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Saudis break diplomatic ties with Taliban

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia has broken diplomatic relations with Afghanistan's Taliban government, leaving Pakistan as the only country to recognize the fundamentalist Islamic state.

After the Saudi announcement, a Taliban representative urged Pakistan to maintain its diplomatic ties and prevent the United States from using Pakistani airspace to launch an attack on Afghanistan.

The Taliban official, Mohammad Hussein Mostassed, told the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera that a clash with the United States would be a clash of values.

"The Americans are fighting so they can live and enjoy the material things in this life. But we are fighting so we can die in the cause of God," he said.

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Following the decision, Riyadh has given Taliban diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry says it has informed the Taliban's representative in Riyadh that its diplomats have two days to leave.

The Taliban have called for an Islamic holy war against the United States if it attacks Afghanistan. But Saudi Arabia -- the birthplace of Islam -- accused the Taliban of providing refuge to terrorists in its announcement it was breaking relations.

The United Arab Emirates ended its recognition of the Taliban on Saturday, and the Saudis had been mounting pressure to cut off ties after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The official Saudi news agency said those attacks "defame Islam and defame Muslims' reputations in the world."

Washington said Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect behind the attacks in New York and Washington. Bin Laden has been living as a guest of the Taliban in Afghanistan since 1996 and has been linked to several other terrorist attacks against U.S. targets overseas.

Riyadh accused the Taliban of continuing "to use their land to harbor, arm and encourage those criminals who carry out terrorist attacks, which frighten the innocent and spread horror and destruction in the world." The kingdom's decision to cut all ties with the Taliban gives the U.S. campaign against terror a further boost.

"It further alienates them from international community, and it provides the diplomatic coalition with greater weight so it has more diplomatic utility at this moment than military utility," Joanna Spears of the Department of War Studies at the University of London told CNN.

Saudi Arabia scaled back ties with the Taliban in 1998 after it gave sanctuary to bin Laden. Bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991 for his anti-government activities and stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994.

President Bush on Tuesday praised the Saudi decision and hinted that the United States would be willing to support opposition to the Taliban within Afghanistan.

"They have made the decision to harbor terrorists," Bush said. "The mission is to rout terrorists, to find them and bring them to justice. ... The best way to do that, and one way to do that, is to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place or tired of having Osama bin Laden -- people from foreign soils -- in their own land, willing to finance this repressive government."

Mostassed, the Taliban official appearing on Al Jazeera, warned that Afghans were ready to resist any U.S. attack. Speaking from Kabul, he held up a rifle and said, "This is one of the weapons the Soviets left behind. The people of Afghanistan own a lot of these weapons. The Afghans are proud to die martyrs while defending themselves."

Pakistan withdrew its diplomatic staff from Kabul over the weekend, citing security concerns, but a Taliban ambassador remains in Islamabad. And Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar warned Western powers against attempts to overthrow the Taliban.

Afghans are "fiercely protective of their independence" and "have never acquiesced in a government, a proxy government imposed upon them from the outside," Sattar said. Those "who intervene in Afghanistan and try to plant their own preferred leaders on Afghanistan paid a very high price for that blunder."

Pakistan supported the Taliban, many of whom were educated in Pakistani religious schools, and many conservative Muslims in Pakistan support the Afghan regime. But Pakistani leaders have agreed to share intelligence information with the United States and also have said Washington can use Pakistani airspace.


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