Munich: Afghan President Hamid Karzai called cross-border terrorism one of the greatest threats confronting his country and said improved ties with Pakistan were helping to combat the problem.
Speaking to a gathering of world leaders and top security officials, Karzai praised new US administration’s more regional approach to fighting terror and welcomed President Barack Obama’s appointment of Richard Holbrooke as a special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Security can not come to Afghanistan, or to the region, or to the international community without better coordination with our neighbors,” Karzai said.
He also repeated his call to integrate moderate Taliban back into Afghan society, inviting them to participate in fall elections.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the 45th Munich Security Conference, in Munich on 7 February, 2009. AFP
“We will invite all of those Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida, who are not part of terrorist networks, who want to return to their country, who want to live by the constitution of Afghanistan, who want to have a normal life, to come back to their country,” Karzai said.
For his part, Holbrooke described the Afghan campaign as ‘one theater of war straddling an ill-defined border’.
“We have to think of it that way and not distinguish between the two,” he said.
Violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan has risen steadily since US-led forces drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Many militants fled to Pakistan’s border regions, where they have established bases and continue to attack US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s new government, elected last year, appears keener to crack down on Taliban bases on its side of the border used by extremists a commitment welcomed by both Afghanistan and the US.
The extremists are also blamed for a surge in suicide attacks on Western, government and military targets within Pakistan, including last year’s devastating blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
“Our neighbors are suffering with us,” Karzai said, citing the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well as the violence in Pakistan.
“But Afghanistan’s diplomatic ties with its neighbors are getting stronger,” he said.
“There is greater understanding with Afghanistan and its neighbors in the region,” he said, a message reinforced by Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Quershi, who spoke of a ‘new era of understanding and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan’.
Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, said that was news he was very happy to hear.
“Working relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have to be effective if we’re going to solve this problem,” Jones said.
“We’ve learned over time that problems in Afghanistan are not just uniquely confined to one country it’s a regional problem set,” he said.
The US has been pushing for allies to send more troops to the region a theme struck forcefully at Sunday’s closing session by British Defense Minister John Hutton.
“NATO cannot consistently look to the Americans for all the heavy lifting,” he said, adding: “Other alliance members should be looking to do more.”
“Combat roles right now are the most precious contribution to the campaign,” he said adding: “We kid ourselves if we imagine that other contributions right now are of the same value.”
But German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung stuck to Berlin’s contention that there should be added focus on civil reconstruction.
“There will be no development without security, but without development we won’t have security either,” Jung said.
“We won’t win with military alone,” he added.
To this end, he said Germany was increasing its commitment to train Afghan police forces and was stepping up reconstruction aid.
Jung said that Germany thought the number of troops in Afghanistan was sufficient, given NATO’s roughly 55,000 forces there and the fact that Washington was preparing to double American troops to about 60,000.
NATO’s top official chastised European nations on Saturday for refusing to commit more troops to Afghanistan, in comments that appeared directed at Germany and France.