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US concerned about Taleban's resilience, and Pak's trustworthiness

P Jayaram in New Delhi

The United States is worried about the resilience shown by the Taleban in the face of the heavy aerial bombardment of Afghanistan by US-led forces and the efficacy of the intelligence inputs being provided by Pakistan, its new found ally in the war against terrorism.

US concerns in this regard were conveyed to Pakistan during Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Islamabad on Tuesday, well informed diplomatic sources in New Delhi said, claiming this was the 'hidden agenda' of Powell's visit.

Key members of Powell's delegation, particularly Assistant Secretary for Defence for International Affairs Peter Rodman, reportedly told Pakistani officials that the 'staying power' demonstrated by the Taleban and the size of its arsenal, including artillery, bore no relation to the intelligence information shared by Islamabad with Washington.

The Pakistani officials were bluntly told that for all the information provided by them, there had been but one 'lucky strike' -on a fuel dump - and most of the aerial strikes had come with 'zilch'. The sources said this, in turn, raised the question of the extent of cooperation Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf was getting from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), widely seen as the creator of the Taleban, which originated in the Islamic seminaries of Pakistan.

While the views of Indian officials and sources close to the government on Pakistan could be subjective given the tense relations between the two countries, what gives credence to their claims this time is the known differences among sections of the Pakistan Army and ISI over Musharraf's decision to support the US military action in Afghanistan.

Musharraf had transferred or superannuated 11 senior army generals, including ISI chief Mehmood Ahmad, following apparent differences over the issue. Musharraf himself had said in an address to the nation that Islamabad had no choice but to support the US in the war against terrorism to prevent India from taking advantage of the situation in Afghanistan.

The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Saleem Zaeef's defiant statement in Islamabad on Friday on his return from Afghanistan after consultations with the militia's leadership also gives the impression that the Taleban is far from a spent force. "The claim by Washington that it has destroyed all our military installations is wrong. We are safeguarding our ammunition and capabilities for the ground battle," he told a crowded press conference in Islamabad.

He also said there was no change in the Taleban's refusal to hand over Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden, suspected mastermind behind the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US.

The US officials were also reported to have expressed concern to the Pakistanis over what they described as 'leakage' of strategic information that helped bin Laden and the Taleban leadership to escape the raining of bombs on their suspected hideouts and camps. The sources said despite assurances of full cooperation by the Musharraf government, Powell and his delegation had returned with the impression that Pakistani cooperation in operational terms had been extended 'grudgingly' when it was given.

Powell's mission to the region, which has been catapulted to international limelight following the September 11, was also a familiarisation tour to get to know the leaders and officials he will have to deal with in the months or years to come as US gets more deeply involved in Afghanistan.

The sources said US doubts whether Musharraf was getting full cooperation from his generals and ISI could also be the reason for Powell to publicly praise the military dictator to shore up his image. "Secretary Powell was keen to say and do things during the visit that help stabilise Musharraf's government, which is playing something of a role in Afghanistan," one source said, adding any move by Islamic fundamentalists to change the government would put the whole US military operation in Afghanistan in jeopardy.

Powell's remarks in Islamabad on the 'centrality' of Jammu and Kashmir in normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan is seen in New Delhi in this context, though he amended it in New Delhi after Indian leaders clearly conveyed their unhappiness when he arrived in New Delhi from Islamabad.

Indo-Asian News Service

-- Swissrose (, October 20, 2001

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