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Pakistan urges Taliban to consider 'larger interests'

Anchor Paula Zahn spoke with Christiane Amanpour Tuesday morning in Pakistan, where the CNN correspondent is monitoring communications between officials from Pakistan and authorities in Afghanistan.

Christiane Amanpour
Christiane Amanpour  

PAULA ZAHN: Time now to move on to what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan this morning. For the second day, Pakistani officials are trying to urge the Taliban officials to turn over Osama bin Laden. Let's turn now to Christiane Amanpour, who joins us from Islamabad, Pakistan, this morning. Christiane, what's the latest from there?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, Paula, we've just heard in the last couple of minutes the foreign ministry here saying that their delegation, which was sent yesterday to Afghanistan, is due back later today (Tuesday).

What CNN was told by a senior government official today was that Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the chief executive -- the president of Pakistan himself -- had "forcefully written" a message to the Taliban, to Mulla (Mohammad) Omar, who is the leader of the Taliban, saying that they need to "address the needs of the United States at this time."

"It is time," he said, "for them to think of the larger interests of Afghanistan."

We have no word as to how those meetings between the Pakistani delegation and the Afghan Taliban have gone. But we do ... understand that the delegation is coming back.

At one point we had heard that the Afghans were going to hold a religious council meeting, if you like -- a big meeting of their religious scholars to discuss this demand or this strong advice and warning from Pakistan that they need to, quote, "address the needs of the United States at this particular time." Again, we don't know when that is going to be held. We had heard tomorrow (Wednesday), but we don't know exactly when and whether, in fact, that'll make a difference in the thinking of the international community at this particular time.

What is certain here is that the government is on tenterhooks, really. It has made a strategic decision to stand with the United States, but it knows that there could be a backlash here in Pakistan. There have been some small and isolated protests already -- notably last night in Islamabad, where several hundred people went out on the streets. It wasn't a massively organized protest, but it was perhaps a little bit indicative of some of the bigger fears that are worrying the leadership here of Pakistan. Yesterday, colleagues of mine in the press said that they had seen outside several mosques here in Islamabad ... literally hundreds of police in riot gear -- basically making sure that any commotion does not get out of control and making sure that they warned the leaders of the mosques that they should not incite or get people out onto the streets.

Now, overwhelmingly the people of Pakistan, including the religious leaders and others, have condemned the attack on the United States. And they say, according to sources here, that if it is proved that it is Osama bin Laden who has actually been responsible for this, then they would support any action against him. But they're saying (that) in order to make it more palatable for the people here that they need at least to have some show of evidence, some show of proof from the United States that it was, indeed, from Osama bin Laden.

ZAHN: And Christiane, in absence of any of that kind of evidence, is there an expectation that the small groups of protesters we've seen will be able to more massively organize protests?

AMANPOUR: Well, that is definitely the concern among people here. As I said, it's important to understand that the majority of the people here were completely stunned and shocked and really disgusted by what happened.

Having said that, there has been growing anti-Americanism here in Pakistan really since the early '90s after the U.S. pulled out -- essentially, after having funded the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. ... There's a sort of feeling that the U.S. has abandoned them here and they are, you know, against this kind of action against the United States. But they need to have some kind of way, the leadership here, to sell it to the people.

And to that end, President Musharraf has been calling meetings, off-the-record meetings with leaders of the press -- both the newspapers and the media -- with religious leaders, with the intellectual leaders, with politicians, trying to get their views on how the people are thinking, and to give the sort of establishment here and the opinion brokers the government's assessment of what is going on, and what the United States is demanding of Pakistan right now.

And we've been told also by senior sources that the establishment pretty much knows here that this is it for the Taliban, and they are pretty much on their last legs in Afghanistan.

ZAHN: The other day I interviewed one of the opposition leaders to the Taliban, and he said he is quite skeptical about Pakistan's involvement in this with the United States. He alleges that Pakistan is only buying time. Does that perception exist there?

AMANPOUR: Pakistan has generally been thought -- and, indeed, known -- to have been a very strong ally of the Taliban, and instrumental in keeping it up and running, if you like -- and for very good reason, according to the Pakistanis. The Taliban have ... assets that are vital to Pakistan. One, they are pro-Pakistan. Two, they are ant- Iran and anti India and Russia, the other countries around Afghanistan. So they have formed a strategic alliance with Pakistan.

But we are being told that ... Mulla Omar and the people who run the Taliban there are no longer as pliant, if you like -- no longer as able to be dictated to, if you like -- by the Pakistanis.

Having said that, a senior general, the director of the intelligence service here, has gone to try and read them the riot act. But there is a sense that Pakistan realizes that the Taliban is hurting its own interests right now, and apparently they have sent that message very strongly. Now, whether or not the Taliban responds in a manner that would satisfy both the Pakistanis or the Americans remains to be seen, and we hopefully will know a little bit more about that once this delegation gets back from Afghanistan.

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