Musharraf orders Taliban to close their consulate in Karachi

War on Terrorism: Pakistan
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The Independent Online

Pakistan has ordered the Taliban to close their consulate in Karachi, the country's Foreign Ministry announced yesterday.

But the Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, said his government had "no intention" of breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime, which is harbouring Osama bin Laden.

He said it was "essential" that these ties be maintained. The diplomatic ties provided "a useful diplomatic window", General Musharraf said in Paris, where he met Jacques Chirac, the French President, to discuss the US-led campaign against terrorism. "Diplomatic interaction is useful and fruitful and accepted by the coalition," he added.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmad Khan, said staff at the Afghan consulate in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, had been asked to return to Afghanistan immediately.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador, said the Pakistanis ordered operations at the Karachi consulate to cease by the end of this week. Pakistani officials said the government informed the Taliban of the order on Tuesday. General Musharraf said: "Having a Taliban consulate in Karachi is purposeless and it was having some negatives." He noted that a Taliban consulate in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, was useful because of the Afghan refugee problem in the area.

The Taliban also maintain an embassy in Islamabad and a consulate in Quetta.

Mr Zaeef was also told to stop his regular press conferences, in which he condemned the United States and its coalition partners for the bombing campaign.

Pakistan supports the American campaign, which was launched on 7 October after the ruling militia refused to hand over Mr bin Laden.

Because of the press conferences, which were broadcast live by CNN, Mr Zaeef became the most visible spokesman for the Taliban. Pakistan took the moves ahead of a nationwide strike called for today by activists to protest against General Musharraf's support of the bombing campaign.

Officials said the government had told Mr Zaeef to make sure Afghan diplomatic staff did not take part in rallies.

After Europe, the next stop on General Musharraf's trip is the United States, where he will meet President George Bush during a session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Pakistan is the only country that maintains diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed their ties after the September terrorist attacks. (AP)