Pakistan today said that evidence provided by the United States about the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington -- and the bombings of two U.S. embassies in 1998 -- shows there is enough information for Osama bin Laden to be indicted for involvement in the attacks.
Islamabad, 4 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Pakistani government today said that evidence about terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 11 September attacks on the United States justifies his being charged with the crimes.
But Pakistan's reaction fell short of the emphatic argument presented by Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who today made public a 21-page document supporting the British government's conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to implicate bin Laden in the attacks. Blair said in an address to his country's parliament that he has "absolutely no doubt" about bin Laden's involvement.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Khan said the evidence, which the U.S. presented to his government yesterday, also addresses crimes prior to the most recent attacks, including the 1998 bomb blasts at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which left a total of more than 200 people dead.
"[Regarding] the material related to both pre-September 11 incidents and also to the September 11 events, I have said very clearly that there is sufficient grounds for indictment, which reinforces the decision of the [U.N.] Security Council."
Khan shied away from saying the evidence justifies U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban militia is harboring bin Laden. The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused U.S. requests to turn over bin Laden, has asked to see the evidence. But Khan said it is up to the United States, and not Pakistan, to supply the material to the government in Kabul.
The Pakistani government has asked the U.S. to make the evidence public. Until now, the U.S. has shared its evidence only with its NATO allies and other states that have joined the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
Prime Minister Blair shed some light on the evidence today in his remarks to the British parliament:
"Our findings have been shared and coordinated with those of our allies, and they are clear. They are: first, that it was Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda -- the terrorist network which he heads -- that planned and carried out the atrocities on the 11th of September. And secondly, that Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda were able to commit the atrocities because of their close alliance with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which allows them to operated with impunity in pursuing their terrorist activity."
The Pakistani government has announced that Blair will visit Pakistan on 5 October. The British Embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has yet to officially confirm that Blair, who arrived in Moscow today, would make the visit. Khan, however, confirms that he will:
"As regards the visit of the British prime minister, yes, it is in the cards. It will be a working visit tomorrow, but beyond that I'm not in a position to give you any details relating to the program, et cetera. Of course, when he arrives, he will be having meetings with President [Pervez Musharraf]."
Blair has become U.S. President George W. Bush's closest ally in advocating decisive action against terrorists. He would be the most senior figure from the antiterrorism coalition to visit Pakistan and could gauge the real level of support among ordinary Pakistanis for their country's membership in the coalition.
The Pakistani government seems to have changed its position on the composition of a new government in Afghanistan if Taliban rule is eliminated. According to the Italian government, Musharraf has passed on an invitation to former Afghan King Zahir Shah to send a delegation to Pakistan.
Zahir Shah has lived in exile in Rome for 28 years. His representatives and those of the Northern Alliance fighters battling the Taliban recently said they had agreed to form an alliance to convene a traditional Afghan supreme council, or Loya Jirga, to elect a transitional government. They invited all sections of Afghan society to participate, including Taliban members.
Pakistan has in the past been hostile to the Northern Alliance, which has received arms from countries Pakistan traditionally regards as unfriendly or as enemies -- including India, Russia, and Iran. Pakistan has attempted to marginalize the former king's previous attempts to revive a political role for himself.
Pakistan has warned that an attempt by outsiders to impose a new regime on the Afghan people would be doomed to failure. Khan said Afghans must decide upon their ruler for themselves:
"As regards a government in Kabul -- which is representative of all segments of the Afghan population, something which the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Countries have been making efforts to promote -- that kind of government, we feel sure, will always be friendly to Pakistan because they will see that interests of Pakistan and Afghanistan converge."
The plight of Afghans facing starvation has been overshadowed as public and media attention once again focuses on indications of an imminent military strike against Afghanistan.
But Pakistan said the situation is still critical. Officials say only five weeks remain to transport massive amounts of food into the country before winter closes in and makes shipments difficult or even impossible.
The United Nations has predicted around 1 million Afghans will try to flee the country to neighboring Pakistan if there are military strikes against their country. It says 7 million more will face acute food shortages with the danger of famine. Pakistan has closed its borders with Afghanistan, but Khan said that many Afghans are clamoring to get in:
"We have reports that literally tens of thousands of people are pressing to get into Pakistan. As you know, in Afghanistan -- because of drought conditions, conflict conditions, the present situation which must have created panic -- there is a very large number of people who have got displaced. There are no international humanitarian-aid organizations that are working inside that country. Whatever food is going is going from Pakistan. We are trying to send as much as possible so that people do not starve. But nonetheless, it's a grave situation and people are trying to get into Pakistan in search of food and relief."
Pakistan is afraid that any mass exodus of Afghans will add to its own economic burden and social tensions. Pakistan already provides shelter for 2.5 million Afghan refugees who fled when their country was occupied by the Soviets.
U.S. President Bush today pledged to provide $320 million in new humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.