June 3, 2002
1032 IST

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Top Taliban officials held reunion near Peshawar: Newsweek

Dharam Shourie in New York

As US forces continue to hunt for Taliban and Al Qaeda members in the tribal belt of Pakistan, top officials of the militia recently held a reunion near Peshawar with a Pakistani intelligence official allowing them to leave unmolested, a media report said.

Top Taliban officials recently attended the funeral of a former anti-Soviet guerrilla fighter in the Jalozai Afghan refugee camp, about 20 km outside of Peshawar, Newsweek magazine said in its latest issue.

Among those attending the funeral were some of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's chief protectors: Taliban's deputy foreign minister Abdul Rahman Zaid and top defence ministry official Jalil Yousafzai.

In a speech, a Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist, the magazine said, eulogised the departed and tartly noted the presence of an intelligence official - a 'personal envoy' of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who later let the Taliban officials leave unmolested.

Asked about bin Laden's whereabouts, one of the attendees, an ex-Taliban intelligence official, said, "Osama is a true patriot and despite their all-out efforts, the Americans are unable to catch him and never will be able to."

Other former members of the militia, Newsweek reported, are living comfortably in the border cities of Peshawar and Quetta, while dozens of surviving Al Qaeda operatives have infiltrated into Pakistan.

The most astounding part about the event is that it occurred in a country that US President George W Bush has described as America's most resolute ally in the war against terrorism, the magazine said.

"The number of US personnel in Pakistan - CIA, FBI, and Special Forces - would astound you," a senior Pakistani diplomat was quoted by Newsweek as saying.

But a Bush administration official also said that the US government's ability to operate in the country remains constricted, especially as Pakistan prepares to shift 8,000 troops from the hunt for Al Qaeda members to its border with India.

Al Qaeda survivors and sympathetic terrorists, the magazine added, appear to be banding into smaller groups, acting largely on their own, animated only by a common hatred of the US. The terrorists have intimate knowledge of US security methods, making overseas trips of US officials a growing concern.

"Al Qaeda, as an organisation, has been crippled," a top Arab intelligence officer said. "But there are still many mad operatives who will take matters in their own hands for revenge. When and where, I don't know."

"I'm worried that Al Qaeda may make Pakistan its new base," a senior US official said. "And that has consequences for both Afghanistan and for terrorism globally."

The immediate danger is an assassination attempt on Musharraf and a destabilisation of his regime.

The longer-term and even more dire threat is that terrorists could get their hands on Islamabad's nuclear weapons, especially in a war-devastated Pakistan, the magazine added.


America's War on Terror: The Complete Coverage
The Attack on US Cities: The Complete Coverage

More reports on Pakistan

The Terrorism Weblog: Latest Stories from Around the World

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