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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Analysis: Afghan ruling on Bin Laden
taleban
The Taleban call Bin Laden their guest
By Roger Hardy in London and Kate Clark in Islamabad

Until now, the Taleban have said it would be a breach of traditional Afghan hospitality to expel a man they regard as an honoured guest.

Now, under the pressure of events, a meeting of Afghan religious leaders has decided that the prime suspect behind the attacks in the United States, Osama bin Laden, should be asked to leave voluntarily.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Thousands who fear US strikes are leaving Afghanistan
The clerics' decision looks like a compromise between those who remain loyal to Bin Laden and others worried by the dire consequences of defying not only the US, but their close ally and neighbour Pakistan.

In fact, some analysts say this may have been the reason why Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taleban leader, called the meeting of clerics that made this decision - to quell any dissent by coming up with a decision acceptable to them all.

But after two days of waiting for the scholars' decision the World has been left wondering exactly what it means.

At various times in the past when the pressure was on the Taleban, they have made similar obscure rulings. They have invited Osama Bin Laden to leave Afghanistan before. Once they claimed that he'd simply disappeared, although they later had to admit this wasn't correct.

In the past the World was not that bothered about Osama Bin Laden and this was a successful strategy for buying time and obscuring issues.

But will the decision deflect US President George W Bush, already assembling military forces for possible military action?

He is insisting that the Taleban must hand over Bin Laden and dissociate themselves from terrorism - for example by closing down Bin Laden's training camps for Islamic militants.

The clerics' decision falls far short of that.

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