Taliban repeat defense of bin Laden


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Down a leafy side street here lies the public face of one of the world's most isolated - and now most watched - regimes: the Taliban of Afghanistan.

As most foreign aid workers and overseas journalists have already fled the nation in fear of an American attack, Afghanistan's fundamentalist Islamic government is increasingly relying on its embassy here to speak to the world.

The Taliban have diplomatic relations with just three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The embassy here is an unprepossessing villa with a manicured lawn and a row of fir trees.

Yesterday, reporters crowded onto a second-floor patio to hear Taliban representatives reiterate their claim that their most famous guest, terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden, could not have coordinated this week's devastating attacks on New York and Washington.

'Where did he train them?'

"Training of pilots is the work of a running government," said the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, referring to the hijackers who commandeered four U.S. airliners. "Osama has no pilots, and where did he train them? In Afghanistan, there is no such possibility for the training."

In a statement attributed to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the ambassador said U.S. investigators were trying to link bin Laden to this week's attacks "unjustifiably and without any reason."

Anyone singling out bin Laden is trying "to add to his [own] reputation" and "consider their duty fulfilled," Omar said.

Zaeef, the ambassador, said that handing over bin Laden to the United States would be a "long process." It would have to involve U.S. authorities providing evidence against bin Laden to the Taliban.

"So far the Americans have not contacted us on providing any evidence. Our position is very clear. We have condemned the attacks," he said.

The press conference seemed to underscore the chasm between the Taliban and the West.

Reporters clad in jeans and khakis and loaded down with cell pones and tape recorders crowded around a coffee table. The Taliban members held court in traditional dress: turbans, long flowing shirts and pants called shalwar kameez.

Extraordinary conservatism

The Taliban, who now control 95 percent of Afghanistan, are a Muslim fundamentalist group, one that has attempted to enforce an extraordinarily conservative reading of the Quran. After taking over Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban closed girls schools and banned almost all diversions, from television to singing to kite flying.

Earlier this year, the Taliban stunned the world by demolishing two ancient Buddhist statues with explosives. Despite world outrage and disapproval by other Muslim states, the Taliban insisted they had to destroy the statues because they were idolatrous, violating the tenets of Islam.

Outside the embassy's front gate, the Taliban have pitched an olive green, army tent in the shadow of a banana plant. Soldiers with battered rifles half-heartedly pat down visitors.

Early in the press conference, some reporters wrongly thought the Taliban had accused Iran of masterminding Tuesday's attacks - the result of reporters and translators stumbling over each other's accents: Reading a statement, the Taliban interpreter said that only "a running government" could train pilots; reporters heard it as "an Iranian government."

Would the Taliban issue visas to foreign reporters?

"There are no places," the ambassador said. "All houses are full."

The press conference concluded with something akin to a rugby scrum as some reporters rushed and shoved to get printed versions of the ambassador's official statement. Responding in frustration, one Taliban official simply threw a handful of papers at the reporters in disgust.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad