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Osama is well, and hiding in Afghanistan, says Musharraf

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September 28, 2006 13:02 IST
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has said he believes fugitive Osama bin Laden to be hiding in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan, and has rebuffed French intelligence reports that Laden died of typhoid in Pakistan.

'It is not a hunch,' Musharraf told The Times, London's correspondent in New York. 'We know there are pockets of Al Qaeda  in Bajaur Agency,' which borders Kunar province. 'We did strike them twice there, we located and killed a number of them.'

In the course of the interview, conducted in his hotel room in New York, Musharraf suggested a possible link between Laden and Afghan warlord Hekmatyar. 'In Kunar province it is Hekmatyar who is operating,' Musharraf said, 'there must be some linkages.'

A United Nations report issued by the Secretary General this month indicates that Musharraf is at least party correct, for it identifies Kunar province as the base of Hekmatyar's wing of the Hizb e Islami.

The report also identifies five 'distinct leadership centres' to the insurgency rocking Afghanistan and which is being 'conducted mostly by Afghans operating inside Afghanistan's borders, and which appear to act in loose coordination with each other and benefit from financial and operational links with drug trafficking networks.'

Interestingly, Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun, and Laden were on the same side in the 1980s, fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In the civil war that rocked the nation following the Soviet pullout, Hekmatyar, prime minister then, was ranked against President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Hekmatyar went into exile in Iran when the Taliban regime came to power after this bloody chapter, returning to his country only after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

Since his return Hekmatyar has not concealed his dislike for the US, and has issued statements urging his countrymen to support the Al Qaeda and launch a jihad against the US.

Asked about the French intelligence report about Laden's death in his country, Musharraf said, 'If they have some source they should tell us. Unless I am sure I never say anything.'

On Pakistan's efforts to locate Al Qaeda operatives along the Afghan border, Musharraf said, 'The people are abetting and supporting in hiding the terrorists,' which is the 'biggest element of their success.'

Complaining that the West has been slow in sharing intelligence with Pakistan because 'they think we are some kind of backward people,' Musharraf says things were getting better after the July 7 bombings in London. 'You thought everything is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After 7/7, people realize that things are happening in your country' as well.

'We are together to fight extremists and terrorism but if you are in the blame game, that everything is happening in Pakistan, nothing is happening here (in Britain), we will not succeed,' he told The Times, London.

A Correspondent

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