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'Pak areas turning Qaeda sanctuary'

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 14:54 IST
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An influential US daily has asked Washington to demand that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf abandon his separate peace with pro-Taliban leaders in North Waziristan even as Islamabad's envoy wants "more time" for the deal.

"Pakistan's tribal areas look a lot like Afghanistan in 2001 - and the Bush administration is tolerating it," the Washington Post said in an editorial on Thursday describing the area as "Al Qaeda's sanctuary".

That the extremists would not respect the accord, and that attacks on US forces in Afghanistan would increase rather than decline, obviously seemed likely when the deal was struck three months ago, it said, "Yet President (George) Bush, ever indulgent of Pakistan's autocratic ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, accepted his promises.

As senior administration officials now acknowledge, General Musharraf's assurances were empty - as they have been many times before.

According to multiple independent reports, Waziristan has been thoroughly "Talibanised", and the fundamentalists are spreading their influence through adjacent border districts," the Post said.

"The United States has provided General Musharraf strategic cover and billions of dollars in military and economic aid since 2001. In return it should have the right to demand that he abandon his separate peace," the daily said.

Action must be taken against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan before spring, when another major offensive against US and NATO forces can be expected unless the enemy bases and supply lines are disrupted, it said.

"As for Musharraf's political problems, these could be addressed if he stopped allying himself with Pakistan's own Muslim fundamentalists and rehabilitated the secular democratic political parties that he has repressed since his 1999 coup," the Post said.

He could also abolish the colonial governing system in the tribal areas, under which secular political parties are banned and mullahs empowered, and allow representative government, it suggested.

By tolerating the general's empty promises and excuses, the Bush administration is putting its mission in Afghanistan and homeland security into unacceptable jeopardy, the Post concluded.

However, Pakistan's ambassador to the US told the daily that it is "premature" to say that tribes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are not living up to an agreement to prevent crossings by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

"Give it more time," Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani said of the September pact with tribal elders of North Waziristan, which he noted covers only a small part of the much longer border between the two countries.

"It is premature to say the agreement is a failure," he said in response to a question about US Director of National Intelligence John D Negroponte's statement last week that back-and-forth travel by the Taliban and others "causes serious problems".

Durrani, a former senior Pakistan army officer, said his country is increasing the number of its troops at border crossings and is seeking US weaponry, including night-vision and listening equipment.

"It's not a perfect system" because tribal members are allowed to cross, and it is difficult to tell whether they are peaceful, he said adding but "if bad guys come in, our agreement with them (the tribal leaders) will go away".

He said Pakistan at times has talked about putting up a fence in the border area or even mining sections, but neither the US nor Afghan governments responded to the ideas. In sum, he said, the border infiltration is "not the factor in Afghanistan, it's a small factor".

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