Mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan soars as U.S. forces depart

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

As Taliban fighters kill a growing number of Afghan soldiers, the country’s leaders are blaming Pakistan, an accusation that has sent the neighbors’ relations to one of the lowest points in more than a decade.

Afghan officials say their allegations stem from an influx of foreigners fighting for a resurgent Afghan Taliban, as well as a Pakistani Islamist militant group’s recent announcement that it was abandoning domestic attacks and turning its sights across the border.

Afghans have long blamed Pakistan for the violence in their country, reserving special ire for the Pakistani spy organization that they and U.S. intelligence officials say has nurtured and supported Islamist militants. But those accusations are intensifying, and they now include ­charges that Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) are recruiting, training and equipping Afghan Taliban fighters as most U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan this year.

Pakistani officials strongly deny the charges, accusing outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai of paranoia and of scapegoating them for his own government’s failures. But as Afghans at all levels of the country’s government and military assert that they are being systematically undermined by Pakistan, also a key U.S. ally, the tensions are serving as a sign of how hard it will be for U.S. forces to withdraw from the region without risking a future conflict.

“We know they have not given up their dream of controlling Afghanistan,” Mohammad Umer Daudzai, the Afghan interior minister, said of Pakistan. “They want Afghanistan to be their satellite.”

Since spring, more than 2,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed, twice as many fatalities as during the same period last year, officials said. The death toll can be partially linked to the drawdown of coalition forces, which has left Afghan troops more vulnerable. But Afghan officials have also issued public statements accusing Pakistan of sending army commandos, doctors and military advisers to support the Afghan Taliban.

Some of their evidence is vague — officials will say only that they believe “thousands” of foreign fighters are in Afghanistan and that they include a smattering of Uzbeks, Chechens and others. But they also cite the recent announcement by the Punjabi Taliban — a Pakistani group that has carried out scores of attacks against Pakistani security forces — that it would ally with a major Afghan militant group and redirect its fighters to Afghanistan.

Karzai’s National Security Council called that a “declaration of war” and blamed the ISI. Pakistan countered with a statement deeming the Afghan allegation “unfounded and counter-productive.”

Accusations fly

To buttress their claims, Afghan intelligence officials provided to The Washington Post video statements of men they said were Pakistanis captured on the battlefield. One says he was released from a Pakistani prison by an ISI agent in exchange for agreeing to support the Taliban in Afghanistan. Another video shows a man, who Afghan intelligence analysts said was a Pakistani intelligence officer, shouting in Punjabi — one of the most widely spoken languages in Pakistan — during a recent battle in Helmand province.

“Keep aiming, keep aiming,” the man says to fighters firing toward an apparent Afghan army outpost. “Don’t get distracted.”

Afghan officials have been known to exaggerate battlefield claims. And it is difficult to confirm the latest Afghan allegations about Pakistani links to the insurgency or verify the authenticity of the videos.

But the claims have outraged Pakistani officials. “This has no relevance to reality,” said Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top foreign policy adviser.



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