ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s threat of a cross-border pursuit of militants is more of a tactic to build pressure on Pakistan than a signal of real intent, analysts said on Monday.
Unnerved by Pakistan’s efforts to make peace with militants in its tribal areas, Karzai made the warning on Sunday after the Taliban launched a bold and successful mass jailbreak in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry summoned the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad to lodge a strong protest about Karzai’s statement on Monday, spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.
“When communication breaks down, opinions get fertilized,” said Afrasiab Khattack, a senior leader of Awami National Party, an influential ethnic Pashtun nationalist party.
The Awami National Party is a secular party that competes with Islamist parties for influence over Pashtuns, the ethnic group most Taliban belong to.
“I think it’s high time for them to open communication to avoid any further escalation,” said Khattack, whose party is a junior partner in the 2 1/2-month-old coalition government in Islamabad and is in power in North West Frontier Province.
Analysts said Karzai’s threat was a repeat of what some U.S. and NATO officials had suggested in the past, and the Afghan army couldn’t act independently of U.S. and NATO military command on such a matter.
“Now he has spoken their language,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador of Pakistan to Kabul.
The former envoy suspected Karzai, who stands for re-election next year, was seeking to divert criticism, after getting back from an international donors conference in Paris last week.
While donors pledged $20 billion in aid to Afghanistan they said Karzai must fight corruption and improve governance.
For Karzai to lash out at Pakistan is nothing new, but his outburst coincided with growing impatience with Pakistan among Western allies.
The escape of more than 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban, from Kandahar’s jail last Friday was another embarrassing demonstration of the enemy’s strength for Karzai.
Every year, the blame game starts with the onset of summer when militants step up their attacks in Afghanistan after the winter snows melt in the mountains.
The outgoing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Dan K. McNeill, last week said attacks rose 50 percent in April in eastern Afghanistan due to insurgents crossing from Pakistan.
The U.S. military suffered more combat casualties in May in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
Nearly 13,000 people, including hundreds of foreign troops, have been killed since 2006, when an insurgency that several U.S. generals had said was on its last legs flared back into life.
Since February, the U.S. military has been more aggressive in using air strikes across the border, particularly involving drone aircraft.
Last week, 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed in Mohmand tribal region in an air strike by U.S. forces during an operation against militants on the border.
The casualties were the worst suffered by Pakistani security forces for U.S. military action since their alliance was sealed.
Analysts said they did not expect any let up in selective air strikes, nor did they foresee U.S. ground forces being let off the leash in Pakistan.
Rahimullah Yousafzai, an expert on Afghan and tribal affairs, said Karzai’s warning was linked to U.S. efforts to encourage Pakistan to stop expecting to make peace with recalcitrants such as Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
Mehsud was blamed for a wave of suicide bombings and attacks that killed well over 1,000 people in Pakistan since mid-2007.
In his comments on Sunday, Karzai singled out Mehsud, who last month defiantly asserted attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan would go on regardless of any agreement to stop operations inside Pakistan.
Karzai said that Mehsud and his cohorts would be killed in their homes. Chances of Afghan troops doing that are negligible.
Mehsud’s stronghold in the mountains of South Waziristan is well away from the disputed border, and a large force of Afghan troops crossing Pakistani territory would almost certainly result in confrontation with Pakistani security forces.
Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and David Fogarty