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Rodgers: Taliban weakening

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. air strikes once again targeted Taliban positions north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. And there are reports of mortar and machine gun exchanges between Taliban troops and the opposition Northern Alliance.

CNN's Walter Rodgers is monitoring the fighting from Islamabad, Pakistan. He filed this report.

RODGERS: The war in Afghanistan seems to be turning a political page, even as the fighting goes on. A few hours ago the Afghan tribal leaders in Peshawar, Pakistan, concluded a two-day council meeting. Afterwards they expressed concerns -- political concerns, at this point -- that there may be a political vacuum in Afghanistan if and when the Taliban collapse. They seem to think it would be sooner rather than later.

Of course, these Afghan tribal leaders called for an end to the conflict, an end to U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. They also condemned the September 11 terror attacks against United States -- interesting, coming from Afghan leaders. Also coming from the same leaders -- a call for what they said were foreign elements who had inflicted so much misery on the people of Afghanistan to, quote, "leave the country as quickly as possible." That was clearly a signal to Osama bin Laden that many Afghan tribal leaders no longer want him or his al Qaeda organization to remain in Afghanistan.

On the diplomatic front here in Pakistan, there's an interesting development. President Musharraf of Pakistan met with the Saudi foreign minister, who was here for a brief three hours. This is interesting, of course, because the Pakistanis still have relations with the Taliban, and until recently the Saudis had relations with the Taliban. And after that meeting I asked the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan if he now thinks it's possible to negotiate an end to the fighting with the Taliban. Here's what he said:

ALI AWADH ASSERI, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: I didn't think that it is possible. I didn't think the Taliban, you know, were still running the country, to be honest with you, at this point in time.

RODGERS: They're still running Afghanistan?

ASSERI: I don't think so. I mean, you know, I'm hoping that their power has come to an end, or on the verge of coming to an end.

RODGERS: So important is the political concern about the future of Afghanistan at this point that the Turkish president, Ahmet Sezer, is in Pakistan at this hour, meeting with President Musharraf. They are trying to sketch out the future of a political Afghanistan, if and when the Taliban collapse. Turkey is crucial and central to this because the Muslim world would insist on Muslim peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, and of course Turkey is a leading Muslim country.

CNN: What we heard of that interview with Asseri would suggest that he believes, once again, that the Taliban are actually on the verge of collapse right now, as we speak?

RODGERS: It was very surprising. When I asked him that, he suggested that they were coming very close to collapse. He suggested they were running out of friends, (and) may even be running out of money at this point. It contradicts some of the political thinking, or at least the military thinking coming out of the Pentagon. Also interesting today -- we had that very same point coming from the Afghan tribal chiefs meeting. They suggested that the Taliban may be closer to folding their tents than we would have imagined.

Of course, the Taliban still control the ground over there; maybe it's wishful thinking, but these are interesting straws in the wind.


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