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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Bin Laden 'controls Taleban'
Alleged Bin Laden training video, showing his fighters in Afghanistan
Bin Laden's men roam the country at will, says Bhutto
Osama Bin Laden treats Afghanistan as his personal fiefdom, according to Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The main suspect in last month's devastating attacks in the US uses a 12,000-strong private army to treat his host country "like a vassal", she told Reuters, quoting "informed sources" within the Taleban.


He intimidates and his force really runs the place like a vassal

Benazir Bhutto,
Ex-Pakistan PM
Ms Bhutto alleges that the Saudi-born militant, who has sought refuge in Afghanistan since 1996, is in effect in control of the Taleban, which has always insisted he is their "guest".

Ms Bhutto's view is one shared in certain quarters, but some analysts question whether Bin Laden has anything like the leading political role in Afghanistan which is ascribed to him.

Bin Laden
Bin Laden: Guest in charge?
Some even argue that he is running out of funds to finance his al-Qaeda organisation.

Ms Bhutto's view could, however, explain why the Taleban refuses to hand Bin Laden over - despite repeated threats of imminent US military action against both parties if they do not.

She says his fighters roam the country, terrorising locals and Taleban commanders alike.

"They are Arabs from different countries together and they drive around in shaded cars, and no one can cross their paths," she said in an interview on Sunday.

"He [Bin Laden] intimidates and his force really runs the place like a vassal."

Isolation

In the current circumstances neither Ms Bhutto's assertion nor its refutation is provable.

Taleban fighters
Taleban live "in fear" of Bin Laden's men
What can be said with a little more certainty is that, as Pakistani backing for the Taleban dries up, Afghanistan's rulers and America's most wanted man find themselves with more and more in common.

Pakistan is the only country left which still recognises the Taleban.

But even its government has backed US President George Bush in his war on terrorism.

Ms Bhutto said the capture of Bin Laden would be a prime opportunity to oust the Taleban, "a destabilising force" which she said all neighbouring countries hate.

"The Taliban must be overthrown and this is an opportunity to overthrow them," Ms Bhutto said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"America has made it clear the Taleban statement changes nothing"
The BBC's Daniel Lak in Islamabad
"I think the Taleban think they are still negotiating"
Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary
"I have no reason to believe anything a Taleban representative has said"
See also:

25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia warns of West-Islam split
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Push to secure reporter's release
26 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iranian leader: No help for US
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's turbulent history
30 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Decoding Taleban's message
01 Oct 01 | UK
UK freezes terror funds
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