Thu, Jul 10, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Afghan protesters attack Pakistani Embassy in Kabul

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KABUL

An Afghan policeman stops protesters outside the Pakistani Embassy during a demonstration in Kabul on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Hundreds of Afghan protesters ransacked Pakistan's embassy in Kabul on Tuesday morning, shattering windows, breaking down doors and setting the Pakistani flag on fire.

No one was injured in the rampage, but Pakistani officials bitterly accused the Afghan government of being unable to police its own capital, demanded compensation and said the embassy would remain closed until further notice.

"Where was the Afghan government?" asked Rustam Shah Mehmand, the Pakistani ambassador, as he stood among shattered windows and overturned tables.

The current tension between the countries stems from allegations that Pakistan is allowing Taliban fighters to use its territory as a safe haven from which to carry out attacks on US and Afghan forces in southeastern Afghanistan. There have also been reported skirmishes between Afghan and Pakistani forces along the countries' lawless and disputed border.

Pakistani officials say they have posted 70,000 troops in the tribal areas along the border to stop the incursions, the first time in Pakistan's history army troops have entered the tribal areas. They say they have arrested more than 500 suspected members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but that it is impossible to completely seal the mountainous border.

About 9:30am, 500 protesters chanting "death to Pakistan" descended on the Pakistani Embassy. Afghan officials were aware of the protest, a Western diplomat said. But they apparently assigned no extra police officers.

The crowd quickly overwhelmed the 10 to 15 officers present, tearing down a wooden gate and a crude stone wall behind it. As hundred of looters swarmed the compound, a dozen or so Pakistanis cowered in the basement. The ambassador was not in the embassy at the time.

Estimates of how long the crowd ransacked the building varied from 20 minutes to two hours. The protesters hurled two satellite dishes off the roof and smashed the windshields of seven four-wheel-drive cars.

At the heart of the current dispute are two divergent views of the situation in Afghanistan. Officials in Kabul say Afghan and American forces are making steady progress in countering a low-level insurgency in southeastern Afghanistan. But officials in Islamabad say lawlessness is spreading, ethnic Pashtuns deeply resent the US presence and that support for the Taliban's strict style of law and order governance is growing.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Karzai apologized for the attack and condemned those who carried it out. He promised to call Musharraf and apologize and to pay Pakistan compensation.

"Those who did this action today are not enemies of Pakistan," he said. "They are, in fact, enemies of Afghanistan."

The dispute began last week when Musharraf said in Germany that a far larger international force was needed in Afghanistan, where warlords, not Karzai's government, controlled most of the country.

The Western diplomat said on Tuesday that Karzai was "very incensed" by Musharraf's comments. He said the general had made similar comments in the past and Karzai had asked him to not do it again.

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