[Afghan News] July 28, 2012 - 08-09-2012, 03:32 PM
Afghan newspapers cautiously welcomes president's anti-corruption decree
By Abdul Haleem
KABUL, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Afghan newspapers on Saturday cautiously welcomed the presidential order to fight corruption and bring reforms in government bodies.
"At last, the president issued order for wide-ranging reforms; but the question is how far this decree is effective in fighting corruption and ensuring good governance," the daily 8Subh or 8am morning writes in its editorial.
President Hamid Karzai in an ambitious decree posted on Presidential website on July 26 listed good governance, effective war on corruption, rule of law and economic sufficiency as top priorities of his government.
In line with the decree, cases against the individuals detained by police or investigated by the Attorney General Office (AGO) have to be disposed of on a fast-track basis.
In the 33 chapter and 164-article decree, the high ranking officials were ordered to refrain from nepotism in recruiting staffs. It also emphasized to halt land-grabbing practice by anyone. The decree also tasked the security bodies to collect unlicensed arms and probed all parallel organizations in the country.
Billions of U.S. dollars have been injected into Afghanistan since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001. However, the country is still the poorest nation in the world. In addition, Afghanistan reportedly has also ranked among the most corrupt nations in our globe.
The presidential order was issued just weeks after the international community renewed pledge to Afghanistan at the recently held Tokyo Conference.
To help Afghanistan stand on its feet, the international community pledged another 16 billion U.S. dollars at Tokyo conference on July 8 for the next four years. However, the donor nations conditioned that the money is not misused by officials.
The decree also instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look in coordination with relevant state organs into the affairs of all Afghan diplomatic missions across the world.
Expressing skepticism over the implementation of the decree, the daily 8Subh writes in its editorial"It is too late to implement the decree as it was issued after a decade and now the president has little time to implement".
Another newspaper, the English Daily Outlook, has also looked with pessimism towards the accomplishment of the decree. "Given the 10-year track record of the government, the reforms were unlikely to be implemented in months,"Kabul University professor Ahmad Zia Rafat was quoted by the Daily Outlook as writing.
The decree is an attempt to convince the international community that the president is serious about enforcing much needed reforms, the newspaper said.
In compliance with the directives, the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption will keep an eye on strategic benchmarks put in place by public and private sector entities to combat graft. As part of the drive, the watchdog will have to probe questionable assists of government functionaries and officials with the non- government organizations (NGOs).
While welcoming the decree, the daily Mandegar newspaper questioned the modality of its implementation. "How is it possible to achieve such a great goal within six months while have failed to do in 10 years," said an article entitled "Appropriate decree but impossible"carried by the newspaper.
Afghanistan War: Militant Attacks Up 11 Percent
By DEB RIECHMANN 07/27/12 Associated Press via The Huffington Post
KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan during the past three months were up 11 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest statistics on monthly violence released by the U.S.-led coalition.
The figures, which NATO released on Thursday, also show that the number of attacks in June was the highest for any month since fighting surged in the summer of 2010.
The disturbing uptick comes at a time when foreign troops are leaving and insurgents are trying to prove they remain a potent force. It also supports the theory that the insurgency remains undefeated after more than a decade of war, though coalition officials caution against using attack numbers as a bellwether of how the war is proceeding.
The number of "enemy-initiated attacks" – such as roadside bombings and gunfire attacks from insurgents – rose in all three months of the second quarter, compared with the same months in 2011. This follows 11 consecutive months where attacks were below the number reported in the same month the year before.
The coalition offered two possible reasons for the uptick. A shortened poppy harvesting season prompted insurgents to start their spring offensive earlier this year. Also, with more Afghan security forces on the ground and taking the lead in more operations, more of them are getting killed. There also has been more precise reporting of attacks against Afghan soldiers and police, which could also lead to the higher numbers, the coalition said.
In related statistics, 206 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 20 until June 20, according to the Afghan National Army. March 20 is the first day of the Afghan calendar. No comparable numbers could be obtained for 2011, and no current casualty figures from the Afghan National Police were immediately available.
Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has confirmed that Afghan police and army casualties were on the rise. He said the coalition was working with the Afghan security forces – now 350,000 strong – to find ways to minimize the deaths of their forces, mostly by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices.
"There are things that we're going to seek to do to try and reduce those casualties," Allen said in an interview earlier this week with The Associated Press. "It's everything from emphasizing to their non-commissioned officers and junior officers that they wear their helmets and their body armor ... to `Don't overload your vehicles.'"
While the numbers of enemy-initiated attacks is on the rise, the number of U.S. and foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year is running below last year.
So far this year, 254 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan. That compares with 323 killed in the first six months of last year, according to an AP tally.
There have been 39 foreign service members killed so far this month, including one NATO service member who died Friday in an insurgent attack in the east and two NATO service members who died Thursday in a roadside bombing on in southern Afghanistan. The deaths so far this month include at least 32 American service members – more than have half killed in roadside bombings.
Coalition officials say the number of enemy-initiated attacks is only one metric of the war.
They said Afghan and coalition forces have been able to drive insurgents away from population centers and into more rural, less-populated, areas, forcing the militants to fight for remaining turf outside of the provincial capitals. Most of the fighting this summer is occurring in Naji-Saraj and other districts in Helmand and Kandahar provinces of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban have historically held sway.
"Nari-Saraj is one of those places ... where they (the Taliban) have probably been more or less left to their own devices for a long time," Australian Army Brig. Roger Noble, deputy to the deputy chief of staff for coalition operations, told reporters in a briefing earlier this month in Kabul. "They haven't been disrupted. We're now moving in there with the Afghan national security forces so it's now a fight for that little piece of that turf."
The provincial capital of Kandahar, which is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, is stable but more needs to be down to secure districts such as Panjwai and Zhari in Kandahar and Nari-Saraj and Baghran in neighboring Helmand, Allen said.
"We still have work to do there, but the ... numbers of people there are very small, relatively speaking," Allen said. "So the enemy's ability really to influence large parts of the population is much less than it was before."
Afghan truckers a forgotten front in a war growing deadlier by the day
By Rob Taylor and Hamid Shalizi
KHOSH GOMBAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - In the cabins of their "jingle" trucks flamboyant with tinsel baubles and painted tiger patterns as they move NATO's war supplies, Habibullah thinks he and other drivers are becoming a forgotten front in an Afghan war growing more vicious.
From a dusty truck park midway between Kabul and the Pakistan border, and under the constant thump of helicopters from Jalalabad airbase over the road, Habibullah moves food and military materiel across the Taliban's eastern heartland, from Nuristan to the former al Qaeda cave stronghold of Tora Bora.
"We worry about our fate when NATO leaves, because the Taliban also call us the infidels. For them, we are not just the enemy, but also traitors," said the soft spoken 23-year-old, who contributes seven trucks to a cooperative with five owners.
It is a thankless and increasingly deadly job, and one so mired in graft that the drivers see a fraction of the cash paid by U.S. military paymasters, with the rest skimmed by middlemen or even going into the hands of insurgents for "protection".
Only this week, three of Habibullah's trucks were attacked and burned by Taliban amid the rugged mountains of Nuristan, a virtual no-go zone for NATO soldiers after heavy past losses and now garrisoned by a handful of Afghan troops and police.
A truck belonging to another company was torched and the driver shot dead across the border in Pakistan, while 22 fuel tankers were blown up in the north by insurgents there as they moved fuel and equipment.
"One of our drivers was killed. We brought his body back to Jalalabad," Habibullah said. "His wife came and grabbed me by my collar, tearing my shirt and shouting 'you killed my husband'. I had to give her some money. The Americans don't help with that."
Another driver, Lalajan, sits on a crimson carpet in a container filled with the rattle of an ageing fan against the oppressive heat and says Taliban raids are mounting this summer, as foreign combat troops look to leave the country by 2014.
