Afghan protesters loot Pakistani embassy in Kabul

2 nations' forces have met in recent border clashes

July 09, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of Afghan protesters ransacked Pakistan's embassy in Kabul yesterday morning, shattering windows, breaking down doors and setting the Pakistani flag on fire.

No one was injured in the rampage, but Pakistani officials bitterly accused the Afghan government of being unable to police its capital, demanded compensation and said the embassy would remain closed until further notice.

"Where was the Afghan government?" asked Rustam Shah Mehmand, the Pakistani envoy, as he stood among shattered windows and overturned tables.

The current tension between the countries stems from allegations that Pakistan is allowing Taliban fighters to use its territory as a haven from which to carry out attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces in southeastern Afghanistan. There have also been reports of skirmishes between Afghan and Pakistani forces along the countries' lawless and disputed border.

Pakistani officials say they have posted 70,000 troops in the tribal areas along the border to stop the incursions, the first time in Pakistan's history that army troops have entered the tribal areas. They say that they have arrested more than 500 suspected members of al-Qaida and the Taliban, but that it is impossible to completely seal the mountainous border.

About 9:30 a.m., 500 protesters chanting "death to Pakistan" descended on the Pakistani Embassy. Afghan officials were aware of the protest, a Western diplomat said. But they apparently assigned no extra police officers.

The crowd quickly overwhelmed the 10 to 15 officers present, tearing down a wooden gate and a crude stone wall behind it. As hundreds of looters swarmed the compound, a dozen or so Pakistanis cowered in the basement. The ambassador was not in the embassy at the time.

Estimates of how long the crowd ransacked the building varied from 20 minutes to two hours. The protesters hurled two satellite dishes off the roof and smashed the windshields of seven four-wheel-drive cars.

Officials in Kabul say Afghan and American forces are making steady progress in countering a low-level insurgency in southeastern Afghanistan. But officials in Islamabad say lawlessness is spreading.

In a news conference yesterday afternoon, President Hamid Karzai apologized for the attack and condemned those who carried it out. He promised to call Musharraf and apologize, and to pay Pakistan compensation.

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