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'Musharraf met Mullah Omar'
March 28, 2004 18:43 IST
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf met Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar in April 2000 to convince him to expel Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a report released by a commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
It said the meeting took place at the request of former US president Bill Clinton after he raised the issue during his visit to Pakistan on March 25, 2000.
"The Pakistanis asked for evidence that bin Laden had really ordered the US embassy bombings [in East Africa] a year and a half earlier. In a follow-up meeting the next day with Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, President Musharraf argued that Pakistan had only limited influence over the Taliban," the commission report quoted by the media said.
Despite these reservations, Musharraf "did meet Mullah Omar and did urge him to get rid of bin Laden", it said.
In early June 2000, according to the report, Pakistan's interior minister went to Kandahar with Pickering and delivered a joint message to Taliban officials. "But the Taliban seemed immune to such pleas, especially from Pakistani civilians like the interior minister," it observed. "Pakistan did not threaten to cut off its help to the Taliban regime."
The report also provided so far classified information about joint US-Saudi efforts to influence the Taliban regime on this issue.
Their first joint effort to evict the Al Qaeda chief from Afghanistan began in May 1998 when Clinton designated Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet as his representative to work with the Saudis on terrorism.
Tenet met Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah twice and convinced him to make an all-out secret effort to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden for eventual delivery to the US or another country, the report said.
Riyadh decided to send Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal as Prince Abdullah's special emissary to Kandahar. He also took with him a sealed indictment against bin Laden issued by a New York grand jury.
Prince Turki held several meetings with Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders in the summer of 1998. Employing a mixture of possible bribes and threats, he received a commitment that bin Laden would be handed over, the report said.
After the embassy bombings in August 1998, the then US vice-president Al Gore called Riyadh again to underscore the urgency of bringing the Saudi ultimatum to a final conclusion.
"In September 1998, Prince Turki, joined by Pakistan's intelligence chief, had a climactic meeting with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. Mullah Omar reneged on his promise to expel bin Laden. When Prince Turki angrily confronted him, Mullah Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out," the report said.
The Saudi government then cut off official assistance to the Taliban regime, recalled its diplomats from Kandahar, and expelled Taliban representatives from the kingdom. The report, however, observed that Pakistan did not sever its relations with the Taliban.
"Iran was already on the verge of going to war against the Taliban. The Saudis and Pakistanis feared that a further break might encourage Iran to attack. They also wanted to leave open room for rebuilding ties if more moderate voices among the Taliban gained control," the report noted.
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