Pakistan and Afghanistan trade insults over Taliban

Relations hit a new low as war of words over Taliban escalates.

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ISLAMABAD // Pakistan and Afghanistan traded insults over the war with the Taliban yesterday, plunging their relations to a new low as Kabul searches for peace before Nato withdraws.

It was the most explosive in a series of rows that have marred Western efforts to build trust between the two governments. This is considered integral to forging any lasting peace with the Taliban, who have been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 12 years.

It came as a US drone strike targeting the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, blamed by Washington for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, killed 17 militants in Pakistan. It was the deadliest US drone strike in the country since 18 insurgents were killed in October last year.

Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Afghan army's chief of staff, told the BBC that Pakistan could end the Afghan war "in weeks" if it were serious about peace.

"Madrasas have been closed and all the Taliban have been unleashed to Afghanistan," he said.He also said "the Taliban are under their control" and Pakistan could do far more to promote a nascent peace process.

The West believes Pakistani support is vital to securing peace in Afghanistan and officials have recently praised Islamabad for helping to support peace efforts.

The search for peace in Afghanistan is now an urgent priority as 100,000 US-led NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw next year and Afghan forces take up the fight against the insurgents.

Pakistan was a key backer of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul and is believed to shelter some of the movement's leaders.

After talks with the British prime minister, David Cameron, on Sunday, Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, spoke of his government's "firm resolve to promote the shared objective of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan".

But the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has long decried what he sees as Pakistani double-dealing designed to bring about a friendly regime in Kabul, and Gen Karimi said this bad faith extended to Mr Sharif's objections to US drone strikes in Pakistan's north-west.

Islamabad "categorically rejected" Gen Karimi's remarks, which laid bare the mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, despite a February summit hosted by Britain in an effort to ignite peace efforts.

"Pakistan has exercised extreme restraint in the face of highly provocative language used by the Afghan civil and military officials over the last few months, not to mention some totally fabricated accusations," the foreign ministry said.

Pakistan said it would not be deterred in its efforts to support international efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and accused elements in the Afghan government of insincerity. It called on Afghan officials to "refrain from levelling baseless allegations and work towards creating a conducive environment that helps advance the shared objectives of peace, stability and prosperity".

Pakistani tribal affairs and Taliban expert, Rahimullah Yusufzai, said Afghans were lashing out at Pakistan to mask their own weakness as the country lurches towards elections next April.

"There is a problem inside Afghanistan," he said. "A large number of Afghans don't accept their present government and they oppose the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan."