Haq's death demoralises opposition

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The Independent Online

Plans to remove the Taliban from power in Kabul have suffered a setback with the execution of the mujahedin leader Abdul Haq.

Friends and relatives of Commander Haq, as he was still known to his followers, gathered at his home in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar yesterday in an atmosphere of despondency about the failure of his mission to buy up allies in the struggle against the Taliban.

Commander Haq was executed on Friday along with two of his relatives after being captured in eastern Afghanistan. His funeral, which is expected to take place this afternoon, also marks the end of optimism about the early collapse of the Taliban.

Friends in Peshawar believe he was betrayed by the Taliban leaders whom he had been hoping to win over. "Peshawar is full of people working for the Taliban," said Musa Anfi, a representative of the Northern Alliance.

"He was completely compromised from the time he left until his arrest. This has had a profound effect on the commanders in Peshawar, and they are locking themselves away from view. We can see that the Taliban still have power and anyone who goes in to Afghanistan without a clear plan is going to meet the same fate."

Mr Anfi said Commander Haq had received money from the US-British coalition, and more details emerged yesterday of American intervention during his capture.

After his pursuit by the Taliban he called friends in Peshawar. They in turn passed a message to the US military via officials in Washington. According to Reuters, an unmanned spy plane was sent to his aid. It fired anti-tank missiles at the Taliban, striking some of them, before returning to base.

Commander Haq led efforts to bring moderate Taliban elements into a coalition headed by the former king, Zahir Shah. In Rome, Mostapha Zaher, the king's grandson said: "Afghanistan has lost one of its finest, greatest sons and I and my family have lost a great friend."

In the territory held by the Northern Alliance, Haq's brother and fellow commander, Abdul Qadir, said: "If one Abdul Haq is dead, I think a thousand more Abdul Haqs will come up."

In Pakistan, there were signs of growing support for the Taliban. Border guards prevented 9,000 tribesmen from crossing into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Reports described them as being armed with assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, axes and swords. "I am an old man," said one marcher, brandishing an 80-year-old French rifle. "I consider myself lucky to go and face the death of a martyr."

Reinforcements were sent to the north of the country where pro-Taliban militants had blocked the Karakoram Highway with boulders and landmines. "Tribesmen have closed it to express solidarity with the Taliban and to participate in the agitation launched against the government's support for America," said Riaz Durrani, a spokesman for the militant Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party.