Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan-Taliban links scrutinized

YOUR TURN Accusations that Pakistan wasn't doing enough in the campaign against the Taliban raised speculation that NATO could pressure Musharraf

THE GUARDIAN , ISLAMABAD

Pakistan's role in the fight against the Taliban came under renewed scrutiny yesterday at a meeting in Islamabad between a top British commander and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

General David Richards, who commands 33,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, said the meeting was routine.

But it follows a string of accusations -- some from within NATO -- that Pakistan has failed to close down Taliban sanctuaries in the northern tribal belt and that elements within its powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may actually be assisting the insurgency.

NATO said on Sunday that the Taliban had launched 78 suicide attacks this year across Afghanistan, killing close to 200 people.

Although Western diplomats remain squeamish about publicly criticizing Pakistan, military commanders, facing mounting casualties, are increasingly outspoken.

At a hearing of the US Senate last month, NATO's supreme commander, General James Jones, confirmed that Quetta in Baluchistan was the Taliban "headquarters."

According to one report, NATO has traced the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to an address in Quetta.

The importance of Pakistani rear bases was underlined during Operation Medusa, a battle between NATO and Taliban forces last month, when NATO intelligence detected Taliban troop movements into Afghanistan and the evacuation of wounded Taliban fighters into Pakistan.

NATO's chief spokesman, Mark Laity, denied that Richards would "confront" Musharraf on the issue.

"The c-word we are using is cooperation," he said. "General Richards is going there to make contacts, to make suggestions."

But Laity refused to comment on media reports that Richards would bring videos, satellite images and other evidence of Pakistan-based Taliban camps to the meeting, saying only that "we share a lot of information with Pakistan. It's part of the tripartite process."

Last month, Musharraf admitted that some attacks originated from Pakistan.

But on Sunday his spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, called reports of Taliban presence "absurd," adding that "Pakistan is doing its bit, in fact more than its bit. Now the Afghans and NATO should do their job."

Nevertheless, Pakistan is starting to take action on the ground, with police in western Baluchistan arresting wounded Taliban fighters seeking treatment in Quetta.

On Saturday, they detained 40 in Quetta and nearby Kuchlak. But, as ever, the raids failed to net any major figures.

Pakistan has captured several major al-Qaeda members since 2001, but failed to find one Taliban leader, prompting allegations that the ISI is supporting the insurgency.

Musharraf angrily denies the idea but has admitted that some "retired" ISI officers may have been involved.

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, ISI director general from 1987 to 1989, called the allegation "bunkum."

"Nobody from the ISI is involved, retired or not, and to say so is nonsense," he said.

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