Nic Robertson: Pakistanis make last-ditch effort
QUETTA, Pakistan -- (CNN) Pakistan says it will send two new diplomatic delegations to Afghanistan on Friday to make one last effort to convince the Taliban government to turn over suspected terrorist ringleader Osama bin Laden. CNN correspondent Nic Robertson spoke from Pakistan to CNN anchor Joie Chen on what the mission hopes to achieve.
ROBERTSON: Joie, it is also Friday here, about 1:30 this morning. In about five and a half hours Pakistani officials say that two aircraft will leave Pakistani airspace bound for Afghanistan. On board those aircraft, two delegations. One: A Pakistani government delegation. The other: A delegation of senior Pakistani Islamic clerics.
Those clerics closely allied with the Taliban in the past, now, the Pakistani government says it will be going to Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammed Omar. They will deliver to him the international message that Mullah Omar must hand over Osama bin Laden.
The Pakistani government says this is essentially a last-ditch effort. What they want to make sure they say is that they try every, every diplomatic opportunity left open to them to try and secure a peaceful resolution to the current situation. Inside Pakistan today it was a positive day for Pakistan's government, a day of solidarity. There were protests on streets throughout Pakistan.
Thousands gathering in both the capital Islamabad, Quetta and other cities. Now, unlike recent demonstrations, these were demonstrations in favor or the government. They were pro-General Musharraf, the were pro General Musharraf's support for the United States. These people call themselves the silent majority. They said they would come out onto the streets show they were showing their support for General Musharraf and the United States.
Inside Afghanistan there were rumors of low-level and mid-level desertions from within Taliban ranks. At checkpoints along the routes inside Afghanistan there were reports that some of the check points were missing. Also a governor in a key province inside Afghanistan wrote to Mullah Muhammed Omar to make sure that there were no Arabic fighters in his province,
We talked with Taliban officials earlier and asked about these desertions. They said that they couldn't confirm them, that they couldn't deny them. They said it was possible that there were some desertions in eastern provinces, but around their stronghold of Kandahar in the south the support for them was still solid. However they did say that their government, the Taliban government, is concerned about these rumors of possible desertions at this time -- Joie.
CHEN: Nic, in recent days we've heard that there are a number of people attempting to flee Afghanistan across into the Pakistani area across the border there but they have been met with some resistance at the Pakistani border. Can you tell us about that?
ROBERTSON: Yes, the Pakistani government still not ready at this stage to open its borders to refugees coming from Afghanistan. U.N. estimates at this time perhaps 10 to 20,000 refugees across inside Afghanistan at the border waiting to come into Pakistan.
Though the Pakistani government has said that it will allow on a case by case basis people whose health is deteriorating. U.N. officials estimate perhaps half of those numbers the other side of the border are out in the open, and without adequate health care and sanitary facilities for them.
What the United Nations wants to do inside Pakistan is set up relief camps, for what they fear could be as many as a million refugees coming into Pakistan. They say maybe another 400,000 could go west from Afghanistan into Iran. Maybe another 100,000 go north into the countries north of Afghanistan. But the U.N. very concerned about the potential for a humanitarian crisis inside Afghanistan as they fear food shortages and food prices may put people in a desperate situation -- desperate enough to flee to Pakistan.
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