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Afghan-Pakistan Relations Tense over Taliban Presence

September 28, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: They may be neighbors and American allies in the war on terror, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have hardly been best of friends. President Bush brought the leaders together for a White House working dinner last night. His goal: to bolster their cooperation against a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We’ve got a lot of challenges facing us. All of us must protect our countries, but at the same time we all must work to make the world a more hopeful place.

RAY SUAREZ: Longstanding differences between the two countries over how to combat the Taliban surfaced this week, as both leaders appeared in separate news interviews, including those on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” Musharraf accused Karzai of ignoring Afghanistan’s role in halting terror.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, President of Pakistan: He is not oblivious. He knows everything, but he’s purposely denying, turning a blind eye like an ostrich. He doesn’t want to tell the world what is the facts for his own personal reasons. This is what I think.

HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan: He’s right to say that I know the facts. I indeed know the facts. But I also know a lot of facts in Pakistan. And that’s why I’m pleading with President Musharraf that, for the sake of security for all of us and for our allies, it is extremely important to pay serious attention and take action against some of the places called madrassas that are not madrassas, that are training extremists full of hatred for the rest of the world.

RAY SUAREZ: Their words reflected growing differences between the two nations that share a 1,500-mile-long mountainous border. Pakistan’s government and the country’s pro-Taliban tribal leaders signed a deal earlier this month to stop terrorists from crossing the border into Afghanistan from the Pakistani area known as North Waziristan. In return, the province was granted more autonomy.

But according to a U.S. military spokesman today, attacks from North Waziristan and the tribal areas have actually increased since the agreement, contributing to what has become the bloodiest year yet since the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.

A hundred and fifty nine NATO and coalition troops have been killed so far this year.

Easing diplomatic tensions

Touqir Hussain
Former Pakistani diplomat
I think the meeting barely managed to paper over the cracks. There is three-way strategic game going on, involving national interests and political agendas of three parties, the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: For an assessment of this three-way relationship, we're joined by Touqir Hussain, a former Pakistani diplomat in President Musharraf's and predecessor governments. He's now a visiting academic at George Washington University and the University of Virginia.

And Torek Farhadi, a former economic adviser to President Karzai, he was born in Afghanistan and is now a U.S. citizen.

And, Torek Farhadi, was anything accomplished last night in the three-way face-to-face meeting between Karzai, Musharraf and Bush?

TOREK FARHADI, Former Afghan Economic Adviser: Yes, I think three things were accomplished. First, a signal to President Karzai and President Musharraf that it's very important for the United States that they work together in the war against terror. They are partners, in fact.

Also, a signal to the terrorists and the Taliban that the United States is serious about rooting them out. And this issue is a top-of-the-agenda issue.

And also, thirdly, a signal to the coalition partners, the United Kingdom, other countries that participate in the NATO forces that are sort of worried that their forces are being targeted by the terrorists in Afghanistan, and they want Washington to be much more active in that.

RAY SUAREZ: Touqir Hussain, would you total up the accomplishments in the same way?

TOUQIR HUSSAIN, Former Pakistani Diplomat: I have a different view. I think the meeting barely managed to paper over the cracks. There is three-way strategic game going on, involving national interests and political agendas of three parties, the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And as you could see from the short statement that was issued after the dinner meeting, they barely agreed on the lowest common denominator of their position, resolved to fight against terrorism and extremism, which is what they had been saying before. So I don't think that has broken any fresh ground.

Problems are more serious. Musharraf and Karzai, they have the main problem, not so much between President Bush and Musharraf or President Bush and Karzai. And often in diplomacy, the rhetoric conceals more than what it can reveal. And in this particular case, what is concealed is more important.

Here you have the Taliban factor, which I believe embraces very serious issues: it's source of tensions; it's the focus of conflicts. And from Pakistan's perspective, Pakistan's perceptions of her security environment, and that is very important to have a friendly government in Afghanistan, especially because of its tension with India, it doesn't want any hostile neighbor on the West.

And Pakistan feels that, after 9/11, its level of influence in Afghanistan has diminished because of the way the political dispensation have gone. And the present government, the balance of power is shifting to non-Pashtun elements, and they're giving a lot of influence and presence to India.

That's the -- there are very serious issues, and President Musharraf is using basically the Taliban card as a pressure against the Karzai government.

