- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said yesterday that his country has “10,000 reasons” to promote peace and stability in neighboring Afghanistan, rejecting charges that Pakistan has not done enough to combat rising Islamist violence along the border.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Kasuri acknowledged that Pakistan is worried about the surge in insurgent attacks in southern Afghanistan in recent months, where an estimated 700 people have been killed in attacks blamed on al Qaeda or the fundamentalist Taliban.

But he said there was “no basis” for charges by top Afghan officials that Islamabad had encouraged or tolerated insurgent violence on its side of the poorly policed border between the countries.

Mr. Kasuri said that 600 Pakistani troops have been killed in operations against Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds, and that his country suffered economically, militarily and politically from instability in Afghanistan.

“We have 10,000 reasons to want to see a peaceful, secure Afghanistan, and not a single reason to wish for a weak government in our neighbor,” said Mr. Kasuri, speaking in his suite at the Watergate Hotel.

“We understand why people might want to point fingers at us when things are not going well, but it does not make us happy,” he added.

U.S. officials have tried desperately to cool a war of words between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told The Times last week that he was “still waiting to see” the fruits of a stepped-up Pakistani campaign against terrorist groups after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the capitals of both U.S. allies at the beginning of this month.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, on a visit to Afghanistan yesterday, also tried to strike an even-handed pose.

“There is no question that there is some cross-border activity — Taliban and al Qaeda — and that the cooperation that we have with some of [Afghanistan’s] neighbors has been helpful,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters. “But it has not yet completely reduced the cross-border violence, and it is something that needs to continue to be worked on on both sides of the border.”

Mr. Spanta, on a visit to the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday, appeared to up the ante again, issuing a veiled but unmistakable critique of Pakistan’s record.

“Some countries,” he said, “have still not realized that Afghanistan is not a military-strategic adjunct of any country, but a neighbor, a brother of equal standing.”

Mr. Kasuri insisted that U.S.-Pakistan relations are strong and that Miss Rice and other top U.S. officials have “a very good understanding of what Pakistan’s record really is.” He said his talks with Miss Rice Monday focused far more on India-Pakistan issues than on the border with Afghanistan.

He said an unstable Afghanistan is bad for Pakistan for several reasons: It would scare off foreign investment, exacerbate the problem of illegal poppy production and drug trafficking, choke off lucrative pipeline and trade routes to Central Asia, and leave about 3 million Afghan refugees still on Pakistani territory.

He said Pakistan’s military action against Taliban forces in the country’s tribal areas all but guaranteed that the Islamist movement would not be friendly to Islamabad if it regained power.

“Certainly the Taliban would be hostile to us, unless basic human nature has somehow changed,” he said.

On another issue, Mr. Kasuri acknowledged that the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal now before Congress has created a political headache for his government. He said many do not understand why Pakistan was not offered a similar deal.

“But as a government, we have to take a more cold-blooded, logical approach,” he said.

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