Karzai’s threat triggers outrage

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s threat to send troops across the border to crush pro-Taliban forces, which sparked angry protests in Pakistan’s border areas this week, has led to calls for restraint from moderate politicians in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). “Pakhtun blood is being shed on both sides of the border,” observed Afrasiab Khattak, president of the NWFP’s ruling Awami National Party (ANP).

Describing the situation as “extremely alarming”, Khattak blamed “foreign powers” for turning the region into a battlefield. Violence has escalated in Pakistan’s tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan since the US unleashed its so-called war on terror in the wake of the World Trade Centre bombings in September 2001. Remnants of Afghanistan’s Taliban, which were ousted from Kabul by United States-led foreign troops, are believed to have taken shelter in

remote tribal villages across the porous border with Pakistan.

On Monday, restive Bajaur and Mohamand agencies were brought to a halt by anti-Karzai protests. Shops were shut down and hundreds of people blocked the roads. Nisar Ahmed Mohmand, chief of the Mohmand Resistance Movement who led the protests warned that in case of a war, Pakhtuns (or Pashtuns) in both countries would die.

Khattak, who is a former chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), has appealed for peace and said bloodshed was no option. Other means of curbing militancy and violence have to be found, he said. Khattak’s party, which swept to power this year in the NWFP, ousting an alliance of Islamic parties, has been holding peace talks with pro-Taliban fighters. On May 21, after several rounds of negotiations, the provincial government brokered a peace deal in Swat and Malakand, NWFP, with a radical Taliban faction.

Karzai had attacked Pakistan for failing to take military action against the Taliban who last week audaciously blew up the main gate of a jail in Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar. More than 900 prisoners — including hundreds of militants — are thought to have escaped. “Karzai’s statement has the support of the United States,

which has often said the cross-border raids from Pakistan were a growing problem. Secondly, he is desperate to please the US, and secure the presidency of his war-battered country for a second term,” observed Ashraf Ali, a Peshawar University researcher who is an authority on the Taliban.

Public reaction in Pakistan has been one of annoyance. The Afghan president who has often accused Islamabad of not doing enough to flush out militants, has never threatened military action before.

“We have been hosting millions of Afghans on our soil. They have been using our resources for three decades now.

Karzai himself had lived in Pakistan for over twenty-five years,” said Israrullah, a trader in the

Peshawar Cantonment area. The ruling nationalist Awami National Party has offered to help reduce tensions. Kamran Arif of the HRCP said a negotiated settlement could prevent further loss of blood.

“There are international laws that should be applied to resolve problems,” he added. —IPS