Taliban ex-foreign minister released

Kate Clark
Wednesday 22 October 2003 00:00
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The former Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the most senior Taliban in American hands, has been released from jail at Bagram air base north of Kabul, according to the Afghan presidential spokesman.

An aide to the former Taliban minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Independent that Mr Mutawakil was well, and in his home city of Kandahar. "He's banned from using the telephone or speaking to the media," said the aide. "It's a sort of house arrest."

The presidential spokes-man, Jawed Ludin, said that was also his understanding of the position. Mr Ludin also said Mr Mutawakil was among a group of Taliban who had proposed holding talks with the government. This is the first offer of talks since the Taliban fell from power two years ago.

About 11,000 American troops and an unknown number of Afghan soldiers appear unable to contain the Taliban insurgency in the south and east of Afghanistan. Aid workers and soldiers are now facing daily attacks and about a third of the country has become off-limits to NGOs.

The offer follows conciliatory moves by President Hamid Karzai towards any Taliban who do not have civilian blood on their hands. Last month, he repeated an offer of amnesty. Mr Ludin said: "The President has always said that Afghanistan is the home to all Afghans, except for those who have proved themselves enemies of the people."

Mr Mutawakil was an aide to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader of Afghanistan, and became Foreign Minister in 1999. He is thought to have tried to warn the United States and the United Nations that Osama bin Laden was planning an operation on American soil a month before the attacks.

Soon after 11 September, he disappeared completely from public view amid rumours that he fallen out of favour with Mullah Omar by arguing that Bin Laden should be handed over to protect the country from an American invasion. In early 2002, he gave himself up to the Kandahar authorities and was transferred to the US jail at Bagram air base.

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