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Pakistan sending military supplies to Taleban: US officials

T V Parasuram in Washington

United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday that Afghanistan's ruling Taleban may still be getting military supplies from Pakistan and did not rule out Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network having got some nuclear material from persons arrested in Pakistan.

"There is no question that countries bordering Afghanistan have long histories of relationships of contacts across borders," Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington.

"All I can say is I don't doubt for a minute there are people in any number of countries who have relationships and dealings across the border that are not helpful to us," he said.

To a specific question of whether the US has any knowledge that either the Taleban or Al Qaeda have obtained nuclear weapons or know-how from Pakistan, Rumsfeld said, "The short answer is we know and have certain knowledge that the Al Qaeda has over the years had an appetite for acquiring weapons of mass destruction of various types, including nuclear materials. That is a fact."

As to the safety of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile, Rumsfeld said "I am sure the president of Pakistan has attended to that."

The military goods, including ammunition and fuel, are being sent with the help of some elements of the Pakistani government, US officials had earlier told The Washington Times.

Officials of the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence have approved the trade. The ISI, in particular, is said to still have close ties with the Taleban regime despite the changes in its leadership carried out by Musharraf, they said.

Rumsfeld, however, gave a clean chit to the Musharraf regime saying, "There is no question but that Pakistan and the president of Pakistan and his government are very much alive to this effort and that they have been enormously supportive and helpful (to the US).

"Therefore, to suggest that it is a conscious effort on the part of the government (to help the Taleban with military supplies) would be a misunderstanding of the situation," he said adding "I will discuss this with the President of Pakistan if and when I go (to Pakistan)."

The trade is said to take place at night by trucks. The goods travel from Quetta to Chaman and then on to Kandahar.

"There are two border control regimes: One before sundown and another after sundown," said one official about Pakistan's official support for the United Nations embargo during the day and its violation at night.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview to The Wall Street Journal, gave a clean chit to Musharraf.

"Pakistan has cut itself free of its Taleban connections. Some will suggest, 'Well, there's still some things going on', but I can tell you that President Musharraf and his other leaders are cutting themselves free."

On halting bombing during Ramzan, Powell said, "It would not be smart of us not to be sensitive to the fact that this is an important religious period. At the same time, war planners will need to keep the pressure up all through the winter. Military planners will take it (Ramzan) into account, but we can't stop our campaign simply because of that."

PTI

America's War on Terror: The complete coverage
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