Jackson Emerges as Possible Mediator; US Tightens Noose on Bin Laden
US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson emerged as a possible mediator Thursday between the United States and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, as US investigators tightened the intelligence noose around Osama bin Laden.
US experts who after three days of talks struck a deal with Pakistan to jointly track down bin Laden were heading back "with a whole range of information on bin Laden, his network and his support bases in Pakistan," an Islamabad intelligence source said.
Pakistani and Taliban sources said Islamabad would send a new official delegation, including religious scholars, to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in Kandahar on Friday for fresh talks on the crisis.
Jackson, a one-time US presidential candidate and a veteran of several past -- and often successful -- mediation missions between the United States and its adversaries, said he was "surprised" to hear from the Taliban.
He told US television that he received a call Wednesday from Mohammed Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban embassy in Pakistan, who suggested Jackson lead a peace delegation and meet members of the Afghan regime.
"I really don't want to go," Jackson said, stressing that if he did, it would be with "a very credible delegation with sufficient intelligence."
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the United States did not support a peace mission.
"We're not interested in a dialogue," he said. "We're interested in action and no negotiation. The demands are not subject to dialogue."
In Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, confirmed that Jackson would be welcome, but said he had volunteered.
"He offered to mediate, and our leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has accepted this offer," Zaeef told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), a Pakistan-based, pro-Taliban news agency.
"He (Mullah Omar) has ordered the authorities to extend cooperation if Jesse Jackson visits Afghanistan. We will have no objection," Zaeef said.
His statement came as Washington took its plan to starve terrorists of cash by closing financial loopholes used to launder money and fund illicit operations to the United Nations, where diplomats said the UN Security Council was likely to approve it "within days."
The US-Pakistan deal to hunt down bin Laden, the main suspect in the September 11 raids against the United States that left nearly 7,000 dead, was seen as a key step to pinpointing the Saudi radical's location and paving the way for a military operation to capture or eliminate him.
Despite progress by investigators and signs that the Taliban's grip on power is weakening five years to the day since they marched into Kabul, the regime continued to defy calls for cooperation.
Mullah Omar made it clear that Afghanistan had no intention of backing down in its face-off with the West and vowed to defeat any US invasion or bid to install a puppet regime.
"In the event of intervention in Afghanistan there will be no difference between Russia and America," he said in a statement released through the AIP.
He was referring to the former Soviet Union's military debacle in Afghanistan, which it occupied between 1979 and 1989.
Meanwhile, a series of linked anti-terrorist operations was in progress worldwide.
In Abu Dhabi, the central bank of the United Arab Emirates ordered frozen the accounts and investments of 26 individuals and organizations suspected of financing terrorist activities.
Among the list of accounts were those of bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.
In Basel, Switzerland, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said it was helping national central banks track the money trail of suspected terror groups, by creating a central list of named suspects.
The tiny Pacific tax haven of Nauru, which operates around 400 off-shore banks -- about a third of them apparently of Middle Eastern origin -- all registered to one government mail box, was under scrutiny amid fears it could have been a conduit for terrorist funds, diplomats said.
In Uganda, officials seized the registration documents of a firm thought to have links with bin Laden.
Acting on information from the CIA or their own surveillance operations, European security agencies have made a string of arrests in a bid to piece together a trans-Atlantic connection to the September 11 attacks.
France, Spain, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands are holding a total of 23 men suspected of links with bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
In Germany, police are trying to trace an underground Islamic cell in Hamburg, where three of the 19 hijackers involved in the US terror blitz are known to have studied, while in Italy the investigation focuses on networks based in Naples and Milan.
On Wednesday, at least 10 people were arrested in the United States by officials probing allegations that radicals planned to mount chemical attacks on US cities.
China said it arrested a number of suspected separatists in the mainly Moslem province of Xinjiang province, which borders Afghanistan.
Despite its long alliance with the United States and the West, Pakistan, at the frontline of the simmering conflict against bin Laden and Afghanistan, had been reluctant so far to pay anything more than lip service to Washington because of its close ties with the Taliban.
Bin Laden has been based in Afghanistan since 1996 but the Taliban claimed since last week that they do not know where he is. Pakistan has said the same.
Although there is widespread support for President Pervez Musharraf's decision to cooperate with the United States against terrorism, any operation seen as an attack on Afghanistan is likely to trigger a backlash in Pakistan.
In an effort to minimize opposition, the government Thursday organized rallies across the country to demonstrate public support for Musharraf's decision to back the US.
In Islamabad, thousands of students waving Pakistani flags, shouting pro-government slogans and singing nationalist songs assembled in front of the parliament -- suspended since Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup.
The deal on intelligence-sharing came as the United States broadly hinted that it would support the opposition Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of anti-Taliban forces that control the northern tenth of the country.
Afghan sources in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, said Taliban control over key provinces in the country's east was weakening, with several commanders about to drop their support for the militia -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)