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Rodgers: Execution a devastating blow to West

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Taliban says it has executed high-profile Taliban-opposition leader Abdul Haq.

The report comes after it was learned that Haq had been arrested by Taliban forces while he was on a peace mission in Afghanistan for the exiled Afghan king, Zahir Shah.

CNN's Walter Rodgers has been following the story from Islamabad, Pakistan. He filed this report.

RODGERS: The latest from here is, a leading opposition figure has been executed. CNN was told by the Taliban foreign ministry in Kandahar that Abdul Haq was executed today.

It had been reported and CNN had been told by Pakistani sources that Haq went across the border recently into Afghanistan as a representative of the deposed Afghan king Zahir Shah. He went there, it is presumed, to perhaps rally anti-Taliban opposition.

The Taliban had been broadcasting on its radio stations before the bombing campaign began that anyone who came speaking kindly of the deposed king Zahir Shah would be guilty of treason. There are now reports from the Taliban foreign ministry that Abdul Haq has been executed.

This is an extraordinarily devastating psychological and diplomatic blow to the West, which had been placing its bets on Haq, hoping that he might rally the anti-Taliban support. And it also is a very powerful statement on the part of the Taliban itself, that it is going to deal ruthlessly with anyone who challenges its power in Afghanistan.

Shortly before the news of the announcement of the death, Abdul Haq's brother explained why Abdul Haq took the risk and went into Afghanistan. Here's what Hajid Bin Mohammad said:

MOHAMMAD: He was in full contact with all Afghan leaders and all people at the top level and middle level who were in Afghanistan, who were abroad. He was working very hard to find a peaceful solution.

RODGERS: Meanwhile, on the military front, U.S. jets struck the Afghan capital of Kabul again today on this, the Muslim day of prayer. The bombs also blasted a Red Cross compound in Kabul for a second time. The Taliban had previously parked military vehicles close to that building to shield themselves. According to the Associated Press, three Afghan children were killed in those U.S. air strikes on Kabul.

Close to three weeks after the U.S. bombing began, the Taliban has allowed a popular demonstration now to stay on the streets of Kandahar. This is something they did not previously do. It suggests that instead of demoralizing the Taliban, that the U.S. bombing may have had a backlash effect and is bringing Afghans together against the latest invader -- this time, the United States.

It would appear any expectations that the Taliban would fall might also have backfired. In close to three weeks of bombing, the Taliban have not lost any territory. They have survived as a political entity in Afghanistan and there have been no major defections.

CNN: You talked about what a devastating blow the death of Abdul Haq would be to those involved in an effort to create a post-Taliban government. What does it mean in terms of a strategy now?

RODGERS: That's a fine question. It means the West probably doesn't have any strategy. The U.S. and Britain and Pakistan, for that matter, were placing their bets on Abdul Haq, and they don't have anyone else.

We heard fears from Afghan tribal leaders yesterday of a power vacuum. If there was a power vacuum before Abdul Haq was executed, there's an even bigger one now. It means the Taliban remains firmly in the driver's seat and the allied hopes of creating an alternative to the Taliban have to start all over again.


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