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Afghanistan/Pakistan: 'Inseparable Twins' In Need Of Separation

Presidents Karzai (left) and Musharraf in Islamabad, 15 February (epa) During his recent trip to Islamabad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan and Pakistan are "joined together like twins" and are "inseparable." But for all the diplomatic gestures, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are now at their lowest ebb since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Karzai's main stated grievance is that his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf is, at best, unable or, at worst, unwilling to curtail the activities of the neo-Taliban inside Pakistan and to break up the support network created by Pakistani religious and military groups for the militants.

Afghan officials and the media have consistently accused Afghanistan's eastern neighbor of backing the violence perpetuated by the neo-Taliban. Recently, too, the Afghan public has taken up the call, in anti-Pakistani protests.

Those "who controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime have not altered their intentions."

Karzai himself, though, had maintained a more diplomatic line. That has since changed, due to a wave of around 30 suicide attacks that killed nearly 100 people since mid-November. During a weekly radio program in late January, Karzai charged that "a neighbor" of Afghanistan has had a hand in the recent upsurge in violence. "The reason for these attacks is the continuation of subversive endeavors" by foreigners whose aim is "to dominate" Afghanistan, Karzai said. The former Taliban regime was, the Afghan president continued, part of a "hidden invasion" of Afghanistan "by a neighbor for the second time" since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979.

While clearly pointing to -- but refraining from directly identifying -- Pakistan, Karzai added that since the collapse of the Taliban regime following the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, those "who controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime have not altered their intentions." Karzai went on to say that the unnamed neighbor has continued to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs and, for "this reason, terrorism and attacks [are] still widespread."

Militants And Secret Services

Islamabad may itself have voiced displeasure of its own at the 15 February meeting. Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan suggest that Pakistani officials handed Karzai evidence that Indian security agents have been operating in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province and tribal areas along the Afghan border. The reports suggest the agents had been using India's consulates in Afghanistan as bases.

Those reports are unofficial. However, Karzai was very empathetic when he stated on 15 February that Afghanistan's "relations with India in no way, no way, no way will impact" on ties between Kabul and Islamabad.

Islamabad has on a number of occasions since 2003 alleged that India is using Afghanistan as a base from which to interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs. In 2003, Pakistan's then interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, accused India of running camps in Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis as terrorists.

The confusion that followed Afghan officials' announcement that they had given Pakistan a list of 150 former Taliban members living in Pakistan seemed, therefore, to be symptomatic of a broader divergence in views between the two countries. On 20 February, Pakistan denied receiving a list. The next day Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao acknowledged that Islamabad had indeed received a list of "about 150 terrorists." But this was, he said, a routine exchange of intelligence. Differences persist. Most Pakistani officials say the list named Al-Qaeda members. Afghan officials say the list names members of the Taliban. Neither Afghan nor Pakistani officials have revealed any of the names.

A Separate But Equal Partnership

There are, though, glimmers of hope that Kabul and Islamabad might at least find it beneficial to work together to promote trade and transit opportunities.

On 15 February, Afghan and Pakistani officials met in Turkmenistan to discuss a proposed pipeline that would carry Turkmen gas to both countries, and perhaps onward to India. There is also talk of running a railroad through Afghanistan that would connect the republics of Central Asia with Pakistan and, through Pakistan's ports, to overseas markets. Similarly, there are ongoing discussions about bus links between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, while resistant, Pakistan has not flatly rejected a proposal to allow an overland transit route between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan.

However, one proposal made by Karzai during his trip to Pakistan -- to adopt an open-border policy as a prelude to other confidence-building measures -- will have roused anxiety in Islamabad, as it is Afghanistan's longstanding policy not to recognize the Durand Line, the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan has never officially recognized the Durand Line, and Pakistan has therefore always regarded Afghanistan as a potential threat and sought to retain leverage in Afghanistan. It has done so partly by nurturing political opponents who could, in time of need, serve Pakistani interests.

The support that Pakistan is alleged to be providing the neo-Taliban is therefore part of a long-term strategy that predates the current war on terrorism and overreaches Musharraf's stated goodwill towards the Karzai government. And that also suggests that if the inseparable twins are to become separate but equal states, they will need to agree where exactly their borders lie.

Helmand Province Governor Comments

Helmand Province Governor Comments

U.S. Marines operating in Helmand Province in 2002 (epa)

RULING A RESTIVE LAND: On February 12, RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Jawaid Wafa spoke briefly with Helmand Province Governor MOHAMMAD DAOUD about the ongoing violence in his restive region on the border with Pakistan.

RFE/RL: Recently, there have been many clashes and attacks by insurgents in Helmand Province. What in your view facilitates these attacks, especially in Helmand?

Mohammad Daoud: This province has a 160-kilometer border with Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. In reality, armed people, armed terrorists, from the other side of the border cross the border into Helmand. They carry out attacks and return back. It is a serious problem in Helmand that within our borders there is neither tribal good will, nor are there are special military or security measures to prevent enemies from crossing back and forth.

RFE/RL: The attacks and clashes have not only been between government forces and insurgents. There have been various clashes in different parts of Helmand between police and purported drug smugglers. How do you explain this?

Daoud: Drug smugglers also use the border for their own purposes. They have opened markets on the border and process opium there. This is a serious problem along our border. We are in touch with our authorities on this problem.

RFE/RL: There are government border police patrol your border. What is their role in preventing illegal crossings?

Daoud: Along this 160-kilometer border, there are car routes, walking routes. We have border police, but unfortunately, either because of their own problems or because of weak administration, they have not been able to stop the crossing.


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