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Afghan president demands Pakistan act against Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday accused neighbouring Pakistan of failing to move against the Taliban and pledged a new security plan for Kabul after hundreds of people were killed and wounded in two deadly attacks on the capital last month.

FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of aiding terrorists by giving shelter and aid to leaders of the Taliban insurgency, a charge denied by Pakistan, which points to the thousands of its own citizens killed by militant violence over the years.

“We are waiting for Pakistan to act,” Ghani said in a televised address after weekly prayers, in which he accused Pakistan of being the “Taliban centre”.

A recent attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a suicide bombing on a crowded city street a week later have stoked public anger in Afghanistan and stepped up pressure on Ghani’s Western-backed government to improve security.

The attacks, which killed more than 130 people and wounded hundreds more, were claimed by the Taliban, which is fighting to drive out international troops and re-establish its form of strict Islamic law in Afghanistan.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Ghani in a telephone call on Friday that the attacks “highlight the barbarity and cowardice of the insurgency, and strengthen America’s resolve to support Afghanistan” and its government, the White House said.

Afghan and U.S. officials say the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban and believed to be based in Pakistan, was responsible.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said Pakistan and Afghanistan were both victims of terrorism and needed to work together to fight the common threat.

“Pakistan affirms solidarity with the people and government of Afghanistan in fighting the menace of terrorism,” he said in a statement. “We feel the pain of our Afghan brothers and sisters.”

Pakistan had taken strong action to counter terrorism, including operations against Haqqani network camps in mountainous Waziristan.

Ghani said 11 arrests had been made and a list of individuals Kabul believed to be behind the attacks as well as the networks that supported them was given to Pakistani authorities.

“The attack is not against our men, women or children but against the Afghan nation and it requires a national, comprehensive response,” Ghani said, adding that security officials would present a new plan on Sunday.

But it was unclear what steps would be taken to improve the last major security plan in Kabul, which established a string of extra checkpoints and heavy vehicle controls after a truck bomb killed 150 people in the city last May.

Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul said on Thursday that officials in Islamabad were assessing the evidence presented during a visit by Afghan Interior Minister Wais Barmak and the head of the NDS intelligence service, Masoom Stanekzai. It said Pakistan had given no commitment to take any action.

The attacks came at a time of heightened tension in the region, after the United States said it would cut security aid to Pakistan, complaining the South Asian nation was not doing enough to fight terrorist groups sheltering there.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez