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South Asia: Pakistani Minister Addresses Border Trouble

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri (file photo) (AFP) June 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) --  Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri spoke recently with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Rezwan Murad about tensions between Kabul and Islamabad along their common border. RFE/RL also asked about plans to bring together ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from both sides of the border.

RFE/RL: What is Pakistan's position on the proposed cross-border meetings, or jirgas, between ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from both Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Khurshid Kasuri: We have great hope that [the] jirga will bring about a degree of understanding between peoples of the two countries -- that this would not be used as a propaganda platform to attack each other's leaders or policies. When you talk in that positive spirit, then I think some good can come out of it. And I have great expectations. So much effort has been made that both countries have a big stake in making it a success. But I do sincerely hope that those who've been entrusted with the jirgas on both sides will be very careful and attend to minute details -- because there will be some people who have their own agenda, and they may try to queer the pitch so that Pakistan-Afghan relations do not advance in the direction that the two governments want. So we have to be mindful and very careful of those people, and that is a challenge for [Pakistani delegation head and Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan] Sherpao and [Afghan delegation leader Sayyed Ahmad] Gailani.

RFE/RL: Are you concerned that the cross-border clashes seen in May between Afghan and Pakistani government troops could escalate into a wider conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Kasuri: There was that fear; I will not hide that. I was disappointed myself. But I think I had a good meeting with [the Afghan] foreign minister (Rangin Dadfar Spanta) prior to the G-8 meeting in Potsdam. We met and we agreed on some things. One of those is that, considering the nature of our relationship and also certain areas where there might be misunderstanding, they should not start shooting but that the two foreign ministers should talk. Or we should have a mechanism, and we should have the security personnel -- the Defense Ministry -- on board. Because, you see, when you start shooting, it has a very negative impact all around. So we must try and minimize that. And if there are problems of this nature in the future, there should not be [an] automatic resort to firing.

RFE/RL: How do you respond to widespread allegations that "elements within Pakistan" support cross-border militancy -- or at least turn a blind eye to Islamic militants who regularly cross from Pakistan's tribal region into Afghanistan to carry out terrorist attacks?

Kasuri: I'm not going to deny that some people do go from Pakistan -- after all, it's the same ethnic group from both sides [of the border] and they have deep connections going over centuries. And particularly since the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, that area has become more radicalized as a result of what took place in Afghanistan. We don't agree with them. The same people, if they are resorting to violent action in Afghanistan, they're [also] killing our own (Pakistani) people. They've killed our soldiers -- in one single bomb attack, they killed 30 to 40 Pakistani soldiers in Dargai. They've been launching attacks in Quetta, in Peshawar, also near Islamabad. Some people do find refuge here, and they were largely finding refuge in refugee camps, Afghan refugee camps. Because in the Afghan refugee camps, it was very easy to "get lost". And you know the cultural and religious traditions -- you can't just barge into a house, where there are women inside. So both the Afghan and Pakistan governments have decided that certain refugee camps will be closed down.

Afghan-Pakistani Border

Afghan-Pakistani Border
EYE OF A STORM: Afghan officials first suggested that insurgents or terrorists were crossing the border from Pakistan in 2003. Relations have run hot and cold ever since. But the roots of the problem go back much further.

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