KABUL (Reuters) - NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, will travel to Pakistan for talks in which he is expected to urge Pakistan to curb cross-border incursions by Haqqani militants blamed for several attacks in Kabul.
Allen, commander of the 130,000-strong NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, will arrive Pakistan on Wednesday to review border coordination with Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s military said.
Allen is also likely to raise mounting concern in Afghanistan about three attacks blamed on the Haqqani Network, which NATO believes is controlled from Pakistan, and which began in Kabul on April 15.
The latest occurred only last week when insurgent gunmen stormed a lakeside hotel on Kabul’s outskirts and burst into a party, seizing dozens of civilian hostages and killing 20 people in a 12-hour siege ended by Afghan and foreign security forces.
Allen said the attack bore the signature of the Taliban-linked Haqqani group, which he said continued to operate from Pakistan, a charge that could further worsen already tense cross-border relations with Islamabad.
A June 1 bombing at a U.S. base in Khost province - the largest in southeastern Afghanistan - was also later linked by NATO officials to the Haqqani Network, with U.S. officials discounting the Taliban due to the complexity of the attack.
Pakistan lodged a counter-protest to NATO and the Afghan military on Monday, accusing them of failing to act against safe havens in Afghanistan after a cross-border militant attack killed 13 Pakistani troops, seven of whom were beheaded.
Pakistan wants Afghan and NATO to act against Afghan-based militants who cross the border to attack Pakistani forces and civilians - while the United States calls on Pakistan to stop providing safe havens for militants fighting NATO forces backing Afghanistan’s government against the Taliban.
Hajji Yousouf, the Afghan police commander for Narai district of eastern Kunar province, from where the militants were said to have come, said no insurgents had crossed the mountainous border, which is notoriously difficult to control.
“They are based (in Pakistan) near the border with Afghanistan and now they have turned to attack the Pakistani government. Afghans and foreign forces in Afghanistan are not involved,” he said.
U.S. soldiers in Kunar recently told Reuters that a four-km-wide ground buffer meant to stop cross-border fire incidents and lightly patrolled due to entry restrictions had opened the door for insurgents to set up training camps just inside Afghanistan.
But a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that the buffer zone along the eastern border - which includes a five-km-wide zone for aircraft, was hobbling anti-insurgent efforts.
“I don’t know that I’d characterize it as difficult to get into. Our people go where they need to go. It’s just that there’s an added emphasis on the communication in that area,” the official said.
Islamabad and Washington are already locked in difficult talks to repair badly frayed ties, at their lowest point in years after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year.
Pakistan blocked overland supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan in protest against the strike.
Editing by Missy Ryan and Nick Macfie