- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a brief visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday aimed at easing recent tensions between the two neighbors over fighting remnants of the Taliban militia along their common border.

Miss Rice thrust herself into the middle of the squabble, standing beside Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri at a press conference and smiling tightly while he rejected Afghan accusations that Pakistan is sending terrorists across the border in an emotional monologue.

As she urged the two countries to trust each other more, the secretary also said the U.S. military would step up joint efforts with both of them to quell the resurgence of Taliban activity along the frontier, which she called “a very difficult and somewhat stubborn problem.”

“The piece we need to work harder on is the cooperation that is U.S.-Afghan-Pakistani in that region,” Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her. “Our military people have had discussions with the Pakistanis about what more can be done.”

Violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the south, is at its worst since the Taliban was driven from power after the September 11 attacks. More than 1,100 people have been killed so far this year.

Pakistan says it has deployed about 80,000 troops in the lawless tribal region of North Waziristan, and that they have killed about 300 militants in the past year.

But last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Islamabad of sheltering Taliban militants and, in effect, sending them to kill Afghan civilians. He also said the U.S.-led coalition forces were not doing enough to protect his citizens.

Mr. Kasuri, who hosted Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta last week, said they agreed not to resolve their differences through the press. Nevertheless, he said he felt an obligation to respond to the accusations, insisting that Pakistan had no reason to destabilize its neighbor.

“Who can understand Afghanistan better than Pakistan?” he asked rhetorically. “Which country has a greater stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan?”

He said Pakistan wants cross-border oil and gas pipelines, more trade and investment that could not take place until Afghanistan stabilizes.

Mr. Kasuri challenged the Afghan government to substantiate its claims that militants are hiding out in the Pakistani city of Quetta by providing “actionable intelligence” — a phrase widely used by the Bush administration in its argument that the September 11 attacks could not have been anticipated.

“Tell us where they are hiding,” the minister said. “We promise to investigate and take action.”

Miss Rice, who flies to Kabul, Afghanistan, early this morning, discouraged Mr. Karzai from his intention to use tribal militias to provide security in parts of Afghanistan that security forces cannot reach.

“He’s always talked about trying to do things in the context of moving toward regular police and army forces, because he is the one who initiated, after all, the demobilization of militias, and I don’t think he wants to take a step backwards,” she said.

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