The NATO-led coalition this week acknowledged that insurgent attacks had risen 11 percent in the past three months compared to last year, with a spokesman blaming a severe winter and crop failures driving poor farmers into paid Taliban ranks.
"We have between us lost 15 trucks this year so far. We had one truck break down and we sent others to help. Then out of the blue the Taliban appeared," said Lalajan, his heavily bearded face furrowing as he sits cross legged with his 4-year-old son crawling over his lap.
"I asked them, I will give you money not to attack my trucks, but they said my money was haram (forbidden). The leader burned them," he said.
No less disruptive are the frequent border closures on the Pakistan side, including a seven-month shutdown enforced on NATO traffic last November after 24 Pakistani soldiers were mistakenly killed in a U.S. airstrike.
The main Torkham border crossing only reopened in July, but Lalajan said there was still an immense backlog and some days only a few trucks could pass a border gateway which last year averaged around 160 each day.
POCKETING THE DIFFERENCE
Adding to security fragility, Lalajan said, was that Afghan drivers working from distribution hubs in Afghanistan like Bagram airbase north of Kabul could not obtain insurance, as drivers coming from Pakistan were able to.
Local drivers, except for those working for the largest transport companies, were also forced to rely on brokers who sold on contracts to smaller firms and pocketed the difference, often as much as half the job's entire worth.
For the majority of contracts paid by the military, worth around $8,000 on average, middlemen pocketed $4,000 for doing nothing other than having good connections.
Drivers then received around $300 per month in salary, but pocketed $1,000 extra in danger money for each 10- to 15-day delivery to military bases in the riskiest areas.
"The middlemen often hold our money for sometimes months, investing it in other things. Sometimes when we go to claim, the company has disappeared and we get nothing. The Americans don't care about that," Lalajan said.
Laghman province, which is home to the truckers, is one of Afghanistan's poorest, with 67 percent of people living in poverty and 78 percent underemployment, while seven in 10 people do not get adequate food each day, according to World Bank data.
Asked which road he feared most, 40-year-old driver Mohammad Qayum said the valley route to the most far-flung U.S. base in the northeast, Forward Operating Base Bostick near the Pakistan border in north Kunar, was the most dangerous.
Bostick, in a natural mountain amphitheatre visited by Reuters in June, is a frequent target for Taliban rockets aimed down at the first battalion of the U.S. 12th Infantry Regiment.
"Last year, two of my trucks were attacked going to Kunar. My nephew was inside and was burned to death," said Lalajan, nodding agreement with his friend.
Smaller cooperatives like his with 70 trucks say margins are so tight they cannot make the security payments to protect convoys and which critics say often end up in the hands of the Taliban, helping fund the insurgent war effort.
"For bigger companies that get first-hand contracts, for them it's possible. They can have 60 trucks in a convoy and can pay some money to avoid attack," he said. "But for us there are lots of Taliban groups. Which one would we pay? The attacks have been mounting."
Habibullah said the only thing keeping drivers in jobs vital to the NATO war effort currently were danger bonus payments, but even they were losing their lure as the Taliban intensified their fight and foreign troops wound back their presence.
"We don't have any faith that the government will reach any deal with the Taliban. If they reach a deal, these attacks on us will still continue, because in the eyes of the Taliban we are kaffirs (infidels)," he said.
"We think for drivers like us, as has happened with some translators, foreign borders should be opened to us. We should be allowed to leave Afghanistan."
(Additional reporting by Rafiq Sherzad in JALALABAD and Katharine Houreld in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Nick Macfie)
How the NATO supply route closure hit Afghan truck drivers
Truckers in Kandahar lost the biggest part of their business when Pakistan closed off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
Christian Science Monitor By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent July 27, 2012
Kandahar, Afghanistan - For the first time in months, Afghan trucking company owner Ratmatullah says that he’s hopeful about the future.
About seven months ago he and many other truckers here in Kandahar lost the majority of their business when Pakistan closed off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and international forces began relying more heavily on northern routes.
