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Afghanistan hits at Musharraf over Taliban remark

Written by: Staff

KABUL, Sep 14: Kabul has angrily rejected comments by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the Taliban had grown more dangerous than al Qaeda with the support of Afghans, accusing some in Pakistan of sponsoring the rebels.

A terse Foreign Ministry statement received today accused Musharraf of reneging on a pledge in Kabul last week to stop playing the blame game over the Taliban, whose rise to power was sponsored by Islamabad.

''He has raised some regrettable and disturbing issues,'' the ministry said. ''As with before, the Taliban continue to receive support from outside Afghanistan. Such support is the only factor that helps them inflict damage and suffering upon Afghanistan.

''There are distinct entities (in Pakistan) which provide motivation, training, equipment, financial support and sanctuary for the Taliban,'' said the statement, received late yesterday.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman described the row as a storm in a teacup, saying Afghanistan was responding to an incorrect news report.

Musharraf said in Brussels on Tuesday the Taliban were a more dangerous terrorist force than al Qaeda because of what he said was the broad support they enjoyed among Afghans.

Speaking five years after al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on the United States and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, Musharraf told European Union lawmakers that Taliban fighters had regrouped in southern Afghanistan.

''The centre of gravity of terrorism has shifted from al Qaeda to the Taliban,'' he said. ''This is a new element, a more dangerous element, because it (the Taliban) has its roots in the people. Al Qaeda didn't have roots in the people.'' The Taliban have regrouped since their overthrow and are now more powerful and active than any time since the war. Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase since 2001.

The use of Pakistani territory by the Taliban, its al Qaeda allies and other militants and criminals has soured relations between the two countries, prompting Musharraf to visit Kabul last week to pledge support in an effort to repair relations.

He said both sides must stop playing the blame game.

Some Afghan leaders accuse Islamabad of not doing enough to stop the Taliban, and even of continuing to back them.

Pakistan says it is doing everything it can. And in Brussels, Musharraf rejected such criticism.

''No one should blame us or doubt us for not doing enough,'' he said, adding that Pakistan had deployed 80,000 troops on its side of the border to tackle militant Islamists.

NATO has run into more resistance from the Taliban than it expected after taking over southern Afghanistan, the group's birthplace, from US forces in July and commanders have called for reinforcements.

Poland said today it would send 1,000 troops to join its existing 100-strong contingent, the first NATO member to commit more soldiers to the existing 20,000-strong force in the country.

But an alliance spokesman said on Wednesday it could be weeks before reinforcements arrived.

NATO nations have about 18,500 troops in Afghanistan with other non-alliance countries contributing a further 1,500 to its International Security Assistance force.


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