Kabul Intel Center a Diplomatic Effort Amid War

A NATO-led "joint intelligence center" opens in Kabul, aimed at curbing the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Afghan and Pakistani army officials will staff the center amid mistrust over Pakistan's stance on the Taliban.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go to Afghanistan, next, where officials believe that a neighboring nation is allowing Taliban fighters to set up bases across the border. Pakistan denies that charge, and is threatening to plant mine fields along the border to prove it. But all that dispute did not keep the feuding neighbors from moving into the same office space as part of a NATO-led project that many hope will end the fight.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: There isn't much to see in the rooms where Afghanistan and Pakistan planned to coordinate what NATO hopes will be their joint offensive against the Taliban. A few brown tables with Dell desktop computers, a topographical map of Afghanistan and Pakistan on a wall, and what one military officer describes as the best conference table at NATO headquarters here.

But NATO officials say it's what will happen in the coming weeks at the new joint operation center that counts. In fact, it's unprecedented. Six Pakistani military officers and six Afghan ones under one roof, simultaneously sharing intelligence information with NATO and each other, and launching anti-Taliban operations on Afghan and Pakistani soil, and at the same time, hopefully easing the mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan over what each side is really doing when it comes to the Taliban. NATO Brigadier General Richard Nugee:

Mr. RICHARD NUGEE (NATO Brigadier General): Therefore whilst this is not a political organization, this is a military organization. Where we can, we will share intelligence to make sure that the insurgents come up worse rather than the other side come up worse.

NELSON: General David Richards heads the NATO-led coalition.

General DAVID RICHARDS (Heads NATO-Led Coalition): And because of this new institution, we are all very confident that we will continue to keep the Taliban at bay and allow the reconstruction and development that lies at the heart of this country's future to continue to flourish.

NELSON: Convincing Afghans may not be so easy, however. Virtually everyone here believes Pakistani intelligence is helping the Taliban in its bid to destabilize Afghanistan. Neither Pakistani nor Western protests to the contrary seem to help.

Down the street from the heavily fortified NATO compound, computer salesman Mohammed Almez(ph) says he's surprised Western and Afghan officials would even consider sharing quarters with Pakistan. He worries that they'll give the information to the Taliban.

Mr. MOHAMMED ALMEZ (Computer Salesman): (Through translator) I don't think it will stop the interference of Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan. Because from the beginning until now, Pakistan has not be sympathetic to Afghanistan.

NELSON: A friend, Ohmid Haid Adi(ph) agrees.

Mr. OHMID HAID ADI (Mr. Almez's Friend): (Through translator) But we should keep in mind that if they are pressured by the international community they might finally get convinced to cooperate with the Afghan government in this fight.

NELSON: Afghan Parliament member Halal Adeen Halal(ph) who serves on a defense committee says the new joint intelligence center will also insure the Taliban have no safe place to hide.

Mr. HALAL ADEEN HALAL (Afghan Parliament Member): (Through translator) What's good about this is, whenever they receive intelligence that something is going on at their side of the border, it will obligate the Pakistanis to take action.

NELSON: But General Richards dismisses any suggestion that Pakistan needs prodding to help to fight the Taliban. And Afghan Major, Mohammed Nadi Osafi(ph), one of the center's officers, says he's optimistic their new joint venture will succeed.

Mr. MOHAMMED NADI OSAFI (Afghan Major): (Through translator) If it hasn't been a positive effect, we wouldn't have come here. We hope that this is a positive step forward and leads us to a better life.

NELSON: What his Pakistani counterparts think is unclear. Those officers went quickly into their offices and closed doors as soon as the ceremony was over. The defense attaché from the Pakistani embassy also declined comment.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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