Taliban Pacts Said to Boost Afghan Violence
ROBERT SMITH, Host:
A peace agreement between Pakistan and Taliban insurgents seems to be having an unintended consequence - increased violence in the neighboring country of Afghanistan. The Islamic militants of the Taliban live in the tribal areas that span the border between the two countries, and NATO officials say that it seems that with calm on one side of the border, militants are making more attacks on the Afghan side.
A Taliban leader has vowed to fight on in Afghanistan. And the Afghanis are sending a delegation to Pakistan to voice their concerns that the peace agreement is simply providing a safe haven for insurgents.
NPR's Ivan Watson is in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Tell us more about this spike in violence. What are the NATO commanders saying about it?
IVAN WATSON: Well, they say that in the last three to four weeks the number of Taliban attacks along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan has jumped from 60 to almost 100 a week. A NATO spokesman says mostly that involves harassing fire and those deadly roadside bombs, which have helped bring the NATO death toll to at least 44 soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan.
And NATO says the only explanation for this jump in Taliban activity is the recent decrease of Pakistani army pressure on the militants on the other side of the border. They're saying that's allowing the insurgents to focus their attention on fighting the Western-backed government here in Afghanistan and the 70,000 foreign troops that are stationed here.
SMITH: What does the Taliban say about these claims?
WATSON: Well, it was interesting. Over the weekend, Robert, a Taliban commander - a notorious commander named Baitullah Mehsud - invited journalists to the tribal region in Pakistan known as South Waziristan. And he publicly called for an end to more than a year of fighting against the Pakistani army in those Pakistani border provinces.
But he then went on to say that, quote, "Islam knows no borders and no frontiers; the jihad in Afghanistan will continue." And he vowed to send more fighters to kick the Americans out of Afghanistan the way the mujahedin forced the Soviet withdrawal from here in 1989.
SMITH: So how bad is the situation today in Afghanistan?
WATSON: Well, Western diplomats here say that NATO and the Afghan government tend to control the town centers and provinces but that the Taliban are able to roam free across the countryside - across southern and eastern Afghanistan. NATO commanders say that the Taliban are using Pakistan as kind of a rear base, as a sanctuary, that they've done this for years.
But this is not just a border war. The fighting is going on across the country. A foreign soldier with a U.S.-led unit was killed in western Afghanistan yesterday. And there was a suicide bombing against a NATO convoy in the southern city of Kandahar yesterday, which killed at least one Afghan civilian and wounded three NATO soldiers.
The United Nations says some 8,000 people were killed in the fighting in Afghanistan in the last year alone.
SMITH: Well, as things get worse in Afghanistan, is the peace agreement holding on the Pakistan side of the border? Have we seen decreased violence on that side?
WATSON: We have seen sporadic bombs on that side. We have seen suicide bombs within just the last week. And some of these peace agreements have been broken in the past by this Taliban commander I mentioned - Baitullah Mehsud. So one U.S. commander tells me we're just going to have to wait and see what the details of these recent peace agreements between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban are going to be.
SMITH: NPR's Ivan Watson is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks, Ivan.
WATSON: You're welcome, Robert.
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