PESHAWAR, Pakistan The chief minister of Pakistan’s North West Frontier province yesterday denied the presence of Taliban or al Qaeda fighters in territory he controls along the border with Afghanistan and demanded a withdrawal of all American forces from the region.
In an interview, Akram Durrani insisted there was no terrorist threat in his province and said Pakistan’s federal government should expel U.S. forces from bases in Pakistan being used to support the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
“We don’t have any al Qaeda or Taliban here,” said Mr. Durrani, who heads a conservative Islamic coalition that won power in the province last year. “Absolutely, there is nothing here, and we don’t want any foreigners here.”
He was speaking of American Special Forces that work with Pakistani troops in the tribal regions that border Afghanistan and FBI agents who have been on several raids with Pakistani security forces against Islamic schools and homes in the province.
“It’s time for the United States to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan,” Mr. Durrani said in Peshawar, the provincial capital 120 miles northwest of the federal capital of Islamabad.
Mr. Durrani’s coalition, made up of some of the most radical of Pakistan’s Islamic political parties, won impressively in October’s general elections on a staunch anti-American platform.
The coalition struck a chord with Pakistanis, particularly in North West Frontier province and neighboring Baluchistan, the country’s most conservative regions that both border Afghanistan.
The two provinces are critical for the United States and the global war against terror because their mountainous tribal regions are believed to have furnished sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban forces fleeing coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has generated criticism from the country’s conservative Islamists by supporting the U.S.-led hunt in Afghanistan for remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, including the network’s leader, Osama bin Laden.
Gen. Musharraf, who has said until recently that bin Laden may be dead, yesterday further backed off that belief, saying he could have survived U.S. bombing and may be hiding in the Afghan mountains near Pakistan.
But bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, is definitely not in Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf said in Moscow.
Bin Laden’s whereabouts are unknown, but U.S. intelligence officials also believe he may be hiding in the mountainous border region.
Gen. Musharraf voiced skepticism about Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Iraq had ties with al Qaeda before September 11 through Iraq’s embassy in Pakistan.
“We don’t think any such activities took place,” he said. “At least, we don’t have any information or intelligence on this. If [Mr. Powell] has the intelligence and information, we need to analyze whatever information he has.”
Mr. Powell made his assertion during his presentation of evidence against Iraq at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.