Afghan Oppn says no to US strike

ROME: Afghan Opposition leaders meeting in Rome on Saturday delivered a clear message to the United States not to strike at targets in Afghanistan, calling instead for US military hardware to oust the terrorists themselves.

"Give us the tools and we shall finish the job," said Mostapha Zahir, special assistant to 86-year-old former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah whom Opposition forces and the United Nations alike see as the catalyst for peace in the Central Asian country.

Military commanders from the Northern Alliance, fighting a civil war against the ruling Taliban militia, and non-aligned commanders meeting in Rome, the ex-monarch's adopted home, confirmed to AFP that they did not want US intervention.

Offering support was a Congressman, Rep Dana Rohrabacher, who met with field commanders at a Rome hotel and promptly said Afghans could count on a "major aid package" to rebuild their war-shattered nation if they overthrew the Taliban and helped root out Osama Bin Laden.

"But that will never happen if the Taliban remain in power or if they don't have a civil government," Rohrabacher, a senior member of House International Relations Committee, said after the meeting late on Saturday. "This is Afghanistan's best shot, the best shot they've had in the last 10 or 15 years."

Rohrabacher, a California Republican, was in Rome with a Congressional delegation that planned to meet with the country's former king, who is seeking to bring Afghans together to determine a more representative form of government.

A half-dozen members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance also planned meetings on Sunday with the monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has lived in Italy since his 1973 ouster, but is seen as a possible unifying figure in forming a transition government if the Taliban were to fall.

The Northern Alliance controls less than 10 per cent of Afghanistan, but has been recently emboldened by US threats to strike the Taliban and their guest, Bin Laden, named the top suspect in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Zahir, the ex-monarch's grandson, also called on Washington to bring pressure to bear on Pakistan, a key ally in US President George W Bush's "crusade" against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.

He said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had become "a government within a government" and was assisting its Taliban allies in oppressing the Afghan people.

"The danger to Pakistan may be even greater than to Afghanistan through the process of Talibanisation of the armed forces," Zahir told AFP.

Yunis Qanuni, a key Northern Alliance figure, said the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan was its powerful neighbour.

He said the Taliban were merely "tools for the long-term strategy of Pakistan."