(AP)--Taliban Willing to Negotiate
- Taliban Willing to Negotiate
By KATHY GANNON
.c The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Four weeks into the U.S.-led air campaign, a senior
Taliban official said Wednesday the ruling militia is willing to negotiate an
end to the conflict. But he demanded proof of Osama bin Laden's involvement
in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
``That's the message for Americans,'' chief Taliban spokesman Amir Khan
Muttaqi said in an interview with the first Western reporter allowed into
Kabul since the bombing began Oct. 7.
President Bush launched the air assault after the Taliban refused to hand
over bin Laden, chief suspect in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
``We do not want to fight,'' Muttaqi told The Associated Press. ``We will
negotiate. But talk to us like a sovereign country. We are not a province of
the United States, to be issued orders to. We have asked for proof of Osama's
involvement, but they have refused. Why?''
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Taliban already had
plenty of proof.
``All one has to do is watch television to find Osama bin Laden claiming
responsibility for the September 11 bombings. There is no question of
responsibility. There is no question of the responsibility of the Taliban,
and there's no question of what they should do,'' Boucher said.
In Afghanistan there is no television and the only source of news is the
radio broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of
America in the local languages.
Muttaqi made no mention of the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York,
but the Taliban have consistently condemned the attack. They maintain bin
Laden's involvement in those crimes remains unproven.
Before the bombing campaign began, Bush brushed aside numerous offers from
the Taliban to negotiate bin Laden's status - including offers to hand him
over to a third country or even try him here under Islamic law.
The United States has repeatedly said that the demand to surrender bin Laden
and his lieutenants in the al-Qaida network is not negotiable, and waves of
bombers have pounded the capital and other cities.
During the interview, Muttaqi, who also is education minister, exuded
confidence, arguing in effect that Afghanistan's weakness was its strength.
U.S. bombing, he maintained, will not crack the Taliban, which claims no
senior figure in its movement was killed in the four-week campaign.
``We don't have anything for the American bombs to destroy,'' he said. ``We
are not a country with a sophisticated computer system, a big, important
telecommunications system or modern aviation system to destroy.''
Muttaqi spoke in his spartan office with a Kalashnikov rifle on the table
before him. His two security guards also carried assault rifles.
``Each Afghan has a rifle in his home and each Afghan's home is his bunker,''
If there were no negotiations, Muttaqi, along with other Taliban leaders,
indicated that the war would turn into a conflict on the ground in which the
Taliban would prevail - as the Afghans did against the Soviets in the
During an interview with visiting foreign journalists in Kandahar, Foreign
Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil challenged the United States and Britain to
send in ground troops.
``Let them come here in the ground,'' he said. ``We will fight and let's see
who will win.''
Afghanistan, ravaged by more than two decades of war, is one of the world's
poorest countries, annual average income in a good year is barely $200.
Even before the bombs began to fall, the United Nations called Afghanistan a
humanitarian crisis -- perhaps the world's worst.
Kabul, the capital, lies largely in ruins, destroyed by an earlier civil war.
The estimated 1 million people are mostly those too poor to flee.
Although Islamic governments have distanced themselves from the Taliban, many
Muslims sympathize with bin Laden and the embattled Taliban, and Muttaqi
hinted at a possible Muslim backlash against the United States if the
``America, what do you want to do?'' Muttaqi said. ``Don't make Muslims
everywhere angry. Muslims have no problem with Americans. It is American
policy they disagree with. America should not oblige thousands and thousands
of Muslims the world over to feel for the victims of the bombing because they
will cause more trouble for America.''
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