Escape or assassination?
Monday, 27 March 2000 2:46 (ET) - By ANWAR IQBAL
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 27 (UPI) -- Officials at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad said Monday that a top opposition leader, Ismail Khan, escaped from a high-security prison in the Taliban headquarters of Kandahar.
But Afghan opposition sources in Islamabad said they were not sure whether Ismail Khan escaped or had been killed by the Taliban.
A former governor, Ismail Khan was the second most powerful opposition commander after Ahmed Shah Masoud who is still fighting the ruling Taliban militia from his stronghold near Kabul.
Ismail Khan controlled six provinces in southwestern Afghanistan from his headquarters in the Herat province near the Afghan-Iran border. In 1997 the Taliban captured Herat and in 1998 they arrested Ismail Khan from northern Afghanistan and moved him to a high security prison near Kandahar.
Officials at the Taliban-run Afghan Embassy in Islamabad said Ismail Khan escaped from prison Sunday morning along with Abdul Zahid, the son of another opposition leader Haji Abdul Quadeer.
Opposition sources in Islamabad said they would not believe the Taliban until they heard from Ismail Khan. "In the past the Taliban have killed several opposition leaders in the prison and later claimed that they had escaped," said a spokesman for the Jamiat-i-Islami party of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Both Masoud and Ismail Khan belong to the party.
The Taliban-run Shariat radio of Kabul said the Taliban government has announced a lucrative reward for capturing Ismail Khan.
------------------------------- AAR Editors' note --------------
While Ismael Khan's fate remains unknown and a real danger still exists that the whole story may be a hoax to cover up a misdeed on the part of the Taliban, reliable sources told AAR Tuesday morning that it is also likely that the former Mujahedeen commander may be out of the Taliban zone of control by now following his reported escape from a jail in Kandahar.
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Explosion rocks Pakistan border
An explosion on the Pakistan side of a border crossing with Afghanistan is reported to have killed several people and wounded many more.
The blast happened in a shop in the town of Torkham, about 50km (30 miles) from Peshawar.
The official news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), having initially reported that 18 people were killed, later put the number of dead at seven, with 18 injured.
Local officials said four people had been killed and 23 injured.
Police were quoted as saying they believed the blast was caused by a bomb. But APP is now reporting that it could have been caused by an exploding gas cannister.
Among the dead were Afghan refugee children. Another victim was an elderly Pakistani tribesman from the Khyber Tribal Agency. An official said many of the injured were children.
Police say they have no information about any possible motive for an attack, nor do they know whether the explosion was deliberate.
The BBC Islamabad correspondent says that, while there are frequent bomb blasts in other parts of Pakistan, this kind of apparently untargeted attack is not normally associated with the tribal areas close to Afghanistan.
An investigation has been launched and a team of officials has gone to Torkham from the provincial capital to inspect the site.
The Torkham Gate is an important border crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The province shelters more than a million Afghan refugees, most living in camps at Peshawar and Nowshera.
About 460 Afghan refugees were repatriated through Torkham on Monday under a programme sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Torkham attracts both local and foreign tourists, who often come from Peshawar through the historic Khyber Pass.
Officials say public and private vehicles are usually checked at several posts by paramilitary and tribal police.
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