Sunday, February 18, 2007

Taliban insurgency becoming 'liberation war'

Pakistani official: Taliban insurgency becoming 'liberation war'

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) —
Taliban led insurgents are winning ever-greater public support in Afghanistan for a struggle that is taking on the character of a "liberation war" against foreign troops, a senior Pakistani official claimed Friday.

The remark by the governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province could inflame further a war of words between Kabul and Islamabad about who is responsible for the resurgence of militant activity in Afghanistan.

It could also dismay U.S. and NATO commanders who say their beefed-up military operation is designed to pave the way for badly needed reconstruction aid.

Ali Mohammed Jan Aurakzai, whose province includes areas where many Taliban and al-Qaeda militants fled after a U.S.-led military coalition drove them from Afghanistan five years ago, said cross-border attacks accounted for only a fraction of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The main reason for the Taliban's return was the frustration of ethnic Pashtuns seeking more political say in Kabul and resentment of ongoing military operations and the lack of ecnomic aid in the south and east of Afghanistan, he said.

"Today, they've reached the stage that a lot of the local population has started supporting the militant operations and it is developing into some sort of a nationalist movement, a resistance movement, sort of a liberation war against coalition forces," Aurakzai told reporters at a news conference.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and some U.S. military officials have suggested that Pakistani security forces are secretly aiding militants crossing into Afghanistan to mount attacks.

Pakistani Pervez Musharraf has rejected the charge as "preposterous," pointing to the deaths of hundreds of Pakistani soldiers in operations against militants on its side of the mountainous frontier.

In recent days, U.S. officials including President Bush — who calls both countries vital allies in America's war on terror — have praised Pakistan's contribution and sought to ease the row.

However, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are also forecasting fierce fighting this spring once warmer weather allows militants to move more easily through the mountains and resume efforts to bring down Karzai's government.

Aurakzai, a former general, defended a September peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency and disputed suggestions that it had led to a surge in crossborder attacks.

Pakistan-based militants may cause, at most, "20 percent of the problem in Afghanistan," he said.

He also forecast that the militants will take years to defeat, and forecast that the Kabul government and its foreign backers will one day have to negotiate with the Taliban, who draw their support mainly from ethnic Pashtuns living on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, to secure peace.

"Eventually, all issues will have to be resolved through dialogue on the negotiating table," he said.