Taliban bids for ex-mujahideen leaders

Taliban forces are seeking an alliance with two former Afghan mujahideen commanders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mullah Yunis Khalis.

Contact with the two Pashtun men, though still informal, appears to be a bid by Taliban leaders to capture the support of moderate Pashtuns - the ethnic group that constitutes about 55 percent of the Afghan peoples. It's seen as a maneuver to cut off efforts to build support for a post-Taliban government. It may also figure in the immediate Taliban military strategy.

The two former commanders have long been out of power. But Mr. Hekmatyar said from Iran last week that he would fight for the Taliban, and favored their rule over the former King Mohammad Zahir Shah.

Mullah Khalis, who helped the Taliban capture Jalalabad in 1996, is highly respected and still lives in Jalalabad, but has made no statement.

"We will seek everyone's support against the aggressors," the Taliban's chief spokesman confirmed on the phone from Kandahar. Still, some Pakistani analysts say the Taliban ploy is "silly."

But pro-King Zahir forces are worried. "The attacks on Afghanistan have brought a big gap between us and our goal," says Abdul Haq, another former mujahideen who is known to be a candidate favored by the US for defense minister in a potential Zahir government.

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