Sunday, November 18, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Taliban leaving Kandahar
Jets pound militia posts; Rabbani in Kabul
K.J.M. Varma

Islamabad, November 17
Amidst conflicting reports of Taliban withdrawal from their stronghold of Kandahar, former Afghanistan President Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived today in Kabul, four days after it was captured by opposition forces, even as US warplanes, showing no pause despite the beginning of Ramazan, pounded militia positions in Kunduz and Kandahar.

The home of a key Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and a seminary were bombed near the eastern town of Khost, leaving two persons dead and many others wounded, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency said.

Taliban also confirmed that Osama bin Laden’s deputy Mohammad Atef was killed among seven Al Qaida members in a US attack three days ago.

Atef is suspected of helping to plan the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that killed thousands. He directly planned the Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 that killed 224 persons, according to a U.S. Indictment that charged him with murder.

Anti-Taliban Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai told BBC that convoys of Taliban were leaving their main power base Kandahar and moving towards the north. Aid agencies with close links to the region also reported that Taliban forces were moving out of Kandahar.

However, a spokesman of the Taliban Foreign Ministry said Kandahar was in the “complete control” of the militia and reports of the withdrawal of Taliban were “baseless.”

Taliban denied that their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had agreed to surrender the control of Kandahar.

AIP last night reported that Mullah Omar had ordered a pullout from Kandahar to turn it over to two local Pushtun leaders.

Taliban’s request for UN intervention to negotiate the surrender of over 20,000 fighters, mostly Arabs and Pakistanis, surrounded by Northern Alliance forces in the militia’s only remaining northern Kunduz province, has been rejected by the world body.

Some Taliban diplomats approached UN officials who expressed their inability to do so saying they were not equipped to negotiate the surrender as they had no presence in Afghanistan, media reported here.

Northern Alliance has given them till tomorrow to surrender.

Despite Ramazan, US warplanes bombed Taliban positions in Kandahar and Kunduz, where upto 3,000 fighters, thought to be mainly Arabs and Pakistanis, remained encircled by Northern Alliance forces. Taliban also retreated from southwest Farah province and moved to neighbouring Helmund.

With various factions vying for power, Rabbani, who was driven out of power in 1996 by Taliban, arrived in Kabul in a jeep with blackened windows in a convoy of 15 vehicles accompanied by heavily armed guards.

Representatives of other factions which make up the Northern Alliance were with him in the convoy.

Amidst hectic international diplomatic efforts to establish a transitional administration in Afghanistan, UN envoy Francesc Vendrell arrived in Kabul to persuade all Afghan factions to participate in UN-backed conference next week to discuss the future of the war-ravaged country.

The UN has held out against granting Rabbani any special status and has been trying to set up talks outside Afghanistan.

Fears are growing that power vacuum left by Taliban’s removal will plunge Afghanistan into a chaotic power struggle among war lords and rival ethnic groupings.

Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has described Northern Alliance as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.

Northern Alliance said they are ready to hold a gathering of traditional Afghan leaders outside Kabul to set up a provisional administration.

The Alliance also said they do not want foreign troops on Afghan soil following the arrival of British forces at the Bagram airport, north of Kabul, to secure the area for aid deliveries.


Osama has left, say Taliban

Chaman (Pakistan), November 17
The Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said today that Osama bin Laden had left Afghanistan and that the Islamic militia did not know his whereabouts. “Osama has left Afghanistan with his children and his wives and we have no idea where he has gone,” the envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said at the Chaman border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan as he was returning to this country. APBack

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