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Islamabad Denies Mullah Omar Sheltered in Pakistan

  • Benjamin Sand

A Taleban spokesman has told Afghan authorities that the militant Islamic group's leader, Mullah Omar, is living inside Pakistan under the protection of the country's main intelligence agency, the ISI. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports that Pakistan has sharply denied the assertions.

Pakistan officials quickly and strongly rejected the allegations that Mohammad Hanif made in a videotaped confession released to the media early Wednesday. Hanif claims to be a spokesman for the hard-line Islamist Taleban group.

A Pakistani military spokesman called the allegations "completely absurd."

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman, Tasneem Aslam, said Hanif's allegations are "impossible to believe."

"These are totally baseless assertions. We do not know under what circumstances these statements were extracted from him," said Aslam.

Afghan officials say they arrested Hanif and two other men Monday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, shortly after they crossed the border from Pakistan.

The video shows Hanif in a darkened room as Afghan agents interrogate him about Mullah Omar, the Taleban's fugitive leader.

Asked where Omar is hiding, Hanif says he is in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta. He goes on to say Mullah Omar is protected by Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.

He also said the agency's former director, Hamid Gul, is actively supporting the Taleban and helping train suicide bombers at a Pakistani madrassah.

The ISI supported the Taleban during the 1990s. Pakistan officially severed ties with the militant Islamic group in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The last confirmed sighting of Mullah Omar was in 2001, shortly after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taleban from power.

Some security analysts have long believed Omar was hiding out in Pakistan. Afghan officials also have repeatedly accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to Taleban insurgent bases in Pakistan.

Relations between the South Asian neighbors have become increasingly strained with both sides blaming the other for the Taleban's continued survival.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Afghanistan earlier this week, said cross-border attacks jumped more than 200 percent last month, with much of Taleban's "command and control" operating from sanctuaries inside Pakistan.

Gates, who also said Islamabad remains a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, promised the issue would be discussed with the Pakistan government.

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