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UN Searches for Political Solution in Afghanistan


The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in neighboring Pakistan for discussions aimed at working out a political solution to the crisis, but U.N. officials say it is unclear whether he will meet with Taleban officials.

Lakhdar Brahimi has begun a series of meetings with senior Pakistani officials. U.N. officials also say he plans to see a wide range of Afghans in the coming days.

The Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, says he also hopes to talk with the U.N. envoy. He says he has been contacted by Mr. Brahimi and that a meeting should take place Tuesday.

But the U.N. spokesman for Pakistan, Eric Falt, says no arrangements have been made. "Ambassador Zaeef has indeed requested to meet Mr. Brahimi," Mr. Falt said. "The representative has a pretty full program for tomorrow and I do not think he will have time to meet the Taleban representative. I have not heard that he is going to be received at this time. Certainly not tomorrow in any case."

Mr. Falt refused to say whether a meeting would be scheduled later in the week.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, is urging Pakistan to be more flexible in determining what refugees they let cross into the country.

His spokesman, Ron Redmond, says so far only women, children, the elderly, and sick are being let across. But he says others are at risk too. "What about young men that are subject to forced conscription," Mr. Redmond asked? "We are hearing that is a problem not just with the Taleban, but also with the Northern Alliance as well. So that would be an example of, say, the increased flexibility that we would like to see in admitting people to Pakistan."

A Taleban embassy official in Islamabad, Sohail Shaheen, angrily rejected claims that his forces are forcibly conscripting refugees. "America is wrongly giving the impression that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would recruit people for frontline from the refugee camps if they were set up inside Afghanistan," Mr. Shaheen said. "It is totally untrue."

He says they are already receiving so many volunteers to fight that they have to turn people away since the ground war has not yet begun. Pakistan's government has refused U.N. requests to open its border with Afghanistan, saying it already is overburdened. Three million Afghans have taken up refuge in Pakistan before the U.S. strikes, and officials say thousands more have entered in recent weeks.

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