- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KABUL, Afghanistan — This country and neighboring Pakistan are hopeful they can overcome tensions worsened by cross-border skirmishes and an increase in attacks blamed on Taliban insurgents hiding in Pakistan’s western tribal lands.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, starting a two-day visit to the Afghan capital on Thursday, hailed “excellent talks” he held with his counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah.

“Hopefully as a result of our talks, confidence between the two governments will improve further, and I’m referring specifically to some incidents that happened during the last month,” Mr. Kasuri told reporters.

Already tense relations with Pakistan, a one-time supporter of the hard-line Taliban militia ousted from Afghanistan in 2001, were strained by the ransacking of Pakistani Embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on July 8. Pakistan nurtured the Taliban and was one of only three countries to recognize its harsh 1996 to 2001 regime.

Further cracks in the relationship were caused by Afghan claims of border incursions by Taliban fighters and Pakistani troops, and Pakistani claims that Afghan militias have fired on its military as it establishes border posts in its first deployment in the border tribal district of Mohmand.

Regular talks to address problems along the volatile 1,488-mile border dividing the nations were crucial, the ministers said.

“We are defining a new set of principles for today’s conditions which would strengthen the spirit of cooperation, peace and security for both countries and for our region as a whole,” Mr. Abdullah said.

Mr. Kasuri’s visit follows one of the deadliest weeks to blight war-ravaged Afghanistan since the Taliban militia were driven from power 20 months ago. Last week, factional fighting and attacks on aid workers, soldiers and officials claimed about 100 lives and led to a suspension of crucial relief operations in some areas.

Afghan officials have long complained that the easy passage of Taliban remnants across the border is hampering the hunt for extremists, and allows them to wage an increasingly violent insurgency against aid workers, troops and officials inside Afghanistan.

Last weekend, hundreds of militants on trucks stormed two Afghan border districts, killing at least 25 persons. Afghan officials said the assailants were Taliban fighters coming from Pakistan. Islamabad conceded on Monday that “some remnants” of the Taliban may be in Pakistan, but expressed frustration that Afghan officials don’t acknowledge Taliban presence in their own territory.

In apparent payback this week, a former Taliban commander was fatally shot in northwest Pakistan’s border tribal district of Bajaur, officials said. Gul, a former Taliban military commander in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar, had traveled to Bajaur to attend a relative’s wedding, residents said.

“He was shot dead late on Wednesday,” eyewitness Inamul Haq, an elder of Bajaur, told Agence France-Presse. He was gunned down in Sadiqabad. Local official Mawaz Khan Afridi said two Afghans armed with assault rifles shot Gul as he headed to a mosque for evening prayers.

Pakistan has also expressed anger at the continued firing by Afghan militiamen on its troops in the border tribal district of Mohmand, scene of cross-border gun battles since July and an area where the two sides use conflicting maps.

Mr. Kasuri denied that Pakistan was making any attempt to encroach on Afghan territory.

“We are a large country. … Afghanistan is a large country,” he said on Thursday. “We don’t covet anybody else’s territory and we have no need for that.”

A trilateral commission of mainly military officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States was set up in April specifically to resolve border-security problems.

This week’s talks also covered trade and Pakistani aid for reconstruction of Afghanistan, which is struggling to recover from 24 years of devastating war and drought. Without being specific, Mr. Abdullah said he had “good news about further support from Pakistan in areas of reconstruction.”

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