Afghanistan welcomes Pakistan extradition of 14 Taliban rebels

Afghan officials Thursday welcomed the extradition of 14 suspected Taliban members from Pakistan, saying they hoped the move would amplify cooperation between the neighbors in "the war against terrorism." Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of being soft on Taliban militants who base themselves on the Pakistani side of the frontier and sneak into Afghanistan to carry out attacks. Pakistani officials have denied the charge.

Among those extradited to Kabul on Wednesday was Latif Hakimi, a purported Taliban spokesman who was arrested in the Pakistani city of Quetta last month. He would often telephone news agencies to claim responsibility for insurgent attacks, though his exact ties to the Taliban leadership are not clear.

U.S. military and Afghan officials knew of his whereabouts for months but took no action as they gained valuable information on the insurgents by monitoring his phone calls. But they pushed Pakistan to arrest him after he allegedly urged a group of militants last month to kill a kidnapped British engineer, according Afghan officials close to President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan state television showed footage of soldiers leading the 14 men, all blindfolded, off a military transport plane at the airport in Kabul.

"This is a positive development between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai said. "We are hopeful that this new cooperation will help in our war against terrorism."

It was not immediately clear what would happen to the 14 men now that they had arrived in Afghanistan. Stanekzai referred questions on the matter to the presidential palace, but officials there did not answer their phones.

The men will almost certainly face extensive questioning amid a reinvigorated insurgency that has left almost 1,500 people dead this year in the deadliest violence since the ouster of the fundamentalist regime in late 2001.

U.S. military commanders say that though the rebels have suffered heavy casualties in fighting this year nearly 900 the militants are recruiting young fighters and the insurgency is expected to continue well into 2006, reports the AP.