Pakistan announced Monday that its foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, will go to Afghanistan Friday for a three-day visit. A Pakistani spokeswoman says the talks will focus on bringing what she labeled "peace and calm" to the border areas. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the Taleban insurgency operating along the border has strained ties between the two countries.
When the Taleban government fell in 2001, their fighters went on the run - for the most part, across the border to Pakistan, where they found sanctuary and sympathy among the ethnic Pashtun tribesman that control the largely lawless tribal areas. Now reinvigorated, Taleban fighters have ratcheted up their attacks on NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan from bases in areas of Pakistan like Baluchistan, Waziristan, and Bajaur, with fighting this year reaching levels not seen since 2001.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have pointed the finger of blame at each other for not doing enough to bring the militants under control, and that has strained relations.
James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, says the Taleban sanctuaries in Pakistan are a major headache for the U.S.-led anti-terrorism efforts.
"Pakistan is really our preeminent problem in the region and in the region more broadly," said James Dobbins. "I mean, if there is a central front in the war on terror, it's Pakistan; it's not Iraq. Terrorists who are planning on blowing up airplanes across the Atlantic don't go to Iraq for inspiration, guidance, or financing; they go to Pakistan. Bin Laden is not in Iraq; he's in Pakistan. It was the Pakistani government that was supporting the nuclear programs in North Korean and Iran. The Taleban is operating out of Pakistan."
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says the problem of the Taleban is not on his side of the border.
"We are doing all that we can," said Pervez Musharraf. "The Taleban problem is an Afghan problem."
But Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, says the core cause of the problem is in Pakistan.
"In order to fight terrorism effectively in Afghanistan, we have to deal with the issue of institutional support for extremism in Pakistan," noted Said Tayeb Jawad.
General Musharraf is trying to address U.S. and British calls for him to get tougher with the Taleban. But his cooperation with the United States is facing increasing opposition from the Islamic religious parties, and even, say analysts, from within his own military, whose ranks are reluctant to go into tribal areas and fight their own countrymen. An offensive into North Waziristan to attack militant strongholds resulted in large casualties and ended with a peace deal between the government and pro-Taleban tribal leaders.
Afghan affairs analysts say Pakistan has repeatedly tried to intervene to get a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and that the Taleban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, was largely the creation of Pakistan. Barnett Rubin of New York University, a leading expert on Afghanistan, says that Pakistan has not abandoned its efforts to get a friendlier government in Kabul, even if it includes Taleban elements.
"There is every indication that the Taleban is planning and equipping themselves for an even more massive offensive in the spring, which will coincide with a Pakistani diplomatic offensive and asking for a change of government in Kabul and the installation of people more friendly to Pakistan," said Barnett Rubin.
On the other side of the border, Afghan President Karzai is struggling to establish his government's authority around the country but is hampered by corruption and a growing narcotics trade. Recent U.S. studies say opium production is at all-time high, and that efforts to train the Afghan police have had only limited success.
The two presidents met recently in Washington to try to iron out their differences, and agreed to convene a joint jirga, or council, of tribal leaders from both sides of the border in the spring. Pakistani officials say that jirga is high on the agenda of the Pakistani-Afghan foreign minister talks.