Taliban lose key Arab support

United Arab Emirates end diplomatic ties

Saudis ponder action

Plane downed, Afghans say

Bush eases sanctions on India, Pakistan to aid cooperation

Terrorism Strikes America

September 23, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Afghanistan's Taliban leadership lost one of its few links to the outside world yesterday when the United Arab Emirates, one of the three nations that officially recognized the regime, severed diplomatic relations.

The move added pressure to the fundamentalist Islamic regime as the United States maintained its demand that Afghanistan hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan's government, which has sheltered bin Laden, is now formally recognized by just two nations: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that it has withdrawn its last diplomats from Afghanistan, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"The United Arab Emirates does not believe that it is possible to continue to maintain diplomatic relations with a government that refuses to respond to the clear will of the international community," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. He said his country wanted to see bin Laden "given a fair trial by an international court on the charges linked to the terrorist attacks." Afghan diplomats were ordered to leave the Emirates within 24 hours.

The United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban militia in 1997, a year after it gained control over most of Afghanistan. Most nations recognize the Afghan government-in-exile of President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The Taliban leadership announced Friday that it would not hand over bin Laden, as the United States has demanded, without evidence linking him to the attacks Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In Saudi Arabia, an official said the kingdom was "discussing whether to sever ties with the Taliban," the Associated Press reported. The official did not say when such a decision would be made.

Meanwhile, President Bush lifted sanctions last night against India and Pakistan that were imposed after the two nations tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The move came as a U.S. military delegation headed to Pakistan this weekend for consultations on U.S. preparations for a military strike against Afghanistan. The sanctions barred economic and military assistance to the two countries. Despite anti-American sentiment in the country, Pakistan agreed last week to share military intelligence with the United States, permit its airspace to be used by American military aircraft and to provide U.S. access to military facilities.

In another development yesterday, Taliban officials said their forces shot down an unmanned spy plane in northern Afghanistan.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, said Taliban soldiers armed with Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons shot down the aircraft over Tashgurgan Pass in Afghanistan's northern Samangan province.

The aircraft could have entered northern Afghanistan from Russia or one of the nearby Central Asian states, such as Uzbekistan. Pakistan's state-run news agency, however, claimed that the Taliban shot down a helicopter with "leading figures" from Afghanistan's Northern Alliance rebel movement - not a spy plane.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Milord offered no response to the reports.. "We will not respond to each and every statement of the Taliban," he said.

In Rome, members of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban alliance were to meet with Afghanistan's former king, who has been mentioned as a possible successor if the Taliban are ousted by the United States.

Former King Mohammad Zahir Shah also planned to meet today with Francesc Vendrell, the United Nations' chief's personal representative for Afghanistan, the monarch's aide said.

Demonstrations by Islamic political groups in Pakistan continued in some cities yesterday, after a nationwide strike Friday attracted limited support. The pro-Taliban groups object to the decision by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's leader, to support the United States in the hunt for bin Laden. Some Muslim groups warn of the danger of civil war if the United States attacks Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan.

In the city of Peshawar near the Afghan border, about 500 people marched through the streets and set fire to an effigy of Bush.

Most of those attending the demonstrations were religious party members who failed to win mass approval from Pakistan's 140 million people. Most residents of Islamabad appeared to be busy to take much time or interest in the demonstrations.

"I support Musharraf," said Shah Shams, a 15-year-old student from Islamabad. "I can't stand these stupid strikes." But he expressed reservations about his country's joining forces with the United States. During the Cold War, he said, the United States used Pakistan to funnel support to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union and gave nothing in return.

"They should help the United States but keep in mind that they've been betrayed before," he said. "I think we should mediate the situation with patience and intelligence."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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