Rice Strives to Close Afghan-Pakistani Rift

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 27 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Tuesday to heal a rift between Pakistan and Afghanistan, two Muslim allies of the United States, but tensions spilled over during a news conference in which Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri angrily accused the Afghan government of making false charges.

Rice smiled tightly during Kasuri's emotional, five-minute outburst, which was prompted by a question about Afghan claims that Pakistan is allowing its largely lawless border areas to shelter insurgents who are mounting their biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

With close to 10,000 international troops conducting sweeps in rugged southern Afghanistan, Rice's trip here was organized on short notice in an effort to end feuding that many analysts say is undermining efforts to stabilize the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Kasuri said Pakistan would add 10,000 troops to the 80,000 now operating in areas bordering Afghanistan. He noted that already "we have 650-plus martyred soldiers." Officials offered few other details of the content of the talks.

Rice flew Wednesday to Kabul to meet with Karzai, who is facing mounting international criticism over his performance. As she traveled to Islamabad on Monday, Rice hailed Karzai as "an extraordinary leader" and said the United States would "back him fully."

Rice's visit comes as Karzai is straining to hold his country together but is losing popular support because of increasing violence, corruption, drug trafficking and an inability to demonstrate tangible progress since the fall of the Taliban. A failure of the Karzai government would undermine Bush administration claims that Afghanistan has become a symbol of rising freedom and democracy in the world.

It is a sensitive time in Pakistan, too. With elections scheduled for next year, there are signs that Gen. Pervez Musharraf -- whose military efforts in the border areas are not popular in Pakistan -- is maneuvering to extend his presidential term. He seized power in a bloodless coup nearly seven years ago, and Rice reiterated her belief that the 2007 elections would be "free and fair."

But U.S. officials have been wary about pressing Musharraf too hard, seeking to balance demands for action against extremist groups with tangible U.S. rewards, such as sales of F-16 fighter jets, many analysts say.

In the news conference, Kasuri said he had recently met with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta. They had pledged not to debate each other through the media, he said, but he told reporters he could not remain silent. He said he told Spanta, "Excellency, brother, you are a scholar and professor, give me a motive why we would willingly destabilize you."

Kasuri pointedly said Pakistan could not be blamed for recent riots in Kabul, which were sparked when a U.S. military truck crashed into a crowd. He said that Afghanistan, for all its complaints about terrorists taking sanctuary in Pakistan, has provided little intelligence that was useful.

"Tell me, brother, have you ever given us actionable intelligence?" he said he asked Spanta, noting that intelligence that Karzai personally gave President Bush was later deemed "out of date" by the CIA.

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

Pakistan is eager for oil and gas deals and greater trade with Central Asia, which would be dependent on a secure Afghanistan, Kasuri said, asking, "Which country has a greater stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan?"

After Kasuri's statement, Rice minimized the dispute, saying that "our view is that we have two good friends and two fierce fighters in the war on terror." She said the key to success was greater unity, not division.

"We, Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to unify all our efforts, as we have done over the last several years, towards the goal of eliminating the threat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Rice said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company