ISLAMABAD, Aug 20: President Pervez Musharraf has said that militants may still be crossing the Line of Control into occupied Kashmir.

“The possibility is there...it’s like the Afghan border, only much worse,” Gen Musharraf told AFP in an exclusive interview at his official residence outside Islamabad late Monday.

“Militants going across (a possibility)? Yes, sympathizers. A possibility of individual small groups going across is there, because when 700,000 troops of Indians can’t block the borders, how can they expect us to block the borders?”

However, Gen Musharraf said there had been no large-scale or government-sponsored movement of militants over the LoC since he pledged to halt the incursions earlier this year.

OSAMA WHEREABOUTS: President Musharraf said he accepted that Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar could be hiding in Pakistan’s western border tribal belt.

But, he observed, it was more likely they were sheltering in Afghanistan.

“I won’t entirely rule it out,” he said of the chances that the two, who have eluded the 10,000-strong coalition of international troops, were being helped by sympathizers in the semi-autonomous tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

He insisted that Osama, if he had survived the US-led coalition offensive in Tora Bora in December and the Shahi Kot Valley in March, would have trouble hiding in Pakistan.

“He is not the kind of person that would be moving alone or in a very small group, he would be moving in a very big group,” Gen Musharraf said.

“He’s not an ordinary man. He must be moving with 100 to 200 people around him to give him all the protection, so that kind of group, such a large group, would not be able to hide in Pakistan.”

The president said there was a chance that Mulla Omar had crossed the porous mountain border. “I wouldn’t negate it altogether, the border is very porous, inhospitable country, movement cannot be seen entirely.

“Therefore I can’t rule it out or say that there’s an absolute zero possibility of his coming to this side. He could.”

However the absence of Afghan government authority beyond Kabul made conditions far more inviting for the fugitive Taliban leader inside his country, Gen Musharraf said.

“He’s an Afghan. He would be much more comfortable operating, moving within Afghanistan where it is very convenient to his movements because after all the writ (control) of the government is not there.

“Why would he come into Pakistan?”

“If I was he, I wouldn’t come this side. It is much easier to stay there (in Afghanistan).”

REGROUPING: The president warned that Al Qaeda may be re-grouping in Afghanistan because of the weakness of the Afghan government.

Gen Musharraf said the failure of US-led forces and the Kabul administration to establish control outside the capital despite the massive US military campaign meant conditions were ripe for the militants network to re-emerge.

“Taliban-cum-Al-Qaeda groups could be re-grouping because the government does not exercise control everywhere.

“The writ of this Afghan government is not spreading all over Afghanistan, which it should have,” the president said.—AFP

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