Aside from being on the leadership council headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, Akhund was also defence minister in the Taliban government before it fell.

 

'No confirmation'

 

Government and military spokesmen have denied the arrest has been made - or said they had no knowledge of it - but the story was front page news in Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily, on Friday.   

"Mullah Omar's deputy Obaidullah captured" was the headline in a report that was also sourced to an unnamed official.

Cheney had asked Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan president, to do more to stop al-Qaeda from rebuilding safe havens in Pakistani tribal lands and step up efforts to thwart a spring offensive by the Taliban against Afghan and Nato troops.

   

The Pakistani security official said Akhund's arrest was the culmination of a planned operation and not a result of Cheney's visit.

   

Taliban sources, speaking on satellite telephones from undisclosed locations, said Akhund was caught at the home of one of his relatives at the Baluchistan provincial capital.

   

They said two other Taliban leaders had been arrested in Quetta this week, but a Pakistani security official could not confirm this.