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Afghans reluctant to act against militant havens

Publication Date : 25-07-2012


Afghanistan’s refusal to act against militant sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces has left the Pakistan government frustrated.

When Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Kabul last week, one of his main objectives was to get a firm commitment from his host, President Hamid Karzai, that he would act against militants’ sanctuaries in eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan from where terrorists have launched 15 attacks against Pakistani border posts and villages over the past year, killing 105 soldiers and civilians.

A member of Pakistani delegation said the issue was "strongly" raised by Prime Minister Ashraf.

But, the prime minister  found Karzai unwilling to act unconditionally against militants’ hideouts on his territory.

Afghans, who have apparently stiffened their stance on militant havens, did not even allow the Pakistanis to mention the matter in the joint statement issued after the Ashraf–Karzai meeting.

Observing diplomatic niceties, Karzai had only agreed on setting up a fact-finding body of senior officials from both sides.

Senior officials of the Karzai administration have, during conversation with Pakistani officials, been lately admitting the presence of Mullah Fazlullah and other Pakistani militant commanders in the eastern provinces.

The militants had taken refuge in Afghan villages along the border after fleeing military operations in Swat and Bajaur.

The issue of sanctuaries has been on Pakistan’s priority list not only because of the casualties suffered because of militant attacks, but also because of the risk they pose to the progress they have achieved in their counter-militancy efforts.

A Pakistani source noted that these sanctuaries were not only causing problems for Pakistanis, but local Afghans were also against their presence in their villages.

Some of the locals had initially accommodated them but have now turned against them.

However, it is believed that some political considerations are stopping the Afghan government from evicting the terrorists from the area.

Even prior to Ashraf’s meeting with the Afghan president, the issue had been raised with International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) commander Gen John Allen, at the diplomatic level and during meetings of border coordination centre. However, Islamabad has consistently failed to get a sympathetic ear.

Isaf and Afghan officials have told Pakistani interlocutors that the coalition and Afghan forces were too preoccupied with operations in other areas to secure the eastern region.

The army has quite often responded to militant attacks by firing rockets at terrorists fleeing back to their sanctuaries across the border. But the shellings have served only to provoke a strong reaction from Kabul which over the weekend warned that future incidents would seriously harm relations.

The senior military brass have now started believing that the Afghans were not acting against sanctuaries held by Pakistani militants in response to perceived Pakistan’s inaction against havens of Afghan militants in tribal areas.

A senior military official said it was a tactical plan of the NDS (National Directorate of Security). There is no direct evidence of Isaf’s involvement with the Pakistani militants, another official noted.

Pakistan Army, however, is playing a "wait and see" game to fully comprehend the Afghan game plan. For now they are concentrating on reinforcing the borders and strengthen defences.

“It is a clear sign that the militants have so far failed to dent the security situation in the region despite the attacks,” an official said.


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