Embassy Bombing's Afghan Dilemma

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ISLAMABAD: Are Afghanistan's Taliban leaders ready for realpolitik? The answer to that question may hold the fate of Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect in the East Africa embassy bombings. With pressure mounting on the Taliban to expel Bin Laden, the movement's leader, Mullah Omar, on Wednesday jumped to alleged terrorist's defense and insisted he wouldn't be handed over. But Thursday's New York Times quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying that if the U.S. provided credible evidence of Bin Laden's involvement in terrorist activities, the Afghan leaders could work out a deal with Washington.

"The Taliban is coming under intense pressure from their traditional backers, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to expel Bin Laden," says TIME New Delhi bureau chief Tim McGirk. "Also, they're desperate to be recognized at the U.N. as the government of Afghanistan, and they need support in what may be a brewing battle against Iran." So what's holding them back from getting rid of a guest who's become a massive liability? "They see Bin Laden as a good Muslim who fought the good fight against the Russians and has given them a lot of money," says McGirk. "According to their code of honor, they can't simply turf out someone who they've accepted as a guest." If that code prevails, Washington could be left contemplating a militarily -- and politically -- costly Rambo-style snatch operation.