Taliban leadership threatens U.S. allies

Afghanistan regime vows to attack nations that assist retaliation

`Extraordinary danger'

Terrorism Strikes America

September 16, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime said yesterday it would wage war on any nation that helped the United States retaliate against it after Tuesday's terrorist attack in New York and Washington.

The warning, issued by the Taliban embassy here, appeared designed to intimidate other Islamic states into refusing to aid the United States, especially Afghanistan's neighbor and longtime ally, Pakistan.

"If neighboring or regional countries, particularly Islamic countries, gave a positive response to American demand for military bases, it would spark off extraordinary danger," said the ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, reading from a statement.

"Similarly, if any neighboring country gave territorial way or airspace to U.S.A. against our land, it would draw us into a war."

Osama bin Laden's protector

American officials have said the prime suspect in last week's attack, which left thousands dead, is wealthy Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, whom Afghanistan's Taliban have protected for years.

The Taliban have refused to turn him over, saying that he didn't have the technological means to organize such a coordinated strike with trained pilots and hijacked planes.

In yesterday's statement, Taliban leaders insisted that they were not singling out Pakistan for potential punishment, but were threatening "any" country.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar tried to gloss over the Taliban threat. "We have had a very strong relationship of solidarity with Afghanistan," Sattar said at a news conference.

Pakistan's role unclear

His statement could not obscure the fact that Pakistan must at some point explain who it will back in the looming confrontation between the United States and Afghanistan. So far, all signs point to the United States.

Sattar said his government would comply with all United Nations resolutions to combat "international terrorism," but refused to say whether it would agree to Washington's list of demands.

"The situation is clearly complex," he said. "Pakistan will discuss the matter with the government of Afghanistan to clarify this matter."

The United States has reportedly asked Pakistan to allow flights over its territory. It also wants Pakistan to close its 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan and shut off the fuel supply to Afghanistan.

If the United States attacked Afghanistan, it would be practically impossible for Taliban soldiers to effectively attack another nation with a conventional force.

The greater risk is that Afghanistan would respond with terrorism. Pakistan is home to more than 2 million Afghan refugees, who could carry out attacks inside Pakistan out of anger and frustration.

"Who can stop the Taliban?" said a telecommunications worker last week, who asked that his name not be used. "If they can attack the safest nation in the world, Pakistan will be a piece of cake."

Yesterday, the Taliban told the few foreigners still there to leave for their own safety. Most foreign aid workers have already fled from Afghanistan, fearful of being targeted by the population.

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