Local truckers say that the change shifted business to trucking and logistics companies in the north, leaving many in Kandahar jobless. Mr. Ratmatullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, says his small company used to employ about 100 trucks weekly. After the border closed that number dropped to just 10. Within his company that cost about about 270 people their jobs, says Ratmatullah.
With the route only recently reopened, business has yet to return, but Ratmatullah says, “We’re very optimistic about the future because we will have work when it starts again.”
Still, the loss of business has given him cause to worry, he says, about its long-term future. “When the foreigners leave in 2014, I’m sure we’ll lose thousands of jobs. When there are no bases who will we supply? There will be no need for us.”
The experience of truckers in Kandahar serves as a preview of the economic ripple effect likely to spread as the US drawdown eliminates a number of Afghan jobs that have sprouted up to support the international presence here. Many worry that while the Afghan government has focused on security, it has no plan to deal with the economy.
According to the World Bank, international donor and military spending is about 97 percent of the Afghan GDP. Even after years of healthy economic growth, the nation suffers from high unemployment – 8 percent – and 48 percent underemployment. More than 90 percent of Afghan jobs can also be classified as “vulnerable” because they are not stable, often without formal employment agreements, and they don't provide enough income for someone to live off.
When jobs created by international forces disappear, despite hopes for the mining sector and other industries here, the local economy is not likely to create many new jobs. If the mines become operational, they stand to create thousands of jobs for Afghans, including truckers. Chinese and Indian firms have already invested in some mines here, but it could take years before the sector is operational.
“The government does not have any plan. It does not have an economic vision,” says Hameed Farouqi, a professor of economics at Kabul University. “They were just happy to see that this transition is taking place, but as for the consequence of this transition, they were only watching [the] security and the military effect on the Afghan situation, not the economic and social effect of the transition.” Built this city on trucking
Located in southern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan, Kandahar has been a major shipping hub and a cornerstone for the economy. A number of businesses – snack shops, restaurants, and hotels – have sprung up around the trucking industry. The mayor of Kandahar City estimates that as many a third of residents make their living working in jobs connected to trucking.
“This road [from Pakistan to Kandahar] directly creates many jobs for people. When the road is open there will be many more people busy with different businesses here,” says Mayor Qazi Mohammad Omar. “The municipal government also receives taxes from these trucks.”
When the road was closed, Mr. Omar estimates that the city lost about 40 percent of their vehicle tax revenues.
Prior to the NATO supply route's closure, NATO received 28 percent of its supplies through Pakistan and 41 percent from the North. After the closure, the northern route began handling 60 percent of the resupply load, according to US transportation command officials. Hard hit
Local businesses in the area say they were hard hit by the route closure. Ahmad Shah runs a small snack shop in a rest stop just outside Kandahar city. Just two weeks before the route reopened, Mr. Shah says business had gotten so bad that he sold his shop for 40 percent of what he originally invested in it.
“There was nothing. I was just sending my little brother to sit in my shop. Only a few people from the companies here would buy yogurt from me, and I couldn’t sell anything else because there were no drivers. There are no houses here to sell to. Only drivers,” he says.
When he got news that the route was reopened, he decided to buy the shop back, but at a loss that amounted to one month’s salary during good times.
Even as business returns to Kandahar, many Afghan investors say the days of large foreign contracts is coming to an end.
“If the international community leaves Afghanistan, one of the biggest problems will be for those people who own trucks or who are in the trucking business. They will be in very big trouble,” says Mohammad Darwesh, who owns three trucks. He says his main hope now is to recoup the cost of his trucks and break even by 2014. He is looking at more stable investment opportunities such as food storage.
Still, some economists say that concern is overblown, pointing out that the majority of aid money sent to Afghanistan goes into the pockets of international companies responsible for the work. One economist estimated that only 38 cents per dollar spent on aid in Afghanistan actually reaches the local economy. This could mean that fewer Afghans than originally thought are actually dependent on aid and international spending, meaning the less of a ripple effect when the money eventually dries up.
