- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

Pakistan’s point man on a truce with tribal elders along the country’s restive border with Afghanistan yesterday rejected charges that the agreement would undermine the fight against Islamic extremists.

Gov. Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai of North West Frontier Province also criticized the United States for being slow to deliver on critical military equipment and support needed to combat Taliban fighters.

Mr. Aurakzai, who was a corps commander in the border region when the United States invaded Afghanistan, said the agreement he had helped hammer out with tribal leaders of North Waziristan was part of a broader strategy to keep terrorists out.

“It’s not just a peace agreement. It is a larger strategy with a military arm, a political arm and a reconstruction arm,” Mr. Aurakzai told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. The government planned to pump $2 billion into the tribal areas over the next nine years for “massive development,” he said.

Top officials in both Afghanistan and the United States are skeptical of the deal and of Islamabad’s overall commitment to the war on terror. The officials fear that Taliban fighters will continue to use Pakistan as a safe haven, harbored by tribal leaders.

The Taliban rulers of Afghanistan gave refuge to Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders until the September 11, 2001, attacks, and Pakistan was one of the regime’s closest allies. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he decided to cooperate with Washington in the war on terror following a U.S. threat to bomb his country.

In an interview with the CBS news magazine show “60 Minutes” that will air Sunday, Gen. Musharraf said then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage had conveyed the U.S. threat to Pakistan’s intelligence chief.

“The intelligence director told me that [Mr. Armitage] said, ‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,’” Gen. Musharraf said. “One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation, and that’s what I did.”

Mr. Armitage was not immediately available for comment. A Bush administration official said there would be no comment on a “reported conversation between Mr. Armitage and a Pakistani official.”

But the official said, “After 9/11, Pakistan made a strategic decision to join the war on terror and has since been a steadfast partner in that effort. Pakistan’s commitment to this important endeavor has not wavered and our partnership has widened as a result.”

Mr. Aurakzai said that despite having 80,000 Pakistani troops currently deployed along 375 miles of border with Afghanistan, there were still areas that people could crawl through.

“You cannot rule out the possibility of infiltration through the gaps and those have to be monitored through electronic intelligence and that [should come] from our friends — we don’t have the means,” Mr. Aurakzai said.

He accused the United States of dragging its feet on Pakistan’s requests for more help in trying to control the treacherous border terrain, including night-vision equipment, sensors and attack helicopters.

“There is an urgency when we are asked to do something — then it is the day before yesterday.” But Washington’s response “is terribly slow, there is no urgency,” he said.

The governor acknowledged Taliban members were an integral part of the tribal society of Pakistan and that foreign fighters from the 1979-89 war against the Soviet Union were still living in the area.

But he insisted they would conform to the terms of the Sept. 5 agreement which bans all cross-border movement except for “easement” rights for tribes divided by the border.

If successful, the agreement with the tribes in North Waziristan could be replicated in the more restive South Waziristan, and even Afghanistan, Mr. Aurakzai said.

President Bush in a television interview Wednesday expressed his wariness about the Pakistan deal, and said he would send forces into Pakistan to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders if intelligence tracked them into that country.

“We have made it clear that [Gen. Musharraf] should not provide an environment that enables people to go from his country into Afghanistan,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush is to meet with Gen. Musharraf in Washington today, and hold a joint meeting with Gen. Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday to discuss Taliban and al Qaeda activities on the border areas.

Mr. Aurakzai rejected suggestions that his country was providing refuge to insurgents.

“The trouble started in Afghanistan. They have been exaggerating things out of proportion. They have been covering their own mistakes,” he said.

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