November 23, 2001
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Pakistan mulls setting up Afghan mission

Muhammad Najeeb in Islamabad

Pakistan is planning to open a mission in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad in a virtual recognition of the Northern Alliance, even as it ordered the closure of the Taleban's embassy in Islamabad.

This will be the first step by Pakistan, which has so long voiced reservations about the Northern Alliance, to have a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after the Taleban rule ended there.

The move has come after some of the region's countries, including India, Iran and Russia, established their diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Iran has opened a consulate in the western city of Herat, whereas India has established a liaison office as a prelude to reopening its embassy in Kabul.

Moscow has also signalled that it will open its mission in Kabul in a couple of days.

"A Pakistani official has met the Nangarhar governor and discussed the issue of opening a mission in Jalalabad (capital of the province)," a senior government official told the Indo-Asian News Service.

Jalalabad borders Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and is now ruled by Abdul Qadeer, elder brother of Abdul Haq, who was recently killed by the Taleban.

The official said: "Qadeer has accepted Pakistan's proposal and the opening of the mission would be announced in a couple of days."

Qadeer has personal relations with several Pakistani politicians and diplomats as he lived in Peshawar for quite some time when the Taleban were ruling Afghanistan. He has also established strong business links there. A Pakistani businessman said Qadeer was an importer of electronic goods.

The government official said Pakistan's move to open the mission would also help in facilitating all sorts of traffic from and to Afghanistan.

"This would also ease difficulties of relief workers who frequently travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.

The Pakistani official met Qadeer on Thursday, even as Islamabad ordered closure of Taleban's last embassy eliminating what was once called a 'window of contact for the world' with the militia.

Taleban envoy Abdul Salam Zaeef was called to the Foreign Office on Thursday and informed of the government's decision.

The Taliban officials left the embassy building on Thursday and shifted to a house in Islamabad. It was not clear when they would be leaving Pakistan.

The Afghan consulate in Karachi was shut down earlier in the month, followed by the closure of Taleban missions in Peshawar and Quetta this week, in a measured tread towards derecognising the embattled militia regime.

Although Pakistan has not had any diplomatic presence in Kabul for quite some time, the Taleban were allowed to keep their missions in Pakistan functioning to 'serve as a contact point mainly for agencies rendering humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan'.

"If Pakistan's plan to open mission in Jalalabad is materialised, it would be characterised as one of the most daring diplomatic manoeuvres by Pakistan since the fall of Taleban regime," a diplomat said.

He said Pakistan was still hesitant to have direct contact with the Northern Alliance leadership therefore it seems difficult that it would be able to open embassy in Kabul in the near future.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman had said on Thursday that Pakistan would consider diplomatic relations with Afghanistan 'once a broad-based, multi-ethnic government is formed there'.

Indo-Asian News Service

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