Taliban rebuffs new Pakistani appeals
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- A Pakistani delegation was headed home from Afghanistan on Friday after leaders of the ruling Taliban refused new appeals to hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban also refused to free eight international aid workers accused of trying to spread Christianity in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have imposed a severe Islamic regime since they seized power five years ago.
It is the second time in two weeks that Pakistan has pressed the Taliban to hand over bin Laden without success. Friday's mission hoped to convince the Taliban that the international community would be against them unless they turn over bin Laden, whom the United States suspects in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Pakistan's government wants to be seen as taking every step possible to try to bring about a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But U. S. officials have made it clear that they don't want to enter into negotiations with the Taliban or bin Laden -- they simply want him and his associates turned over.
Pakistan is the only nation that still maintains diplomatic ties with the Taliban, and Islamic clerics in Pakistan have a long-standing relationship with their Afghan counterparts. Pakistan has found itself in an awkward position as it tries to cope with the political, military and humanitarian crisis building in the region.
President Bush has named bin Laden as the prime suspect in the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. Bush has threatened a U.S. attack if the suspected terrorist is not handed over, but Taliban leaders have so far refused and say that bin Laden was not behind the attacks.
Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan as a "guest" for several years -- in recognition, the Taliban says, for his aid in the decade-long Afghan war with the Soviet Union. But last week, the Taliban said it would ask him to leave.
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has been working hard to convince Pakistanis that he is right to support the United States. A Pakistani official told CNN the government wants to "satisfy the conscience of the Pakistanis that they have done everything possible," and the government has hinted that this may not be the last time a delegation is sent to negotiate with the Taliban regime.
Musharraf has promised to cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism, including sharing intelligence information and allowing the use of Pakistani airspace by U.S. aircraft.
But the use of Pakistani military bases could be problematic. Probably only as a last resort would Pakistan allow the United States to station equipment and troops inside the country.
Many hard-line Muslims in Pakistan support Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and have protested Musharraf's decision to cooperate with the United States. Pakistan's largest Islamic party issued a fatwa, or religious legal ruling, Monday saying its members will start a holy war if U.S. troops enter the country.
The Jamiat Ulema Islam party received 5 percent of the vote in the last Pakistani national elections.
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