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Blair's ultimatum to Taliban

Blair Vajpayee
Blair met with Vajpayee and repeated his warning to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers  


NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has renewed pressure on the Taliban regime to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden or be treated as the enemy.

He emerged from talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee -- aimed at shoring up India's part in the global coalition against terrorism -- to warn Afghanistan's rulers once again.

"The Taliban regime has totally failed to consider or respond to in any proper way to the ultimatum that was given very clearly by President Bush to them that they either yield up bin Laden and his associates and close down those terrorism camps or they become the enemy themselves because they are harboring them," Blair said.

Blair's ultimatum came in the final stages of a whirlwind visit to Russia, Pakistan and India.

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CNN's Walter Rodgers details British Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to Pakistan and his meeting with Gen. Pervez Musharraf (October 5)

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His trip is one of several by leaders from the senior partners in the U.S.-led coalition, which is expected to bring strikes soon against bin Laden and others accused of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

India has linked bin Laden's al Qaeda group with Pakistani-based groups that launch attacks on India in the disputed Kashmir region and there has been intense internal political pressure on Vajpayee to take unilateral action against Pakistan.

Pakistan, a supporter of U.S. moves against terrorism and now the only country which retains diplomatic contact with the Taliban, says it merely provides moral support to Kashmiri separatists operating in the disputed mountain territory.

On Saturday Vajpayee offered India's support for the global push against terrorism and made the point that "for over two decades now India has waged a virtually lonely struggle against terrorism."

"We believe that in this globalized world distance and time do not provide insulation from the reach of terrorism," Vajpayee said.

Indian and Pakistan troops exchanged artillery fire Friday, and earlier this week at least 35 people died when a suicide bomber rammed car full of explosives against the gates of Kashmir's provincial legislature in Shrinigar.

Blair condemned the suicide bombing, saying "such outrages have no place in any civilized society and those who perpetrate them should be brought to justice."

But he skirted a question about giving Pakistan such a large role in the anti-terrorism drive while it is home to Islamic groups often accused of acts of terrorism in India. "It's important to realize that our focus is upon dealing with the situation in Afghanistan and closing down bin Laden's camps and his terrorist network," he said.

The United States has said its campaign again terrorism will target militant groups worldwide, including those affecting India.

Pakistan's support may be critical to any retaliatory action against the Taliban, now suspected of harboring bin Laden.

Blair's discussions in Pakistan centered particularly on what might follow if U.S. retaliatory strikes end with the toppling of the Taliban government in Kabul.

Blair said Pakistan "made the right choice" in joining the international coalition fighting terrorism.

"The result will be a significant and lasting strengthening of the outside world's relations with Pakistan," Blair said on Friday.

At a joint news conference, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf expressed gratitude to Blair for understanding the nature of Pakistan's position on the crisis.

Pakistan is cooperating with the coalition of countries fighting terrorism but Musharraf has come under pressure at home for his decision to side with the coalition. The Taliban have many supporters in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been briefed by the United States on evidence that U.S. officials say links bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"There is evidence that is leading to an association between this terrorist act and Osama bin Laden," Musharraf said.

"However, we are not here standing in judgment on the details of this evidence."

Musharraf reiterated that Pakistan's cooperation with the coalition is limited to sharing intelligence, allowing the use of Pakistani airspace and logistical support.

Blair, who said earlier this week that the Taliban must surrender bin Laden or surrender power, reiterated that any response to the attacks is not aimed at the people of Afghanistan.

The coalition, he said, wants "to see justice done, not revenge."

But Blair also said that any new Afghan government should be broad-based and include members of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, and take into account that Pakistan has a valid interest in any future Afghan government.

He specifically cited the Pashtun ethnic group, which is the dominant majority ethnic group in Afghanistan and makes up the primary membership of the Taliban.

Blair said Britain would provide financial aid to Pakistan to help cope with a possible influx of Afghan refugees.

Many Afghans have been fleeing the country in fear of possible U.S. military strikes, in addition to the more than 1 million who have fled drought, famine and the country's ongoing civil war.

The Taliban have maintained that they are willing to negotiate with the United States on handing over bin Laden, if they are provided with evidence that linked him and the al Qaeda network to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The United States has rejected the idea of negotiating with the Taliban.



 
 
 
 


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