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Afghanistan: Musharraf's Warnings On Taliban Seen As Posturing

Pervez Musharraf in Brussels on September 12 (epa) PRAGUE, September 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said in Brussels that the "center of gravity" of terrorism is in southern Afghanistan. He told European parliamentarians on September 12 that Afghan Taliban now pose a greater threat than Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Musharraf's warning in Brussels this week was stark. He said the Taliban could draw Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun population into a "national war by the Pashtuns" against all foreign forces.

"The center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from Al-Qaeda to Taliban," he said. "This is a new element which has emerged -- a more dangerous element because it has roots in the people. Al-Qaeda did not have roots in the people, but [the] Taliban are more organized. They have roots in the people."
"What Musharraf is really trying to do is to throw dust in the eyes of everyone."

Musharraf also denied widespread assertions that Taliban leaders like Mullah Mohammad Omar are directing the Afghan insurgency from safe havens within Pakistan.

"Mullah Omar has [not] visited Pakistan since 1995 when he came into [power in Afghanistan]," Musharraf said. "Why would he be in Pakistan? He is certainly in southern Afghanistan. And the people of Afghanistan know that."

Afghanistan Says Pakistan To Blame

The Afghan government has angrily rejected Musharraf's remarks. The Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement charging that the Taliban was created as a "political and military movement by Pakistan's intelligence services" and is still being supported by "certain circles" within Pakistan.

Independent experts in South Asia dismiss Musharraf's remarks as political posturing ahead of a scheduled visit to Washington later this month.

"What Musharraf is really trying to do is to throw dust in the eyes of everyone," says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of the book "Taliban."

"I think it is very well-established that the Taliban are based in Pakistan," he continues. "They are not based in Afghanistan, as he said. [Musharraf's] reemphasis, I think, on the Taliban is all in preparation for [his upcoming] trip to Washington -- and a joint meeting with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- in which, clearly, the Americans are going to come down fairly hard on the support that the Taliban are getting [from elements within] Pakistan and the need for Musharraf to do something about it."

Musharraf (right) and Afghan President Karzai no longer seeing eye to eye (epa, file photo)

The Afghan government says the White House talks between the three presidents are scheduled for September 27.

Result Of Outside 'Pressure'

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terrorism. But Rashid notes that Islamabad has come under increased pressure from NATO countries to crack down on Taliban commanders and militants who seek sanctuary in Pakistan and launch attacks across the border.

"He is now aware and the Pakistanis are aware," Rashid says. "They have been informed that both NATO and the U.S. forces in Afghanistan have determined that the Taliban leadership is sitting in Quetta, [Pakistan], and is operating the war from Quetta. I think there is now an enormous amount pressure on Musharraf to do something about that."

Samina Ahmed, the director of the International Crisis Group's Afghanistan-Pakistan program, agrees that Musharraf's remarks in Brussels are a response to increased pressure on Islamabad about militants in Pakistan's border regions.

"It's quite obviously because of international concerns -- not just about the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, but also deep concerns about the cross-border nature of that insurgency," she says. "There is more pressure on Pakistan. The United Nations secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan [Tom Koenigs] said recently to the [UN] Security Council that there is absolutely no doubt about it -- that there is a cross-border element to the insurgency."

Different Words, Same Tune

Ahmed concludes that Musharraf's warnings in Brussels reflect a reversal of Islamabad's earlier position on Afghan Taliban. But she says the overall tone of Musharraf's position remains the same.

"It's pretty much the same tone -- that the problem doesn't lie in Pakistan, so the solutions lie in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan. In other words, [Musharraf is saying] that the international community needs to address terrorism and its roots -- and those [roots] lie across the border," Ahmed says.

"It's possibly a variation on a theme. But the difference this time would be that Musharraf is singling out the Taliban as the problem," she adds. "Because the Pakistani government's original line some time back was that the Taliban were not a problem and they should be integrated into the political structures of Afghanistan."

Waziristan Deal Causes Concern

U.S. and NATO commanders worry the deal in North Waziristan will bring less security, not more (epa, file photo)

U.S. and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan have expressed concerns about a recent security deal Musharraf struck with Pakistani Taliban militants in the semiautonomous tribal region of North Waziristan. They worry that the deal could lead to more cross-border attacks rather than a reduction of border incursions.

RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas notes that Musharraf did not meet with NATO defense chiefs who were gathering in Brussels to discuss the situation in Afghanistan at the time of his visit, and that there "appears to be an obvious problem here in Pakistani-NATO relations," which could be the government's deal in North Waziristan

NATO spokesman James Appathurai has said that regardless of current political relations between the alliance and Islamabad, NATO continues to maintain strong operational contacts on a daily basis with Pakistani military officials.

(Contributors to this story include Radio Free Afghanistan's Ayesha Khan in Prague and RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas in Brussels.)

Afghanistan And Pakistan

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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