Pakistan's president: Taliban's days appear numbered

Monday, October 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistan's president said Monday he believes the United States will launch a military strike against Afghanistan, after the Taliban's supreme leader told the Afghan people that ``Americans don't have the courage to come here.''

The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that ``it appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan.'' Asked if the Taliban's days are numbered, he replied: ``It appears so.''

``It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban,'' Musharraf said, referring to the Islamic militia that rules most of Afghanistan and refuses to hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

He added that Pakistan had tried its best to head off a confrontation over bin Laden and the Saudi exile's lieutenants.

In Afghanistan's beleaguered capital, Kabul, meanwhile, the first World Food Program convoy since the start of the crisis arrived Monday. Eight trucks carrying 218 tons of wheat made it through to the city after a bone-jarring journey over rutted roads, WFP spokesman Khalid Mansour said in neighboring Pakistan.

A U.N. humanitarian aid delivery of 40 tons of food and other supplies for Afghan children also arrived in Turkmenistan, which shares a 459-mile border with Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, denied any role in the terrorist attacks and blamed them on unspecified U.S. policies. In an interview with Taliban-run Kabul Radio, he repeatedly warned the United States to ``think and think again'' about attacking Afghanistan, which drove out Soviet invaders with U.S. assistance in the 1979-89 war.

``Americans don't have the courage to come here,'' he said.

Britain, meanwhile, has frozen $88 million in assets linked to the Taliban, Britain's Treasury said Monday. The actions included a ``substantial'' amount located in a European bank in London.

Musharraf told CNN in an interview aired Sunday that hopes that the Taliban will hand over bin Laden and accede to other U.S. demands are ``very dim.''

Musharraf confirmed the United States had asked Pakistan to share its intelligence on the Taliban and bin Laden and had requested permission to use Pakistani air space and logistics facilities.

The Pakistani leader also said he was confident about the security of his country's nuclear facilities, saying ``there is no chance of these assets falling into the hands of extremists.''

Pakistan has lent its backing to the United States in the confrontation over bin Laden, but outbursts of anti-American sentiment have the government worried. At a rally near the volatile border city of Peshawar on Monday, a prominent Pakistani cleric told hundreds of followers to kill any American they can find if Afghanistan comes under attack.

The Taliban, meanwhile, cracked down on any of their own citizens thought to sympathize with the enemy.

Taliban authorities, in a statement distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press, said six men were arrested for distributing pamphlets supporting the United States and Afghanistan's exiled king _ a crime that could be punishable by death. Top clerics from three provinces also issued an edict Sunday saying any Afghan believed to sympathize with the United States or the former king should be heavily fined and have their house burned down.

Fighting continued in the north of Afghanistan, with one district whose capture the opposition alliance had reported on Sunday apparently changing hands again. Taliban officials quoted by the private Afghan Islamic Press, a private news agency close to the Taliban, said their fighters had retaken the district of Qadis in northeastern Bagdis province.