No Longer Unknown, Afghan Athlete Has Eyes on Gold
New York Times By ANGELA SHAH July 27, 2012
KABUL - It was only by chance that a 10-year-old Rohullah Nikpah found taekwondo.
Unlike most Olympic athletes, Nikpah was not groomed from an early age to compete. Rather, he grew up in a refugee camp in Iran, and one day he accompanied his brother to a makeshift gym for a taekwondo sparring session.
The connection was immediate, a little like love at first sight.
“I just enjoyed practicing this sport,” he said simply.
He does more than enjoy it. Just four years after returning to Afghanistan from life as a refugee, Nikpah was standing on the podium at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a bronze medal around his neck. Unlikely as it may seem, that day produced Afghanistan’s first Olympic medalist.
When Nikpah defeated the Spanish world champion Juan Antonio Ramos in the 58-kilogram, or 128-pound, category, he became a national hero in a place that has seen few in the past 30 years. To welcome him home, thousands of his countrymen gathered in Ghazi Stadium, which, until then, had been known more for the Taliban’s public executions, including stoning women to death.
When the preliminary round in taekwondo starts Aug. 8, Nikpah will no longer be an unknown but a returning champion. And this time he has his eyes on the gold. “I don’t have any stress for this competition, and I hope to Allah to go there and I will bring a good achievement back to the country,” he said.
Having moved up two weight classes since the Beijing Olympics, Nikpah is ranked 13th by the World Taekwondo Federation in the men’s 68-kilogram category.
If Hollywood is looking for its next hero, Nikpah fills the bill. Born two years before the Taliban took power in 1989, his family — ethnic Hazaras, a minority community that suffered discrimination under the Taliban — had to escape to Iran, where Nikpah grew up among fellow Afghan exiles and discovered taekwondo, a hugely popular sport there.
His family returned to Afghanistan in 2004. At age 21, Nikpah not only competed in his first Olympics, he took home a medal. He is tall, fit and blessed with movie-star looks. Even his haircut is popular with young men eager to imitate their hero. For a nation synonymous with the destruction of war, he is a welcome face of a new Afghanistan.
“We are the young generation and can introduce our country to the world through the sports,” he said one morning at the Kabul home he shares with his family, a gift from President Hamid Karzai for his showing in Beijing.
Expectations are high in London. “He will definitely medal,” said Usman Dildar, an Afghan member of the London Organizing Committee who runs a large taekwondo studio in London. “What color? Inshallah, we’re hoping for gold.”
Nikpah’s celebrity aside, the Munir Ahmad Taekwondo Association Club in Kabul seems spartan compared with the facilities used by most Olympic athletes. Gym equipment lies at one end of a rectangular room. With a military precision, Nikpah kicked, struck and blocked across the interlocking red and blue floor mats as his coach, Mohammed Bashir Tareki, looked on.
The club bears some witness to sporting success. Trophies crowd the top of a set of cubbyholes, and posters of athletes line the walls, including one of Nikpah. He is wearing his Olympic medal. One hand clutches a bouquet of flowers while the other waves to the crowd. In between the posters of athletes are colored illustrations of taekwondo moves drawn in a style that reflects 1950s physical education textbooks. Missing were the typical Olympian’s entourage of trainers, nutritionists and medical doctors who monitor and tweak an elite athlete’s physical dashboard for maximum performance. The Afghan National Olympic Committee pays its athletes about $21 a month. Nikpah runs an electronics business with two partners to make ends meet.
“We don’t have enough facilities to do the training in our country,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I just use what we have.”
Despite the lack of resources, taekwondo has blossomed in Afghanistan, partly because of Nikpah’s stardom, and also because of the popularity of the sport in neighboring Iran, which has about 4,000 taekwondo gyms. Today in Afghanistan, about 500 clubs are active. Taekwondo is a key way to provide young Afghanis with options outside of the criminal world, said Mirwais Bahawi, acting secretary general of the Afghanistan Taekwondo Foundation.
