Taliban Welcomes Pakistani Protection of bin Laden

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - The ruling Taliban government in Kabul Sunday welcomed Islamabad's decision not to allow the US to use its airspace to attack the bases of suspected Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

"We welcome the Pakistani statement, and we are confident that our other neighbors would also adopt a positive and sovereign policy," the Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen was quoted as saying.

Taliban, which has denied bin Laden's involvement in the USS Cole bombing, said, "Afghanistan is like the heart of Asia, and any disruption in the country would destabilize the region."

Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar Saturday said, "Pakistan did not allow the use of our airspace for any such attack on Afghanistan in the past. Pakistan will not do so now. If, nevertheless, there is violation of airspace, we will raise this matter to councils of the world as a violation of universally recognized principles of international law.''

Sattar's stern comments comes within days of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in Islamabad warning that, if Washington attacked bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan, the lives of foreigners, especially Americans living in Pakistan, would be in danger.

US investigators, probing the USS Cole bombing, suspect the alleged role of bin Laden's men behind the attack. The bombing of the naval ship on October 12 in a Yemen harbor of Aden resulted in the death of 17 dead and 39 injured among the Cole crew.

In 1998, U.S. warships fired cruise missiles at camps in Afghanistan it thought were run by bin Laden. Washington had accused bin Laden of spearheading the bombings of two US embassies in Africa.

Pakistan is one of the three countries that recognize Afghanistan's Taliban militia government, which now rules 95 percent of the country.

Washington is demanding the Taliban hand over bin Laden, the most wanted person on the US state department list of terrorists, to stand trial either in the United States or a third-party country on charges of terrorism.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl F.Inderfurth told Congress recently, "We also understand that Pakistan is quietly urging the Taliban to review some of their ties to terrorists.

"We believe that Pakistan does have considerable influence in Afghanistan. The goal of our continued diplomacy is to urge Pakistan to use every aspect of its influence to convince the Taliban to render Osama bin Laden to justice and shut down Afghanistan's terror networks altogether," he said.

"What we seek is not so much confrontation with the Taliban as common cause with all the other players who wish to contain and ultimately overcome the threats that the Taliban presents," Inderfurth added.

Inderfurth wrote Sunday in an Indian daily, The Times of India, that, "As we deepen our engagement with India, and enhance our ties with Bangladesh, we have not forgotten our other friends in South Asia, including Pakistan."

Foreign policy analyst K Subramanium said the US Assistant Secretary's views outlining Washington's foreign policy gives a clear message that "in Pakistan, the US would prefer to have the military ruler General Musharraf instead of any of his more 'mullah-ist' corps commanders."

"Therefore, he (Inderfurth) has to reassure them (Pakistan) that the US has not totally abandoned Pakistan, especially after the setting up of joint working groups with India on terrorism and Afghanistan," Subramanium said.

Further, with reports indicating the Saudi terrorists' hand in the USS Cole bombing, Subramanium said the linking makes it necessary for Washington to woo Musharraf away from bin Laden.

Inderfurth wrote that there has been a significant redefining of US foreign policy for the 21st century in the post-Cold War world.

"It used to be said that South Asia was on the backside of the US diplomatic globe," Inderfurth wrote. "No longer. That globe is beginning to turn. From here forward, we hope to have strong and growing relationships across South Asia which promises to take its rightful place higher on the scale of American foreign policy priorities in the years ahead."

The shift in Washington's policy is because of South Asia's emergence as an important potential partner on issues ranging from global peace to global climate change as well as from cutting-edge technological cooperation to common causes against age-old ills of disease and poverty or the new scourges of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, Inderfurth said.