Wednesday, December 12, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Osama “spotted” near Tora Bora
Al-Qaida ready to discuss surrender

Tora Bora (Afghanistan), December 11
Tribal fighters today declared a ceasefire when some retreating Al-Qaida forces said they were willing to discuss surrender terms after losing a key mountain in fierce fighting.

Mohammed Zaman, defence chief for the tribal eastern alliance, agreed to the truce during a two-way radio conversation with Arab Al-Qaida forces who came under heavy shelling.
The USA will soon deploy the National Missile Defence (NMD) system in the southern part of Afghanistan to counter any intercontinental ballistic missile attack threat from China, according to The Frontier Post, a Pakistani daily. 

However, it was unclear whether all of the Al-Qaida forces around Tora Bora would take part in any truce or were willing to commit to a total surrender. In the past, forces loyal to Osama bin Laden, as well as their Taliban allies, have vowed to fight to the death only to give up in the face of overwhelming force.

Hazrat Ali, a senior commander with the Northern Alliance, claimed that tribal intelligence officers had spotted Bin Laden with the Al-Qaida troops yesterday near the mountain. The claim could not be independently verified.

Tribal fighters said it was possible that other Al-Qaida groups, holed up for weeks with their families, might still be active in the area because no women or children were believed to be among the group that sought to surrender.

Details of the radio talk were monitored by an Associated Press reporter who was on the frontline near Zaman’s position.

The Arabs asked Zaman to send a tribal emissary to their line to discuss the terms of surrender. Zaman agreed.

The US bombing was accompanied by raids by US ground forces, thought to be special forces units. “We were successful. We captured a lot of caves,” Ali said just before the surrender offer as his troops staged mop-up operations. “The largest ones were full of documents and personal belongings.

“They are running away. We are trying to block them from the other side. We will continue to fight them, to kill them and to capture them.”

Earlier, other commanders said the mainly Arab and foreign Muslim forces might beat a retreat along the Kharoti Pass, a high and often snowbound track that leads south into Pakistan.

Across the border, Pakistani soldiers have been deployed on mountains south of Tora Bora to stop Al-Qaida fighters from crossing the frontier along the 4,700-metre White Mountains.

Earlier today, the fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden made a fierce stand from the wind-swept mountaintop.

Tribal soldiers overran Al-Qaida positions in the Milawa and Tora Bora valleys yesterday despite barrages of small arms fire. Tribesmen responded with blasts from aging soviet tanks and heavy machine guns.

US warplanes pounded the mountainous area before and after dawn, but stopped midmorning to allow tribal warriors to move forward on the ground. AP


USA builds pressure on Pak
Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir
Vasantha Arora

Washington, December 11
A leading American newspaper has said that the USA, after pressuring Pakistan to withdraw support to the Taliban, is now asking Islamabad for an even tougher pullback from extremism in Jammu and Kashmir.

CIA director George Tenet, on a recent visit to Islamabad, pushed Pakistan’s military leaders to monitor and put pressure on pro-Taliban religious extremists, including those in Kashmir, unnamed Washington experts were quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.

Cracking down on fundamentalist strongholds like Kashmir and pro-Taliban religious schools in Pakistan may be the only way to guard against the rise of new leaders like Osama bin Laden, the Tribune said.

“My feeling is religious extremism is an outgrowth of problems like Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine,” Rasul Rais, head of the area study centre at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, told the paper.

“If the West is interested in calming the passions of Islamic extremism and providing an opportunity for moderate and progressive countries like Pakistan to stabilize themselves, this is the time for them to help.”

Since 1947, when the disputed mountain territory of Kashmir was ceded to India by its ruling maharaja, Pakistan-backed guerrillas have fought to regain the largely Muslim region, the paper said.

In the past 12 years at least 30,000 persons have died in violence linked to a terrorist campaign in Kashmir. Pakistan sees support for Kashmir separatists as its only way to keep pressure on India to cede the parts of Kashmir it controls.

But the USA, faced with growing evidence that Kashmir fighters are allied with Al-Qaida and other terrorists groups, is now insisting that Pakistan back away.

The decision to move against Kashmir fundamentalist fighters is not easy for President Pervez Musharraf. Kashmir is at the heart of Pakistani nationalism and abandoning the fight there could prompt a bitter political uprising at home, not only among fundamentalists but also among the generals who hold most of the power in Pakistan.

Most experts believe Musharraf will not be persuaded to withdraw support for Kashmir fighters without some kind of guarantee in return that India will come to the bargaining table on Kashmir, the paper said.

“The whole idea of India as a democratic, secular, pluralistic society is tied to Kashmir,” said the Tribune quoting another analyst as saying. “What does it say if a state secedes on the basis of religion? If we allow Kashmir to secede, what happens to the other 15 crore Muslims in India?”

Still, despite the violence in Kashmir, some observers think US pressure could help bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table.

“If Pakistan after the Taliban fiasco is keen to scale down militancy in Pakistan - and there certainly are all the signs that the Musharraf government wants to establish a firm grip on the religious opposition - then you can’t keep stoking the fires in Kashmir and hoping it won’t cause a brushfire here,” said Tanver Ahmad Khan, chairman of Pakistan’s Institute of Strategic Studies. IANS


Qanooni asks Sikhs to return
Assures representation in legislature
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 11
Afghanistan’s Interior Minister designate Younus Qanooni in the post-Taliban interim government scheduled to assume office in Kabul on December 22 has impressed upon the displaced Sikh and Hindu community to return to their hearth and homes assuring “equal rights to all non-Muslims.”

Mr Qanooni told a delegation of the Sikh community, which had fled to India from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan because of the troubled and unsettled conditions in that country, that they would have proper representation of at least two members in the Loha Jirga or the Grand Council.

Mr Qanooni, who spent considerable time here yesterday with a deputation of the displaced Sikh community in the presence of Afghanistan Ambassador to India Masood Khalili before departing for Kabul, emphasised that “things will be put back on the rails.”

He had some good tidings for the uprooted Sikh community that the interim government in Kabul would move expeditiously in returning the property owned by them. Simultaneously, it would consider providing necessary financial assistance to them in the wake of the foreign inflow for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Aware of the industriousness of the Sikh community, Mr Qanooni said it was imperative to restart business and trade along with other industrial activity to kickstart the battered economy of Afghanistan. In this context he said the Sikh community could play the role of a catalyst and the interim administration would not be found wanting as a facilitator.

Information received here said Gurpurab was celebrated in Kabul after a long interregnum. The Northern Alliance sent its Religious Affairs minister-designate who addressed the gathering.

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