Attacks Strain Efforts On Terror

By Griff Witte and Kamran Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 23, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 22 -- Events along the ever-volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border this month have exposed deep fault lines in the anti-terrorism alliance among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and officials on all sides say their joint efforts against militants in the region are now highly precarious.

The heightened tension comes as militant extremists and the United States have both become more aggressive in their tactics, with the Pakistani government caught in between.

Two incidents in particular, which each killed more than a dozen people, have revealed just how tenuous relations among the countries have become.

In the first, U.S. missiles struck a house in the Pakistani village of Damadola where Ayman Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al Qaeda, was thought to be having dinner. In the second, three days later in the Afghan town of Spin Boldak, a man drove a motorbike into a crowd gathered to watch a wrestling match and blew himself up.

Because the incidents took place on opposite sides of the border, they elicited responses with vastly different focuses. After the U.S. missile strike, thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets to condemn the United States. After the suicide bombing, thousands of Afghans took to the streets to condemn Pakistan.

The United States -- long frustrated because its soldiers are in Afghanistan while most of the militants they are hunting are believed to be in Pakistan -- has begun using unmanned aircraft known as Predators armed with Hellfire missiles to reach across the border. Pakistani officials are apparently notified in advance of such missions, and assist with intelligence. But the angry public response there to this month's attack raised questions about whether the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf -- which has sought to cultivate ties to the West without alienating radical Islamic groups at home -- can handle the domestic political fallout.

Afghanistan, for its part, has applauded the more aggressive U.S. stance. Afghan officials say they want the United States to go even further to stop Pakistan-based militants, who are hitting hard at a time when international commitments to securing Afghanistan have come into doubt.

Meanwhile, along the border, tensions continue to rise.

"We have a lot of grief in our hearts," said Abdul Hakim Jan, an Afghan tribal leader who helped organize a protest beside a border crossing Wednesday following the deadliest suicide bombing in Afghanistan in the four years since the fall of Taliban rule. "All the terrorists and the enemies of Afghanistan are because of Pakistan. They are receiving their training there and they are being sent to Afghanistan for attacks."

Pakistani tribal leaders, for their part, look a few miles west for the source of their troubles: the American military presence in Afghanistan. Throughout the past week and continuing Sunday, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have participated in boisterous rallies at which protesters burned effigies of President Bush, chanted "Long live Osama!" and denounced the Pakistani government for cooperating with the United States.

"People are so angry that this could become a major movement against the American slaves who are ruling Pakistan these days," said Liaquat Baluch, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamic party.

Volatility in the border region is nothing new. For centuries, the rugged, mountainous area has been largely beyond the control of any government. Both sides of the border are populated by religiously conservative Pashtuns, who in recent decades have freely transported money, drugs and weapons back and forth across the porous boundary.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company