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Pak leadership under Sharif offered to try to capture Osama
Washington, Mar 28 (PTI) The government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered to capture al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1999 and US agreed to assist in training a Pakistani special forces team for the operation but President Pervez Musharraf was "scornful" about the unit and the idea, an official US report has said.

According to a staff report by the Commission that probes the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on US, "by the summer of 1999, the counterterrorism agenda had to compete with cross-border fighting in Kashmir that threatened to explode into war." Nevertheless, President Bill Clinton contacted Sharif in June, urging him strongly to get the Taliban to expel bin Laden. Clinton suggested Pakistan use its control over oil supplies to the Taliban and its access to improts through Karachi.

The Pakistan leadership offered instead that Pakistan intelligence services might try to capture bin Laden themselves.

"Clinton met with Sharif in Washington on July 4, 2000. The prime subject was resolution of the crisis in Kashmir. The President also complained to the Prime Minister about Pakistan's failure to take effective action with respect to the Taliban and bin Laden.

"Later, the US agreed to assist in training a Pakistani special team for the bin Laden operation," the report said adding "Officials were implementing it when Sharif was deposed by Genral Pervez Musharraf in October 1999." Musharraf was "scornful about the unit and the idea," the report said.

At first, the Clinton Admiistration hoped that Musharraf's takeover might create an opening for action on bin Laden.

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger wonderedZCZC PRI GEN INT .ISLAMABA FGN69 OSAMA-SHARIF 2 LST At first, the Clinton Admiistration hoped that Musharraf's takeover might create an opening for action on bin Laden.

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger wondered about a trade in getting bin Laden in exchange for softer teatment of a relatively benign military regime. But the idea was never developed into a policy proposal.

Meanwhile, the President and his advisers were anxious about a series of new terrorist threats associated with the Millennium and were getting information linking these threats to al-Qaeda associates in Paksitan, particularly Abu Zubaydah, the report said.

President Clinton sent a message asking for immediate help on Abu Zubaydah and another push on Bin Laden, renewing the idea of using Pakistani forces to get him.

Musharraf told Ambassador Milam that he would do what he could. But he preferred a diploamtic solution on bin Laden.

Though he thought terrorists should be brought to justice, he did not find the military ideas appealing.

Administration officials debated whether to keep working with the Musharraf government or confront the general with a blunter choice, to either adopt anew policy or "Washington will draw the appropriate conclusions." One such threat would be to cancel a possible presidential visit in March 2000. U.S. envoys were given instructions that were firm, but not as confrontational as some officials had advocated.

Musharraf was pre-occupied with his domestic agenda but replied that he would do what he could, perhaps meeting with the Taliban himself, the report said.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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