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South Asia: Afghan President Reignites Feud With Pakistan

President Karzai speaking to tribal leaders in Konar on May 18, when he leveled new accusations at Islamabad (RFE/RL) Pakistan today rejected fresh charges by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the country is providing a training ground for militants and allowing them to infiltrate Afghanistan. Karzai made the accusations on May 18 after an upsurge in violence that appears to have left more than 100 people dead.

PRAGUE, May 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- President Karzai angrily denounced the violence during a visit to Kunar, near the Pakistani border.

He blamed religious extremists and intelligence services in Pakistan.

"We have precise information that in the madrasahs of Pakistan, young boys are being told to go to Afghanistan and join the jihad, burn schools, and destroy clinics because 'infidels' are in Afghanistan," Karzai said.

He also urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to forget about the days when Islamabad exercised undue influence over Afghan affairs.

"I told him, 'Mr. Musharraf, my brother, there was a time when Afghan governments were formed in Pakistan. Those times are gone. It was an unusual time. We were refugees. Forget these thoughts and dreams that foreigners can form the government in Afghanistan,'" Karzai said.

Continuing Rancor

Karzai's remarks were the latest in a war of words between Kabul and Islamabad as a bloody insurgency continues in Afghanistan. Afghan officials accuse their Pakistani counterparts of doing too little to combat militants, saying that pro-Taliban fighters cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out terrorist attacks.

Afghanistan's new foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, made similar charges on May 15. Spanta suggested that while Pakistan might be chasing down Al-Qaeda terrorists, it has not made any "significant" effort to arrest Taliban fighters.

Today Pakistani foreign-office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam denied that Pakistan is training insurgents or sending them into Afghanistan.

She said Islamabad is not responsible for the situation in Afghanistan and said "peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's interest."

Karzai's fresh accusations came amid some of the heaviest fighting that Afghanistan has seen in months. Pitched battles pitted militants against Afghan and international forces in the south, suicide attackers struck in western (Herat) and central (Ghazni) Afghanistan, and the burning-down of two girls' schools added to a growing list of attacks on the education system.

Brothers In Arms

Karzai also warned Musharraf on May 18 that any threat to Afghanistan translated into a threat to Pakistan.

"Terrorism is a fire that will expand to your country, as well," Karzai said. "If the bomb blasts destroy us, one day they will destroy you, too."

Pakistan, one of the United States' early allies in its declared war on terror, has always denied accusations that it is supporting militant activities in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials say they have deployed thousands of troops to secure the borders. They also say they have killed militants and arrested several key Al-Qaeda figures.

Farzana Shaikh is an associate member of the Center of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge and director of the Pakistan study group at Chatham House (aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in London.

Taliban And Al-Qaeda

Shaikh told RFE/RL that Pakistan has drawn a distinction between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which used to rule large swaths of Afghanistan.

"Pakistan sees [the war against terror] very much and primarily really a war against Al-Qaeda and foreign militants based on Pakistani territory," Shaikh said. "Pakistan has been much more ambivalent about precisely what this war might mean in relation to Taliban forces -- who as we know are now fairly well established in the tribal agency of North Waziristan, where groups of Afghan Taliban in alliance with locals are claiming that they have established an independent Islamic emirate."

Shaikh suggested that the Pakistani central government's capacity to contain and control Taliban forces might be limited.

"There is really mounting skepticism on the part of U.S. and Western allied forces who really are putting pressure on Pakistan to answer the question of whether or not it is really aiding Taliban forces," Shaikh said. "Pakistan has not only hotly contested these allegations, but [it] has accused Afghanistan in turn of fomenting trouble in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. So really the accusations are flying in both directions."

"The Guardian" today quoted a top British army officer who accuses Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

Echoing the accusations from Kabul, the British chief of staff for southern Afghanistan, Colonel Chris Vernon, claimed the Taliban leadership is coordinating attacks from the Pakistani city of Quetta, near the border with Afghanistan.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.