- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Pakistan is giving a free rein to Taliban leaders who move openly in Pakistani cities, giving interviews, discussing their plans and calling for jihad, or holy war, against the West, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said yesterday.

“From this building, you can call some Taliban leaders in Quetta, and they will talk to you about their intentions and plans. They are not afraid,” Mr. Abdullah said.

Taliban leaders have established a base in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, just across the Afghan border from the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. According to media reports, some of these leaders are recruiting fresh volunteers to fight against U.S. troops and their allies in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has denied the reports, saying there are no Taliban leaders in Quetta or any other Pakistani city.

“If some Taliban are hiding in the villages, among their sympathizers in the rural areas, that’s a different story. But there are no Taliban leaders in the cities,” said Mohammed Sadiq, deputy chief of mission at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

Mr. Abdullah suggested that Taliban fighters also were regrouping in Pakistan between forays to attack Afghan and U.S. troops.

“Where are these people coming from? Where are they getting their ammunition? Where are they treating their wounded?” he asked.

He said Taliban leaders often hold “press conferences and Cabinet-type meetings” in Quetta.

“These people are not hiding,” he concluded.

He named three Taliban leaders — Mullah Asadullah, Mullah Kabir and former Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Ubaidullah — who were operating freely in Pakistan.

Last week, senior Afghan and U.S. officials told UPI that the United States had released another senior Taliban official, former Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who was negotiating with the Kabul government and had been offered a post in the government.

Mr. Abdullah acknowledged yesterday that Mr. Muttawakil was no longer in U.S. custody, but denied he was a free man. “He has not been released. He is in Kabul.”

Mr. Abdullah also denied that the Afghan government was negotiating with moderate Taliban leaders to broaden its support among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.

Afghanistan’s security problems are worst in the Pashtun areas, which were the heartland of Taliban support.

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