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South Asia: Pashtun Elders In Pakistan Request NATO, U.S. Troops

By Ron Synovitz and Mohammad Dauod Wafa --> (RFE/RL) March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- About 60 Pashtun tribal elders from Pakistan's tribal regions met with Afghan authorities in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on March 1 to discuss how to bring security to the border regions.

Led by Malak Abdul Sabor Afridi, the delegates have suggested that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan have put too much trust in Pakistan's government. Afridi said Karzai and NATO officials should be talking directly with the Pashtun tribal leaders in Pakistan instead of relying on officials from Islamabad.

"People in the border areas -- in the semi-autonomous tribal agencies [of Pakistan] -- have sent their proposals to President Karzai and other leaders several times in the past," Afridi told RFE's Radio Free Afghanistan. "We are saying that the policy of the foreigners -- even the international alliance [of ISAF and NATO] -- is not right. This conflict cannot be resolved through military operations or by militants."

'They Are Protecting Them'

Afridi said he is angered by reports suggesting that Pashtun tribes in Pakistan's border areas have been sheltering Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

"We are not giving safe haven to the enemies of Afghanistan or to the enemies of the international community," Afridi said. "We have evidence of this. It is clear. And we have evidence that these terrorists and militants [from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda] are getting help from Pakistan's military and intelligence services to create training centers. They protect them and give them safe haven. They are protecting them. It is true that terrorists are active along the border and in the tribal regions. But they do not have links with local tribal men. They are either with the militant armed groups or with [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)]."

"It is true that terrorists are active along the border and in the tribal regions. But they do not have links with local tribal men. "

President Pervez Musharraf -- who also heads Pakistan's military -- has repeatedly denied allegations that his own military or intelligence officers support militants in Pakistan's tribal regions. Musharraf said Pakistan is the only country that has delivered "maximum support" in the fight against both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

"The trouble lies in Afghanistan and the solution lies in Afghanistan, but there is support [for terrorists] going from Pakistan, which we know," Musharraf said. "We are tackling them with 30,000 troops, so let it not be said that Pakistan is not doing enough. If there is anybody who is not doing enough, it is others who are not doing enough."

International 'Protection'

The deployment of those forces marks the first time in Pakistan's history that its military has been sent into the semi-autonomous tribal regions. Afridi said his delegation is concerned that Islamabad has another agenda -- that is, to reduce the independence of ethnic Pashtuns in the tribal regions.

"We want the international community to come to us and protect us -- send us soldiers: NATO soldiers," Afridi said. "We are under tough pressure from Pakistani forces. In the end, we will ask the international community to send NATO soldiers. The Pakistani soldiers are causing problems for us. They've destroyed our tribal systems. They've created armed groups among us. Now we have blood in the Kyber Agency -- an area that once was very safe. Muslims are being killed and hundreds of houses have been destroyed."

Afridi said NATO, U.S., and UN representatives should go into Pakistan's tribal regions in order to build contacts with the elders. He says that if the international community did so, the security problems in the area would be resolved easily.

Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in October 2005 (epa)

ACROSS A DIFFICULT BORDER. The contested border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is some 2,500 kilometers long and runs through some of the most rugged, inhospitable territory on Earth. Controlling that border and preventing Taliban militants from using Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan is an essential part of the U.S.-led international coalition's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan. Officials in Kabul have been pointing their fingers at Pakistan for some time, accusing Islamabad or intelligence services of turning a blind eye to cross-border terrorism targeting the Afghan central government. Many observers remain convinced that much of the former Taliban regime's leadership -- along with leaders of Al-Qaeda -- are operating in the lawless Afghan-Pakistani border region.... (more)


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