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Pakistan Accused of Supporting Taliban

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By ALISA TANG
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; 9:27 PM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai directly accused Pakistan's government Tuesday of supporting the Taliban insurgency in his country, hours after a suicide attacker exploded himself in an Afghan governor's compound, killing eight.

Taliban militants have increasingly targeted government officials. Since September, they have killed one provincial governor, narrowly missed another, and killed several district-level police, intelligence and administrative chiefs.

The attacks are aimed at undermining the government of Karzai, who on Tuesday employed some of his toughest rhetoric yet against Pakistan, Afghanistan's eastern neighbor and a U.S. ally.

"The problem is not Taliban. We don't see it that way. The problem is with Pakistan," Karzai told foreign journalists during a trip to Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold."

He said the Taliban took power with support from Pakistan, calling it "more than a boss."

"The state of Pakistan was supporting the Taliban, so we presume if there is still any Taliban, that they are being supported by a state element."

Pakistan, a former backer of the Taliban government ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, denies that its intelligence agencies still give tacit support to the militants. It says it is doing all it can to patrol the border, which is populated on both sides by Pashtun tribes from which the Taliban draws its support.

Pakistani officials blame the instability in southern and eastern Afghanistan on a failure by Afghan and international forces to bring security and development to the lawless region and public dissatisfaction with Karzai's government.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide attack.

The bomb went off in a parking lot and Helmand Gov. Mohammed Daud escaped injury, although a district chief was killed. It was the second deadly attack near Daud's office in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, in less than three months. Eight other people were wounded.

Tuesday's suicide bomber _ identified by the Taliban spokesman as an Afghan named Mullah Famiullah _ approached Daud's compound on foot. His bomb went off as the police guards tried to search him, officials said.

The explosion killed six guards, Washer district chief Abdul Sattar Khan and an unidentified civilian.

Helmand is a center of Afghanistan's vast opium and heroin industry as well as Taliban resistance, and has seen some of the heaviest fighting this year. The bombing came one day after the province's deputy governor, who is the brother of Helmand's former governor, was fired. The two are seen by many as linked to the drug trade.

A British soldier was killed in a clash with insurgents in the province Tuesday.

Karzai was in neighboring Kandahar province, where he traveled with Western diplomats _ including U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann _ and the chief of NATO forces in Afghanistan to discuss how to prevent civilian casualties in military operations.

A series of civilian deaths during NATO fighting with Taliban militants and in the chaotic aftermath of suicide attacks has fueled Afghan anger.

"We are rightly angered by it and worried by it. NATO is also worried by it, and is working with us to reduce such casualties," Karzai said.

In the latest civilian death, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces killed a 13-year-old girl and wounded an 8-year-old girl in a raid in eastern Khost province that also claimed the lives of four suspected militants who had opened fire when challenged to surrender.

According to a tally by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials, nearly 4,000 people have died in violence during 2006 _ mostly militants but also including about 300 civilians.

Meanwhile, in a video message obtained by AP Television News in Pakistan, Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar claimed that U.S. troops would be forced out of Afghanistan like the Soviets before them.

Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and fugitive leader of the Hezb-e-Islami militant group that supports the Taliban-led insurgency, also touted the Republican defeat in the U.S. midterm elections as a victory for Islamic militants.

"It seems that every bullet that mujahedeen had fired toward the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan has turned into a vote against Bush," Hekmatyar said. It was not clear where or when the three-minute video was made.

___

Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar and Fisnik Abrashi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.


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