WASHINGTON: The founder of Afghanistan's now-scorned Haqqani network voiced hope for cooperation in a meeting with US diplomats two years before the September 11 attacks, a declassified document said Tuesday.
The United States decided last week to blacklist the Pakistan-linked network as terrorists following a wave of attacks in Afghanistan. The guerrilla group once enjoyed US support as it battled Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
In a document released on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a State Department cable said that US officials met in May 1999 with the group's founder Jalaluddin Haqqani who was informally representing the Taliban regime.
In the meeting, a diplomat from the US embassy in Islamabad urged the Taliban to expel Osama bin Laden who was wanted over the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania three years before the September 11 atrocity.
The cable said that Haqqani insisted that the Taliban had placed "tight controls" on bin Laden and that the best solution for the United States may be for the Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader to stay in Afghanistan.
Haqqani appealed for dialogue with the United States and voiced frustration over US pressure on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- US allies that with Pakistan were the only nations to recognize the Taliban government.
"Iran, China and Russia want to take over Afghanistan and run it for their gain," the cable quoted Haqqani as saying.
The "US and Saudi Arabia could help Afghanistan maintain its independence. Do not turn away from us anymore, but deal with us," he was quoted as saying.
The documents on the Haqqanis were released by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act.
The 1999 cable said that Haqqani -- "stroking his black beard and adjusting his white turban" -- offered appreciation for US support against the Soviets but criticized the cruise missile strike ordered by president Bill Clinton after the embassy bombings.
A "hail and hearty" Haqqani started the talks with US diplomats "by darkly joking that it was 'good to meet someone from the country which destroyed my base, my madrassa and killed 25 of my mujahedin," the cable said, referring to Islamic schools and warriors.
Hearing Haqqani's remarks, his assistants "glared sullenly" at the US diplomats, the document said.
The cable did not specify the location of the meeting, although it appeared to take place somewhere in Pakistan. US officials often held Taliban meetings at the US embassy in Islamabad before the September 11 attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, under pressure from Congress, last week agreed to declare the Haqqani network to be terrorists amid US outrage over a series of attacks attributed to the group including a hotel assault in June that killed 18 people and a siege last year of the US embassy in Kabul.
US officials had worried about the impact of relations with Pakistan. Admiral Mike Mullen said before stepping down last year as the head of the US military that the Haqqani network has become a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Another declassified US document said that Haqqani was a military strategist and a comparative "social moderate" as his Zadran tribe of Pashtuns treated women more liberally than Pashtuns in Kandahar, the base of the Taliban whose 1996-2001 regime imposed draconian controls on women.
In the meeting with US diplomats, Haqqani hit back at the criticism of the Taliban. He was quoted as arguing: "Saudi Arabia, a friend of the US and Europe, treated women the same way as the Taliban."
Jalaluddin Haqqani is now in his 70s and frail and has passed on his seat on the Taliban leadership council to his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who runs a fighting force of at least 2,000 men.