The most senior Taliban member to defect so far blamed Usama bin Laden and Taliban hard-liners Saturday for transforming Afghanistan into a terrorist haven and bringing on a disastrous war with the United States.

Mullah Mohammed Khaqzar, the former Taliban deputy interior minister, said at a news conference that he warned Taliban supreme leader Mohammed Omar that he should tell "the terrorists" to leave or that they would destroy the country.

But Omar fell under the influence of bin Laden, who forged close ties to Taliban Defense Minister Obeidullah Khan and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, Khaqzar said.

Turabi was the author of many of the most controversial Taliban decrees, such as those depriving women of education and work and banning entertainment such as music, television and movies.

President Bush launched airstrikes against Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden for his alleged role in the September terrorist attacks that killed 3,600 people in the United States.

"As long as the international terrorists are in our country, there will be no peace," Khaqzar told journalists here.

Khaqzar, a former Taliban intelligence chief, said he had met bin Laden only once and did not know how many members of his Al Qaeda terrorist network were in Afghanistan.

However, he suspects bin Laden and Omar are still in communication, despite recent Taliban claims that they do not know the Saudi exile's whereabouts.

Khaqzar is from the Taliban's spiritual homeland of Kandahar and was once a friend of Omar's and part of the movement's inner circle. He said he abandoned the movement because he wanted peace in his homeland.

"I have fought for 23 years. I know that we have to have peace. I want to work with all the parties and groups to bring peace," he said.

"I have been saying for a long time that the foreigners have to leave our country, that they have plans of their own and are destroying our country," Khaqzar said.

Khaqzar, who wore a black and white striped turban and unkempt beard as required by the Taliban, said he remained in Kabul when the city fell to the northern alliance on Nov. 13.

During the Taliban rule, Khaqzar said he maintained contact with northern alliance leaders, specifically Ahmed Shah Massood, the former military chief killed by a suicide bomber on Sept. 9. He said he maintained those contacts in hopes of forging peace in the country but the effort was undermined by hard-liners close to bin Laden and Omar.

In a 1999 interview with The Associated Press, Khaqzar said bin Laden and his Arab followers were ingratiating themselves into the Taliban hierarchy, wielding greater influence because of the money and fighters they provided.

Khaqzar protested in March when the Taliban blew up two giant Buddha statues that were chiseled into a cliff in central Afghanistan more than 1,500 years ago. The militia considered the statues idolatrous and against the tenets of Islam.

At the time, he told the AP that "it would have been better if they would have cut the throat of my son." But he refused to be quoted by name for fear the comment would cost him his life.

"I am telling all Afghans tonight that peace is the only way. That we cannot have any more war," he said. "We have to work together as one nation, with all the groups, for peace. It is the only way."