WASHINGTON, Feb 9: Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders are directing operations against the US-led forces in Afghanistan from Quetta while Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahri, are hiding in the tribal area, a US official said on Friday.
In Islamabad, a spokesman for the Foreign Office dismissed the US claim. “The claim by an unnamed official is baseless,” Mohammad Sadiq, the spokesman, said during a briefing on Saturday.
Islamabad would take action if Washington gave it intelligence to substantiate the claim, Mr Sadiq added.
The US claim followed reports that Islamabad was negotiating a truce with tribal leaders in South Waziristan — a move consistently opposed by Washington.
On Saturday, a spokesman for the State Department said Washington would not like Islamabad to sign an agreement that “increases militancy in the region”.
Tom Casey recalled that Pakistan had signed a peace agreement with tribal elders and militants two years ago and “by everyone’s account, including President Musharraf’s, that agreement didn’t work.
“And certainly, we wouldn’t want to see any other kind of arrangement made unless we have an understanding of how it would be effective in carrying out our common goals here.”
Mr Casey said the fight against militants in the tribal area was not just a US or international community’s fight. “It is Pakistan’s as well.”
The United States, he said, had been working very well with the government of Pakistan on these issues, “but we certainly wouldn’t want to see any kind of agreements made that would provide an opportunity for militants to either rearm or otherwise continue to engage in cross-border activities or do anything else that would undermine our common goals.”
The unidentified official, however, was more specific.
“We believe that the Taliban’s shura council leaders led by Mullah Omar reside in Quetta in Pakistan,” he said, endorsing a similar claim authorities in Kabul made year.
“They run the shura council, they run the strategic command and control out of the city of Quetta,” said the official.
“We also know that there are very clear Pakhtun tribal links up through the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, especially in North and South Waziristan, where Pakhtuns who live in Pakistan are supporting Pakhtuns who are fighting in Afghanistan.
“In some cases, they are the one and same people -- they live in Pakistan, they commute to the fight, they fight for a while in Afghanistan and retreat back into safe haven inside Waziristan.”
“Just as Mullah Omar is giving strategic direction for the Taliban from Quetta, Al Qaeda’s senior leadership is in the FATA is doing its planning,” the official said, without giving the source of the intelligence.
“The iconic leaders of Al Qaeda -- Zawahri, (Osama) bin Laden and people like (Abu Laith) al-Libi are in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” the official added.