ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan, the country that nurtured the Taliban and was the first to recognize their rule in Afghanistan, closed the circle Thursday by shutting the Taliban embassy in Islamabad, leaving them without diplomatic ties to a single nation.
The end was announced with little fanfare. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told reporters the decision had been made Wednesday and had been communicated officially to the Afghans Thursday.
It came with the Taliban's hold on its last pockets of Afghan territory evaporating. Taliban commanders agreed Thursday to surrender the northern city of Kunduz, while U.S. bombers concentrated on the Taliban's remaining stronghold, Kandahar in the south.
Ever mistrustful of outside influence, and shunned abroad as they imposed their unforgiving vision of Islam on their people, the Taliban forged few links with the rest of the world in the five years since in power.
Aside from Pakistan, they had formal relations only with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and both cut those ties soon after the United States blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on a man the Taliban called their guest in Afghanistan, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.
Kept communication open
Not Pakistan, though. Even when President Pervez Musharraf's government allied itself with the United States in the confrontation over bin Laden, it maintained relations with the Taliban, saying it was crucial to keep the lines of communication open.
For the United States, the shutdown didn't come a moment too soon.
"We are delighted to know that Pakistan is severing diplomatic relations with the Taliban," a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Kenton Keith, said in Islamabad.
Even before the announcement, Afghan staffers began packing. The deputy ambassador, Sohail Shaheen came in for work early in the morning, but left soon afterward.
"We have stopped issuing visas and ended all our operations," said embassy official Mufti Yousuf.
The main gate of the embassy -- a low-slung building tucked away on a quiet, shrubbery-shaded street -- was shut, but the Taliban's white flag, inscribed with a Quranic verse, still fluttered from the flagpole. After dark, two Taliban officials took it down.