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Pakistan: Western Diplomats Urge Islamabad To Rein In Taliban As Well As Al-Qaeda

Prague, 24 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In Islamabad, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised visiting Afghan Transitional Administration Hamid Karzai that militants will not be allowed to use Pakistani territory to disrupt Afghanistan's 9 October election. But "The New York Times" newspaper is quoting Western diplomats in Kabul who say Pakistan's security forces are, in fact, turning a blind eye to Taliban fighters who have training camps in Pakistan's autonomous tribal regions. They also warn of intelligence reports saying the Taliban may be planning a series of major attacks in Afghanistan on election day.

Karzai has welcomed the assurances from President Musharraf as a positive step in bilateral relations and the fight against terrorism.

Karzai made the remarks yesterday after meeting with the Pakistani president in Islamabad. "We had a good discussion, a very frank one -- the two of us, together, as brothers and as friends. The consequence of this discussion has been the reaffirmation of the brotherly ties between the two countries, the reaffirmation of our joint struggle against terrorism," Karzai said.

Musharraf said the Pakistani Army is working very hard against Al-Qaeda fighters in the autonomous tribal regions along Pakistan's side of the border. He noted that some 60 suspected Al-Qaeda fighters have been detained by Pakistani security forces since mid-July. Echoing earlier statements by his information and interior ministers, Musharraf also said Islamic militants are fleeing their hiding places in the mountainous tribal regions.

Musharraf admits it is possible that some of those militants are crossing undetected into Afghanistan. But he said no one should doubt the intentions of Pakistan's government or its security agencies.

According to reports by Reuters and "The New York Times," however, both the United States and Afghanistan remain concerned. Today's edition of "The New York Times" includes blunt criticism about Pakistan from three senior Western diplomats based in Kabul.

The diplomats, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, say Pakistan's security services are allowing Taliban fighters to continue operating training camps in Pakistan and to cross the border for attacks inside Afghanistan.

The diplomats say they are speaking out now because Western intelligence agencies have concluded the Taliban is planning major violence to disrupt Afghanistan's 9 October presidential election. "The New York Times" said Kabul could be the target of what it called "spectacular attacks."

The diplomats called on Islamabad to rein in Taliban operations immediately -- saying that if the attacks do take place, Pakistan will share the responsibility.

Reuters quotes officials in Washington and Kabul who praise Pakistan's efforts against Al-Qaeda suspects but remain concerned about Taliban militants who continue to find sanctuary on Pakistan's side of the border.

Military analysts in Pakistan and the United States agree that the Taliban religious movement initially had been financed and equipped by Pakistan's military intelligence -- the ISS -- when it won control over most of Afghanistan during the mid-1990s.

Much of the Taliban's initial membership comprised ethnic Pashtun Afghans who grew up in refugee camps or religious boarding schools in Pakistan while Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan.

In contrast, Al-Qaeda is a terrorist network comprised mostly of Arabs or Islamic militants from other countries. Al-Qaeda established its training camps in Afghanistan and planned the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States from there after Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar gave shelter to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

After 11 September, Musharraf announced that Pakistan was severing all ties with the Taliban and was joining the United States in the war against terror.

But some observers say it is now difficult for the Pakistani leader to control the isolated tribal regions because of long-term alliances there between the Taliban and ethnic Pashtun tribesmen.

But others argue that Musharraf may be trying to play a double game with the United States -- allowing the Taliban to survive so that Islamabad can try to influence events in Afghanistan, particularly if the United States captures bin Laden and then abandons the region.

Pakistani officials dismiss those allegations and say their security forces are doing all they can to apprehend Taliban fighters as well as Al-Qaeda.

(Agencies/"The New York Times"/RFE/RL)

Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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