Pakistan's government says it welcomes a trip to Afghanistan by several Pakistani religious leaders, who say they want to try and persuade the ruling Taleban to hold direct, or indirect, talks with the United States.
Government supporters in Islamabad and around the country held rallies Thursday to mark what officials called a day of solidarity with Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf's decision to support the United States in its fight against terrorism. The U.S. focus has been on alleged terrorist Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization. U.S. officials say the group is the prime suspect behind the attacks in the United States, in which more than 6,000 people are believed dead. U.S. officials are demanding the Taleban hand him over.
Opponents of President Musharraf's policy say they plan to hold protests on Friday, just as they did last week, when four demonstrators died in the southern port city of Karachi.
A group of Pakistani religious leaders, who support Taleban policies, say they plan to travel to Kandahar, Afghanistan, either Friday or Saturday to meet with Taleban leaders. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Riaz Mohammed Khan, told reporters on Thursday, Islamabad welcomes any effort aimed at helping Taleban leaders understand what the international community is demanding from them.
"I am not aware of any meeting any particular delegation had [with the President] who may be intending to go to Kandahar," he said. "We are not aware of any meeting they had with the president. But if any prominent personalities, or an ulema, wishes to play a role to sensitize further the Taleban government toward what the international community is expecting from them that would be a welcome role from our point of view. That would be a positive role from our point of view."
The religious leaders say they will try to persuade the Taleban to hold direct, or indirect talks, with the United States. U.S. officials say now is the time for action, not talks, and the demand to surrender Osama bin Laden and members of his al-Qaida organization is not negotiable.
Meanwhile, the Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaaef, says U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was not invited to travel to Afghanistan by the Taleban, but is welcome to mediate, if he chooses to do so. There are conflicting reports about whether Mr. Jackson was invited by the Taleban to visit Afghanistan, as he claims, or whether he himself requested the trip.
On Thursday, the Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, warned Afghans that anyone who tried to seize power with the help of the United States, would be treated in the same way as Afghans who collaborated with the Soviet Union. His comments came five years to the day after the Taleban seized Kabul and executed the former Soviet-installed president Najibullah.
Mullah Omar also called on Afghans not to flee their homes out of fear of a potential military attack. U.N. and Pakistani officials have warned that more than one million people might flee Afghanistan in the event of an attack.