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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pakistan asks Afghanistan to ID hideouts

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's military government challenged neighboring
Afghanistan on Tuesday to identify the terror hideouts that Afghanistan claims exist in Pakistan, using a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make its argument.

Rice, making back-to-back visits to the quarreling allies, could do little but smile thinly while her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri, answered Afghan criticisms point by point.

"Our view is that we have two good friends and two fierce fighters in the war on terror," Rice said following meetings with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Kasuri.

Musharraf became an unlikely ally of the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when he pledged cooperation against terrorists who traveled easily between Pakistan and the lawless Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.

Rice will see Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday for talks on that country's political progress and the international military campaign to quell terrorism in the south. That chaotic and often lawless border region is also the source of tension with Pakistan, and the presumed hiding place for al-Qaida leader
Osama bin Laden.

Karzai has criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to go after terrorists along the mountainous border between the two nations. A clearly frustrated Karzai last week also criticized the U.S.-assisted coalition anti-terror campaign in his chaotic country, deploring the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and appealing for more help for his government. The coalition has killed hundreds, mostly Taliban militants, since May.

"Which country has a greater stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan?" Kasuri asked during a press conference with Rice.

Pakistan wants cross-border oil and gas pipelines, more regional trade and other development that it is not possible without more stability in Afghanistan, Kasuri said. He described recent talks with the Afghan foreign minister as productive, but said he asked his counterpart what possible motive Pakistan would have to destabilize its neighbor.

Kasuri challenged Afghanistan to prove militants are hiding out in Quetta, as some officials have claimed, or elsewhere in Pakistan. Previous tips from Karzai himself about militant whereabouts were out of date, he added.

"Tell us where they are hiding," he said. "We promise to investigate and take action."

Alluding to Afghanistan's many problems that have nothing to do with the border, Kasuri said Pakistan was not to blame for deadly riots in Kabul last month.

The May 29 riots were the worst in Kabul since the Taliban's 2001 ouster, with hundreds of people rampaging through the city screaming "Death to America!" after a U.S. military truck plowed into a crowd. About 20 people were killed.

Rice also planned to meet with counterparts from the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Moscow on Thursday, where the topic was expected to be
Iran's disputed nuclear program.

The Bush administration considers Karzai and Musharraf, along with the influential and relatively moderate Iraqi Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, as the "indispensable men" of post-Sept. 11 foreign policy for their ability to hold Islamic extremism at bay.

Musharraf faces little political opposition within Pakistan, but lives under constant threat of assassination. Karzai is increasingly embattled, hard pressed to extend his political control into many regions of Afghanistan and facing a resurgence of the radical Taliban movement toppled by U.S.-led forces four years ago.

Taliban forces have been blamed for a surge of violence in recent months, adopting methods commonly used by militants in Iraq: suicide bombings, ambushes and beheadings.

In an effort to curb the bloodletting, some 10,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition have been deployed in a major offensive across Afghanistan's south. The spasm of violent attacks and intense fighting has killed more than 600 people, mostly militants, since May.

NATO is increasing its force in Afghanistan from 9,700 to 16,000, with an expansion into the south due to be completed by late July. The alliance hopes to take on eastern Afghanistan by November, completing its expansion across the country and increasing its total numbers to 21,000.
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