Pakistan warns US not to aid anti-Taliban forces
Wednesday September 26, 3:43 AM
ISLAMABAD, Sept 25 (AFP) - Pakistan warned the United States Tuesday not to assist opposition forces in Afghanistan as other states tightened the screws on the impoverished country's Islamic fundamentalist Taliban rulers.
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with the Taliban and banks in European countries shut down accounts as the US-led campaign to eradicate terrorism in the wake of attacks in the United States gathered pace on several fronts.
US President George Bush described the fight against global terrorism as an epic battle of "good versus evil" and British Prime Minister Tony Blair bluntly warned the Taliban to hand over terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden or face war.
And the top United Nations official on human rights, Mary Robinson, said the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington that left nearly 7,000 people dead or missing constituted "crimes against humanity" demanding justice.
Speaking at a news conference here, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar cautioned the United States against providing military assistance to the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of anti-Taliban forces.
"We fear that any such decision on the part of any foreign power to give assistance to one side or another in Afghanistan is a recipe for great suffering for the people of Afghanistan," he said.
The Northern Alliance controls pockets of territory in northern Afghanistan along its borders with central Asian states where some US military planes have been deployed, an area considered vital to any anti-Taliban military operation.
Within hours of the warning from Pakistan, Bush signalled the United States might indeed turn to Taliban foes in the effort to dismantle facilities inside Afghanistan that Washington says are used by bin Laden to train terrorists.
"The mission is to root out terrorists, to find them and bring them to justice," Bush told reporters at the White House.
"One way to do that is to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place, or tired of having Osama bin Laden, people from foreign soils, in their own land," he said.
The United States has not openly said it would help arm anti-Taliban forces and top officials in Washington insist that ousting the Taliban regime is not presently the prime objective of the fight against terrorism.
Afghan opposition officials however have spoken of intensified contacts with Washington and, joined by several other governments in the region, have made clear they would welcome US backing wholeheartedly.
A top general in the anti-Taliban forces however cautioned that his forces would oppose any attempt by Washington to impose its rule over Afghanistan.
"If the Americans want to determine our state's policy, we will fight their soldiers," the deputy defense minister of Afghanistan's government-in-exile, General Atikullah Baryalay, said in an interview with the Russian daily Rossiskaya Gazeta.
The Saudi government, one of only three that had formally recognized the Taliban regime, announced it had broken ties because the Taliban had failed to respond to Saudi efforts to "convince them to stop harouring and training terrorists."
Bush said he was "most pleased" by the Saudi decision, which left Pakistan as the only country in the world with formal ties to the Taliban.
Pakistan however said it had no intention of following the Saudi move, arguing that continued diplomatic ties were needed in order to ensure that the world had at least one channel of communication with the isolated Taliban regime.
"I think we should maintain contact," Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said.
"At least there should be one country who ought to be able to have an access into them and engage them ... Therefore I don't really see much requirement for breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban."
Meanwhile the Group of Seven financial powers announced Tuesday a campaign to choke off financing to terrorists worldwide.
In a statement issued in Washington the group pledged to "pursue a comprehensive strategy to disrupt terrorist funding around the world."
The statement was released as government officials in France and Germany said banks had closed accounts and frozen assets linked to bin Laden and other people and groups on a list of suspected terrorists issued by the United States on Monday.
The moves came a day after the United States froze bin Laden's assets there and issued a compilation of terrorist suspects described by Bush as a "Most Wanted" list for the world financial community.
Speaking to reporters outside Downing Street meanwhile, Blair said that if the Taliban obstructed efforts to find bin Laden "they are every bit as much our enemy as bin Laden himself."
The prime minister said that Afghans fleeing their country now were fleeing as much from the Taliban as from the threat of any military conflict.
"But military conflict there will be unless the Taliban change and respond to the ultimatum that has been so clearly delivered to them," Blair added.
"They have chosen to help the terrorists, and in choosing to help the friends of terror, they are choosing to be enemies of ours."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Berlin after a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also offered fresh and forceful support for the US-led drive against terrorism.
Terrorist, Putin said, must be dealt with "systematically" and "forced into complete political and ideological isolation.
"All the leading nations in the world" were in agreement on this point, he said.
In other developments, OPEC ministers meeting in Vienna expressed concern about a sharp slump in oil prices following the September 11 terrorist attacks and reiterated their target price of 25 dollars per barrel.
The urgency of the OPEC meeting was highlighted after the cartel's own benchmark crude price slipped below 22 dollars a barrel following sharp declines Monday in New York and London.
Meanwhile retailers in Britain and the United States have reported higher sales of gas masks amid fears, articulated in recent days by top government officials, of a terrorist attack somewhere using chemical or biological agents.
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