Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said the bodies of 103 Taliban fighters killed since 20 June have been recovered in the mountains close to where the provinces of Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabol meet. He said most were killed by air strikes while trying to flee toward Pakistan or Taliban strongholds further north in Oruzgan Province. That raises the Taliban death toll in the area to more than 150 during the past week. Mashal also said that Urdu-speaking Pakistani militants are among the 16 Taliban fighters captured in the area.
The seizure of Pakistani fighters is seen by Kabul as further evidence to support its claims that militants have been flooding across the Pakistani border by the hundreds in recent months.
For years, Pakistan has denied allegations that elements within its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency were secretly behind the rise of the Taliban regime and that it continues to support Taliban fighters as a tool of Islamabad's foreign policy goals.
In the latest wave of allegations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 20 June told a youth conference in Kabul that they must understand the historic role Afghanistan's neighbors have played in the destruction of the country.
"Unfortunately, after the defeat of the Soviet forces, the fruit of the struggle was not delivered to the hands of our people," Karzai said. "But our people faced an even more dangerous intervention. The Soviet Union was a clear occupier. They came in tanks with red flags and the hammer and sickle -- obviously. But after the defeat of the Soviet forces, a more dangerous occupation came from another neighbor."
Karzai's chief spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said militants involved in the current battle were trained at camps in Pakistan. Ludin and Mashal both said the Taliban have been concentrating in southern Afghanistan in order to carry out attacks to disrupt September's parliamentary elections.
Ludin has demanded immediate action from Islamabad against key leaders of the ousted Taliban regime that he said are sheltering in Pakistan. He also demanded that Pakistan close off its border to prevent the routed militants from fleeing back to a safe haven in Pakistan once again.
In Islamabad, Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has expressed outrage at the Afghan statements. He said that Pakistan "as a state" is not involved in any unlawful activity on Afghan soil. He said Kabul must stop making such claims and allegations, and he insisted that there are no Tailban leaders on Pakistani soil.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, said Kabul is using Pakistan as a scapegoat for its internal problems. He said the accusations from Kabul are not fair because the stability of Afghanistan is in Pakistan's best interest.
However, the complaints are not coming from Kabul alone. In one of his last interviews in Kabul before becoming the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad suggested that Islamabad is turning a blind eye toward Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan's territory.
"It is very likely that [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar and other senior Taliban are in Pakistan," Khalilzad said. "Mr. Usmani, who is one of the Taliban leaders, [recently] spoke to Pakistani Geo TV at a time when Pakistani officials claimed they did not know where they were."
U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly is concerned about the impact of the diplomatic row between Kabul and Islamabad. Correspondents in Washington report that Bush telephoned Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on 21 June to discuss the issue.
Karzai's office has confirmed that Musharraf called the Afghan president late on 21 June to express Pakistan's continued support in the fight against terrorism. A statement from Karzai's office says the Afghan president responded by emphasizing that Islamabad must do more.
Afghan Trade Minister Amin Arsala is the top adviser to Karzai within the government. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Arsala stressed that maintaining good relations with Islamabad is still a top priority for Kabul.
"When things happen in Afghanistan and we think that they come from the other side of the border, it alarms us at times," Arsala said. "As to whether this is just an issue of the rogue elements or is it something where people are looking the other way -- my hope is, and our hope in general is, that nobody should look away. We think that proper relations between our two countries is extremely important for both of us and stability in both countries will help each other."
Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told AP this week there is no doubt that other countries in the region have their own designs in Afghanistan. Although Wardak did not single out any country, he strongly hinted that he was referring to Pakistan when he spoke of neighboring countries that are "always trying to exploit the vacuums that have been created" in Afghanistan.
Pakistan said it has done more than any other country in the fight against Al-Qaeda. With some 70,000 troops fanned out along the Afghan-Pakistan border, Islamabad boasts of having turned over 700 Al-Qaeda suspects to the United States.