Key U.S. allies to cooperate against terror

Leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan pledge to work together against al-Qaida, Taliban

September 07, 2006|By Kim Barker | Kim Barker,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Key U.S. allies Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to fight the "scourge of terrorism," whether al-Qaida or the Taliban, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said yesterday on a visit to the Afghan capital.

At a joint news conference, Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai talked about the need to cooperate, called each other "brother" and appeared to put the harsh words of earlier this year behind them.

But Musharraf was also adamant that U.S.-led forces now hunting terrorists in Afghanistan would never be allowed to cross into Pakistan to hunt for anyone fleeing across the border.

"This is not possible at all, that we will ever allow any foreigner at all coming into that area," said Musharraf, adding that the tribal areas have never allowed foreign troops. "Anyone who ever thinks of that is not living in reality."

The visit by Musharraf to Afghanistan comes at a crucial time for both countries, right before the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Taliban-led insurgents are mounting their biggest challenge to the U.S.-backed Afghan government since the fall of the Taliban almost five years ago. And Musharraf and Karzai are to meet soon with U.S. officials in Washington.

Afghan officials have frequently accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to flourish openly in the tribal border areas. Earlier this year, the accusations spilled over into outright hostility, with each nation accusing the other of harboring terrorists.

Pakistan has faced increased pressure from NATO, which in August took over security control in southern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition. Leaders of NATO nations have criticized Pakistan for not doing enough. Many Western officials say privately that Taliban leaders find shelter in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They are reluctant, however, to criticize Pakistan publicly because they believe that Pakistan might soon crack down on Taliban leadership.

"The Taliban command and control is in Pakistan," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's a statement of fact they're there. Unless more is done to control them, the insurgency will go on at a high level."

A top Afghan official said he believes that Pakistan is changing its approach toward the Taliban.

In recent weeks, the two countries have announced their intention to pursue joint patrols along the rugged, porous border.

The Pakistani government signed a truce Tuesday with pro-Taliban militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. The deal, the result of two months of meetings with tribal elders, aims to end years of unrest and stop militants from attacking Pakistani forces and crossing into Afghanistan to attack international and Afghan troops.

"Bottom line - No. 1, no al-Qaida activity, no foreigners in our area," Musharraf said.

Though some experts have questioned whether this pact could allow haven for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be hiding near the border, Musharraf said tribal elders had signed on to the agreement and would make sure that no terrorist received shelter.

In Islamabad, the country's army spokesman, Gen. Shaukat Sultan, told the Associated Press that "Pakistan is committed to its policy on the war on terror, and Osama caught anywhere in Pakistan would be brought to justice."

Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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