A mendable crack in relations

Torek Farhadi
Former Afghan economic adviser
These two countries are geographically located in the same neighborhood. They have same culture; they have the same religion. From a trade and economic standpoint, they share the same future.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard Touqir Hussain describe papering over the cracks and the significant differences between these two countries. A lot was made about this before last night's dinner. Would you describe the breaches between Afghanistan and Pakistan and their leaders in the same way?

TOREK FARHADI: Well, I think between the two nations I don't see breaches, but I see commonalities. These two countries are geographically located in the same neighborhood. They have same culture; they have the same religion.

From a trade and economic standpoint, they share the same future. Afghanistan is right now a great export market for Pakistan, to the tune of $1.2 billion a year. Pakistan is an access road to the sea for Afghanistan, and Afghanistan needs access to the sea.

So if the two leaders today are not getting along, I think this is an episode that will pass. But the relationship between the Afghans and the Pakistanis are very strong during the years of...

RAY SUAREZ: Let me stop you right there, because one party that wasn't represented at last night's dinner table was the Taliban. And there are real differences, aren't there, in the ways that the two governments view those elements along the border between the two countries?

TOREK FARHADI: Well, the Taliban that comes and explode bombs near schools or explode bombs near mosques, in the mosques and explode girls' schools and prevent girls from going to school, I don't think they can be anybody's friend. Their agenda is a lethal agenda.

It's a threat to the interests of the United States, which is maneuvering to build a democracy in Afghanistan, spending capital, putting troops in harm's way to do that, as well as the coalition partners. I don't see how anybody can be in agreement with the Taliban's agenda.

Dealing with the Taliban

Touqir Hussain
Former Pakistani diplomat
I think the approach that Musharraf had of using force against Taliban and the local militants... has not worked, so he has now decided to change the tact to peaceful means. Whether it will succeed or not, I have my doubts.

RAY SUAREZ: But wasn't there a greater tolerance among the elements of the old Pakistani government for the Taliban? And also, isn't there currently at least safe haven in some of those border regions?

TOUQIR HUSSAIN: Well, to some extent yes. Of course, as you know, Taliban used to be almost like a client sort of government before, but that is not tenable any more after 9/11 and after the war on terrorism. So Pakistan government cannot hope to have Taliban reinstalled in Afghanistan.

But at the same time, as I mentioned, they need to have a friendly government. So they have an ambivalence at issue towards Taliban. They will not support them, but at the same time they will not prevent them.

And in any case, if President Musharraf wanted to prevent them from these cross-border questions, he has his limitations, because you are dealing with an area which has (inaudible) been very autonomous, and it has become even more autonomous after 9/11, because the war on terrorism is being perceived by the people there, tribal people, as a kind of war on Islam. And also they have resented the presence of the Pakistan military.

So I think the approach that Musharraf had of using force against Taliban and the local militants... has not worked, so he has now decided to change the tact to peaceful means. Whether it will succeed or not, I have my doubts.

Criticisms on both sides

Torek Farhadi
Former Afghan economic adviser
President Karzai did not criticize President Musharraf personally... The complaint that Afghanistan has is that the Taliban crossed the border.

RAY SUAREZ: Was President Karzai's criticisms of President Musharraf legitimate? Was he making a point that was fair about the Musharraf government's obligation to do more along that border?

TOREK FARHADI: Yes. I mean, President Karzai did not criticize President Musharraf personally. That's an important point.

The complaint that Afghanistan has is that the Taliban crossed the border -- and this is a border of 1,600 miles, about 400 miles less than the U.S.-Mexico border. So here there are challenges with the border. Over there, there are challenges with the border.

And these elements, which are organized forces and come and explode bombs in Afghanistan, attack the military convoys of the coalition and U.S. forces, and then they go back to Pakistan, and it's very hard to pursue them inside the territory of Pakistan, because it's a different country.

So that is a complaint. It's not only President Karzai's complaint; it's the international community's complaint.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response. What about President Musharraf's complaints about President Karzai?

TOUQIR HUSSAIN: Well, President Musharraf's complaints are that the Pashtun area, which used to be dominated by the Taliban in the past, have been disaffected with the Afghan government, because not much has been done by way of national reconstruction, and economic development, and nation-building.

And that is why people are beginning to look up to Taliban for redress of their economic problems. And President Karzai should recognize that and try to conciliate the Pashtuns so that Taliban don't have any constituency over there.

RAY SUAREZ: Touqir Hussain, Torek Farhadi, gentlemen, thank you both.

TOREK FARHADI: Thank you.