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US Links Pakistan Agreement With Tribal Leaders to Upsurge in Afghan Attacks

Senior U.S. defense officials said Thursday Pakistan's agreement last year with tribal leaders along the Afghan border has led to an increase in cross-border attacks, and that Pakistan needs to do more to address the problem. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman, said the agreement to give tribal leaders responsibility for controlling the border area has not worked. He said the United States has made its concerns clear to the Pakistani government.

"There has been an almost immediate and steady increase of cross-border infiltration and attacks immediately after the agreement was reached," he said. "We've expressed, over a period of time, directly to President Musharraf and to others our skepticism and reservations about the agreement."

Edelman noted recent visits to Islamabad by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

At the same hearing, the chief of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, said the safety provided in the Pakistani border areas is a key to the Taleban's recent resurgence, and to its plans for the future.

"The relative sanctuary for especially Taleban senior leadership in Pakistan today in the border regions of Pakistan is a major factor in the ability of the Taliban to be resurgent and probably quite active militarily this spring in Afghanistan," he said. "There's no question that that sanctuary exists, and that it's a major asset for the Taleban."

The defense officials said Pakistan's government and military have been trying to get control of the remote and rugged border region. They also noted that no Pakistani government or outside force has ever fully controlled that area, or its independently minded tribes.

The committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin, was not satisfied, and said Pakistan has not even recognized that its agreement with tribal leaders has failed.

"We ought to press Pakistan for at least an acknowledgment that the deal that they made has not worked out. In fact, quite the opposite," he said.

The committee's former chairman, now senior Republican Party member John Warner, offered some defense of the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf.

"I think under the leadership of Musharraf they're doing the best they can, but the realities are there's a fragility in the political system in Pakistan," he explained.

Senator Warner said the situation would be much worse for the United States and its allies if Islamists came to power in Pakistan.

Senators also asked the defense officials about Iran's role in Afghanistan. The Under Secretary for Policy, Eric Edelman, noted that Iran has diplomatic relations with the new Afghan government, and has been helpful on some issues. But he also said Iran maintains ties with some of the government's opponents and has its own goals for Afghanistan.

"They [Iran] would like to see us out and an Afghan government more beholden to them and more subject to their influence," he added.

The defense department has accused Iranian operatives of helping insurgents in Iraq, and providing them with high-technology explosives. But the officials said Thursday they have no such claim to make regarding Iranian activity in Afghanistan.