Karzai Asks Musharraf for Border Help

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 21 -- President Hamid Karzai asked Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a lengthy telephone conversation Tuesday to halt what Afghan authorities said has been a stream of terrorists coming across the border with the tacit consent of Pakistani authorities, a senior Afghan official said.

According to a statement released by Karzai's office, Musharraf "assured [Karzai] of Pakistan's continued support," and Karzai said he "appreciated Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism." The statement said both leaders "agreed to strengthen engagement and cooperation in the security area."

But the Afghan official's account of the phone call, which was initiated by Musharraf, presented a bleaker picture of relations between the two countries.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Afghanistan feared that Pakistan was seeking to destabilize its neighbor as parliamentary elections approach in September and was allowing insurgents linked to the ousted Taliban regime to launch a campaign of violence.

Pakistani officials have vehemently denied such allegations.

"Pakistan is not involved in any such thing, now or in the past," Pakistan's information minister, Rashid Ahmed, told a news service in Islamabad on Monday, noting that Pakistan had stationed tens of thousands of troops along the Afghan border and had arrested more than 700 suspected terrorists.

But in recent weeks, there has been an escalation of violent attacks in border areas of Afghanistan. These have included ambushes of military convoys and suicide bombings against Afghan and foreign civilians, government officials, aid workers, moderate Islamic clerics and security forces.

On Sunday, Afghan officials said they had foiled a plot by three Pakistani men to assassinate the outgoing U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. Officials said the heavily armed men were arrested in northeastern Laghman province, where Khalilzad was shortly due to inaugurate a military base. Khalilzad left Afghanistan on Monday to take up the post of U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Afghan intelligence officials said the men admitted to being from northwest Pakistan and said they had been recruited and trained by a small extremist Islamic group based in a religious school.

Afghan officials credited Pakistan with clamping down on violent groups in its border regions before Afghanistan's presidential election last October.

But in recent days officials have become increasingly frank in their criticism of Pakistan.

"There are obvious signs and proof that these people are coming from Pakistan, and the hard evidence makes it less convincing when we are told all this is happening without the Pakistani government knowing, and without it being able to control it," presidential spokesman Jawad Luddin said at a news conference on Tuesday.

In other violence by suspected Taliban fighters, an Afghan election worker was killed in a roadside ambush in southern Kandahar province Tuesday, and three U.S. soldiers and an Afghan soldier were wounded in bomb blasts in eastern Khost province on Monday.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company