Taliban Leader Said in Kandahar

Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar retains control of his stronghold Kandahar and is believed to remain in the city, a spokesman for an opposition Afghan faction said Friday. 

Several Afghans, some of whom were in contact with Taliban commanders, confirmed that Omar was still in charge and had not relinquished power despite persistent, unconfirmed reports to the contrary, said the spokesman, Ahmed Karzai. 

Karzai, whose brother Hamid is believed inside Afghanistan organizing resistance to the Taliban, said his assessment was based on reports from trusted Afghan sources who arrived in Quetta on Thursday and Friday. 

The Pakistani city is the headquarters of some ethnic Pashtun tribal chiefs who are trying to persuade the Taliban to surrender in the last areas of Afghanistan under their control. 

Hamid Karzai, himself a Pashtun tribal leader, has been trying for weeks to negotiate with Taliban commanders who have retreated to the south after relinquishing most of the rest of the country. The Taliban drew most of their support from the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. 

Ahmed Karzai said he did not believe claims that Omar had withdrawn to the hills surrounding Kandahar after handing control of the city to a trusted Taliban commander, Ahktar Mohammed Usmani. The report has emerged in the Pakistani press.

"According to our information, it's not true," he said. 

Another Quetta-based Pashtun leader who opposes the Taliban, Haji Abdul Khaliq, cited a report that Usmani had taken over more of the daily affairs of the city. Many residents have fled Kandahar, which has come under fierce bombardment since the United States launched a military campaign Oct. 7 against the Taliban and terror suspect Usama bin Laden. 

On Wednesday, a Taliban spokesman in the Afghan border town of Spinboldak said the Islamic militia would defend Kandahar to the last. 

It remained unclear whether any Pashtun representatives based in Quetta would travel to Germany for power-sharing talks on Monday with the northern alliance, which controls the capital, Kabul.

"I'm not sure if he's going or not," said Ahmed Karzai, referring to his brother. 

Khaliq has said he did not plan to go because he was busy with negotiations with the Taliban. 

Some Pashtuns appear content to let their interests be represented by delegates of elderly former monarch Mohammed Zaher Shah, a Pashtun who has lived in exile in Rome for decades. 

There are concerns that the Pashtuns will not have full representation at the power-sharing talks. The Northern Alliance is made up mostly of minority Uzbeks and Tajiks.