14 April 1999
(Taliban should reconsider joining peace talks) (840) By William B. Reinckens USIA Staff Writer Washington -- "We regret that Pakistan has tested," Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth said April 14, confirming that Pakistan has successfully test fired its 1,500 kilometer Ghauri ballistic missile. At a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on Afghanistan, Inderfurth said, "We hoped that Pakistan would not respond in a tit-for-tat fashion to the Indian missile test on Sunday. Both sides have said they want to meet their security requirements at the lowest possible levels. We would like to see concrete steps by both countries that they intend to do so." Inderfurth added, "we believe that India has a special responsibility in this regard. Clearly, Pakistan is responding to Indian actions, including the missile test and earlier nuclear tests. Perhaps Pakistan would also respond to positive steps by India." He noted the international opposition to India and Pakistan's underground nuclear tests last summer and to the recent missile tests. However, he said that both India and Pakistan used a mutually agreed upon notification process prior to launch which had been worked out by both countries' prime ministers at the Lahore Summit in February. Inderfurth said he agreed with the view expressed by Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas), one of the sponsors of the legislation that lifted some economic sanctions against both countries after the nuclear tests last summer, that the recent missile tests cause people in the U.S. government concern about regional stability. "We are hopeful that they will hear the concerns of the international community," Inderfurth said. Turning to the Afghan peace process, Inderfurth rejected any suggestion that the United States offered help to the Taliban. "There have been no arms, no training, or even quiet encouragement to the Taliban by anyone at the State Department. Only condemnation," he asserted, referring to the horrendous practices toward women and girls and against the Hazaras, Shia Muslims, in the northern part of the country by the Taliban government since it came to power in Afghanistan 18 months ago. He also cited involvement by the Taliban and other Afghan groups in the lucrative illegal opium trade, whose cash payments go to the purchase of armaments to continue the civil war. "The Afghan drug trade is felt in Western Europe but is also having an impact on surrounding countries," Inderfurth said, noting that Pakistan today has 3 million narcotics addicts. Inderfurth also mentioned the Taliban's support to terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is wanted in connection with the bombings last August of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. "Bin Laden and others have taken advantage of the Afghan conflict to use that country as a training ground, base, and safe-haven," said Inderfurth. "We have called upon all factions to expel terrorists from their territory and to close their facilities." He also said that Bin Laden is still involved in planning terrorist acts against Americans. "If the Taliban do not expel Bin Laden and continue to harbor terrorists, the international community will soon come to see them in the same light and respond accordingly," Inderfurth said. He said the United States is "comfortable" with the evidence it has regarding Bin Laden's involvement in the embassy bombings. Inderfurth pointed out that an article in the April 13 New York Times by Tim Weiner, "U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof Bin Laden Directed Attacks," "had a number of serious problems" regarding the facts of Bin Laden's prosecution by the United States. Inderfurth said that on April 10 the Taliban closed the door to further UN-sponsored negotiations with their Afghan opponents. "It is our view that the Taliban should reconsider their decision," he said, noting that United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was instrumental over the past year in bringing both sides together and that he and Brahimi are scheduled to meet in Washington April 16 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. "We too are disappointed because over the past several weeks ground work had been laid to advance the prospects for a political settlement," Inderfurth said. He also noted that in recent conversations in Moscow, there is a common view held by both the United States and Russia that the Afghanistan situation has to be resolved politically and not militarily. "We believe that Pakistan and Iran can play a special role in bringing peace to the region," Inderfurth said, because they are the countries most affected by the war inside Afghanistan. "We believe that Pakistan, which has provided the Taliban with diplomatic, material and other support for several years, can do more than it has done in this regard, and we urge it to do so," he said. "Recent Taliban statements suggest that another round of conflict is the most likely eventuality," Inderfurth said. "The Taliban seem to be readying their fighters for an all-out blitz on the battlefield."