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Taliban plotting from Pakistan, officials charge

GHAZNI, Afghanistan — Intercepted phone calls show Taliban commanders have been orchestrating deadly attacks in Afghanistan from a safe haven across the border in Pakistan, a senior Afghan intelligence official told The Associated Press.

The resurgent Taliban forces — who were chased from Afghanistan two years ago by the U.S.-led war — are getting protection from Islamic hard-line politicians and rogue elements of Pakistani security, Afghan and Western officials charge.

Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, has been on the front lines of the recent violence, and many residents say the local government and security officials have been unable or unwilling to end the insurgency.

Former Taliban walk the streets of this hardscrabble town, hiding only behind a change of clothes. They boldly tried to assassinate the police chief last week and have turned the back roads into a gantlet of fear for aid workers.

It was here in Ghazni province that four workers for a Danish charity were executed by Taliban rebels on Sept. 8; here where three Red Crescent workers met a similar fate in August. In Zabul province, 135 miles to the southwest, rebels battled for weeks through the deep gorges and craggy mountain peaks against an onslaught of American air power and more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers.

A Sept. 8 order for Taliban fighters in Zabul to retreat during U.S. bombing came in a satellite phone call from a commander in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, the senior Afghan official privy to sensitive intelligence told AP on the condition of anonymity.

A similar phone call was placed to Quetta in March by Taliban fighters who had stopped a Red Cross vehicle on a dusty road in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The voice on the other end of the phone was a senior Taliban fugitive commander, Mullah Dadullah, who gave the order to execute an El Salvadoran national, a survivor of the attack, the intelligence official said in a weekend interview.

The brother of Baluchistan’s health minister was arrested this month, accused of having ties to the Taliban and plotting to kill a relative of the governor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, which borders Baluchistan.

“We have this impression that Quetta and surrounding areas are being used by hard-core Taliban forces,” Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said in an interview in his Kabul office.

Zalmai Rassoul, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, told AP the insurgency is being directed almost entirely from abroad — with Pakistani religious schools teaching jihad and officials failing to crack down.

“When the Taliban was first defeated, they were on the run, but they have had time in Pakistan to get a rest and reorganize themselves,” he said. “And now they are being incited and encouraged to come back.”

Pakistani officials strongly deny that the Taliban are receiving sanctuary in their territory.

“There is no truth to the allegations that Taliban have bases in Quetta to harm the interests of President Hamid Karzai’s government,” Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema said Tuesday. As head of the Interior Ministry’s crisis unit, Cheema is in charge of cooperating with the United States in the war on terrorism.

Pakistan was a strong supporter of the Taliban regime but switched sides following the Sept. 11 attacks to become a key ally of the United States. Still, rogue elements of the military and intelligence services are believed to have maintained old allegiances.

The sharp rise in attacks comes as the West scrambles to increase its commitment in the country — a change of heart that analysts complain may be too little, too late after two years of foot-dragging.

President Bush earlier this month asked Congress for an additional $800 million for Afghan reconstruction, and NATO last week began assessing whether to expand a 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission beyond the capital, Kabul.


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