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Mintier: Mixed messages from the Taliban

Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Pakistan
Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Pakistan  

(CNN) -- Taliban leaders have recently issued conflicting statements in response to the threat of a military attack by the United States, which holds the Taliban responsible for harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier is on assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he gave this report on statements made by Taliban leaders.

MINTIER: We're getting conflicting statements from the (Pakistan) ambassador for the Taliban (Abdul Salam Zaeef), and we're also getting conflicting statements from (Taliban Supreme Leader) Mullah Omar, but his are consistent.

Taliban threaten opposition leaders  

We do have some passages from his radio address -- the fifth radio address that he has given. I was listening to the fourth outside the Taliban ambassador's residence here in Islamabad on a car radio in the driveway.

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But this is from the fifth speech, and some of it is really chilling, saying that Afghans need to look after their religion and to not let U.S. involvement "in our affairs" destroy Islam. Anyone who supports the exiled king or any other anti-Taliban government "will be accused of treason."

Also the last passage: "Do you think the king will arrest Christian proselytizers like we do? Do you think the king will defend our faith in Allah?"

Now, in the fourth speech, it was about 75 percent directed to the exiled king and the other 25 percent directed to the U.S. government and the U.S. military, saying that if they come in to Afghanistan that it would be, indeed, the graveyard.

Now, the other side is what we're hearing on this side of the border -- what you hear from Kandahar and from Mullah Omar is one thing, but what we're hearing in the last couple of days from the Taliban's ambassador here is a call for negotiation, a call for reason, a call for waiting, a call delivered this time in English. When I first met with him on the 12th of September here in Islamabad in his office, we spoke in English for about a half hour. But every interview, every press conference that he has done, he has used a translator, until last night.

CNN: Let's try to decipher that particular move by the ambassador there. He is speaking in English, obviously speaking to the American government or the American public or whoever else in the outside who may be listening in and obviously Mullah Omar is speaking to his people. And for that speech that he gave, is obviously for domestic consumption.

How do you read this? Is this a sign perhaps that they're feeling the pressure now?

MINTIER: Well, they have to be feeling the pressure... probably more so inside Pakistan. The Taliban ambassador has a better ability to gauge what world opinion is maybe than it is in Kandahar with Mullah Omar. You know, one is a call to arms, and the other is a call to peace -- a very confused, mixed message from the Taliban.

But when you listen to what the ambassador has been saying in both languages for the past few days -- at first they didn't know where Osama bin Laden was; then they did. Would they hand him over? Not unless there is proof. You know, things that were rejected outright at hand by the U.S. government.

CNN: And then what about the scene there in Pakistan? They are also hearing the same conflicting message, and we've seen many anti-U.S., anti-coalition demonstrations and protests there over the last few days.

How is that being received -- this mixed message?

MINTIER: Well... it was just yesterday that the Pakistani president was briefed by the U.S. ambassador here on the status of the investigation by the United States. It's interesting -- they used the word "investigation" rather than "evidence."

With NATO, they received what they call "compelling evidence" that Osama bin Laden was linked. Here, they talk about a briefing by the U.S. ambassador to the president that was the status of the investigation.

Yes, there are a lot of demonstrations here, and one we saw in Karachi last night was limited to numbers in the hundreds.

When you talk to people here in this country, they say that the fundamentalists have not done very well politically in the electoral process. And they haven't done very well, in some of their minds, on the streets, saying that when you consider how many people are out on the streets demonstrating, if you have a few hundred or even 10-40,000, that's still a very small percentage of the population of 140 million.


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