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ASIA: Afghanistan-Pakistan together in war on terror: ministers

Sun Jul 19 04:58:18 EST 2009

KABUL, July 18 AFP - Afghanistan and Pakistan have vowed to work together in the fight against an insurgency gripping both nations, promising boosted border controls and closer co-operation on arresting terror suspects.

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, told a press conference held jointly with his Afghan counterpart, Mohammad Anif Atmar, on Saturday that mistakes have been made "by both sides in the past" in the fight against Islamist militants.

But Islamabad and Kabul say they are now committed to root out insurgents on both sides of their rugged and mountainous common border where rebels are active.

"I would like to warn those terrorists on both sides: stop it," Malik said. "We've decided to take you on, we've decided to flush you out... you've killed so many people... throw your arms and ask for mercy from God."

The Taliban, who were in government in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 until they were ousted by a US-led invasion, are fighting to regain control of the vast, predominantly rural country and oust foreign troops.

Afghanistan's nearly eight-year insurgency is at its deadliest, forcing the United States to dispatch an extra 21,000 soldiers in a bid to stabilise the country ahead of presidential and provincial council elections on August 20.

Meanwhile about 2,000 people have died in Islamist bombings across Pakistan since July 2007, when government forces besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad.

The United States alleges that Islamist fighters hide out in the Pakistan mountains near the Afghan border, plotting attacks on Western targets and crossing the porous frontier to attack foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

"All you're doing is anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan, anti-Afghanistan and anti-humanity... stop it," Malik said, addressing militants.

The minister called on the international community to help Pakistan and Afghanistan strengthen their security forces against insurgents.

Atmar said: "We have agreed that this is not important where the terrorists are from. What's important is that wherever their training camps are, wherever they are being trained, financed and equipped is closed, whether it's on that side of the border or this side of the border," he said.

The Afghan minister said Kabul is ready to "arrest Pakistani terrorists" on Islamabad's demands and expects the same from its neighbour.

"When terrorists from Afghanistan take refuge in Pakistan we would like Pakistan to arrest him, hand him over to Afghanistan so we can try him where he has killed so many people," Atmar said.

Afghan officials have long claimed that senior insurgent operatives including Taliban's fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar are hiding in the Pakistani tribal region.

Afghan and Pakistani security forces are to boost border control in the joint effort against militants, Malik said.

Islamabad is pressing an offensive against rebel strongholds on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, under pressure from Afghanistan's Western allies, the US and NATO forces.

Pakistani air strikes have increasingly targeted strongholds of Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, described by the US State Department as a key al-Qaeda facilitator in Pakistan's mountainous tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Islamabad has also carried out air strikes against Mehsud hideouts with commanders vowing to hunt down the warlord's militant network in the remote northwest region known as a base for Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels.