APRIL 3, 2000

Pakistan Does an About-Face on bin Laden

To end its isolation, it will ask Afghanistan turn the suspected terrorist over

Moinuddin Haider, Pakistan's Interior Minister, says the "first thing" he will do when he returns home from his trip to the U.S. is travel to Afghanistan to try to convince the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden and close his terrorist training camps.

The Taliban has been sheltering bin Laden, who is wanted in the U.S. on terrorism charges stemming from the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa. The Afghanistan government has refused to hand him over for trial, saying the U.S. lacks convincing proof of his involvement. But Haider, a retired lieutenant general and head of Pakistan's internal security, intelligence units, police, and paramilitary forces, says he'll tell the Taliban that harboring bin Laden is "not worth the price it is paying" in diplomatic and economic isolation.

PARTNERS AGAIN? So why is Pakistan, after years of supporting Afghanistan and refusing U.S. requests, suddenly enthusiastic about helping to capture bin Laden? Pakistan has been isolated diplomatically since General Pervez Musharraf took power in a military coup last year and is desperate to have its international credibility -- and international loans -- restored. President Clinton, on his visit to Pakistan in March, urged Pakistan to help deliver bin Laden and promised a return to "economic and diplomatic partnership" if it did.

Pakistani officials traveling with Haider say the bulk of Clinton's private discussions with him focused on counterterrorism. Haider arrived in the U.S. on Mar. 31 for a five-day visit, during which he had meetings scheduled with his counterpart, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, and other U.S. security officials. He also came to the U.S. to urge Pakistani nationals living here to register for new national I.D. cards -- part of Pakistan's upgraded security measures to catch terrorists.

Sheri Prasso in New York