- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

Envoy irks Pakistan

Pakistan yesterday criticized the U.S. ambassador to neighboring Afghanistan for complaining about terrorist attacks organized on Pakistani territory.

Even as Pakistan continued fighting al Qaeda forces in a remote border area, its Foreign Ministry insisted that it had no information about those same militants plotting attacks against Afghan and U.S. targets. Pakistan protested to the State Department about the ambassador’s remarks, a spokesman said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Associated Press over the weekend that Washington knows the Pakistani border area is a hide-out for several key figures from Afghanistan’s brutal Taliban regime, which the United States overthrew in 2001. The Taliban provided a safe haven for suspected September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers.

“We know several key Taliban figures are there, and there is some sense that some of the remaining al Qaeda leaders are in the border area on the [Pakistani] side,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“It doesn’t serve Pakistan’s interest for them to operate in Pakistan and to come across and attack Afghanistan or the coalition forces here.”

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the ambassador’s comments could damage U.S.-Pakistani relations.

“If Khalilzad has any specific information or intelligence, he should have shared this information with us instead of making these generalized insinuations through the media,” Mr. Khan told reporters yesterday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

“He must not allow his personal predilection to affect Pakistan-U.S. relations. We would like him to be a friend of Pakistan’s. We would like him to promote closer Pakistan-U.S. relations by not making such statements, and we are in touch with the State Department.”

Mr. Khalilzad praised Pakistani troops who have been battling suspected al Qaeda forces in the border area of South Waziristan. The United States is “very encouraged” by the Pakistani offensive, he said.

Indecisive Indonesia

Indonesia is making excuses to avoid prosecuting a radical Muslim cleric on terrorism charges, says the U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Ambassador Thomas Schieffer over the weekend criticized Indonesia for failing to take the legal actions that will keep Abu Bakar Bashir in jail. Bashir, convicted of immigration and forgery offenses, is scheduled to be released April 30.

Mr. Schieffer called on Indonesia to prosecute Bashir as a leader of the terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah, the al Qaeda-linked group responsible for the bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 persons in 2002. Australia, Singapore and the United States think Bashir is responsible for terrorist attacks.

“I think [Indonesia] has the evidence, and I think it is disappointing that they have not prosecuted him on those issues,” Mr. Schieffer told Australia’s Channel Seven television.

“The Indonesians have to come to grips with the reality that Abu Bakar Bashir is a terrorist, and he is the head of a terrorist organization. They may wish that weren’t the case, and they may wish they didn’t have to deal with the situation in Indonesia. But they do.”

Indonesia has asked the United States for access to an Indonesian terrorist suspect known as Hambali, suspected of serving as chief of operations for Jemaah Islamiyah. Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, has been in U.S. custody since August, when he was arrested in Thailand.

Mr. Schieffer said the United States might turn him over in “due time.”

“We believe that we are gleaning important intelligence from him right now, and that might not be the case if we turn him over to the Indonesians immediately,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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