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Mullah Omar appoints commander-in- chief

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, SEPT. 29. The Taliban supremo, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has appointed his trusted companion, Jalaluddin Haqqani as Commander- in-Chief of the Taliban forces.

According to local media reports, Mr. Haqqani was one of the senior army commanders who rose from the ranks during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. He has reportedly been asked to establish his command base at Khost about 260 km southwest of Pakistan border town of Kohat.

Mr. Haqqani has about 60,000 men working under him. They also have 70 Stinger missiles. Ironically, these missiles were distributed by the U.S. during the Afghan war against Soviet occupation in 1980.

The biggest worry of the U.S. as it prepares to take on Osama and the Taliban is the possible use of these missiles by the militia in case of air attacks. The Pakistani English daily, Dawn, has said in a report that of the 1,000 missiles provided to the Afghan fighters, 70 to 80 were not accounted for. The U.S. intelligence officials made several attempts including monetary inducements to get them back.

According to estimates, the Taliban still has about 40 to 80 shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, which the U.S. suspects would be used against its bombers and helicopters. The Taliban has already claimed that it had shot down an unmanned spy plane belonging to the U.S.

The paper said Osama had bought some Stinger missiles from the Afghan militants and they were still in his possession. These were equipped with electronic circuit to distinguish between a friend and a foe aircraft. In most cases, the missiles had outlived their shelf life but there were still 40 per cent chances that they would be effective.

Mr. Haqqani's appointment is considered significant as he belonged to an Afghan tribe that has a large number of fighters in its ranks. In Afghanistan the tribes maintain substantial numbers of militiamen among their ranks as self- defence. The tribes could pool their armies and use them under an agreement.

In another development the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, has said that the international coalition being built by the U.S., Britain and other countries following recent terrorist attacks in American cities was directed to fight against terrorism and was not aimed at Islam. In a lengthy message to Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, applauding the stance taken by Pakistan in fighting international terrorism, Mr. Blair has said, ``this is a battle against terror, a battle joined by all those countries including the vast majority in the Islamic world who share the values of humanity, compassion, tolerance and respect for human life which are so important to Muslims everywhere.

``As Muslim leaders from around the world have declared, the acts of cruelty we witnessed in America are wholly contrary to the Islamic Faith. Barbarism of this kind and deliberate killing of the innocent men, women and children has nothing to do with the true spirit of Islam.''

Thanking Gen. Musharraf for the support extended to the global coalition to fight terrorism, Mr. Blair said that hundreds of Muslims were among the dead and missing in the World Trade Center. Muslims states had also regularly suffered at the hands of the terrorists who are behind the monstrous attacks on America. He said the action the world community was ready to take was not about revenge. It was about justice and security. It had the backing of the United Nations, Islamic countries, the European Union and of countries in every continent in the world.

``We are determined to hold to account those responsible for the U.S. outrage and, in the longer term, to dismantle the whole machinery of terror which makes such atrocities possible,'' Mr. Blair said.

``We also need to put a new emphasis, through diplomacy, on tackling the sources of tension and conflict in the world. This must include giving new impetus to the Middle East peace process,'' he said.

`No room for former king'

Reuter reports from Teheran:

The Taliban supremo, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was quoted in a rare interview today as saying that the former King, Zahir Shah, had no role to play in the country.

Several exiled Afghan leaders and groups have urged Zahir Shah, 86, to play a part in overseeing the choosing of a new government. The U.N. envoy to Kabul has also said there could be a role for the former monarch, who has lived in exile in Italy since his overthrow in 1973.

But Mullah Omar told Iranian newspaper Entekhab, ``he is too old and weak... Anyway, Afghanistan does not have a leadership vacuum ...Imposed puppets do not last long in Afghanistan, and with the grace of God the future of the Taliban shall be bright anyway.''

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