Still wanted by the United States for his alleged role in a number of bloody terrorist acts, Usama Bin Laden remains hidden in Afghanistan, elusive and indignant.
So why is the U.S. hesitant to support Bin Laden's chief rival in that troubled central Asian country, where the Taliban government has repeatedly refused to hand over the Saudi billionaire for trial?
And why is the U.S. treating Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the south, with kid gloves when there is mounting evidence the military regime there is helping train young men for the Taliban and sending them into Afghanistan with weapons?
So asks Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister for the Islamic State of Afghanistan and supporter of President Berhanuddin Rabbani and his United Front, which holds Afghanistan's U.N. seat and held power in the country before being toppled by the Taliban in 1996.
"We cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot ignore it, but act firmly to find a solution," Abdullah said in a recent interview with Fox News. Backed by the Pakistanis, Abdullah claims, the Taliban is motivated to force "religious extremism and fanaticism" on the Afghan people.
"What you see and what you watch is hatred for humanity ... It's not enough to call them fundamentalist, it's inhuman," said Abdullah.
U.S. Aware of Pakistani Role
U.S. officials said they are aware Afghanistan may be receiving weapons from Pakistan in violation of U.N. sanctions. But they also said that while there is evidence of private support for the Taliban, the Pakistani government's role in the arms traffic is unclear.
Others dismiss that assertion, and insist the Pakistani government knows exactly what is going on.
"The Pakistanis essentially finance, logistically support and in some cases do the fighting for the Taliban," said Dr. Jim Phillips, a research fellow and expert on national security in the Middle East and Persian Gulf at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
"It would have been impossible for the Taliban to take power [in Afghanistan] if it weren't for the Pakistanis," said Phillips.
He noted that most of the arms used by the Taliban today came from the United States during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
"All the weapons were left behind," he said. "When we cut the umbilical cord, the Pakistanis took control."
The U.S. has no plans to back the Rabbani government, according to officials. They said the primary U.S. objective is to bring Bin Laden to justice, and not to take sides among the various Afghan factions.
Not everyone sees Rabbani as the answer to Afghanistan's problems, however. Dr. Frederick Starr, a Central Asian expert at Johns Hopkins School of Strategic and International Studies, says the Rabbani government has its own "deplorable human-rights record and its own history of drug trafficking."
Starr charged that "the sanctions should be extended to the north as well, and they should be denied a U.N. seat until such a time that a true Afghan government is formed and one that meets reasonable standards of human rights."
"Bin Laden was a non-entity until the publicity he was given by the United States," Starr said. "We have created a policy that revolves around one man."