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Afghanistan/Pakistan: Karzai Apologizes Over Embassy Attack, But What Of Long-Term Consequences?

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has apologized to Pakistan over yesterday's ransacking of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul. Hundreds of Afghan protesters, angry over alleged border incursions by Pakistan, attacked the embassy, destroying cars, furniture, and computer equipment. Analysts say worsening relations between the two countries could have a serious impact on the ongoing U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Prague, 9 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai called his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, late last night to apologize for the ransacking of Islamabad's embassy in Kabul by a mob of angry demonstrators.

The protesters -- who shouted "Death to Pakistan! Death to Peshawar! Death to the invaders!" -- were angry over alleged incursions into Afghan territory by Pakistani border troops. On 6 July, Karzai also accused Musharraf of criticizing the Afghan government's control over its outlying provinces and its ability to represent the country's diverse ethnic mix, apparently further fueling the protests.

At a press conference yesterday in Kabul, Karzai condemned the incident: "The Afghan people defend their independence, the territorial integrity of our borders, and here, in the capital, Afghans defend and treat our foreign guests and diplomats with dignity. Whoever has done it, they were not friends of Afghanistan. They were our enemies, enemies of the honor of Afghans. We strongly, strongly, strongly condemn the attack."

Despite Karzai's quick apology, analysts predict the crisis -- if not handled properly -- could have a negative impact on long-term relations between Kabul and Islamabad, as well as on the ongoing U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Ahmad Rashid -- a prominent regional expert based in Lahor -- tells RFE/RL that if the crisis continues and relations between the two countries worsen, remnants of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist network will take advantage of the situation.

"If the Pakistani leaders do not respond positively to this present crisis, there is a danger that the fundamentalist government in [Pakistan's] North West Frontier Province will take advantage of it and will step up their support for the Taliban. If [this] happens, then obviously we will have a very deteriorating and worsening situation," Rashid says.

Members of al-Qaeda and the ousted Taliban regime are believed to be hiding in remote regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border. U.S. troops continue to conduct serious operations in the area in an effort to root them out.

Rashid says maintaining good relations between the two neighbors will be crucial if the U.S. is to successfully coordinate its antiterrorism operations in the region.

"Clearly, there are major problems to be resolved on the Pakistani side -- the issue of dealing with the Taliban, who are sitting in Pakistan, the issue of whether Pakistani troops have intruded into Afghan territory in the tribal agencies, where Pakistani troops are operating," Rashid says. "On the Afghan side, I think, it is really an internal issue within the government, because clearly, the ransacking of the Pakistani Embassy was stage-managed by factions within the government, and Hamid Karzai has to now punish these people. He has to ensure that the police and security forces are properly under his control, so that they don't repeat anything like this."

Rashid notes some Western diplomats in Kabul suggest the embassy attack may have been instigated by the Northern Alliance in an effort to delay reforms in the Defense Ministry, which is dominated by Northern Alliance loyalists.

Mohammad Rahim Sherzuy is Afghanistan's first deputy foreign minister. In an interview this afternoon with RFE/RL, he said relations between Kabul and Islamabad are too strong to be damaged by such incidents.

"The people who entered the [Pakistani] Embassy were not friends of Afghanistan. They wanted to create a hostile atmosphere between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Sherzuy said. "Relationships between the two countries are strong and will not be destroyed by these kinds of incidents. We share more than 2,400 kilometers of border, which obliges us to be close to each other from all points of view."

Yesterday's incident is the latest in a long string of border disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is believed to have involved Pakistani border guards, who, along with U.S. troops, were conducting joint operations along the poorly demarcated border with Afghanistan.

Sherzuy told RFE/RL that Pakistani troops "entered Afghan soil to some extent." Pakistan denies the charge, but both countries acknowledge exchanges of fire across the border.

Rustam-Shah Mohmand, the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul, said "Pakistani troops did not enter Afghan soil even for an inch. If we came close to the Afghan border, it was done on the advice of the American and Afghan governments, which asked our troops to close all routes for terrorists."

Mohmand says the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul will remain closed until Afghan leaders apologize for the incident, damages are compensated and security for diplomats guaranteed. Kabul has promised compensation and increased security.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.