Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Rockets launched prior to leaders' meeting

AGENCIES , JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN AND BRUSSELS

Militants fired two rockets into the eastern city of Jalalabad yesterday ahead of a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, police said. No casualties were reported.

One rocket landed just outside the airport in Jalalabad at 7am and the other hit near a courthouse in the city, the capital of Nangarhar Province, said Ghaffour Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

The attacks caused no casualties and occurred several hours before Karzai was expected to arrive for a ceremony with Aziz to open a new road between Jalalabad and the town of Torkham, which lies on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Khan said.

"The enemy fired rockets to sabotage this event, but fortunately there were no casualties or damage," Khan said.

Tight security has been imposed throughout the city, with Afghan and US-led coalition soldiers blocking streets and searching cars, Khan said.

Taliban and allied al-Qaeda militants have been stepping up attacks across the country, particularly in the eastern and southern provinces, in a bid to destabilize Karzai's US-backed government.

Aziz was leading a delegation of several senior Pakistani government officials on a one-day visit.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have improved recently following years of strained ties, mainly over allegations by Afghan officials that remnants of their country's ousted Taliban regime are hiding in Pakistan. Pakistan has rejected such charges.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and Karzai met in Kabul this month and pledged to jointly fight militants.

Pakistan was once a key Taliban supporter, but then switched sides to become a US ally in its campaign against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

Meanwhile, NATO members were set to meet yesterday to attempt to boost troop numbers to combat an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, but they were unlikely to secure considerable reinforcements.

On the eve of the meeting at NATO's military headquarters in Belgium, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a rallying call not to abandon Afghanistan as it struggles to build a stable and strong democracy.

"If you allow a failed state in that strategic location, you will pay for it," she warned, speaking on a trip to Canada where she expressed her gratitude for Canada's 2,300-strong troop deployment to Afghanistan.

Her comments coincided with stark warnings of the threat posed by Islamist Taliban militia fighters who are waging a bitter insurgency against foreign forces posted after the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.

Musharraf said that the Taliban had overtaken Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as his region's biggest threat to security.

"The center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from al-Qaeda to the Taliban," he told European parliamentarians on Tuesday in Brussels.

"It is a new element that has emerged, a more dangerous element because it has roots in the people. Al-Qaeda did not have roots in the people," he told the EU foreign affairs committee.

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