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Pak forces say determined to seal Afghan border

By Staff
Google Oneindia News

Lwara Fort (Pakistan), Feb 18: Pakistani troops in Lwara Forton the Afghan border are on guard, but not for invaders fromAfghanistan. They're trying to stop militants crossing in toAfghanistan to battle US-led NATO troops.

The red, brick fort sits on a small, barren plain surrounded bysnow-streaked mountains, several hundred metres from the Afghan border.

Brigadier Rizwan Aktar, commander of the fort, points from itshigh walls to a fracture in a nearby line of hills -- the Chandi Gap, anotorious militant crossing point, he says.

But he told reporters on a weekend tour of border defences inPakistan's North Waziristan tribal region he and his men weredetermined to stop infiltration into Afghanistan: ''The people who wantto create any nonsense, we are going to control them.'' Pakistan is amajor US ally in the war on terrorism but US officials appearincreasingly frustrated about the help a resurgent Taliban inAfghanistan is getting from the Pakistani side of the border.

Taliban leaders are operating from Pakistan where training, financing and recruiting are also taking place, they say.

Pakistan says it can't completely seal the 2,500 km border but it is doing all it can to stop infiltration.

But Pakistan says infiltration is a minor factor behind theTaliban surge. Rather, it's a cocktail of Afghan factors includinganger over civilian deaths in military attacks, corruption and thebooming drug trade that's fueling the Taliban war, it says.

Pakistan, which backed the Taliban until the September. 11, 2001,attacks, is also determined to show a pact it struck in NorthWaziristan in September, aimed at ending Pakistani Taliban attacks onPakistani forces and raids into Afghanistan, is working.

Pakistan says the deal is aimed at empowering tribal leaders andmarginalising militants but critics say it effectively ceded control ofNorth Waziristan to pro-Taliban militants and the region has become amilitant training ground.

Tribal elders, invited by the military to meet the media in the main base in the town of Miranshah, rejected that.

''No one's getting any training here,'' said Gul Abad Khan, atall, thin elder wearing a large black turban. ''There's no connectionbetween us and the terrorists fighting in Afghanistan.'' TROOPSREDEPLOYED TO BORDER US military officials in Afghanistan say attacksin Afghan areas opposite North Waziristan were several times higherlate last year than the previous year.

But Pakistan points to NATO figures showing a a sharp fall in Afghan violence since September as proof the deal has worked.

General Azhar Ali Shah, the commander of Pakistani forces in NorthWaziristan, says the peace the deal has brought to North Waziristan hasallowed him to deploy 70 per cent of his 28,000 troops to the border totackle infiltrators.

''Wherever there's a piece of intelligence or a technical report,these people are struck,'' Shah told reporters as he escorted them on ahelicopter tour of his border.

Pakistan has 97 border posts in North Waziristan, perched onbrown, barren ridges, or high on mountains blanketed in snow andspeckled with stunted trees.

From the air, the border looks impossible to police. Mile aftermile of ridges, separated by dried up creek beds that could swallow anarmy of infiltrators.

Vast areas look deserted, but occasionally footprints through the snow lead to a mud-walled hut or village compound.

At the high-altitude Mangrotai border post, snow lies deep.

Soldiers are bundled up against the chill and stamp their feet to keep warm. Others peer from mud-walled bunkers.

It was in this area that a large group of infiltrators crossedinto Afghanistan last month where they were attacked by NATO forces.

About 130 of the militants were killed, a US commander said.Several were killed when Pakistani forces attacked the remnants as theyfled back to Pakistan.

''If we were to allow the Taliban we would not be sitting in theseposts in this weather,'' Shah said as a light snow began to fall.

But the Pakistani military says the border is not only Pakistan'sresponsibility. Afghan and NATO forces, with only a tiny number ofposts, must build more.

At Lwara, Aktar said Afghan and NATO forces had only six postscompared with his 36. Pakistan will soon put up 14 km of fencing acrossthe plain and into the hills to stop militants sneaking past at night,he said. ''Fencing is going to help.''


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