Pakistan Pulls Afghanistan Staff

Pakistan has pulled out all of its diplomatic staff from the Afghan capital of Kabul, the foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.

"In view of the abnormal situation, they were withdrawn over the weekend. They are all in Pakistan," said Mohammed Riaz Khan at a news conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries that still recognize the Taliban militia as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. On Saturday, the United Arab Emirates broke off diplomatic ties.

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers harbor Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

Khan said the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan remains in place and described the departure of the Pakistani staff as "temporary." Nonetheless, relations between the Taliban and Pakistan have deteriorated since Islamabad announced "full support" for any retaliation against Afghanistan for its harboring of bin Laden.

Khan said Pakistani officials were concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan, but gave no further details on the withdrawal of the diplomatic staff.

The United Nations and international relief organizations have also pulled their foreign staff out of Afghanistan because of the likelihood of a U.S. assault on the Central Asian nation.

The Taliban have provided safe haven to bin Laden since 1996 and have so far refused to hand him over.

Taliban officials said Monday they have been unable to locate bin Laden for the past three days. They said they have been trying to find him to deliver a message from a grand Islamic council asking him to leave the country voluntarily.

U.S. officials have dismissed the claim, saying they believe the Taliban know exactly where bin Laden is.