Hamid Karzai has stirred up a new controversy with Pakistan. On Sunday, the Afghan President said Kabul had the right to send troops into Pakistan to fight the Taliban leaders. Pakistan is furious. On Monday, Islamabad summoned the Afghan Ambassador to the Foreign Ministry to register a formal protest. Karzai’s remarks have deepened the rift between the two sides, which have long been at odds on how to tackle the Taliban insurgency.
Afghan President Karzai warns Pakistan at a press conference on 15 June
The war of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan has escalated once again. Afghan President Karzai used a harsh tone at the weekend: “When militants cross the territory from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and to kill coalition troops it exactly gives us the right to go back and do the same."
There are an estimated 70,000 international troops currently in Afghanistan, under NATO’s leadership. But the militant insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Kabul has gained pace in the past two years.
Asadullah Walwaji, a political expert based in Kabul, said: “It has already been proven in the US that terrorists are getting support in Pakistan and that they have found safe havens in the lawless tribal belt.”
Growing rift between Kabul and Islamabad
Karzai’s remarks came just two days after Taliban fighters attacked the main prison in Kandahar and freed more than 1000 prisoners, including hundreds of Taliban members.
There is rising concern that in Afghanistan that the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas are gaining strength and some fear the jailbreak was masterminded from the border region.
The incident has prompted strong criticism in Kabul of Islamabad‘s anti-Taliban strategy and has deepened the long-existing mutual distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador of Pakistan to Kabul, says Karzai is using pressure tactics because it is “faced with institutional collapse”.
“The proof of this is the jail break -- the jail was supposed to be well guarded with Afghanistan troops. Even during the recent conference, donors expressed concerns about the worsening law and order situation. This is just passing the bug on and trying to divert the attention of people who are crying out for peace and justice. The Karzai government is unable to deliver this.”
Deploring Karzai’s harsh tone, Islamabad has clearly said that it will not allow anyone to intervene in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The Pakistani government has reiterated that the root cause of the insurgency is in Afghanistan and that it is doing enough to safeguard the porous border between the two countries.
Bearing the brunt
This includes the deployment of more than 90,000 troops along the border. Mohmand says Pakistan has lost more than 1000 soldiers on the border in recent years and is bearing the brunt of the war: “Our former prime minister was shot, we had a number of suicide attacks, insurgency in the frontier area has escalated and this cost is not acceptable to people.”
“I don’t think the Pakistani government can do any thing more, they should in fact the gradually withdraw from the US led war on terror.”
But Pakistan’s new government has not so far given any indication about a possible withdrawal from the so-called “war on terror”. In fact, Prime Minister Geelani has voiced his support for the US coalition forces. But on the other hand, the government is currently involved in peace negotiations with Taliban leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud, despite criticisms from Afghanistan and the West.
Meanwhile, US president George W Bush has urged both Pakistan and Afghanistan to calm down. Speaking in London after a meeting with Premier Gordon Brown, Bush urged both Islamabad and Kabul to expand their dialogue on how to confront militants and to cooperate to resolve the situation.