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Pakistan, Afghanistan Discuss Joint Force To Fight Insurgents

The situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border has become increasingly tense.
As security deteriorates in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan and with two diplomats targeted by kidnappers, Kabul and Islamabad are discussing an Afghan proposal to set up a joint force to combat militants on both sides of the border.

The attempt to abduct Nur Mohammad Takal, the second secretary of the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar, comes a day after the kidnapping of Abdul Khaliq Farahi, the Afghan consul-general in Peshawar. Farahi was kidnapped from a posh Peshawar neighborhood on September 22 as he was driving home from work.

Takal has launched a formal complaint with the local police, whom he told that gunmen tried to kidnap him in a busy Peshawar bazaar but fled when locals intervened, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.

The top Afghan diplomat in Pakistan, Mujnoon Gulab Zazai, said that so far there is no trace of Farahi. He blamed the common enemies of the neighboring countries, militant Islamic insurgents, for the incident. "The kidnapping of such a person and the killing of his driver is a deeply worrying development," Zazai added.

Concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the border region have led Afghan authorities to propose new measures to improve things.

During his trip to Washington on September 22, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters that Pakistan and Afghanistan are discussing a possible joint force to combat Al-Qaeda and allied groups on both sides of the border. He said that the force will also include U.S. troops.

"We should have a combined joint task force of coalition Afghans and Pakistanis to be able to operate on both sides of the border," Wardak said.

Former General Nurulhaq Ulomi, who heads the Defense Committee in the Afghan parliament, tells RFE/RL that the primary responsibility of the task force will be to combat terrorist sanctuaries regardless of where they are located.

'Devil In The Details'

Ulomi says it is a nice proposal, but care must be taken in its implementation. "All sides should get together in gathering information, planning, and having a joint command structure. That will be acceptable to us," he says. "But we will never agree to Pakistani forces operating in Afghanistan or the Afghan forces operating across the border. I do not consider it necessary."

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the proposal but said that there is a lot to do before such plans could be realized.

"I think anything that impacts better security on that border is a good thing," he told reporters in Los Angeles. "As in all these things, the devil will be in details."

Over the past seven years, Washington has backed efforts at cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul, with mixed results. A tripartite commission of the three countries' militaries has hardly improved cooperation on the ground, while Kabul and Islamabad have thus far failed to follow up on the proposals of a joint regional peace jirga, or assembly, that was held by government officials last year in Kabul.

Former Brigadier General Mehmood Shah headed security affairs in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas several years ago. He tells RFE/RL that the proposal for a joint Afghan-Pakistani force has angered many in Pakistan because it revives their fears of a possible revival of the old territorial dispute between the two countries.

"I don't think this is practical. And this will further poison the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan," shah says. "That's because people in Pakistan think that this is an Afghan government conspiracy against Pakistan with U.S. help. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two independent countries and before discussing such plans they should think deeply whether such proposals are practical or not."

Experts maintain that the current Western focus on terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas often ignores the historic and regional dynamics of relations between the two neighbors.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's trip to Islamabad to attend President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration on September 9 had increased the hope that the two sides might forget about past differences and agree on a common antiterrorism strategy.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.