does not mention Pakistan by name.
Mr. Zaeef said in an interview that U.S. reprisals against Afghanistan would trigger explosions in every Muslim city in the world. "There are 2 billion Muslims out of 6 billion people," he said, "and Osama bin Laden is a hero to most of them."
Knowledgeable observers do not believe Gen. Musharraf could be overthrown by extremists. The army, they say, will remain loyal to the general under any circumstances.
The imponderable is ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. One of Gen. Musharraf's Cabinet ministers said, not for attribution: "ISI continues to support the Taliban to this day. After all, ISI created the Taliban."
The ISI, backed by the CIA, organized and trained the Muslim fundamentalist movement as an anti-Soviet guerrilla force following Moscow's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Distributed by United Press International

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