In Nikpah’s lifetime, Afghanistan has hardly figured at the Olympics. It sent just two athletes to Atlanta in 1996, during Taliban rule, before the International Olympic Committee expelled it in 1999 because of its treatment of women. Afghan athletes returned to the Games in Athens in 2004, with a team of five, including two women. In Beijing, Nikpah was one of four Afghan athletes.
“We can’t provide everything they want right now,” Bahawi said. “And they are not always thinking about the things we don’t have.”
The athletes also have access to Afghanistan’s national Olympic team facilities at Ghazi Stadium, renovated partly with U.S. aid and reopened in December. And the taekwondo foundation has received training and equipment from its counterpart in South Korea, the birthplace of the sport. In late May, Nikpah traveled there for training before heading off to London this month.
The day before he left for South Korea for training, Nikpah was on a Kabul sidewalk outside a supermarket. Passersby recognized him, offering smiles and pats on the back. Two women, clad in blue burqas, approached him in a polite conversation. Nikpah basked in their attention with a delighted smile, and he put his hand over his heart in the traditional gesture of thanks and respect.
Does he feel pressure to not let his compatriots down? “Yes, of course, I feel 100 percent responsible for the people,” he said. “It’s the support of the people who give me energy and I hope to make them happy.”
Gabriela Maj contributed reporting.
Tajikistan seals Afghan border, NATO trucks can pass
Reuters By Roman Kozhevnikov 27/07/2012
DUSHANBE- Tajikistan has closed all border-crossing points with Afghanistan due to a military operation to capture a former warlord, but NATO trucks carrying supplies to their forces are allowed to pass, a Tajik border official said on Friday.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon launched an offensive in the autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan region on Tuesday against supporters of Tolib Ayombekov, who is accused of killing a security service general.
Authorities sealed the border after government troops captured eight Afghan militants who were fighting for Ayombekov. Tajik officials feared Taliban-linked fighters were crossing into the ex-Soviet republic to help the former warlord.
The border between Gorno-Badakhshan and Afghanistan's Badakhshan province - in the remote, mountainous area along the Pyandzh river - was sealed on Tuesday, Khushnud Rakhmatullayev, spokesman for Tajikistan's border guards, told Reuters.
All other border-crossing points, including the one in Nizhny Pyandzh where NATO trucks cross into the Afghan province of Kunduz, were closed on Thursday, he said, adding the border would be reopened "after the end of the special operation".
"All the checkpoints on the Tajik-Afghan border have been closed due to a special operation taking place in (Tajikistan's) Badakhshan," Rakhmatullayev said.
"But an exception has been made for trucks with NATO cargo - they continue crossing the border."
Rakhmon called off the offensive in Gorno-Badakhshan late on Tuesday after a day of fierce fighting which killed 42 people.
He demanded that the militants hand over Ayombekov and three other fighters, all of whom the government accuse of murdering Maj.-Gen. Abdullo Nazarov, the regional security service chief. His killing on Saturday triggered the military offensive.
The president also offered an amnesty to any rebels who laid down arms.
After nearly three days of negotiations, the rebels were expected to start laying down weapons at midday on Saturday, a senior Tajik security source told Reuters. It remained unclear, however, if they would hand over Ayombekov.
Twelve soldiers and 30 rebels were killed in the battle to apprehend the former warlord who had fought against the government in a 1992-97 civil war before receiving a state job under a peace deal with the opposition.
Pakistan, another supply route for NATO forces fighting the Taliban, recently reopened its border crossings with Afghanistan for NATO cargo. It had shut them in November after a U.S. air strike unintentionally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
(Reporting by Roman Kozhevnikov; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Pravin Char)
Pakistan official slams drones ahead of CIA talks, says attacks recruit new militants
Associated Press July 28, 2012
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States is calling for an end to CIA drone strikes ahead of an intelligence summit in Washington between the two countries expected next week.
In a frank debate Friday with White House war adviser Douglas Lute, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said the drone attacks have already succeeded in damaging Al Qaeda but are now only serving to recruit new militants. The two were speaking to an audience at the Aspen Security Forum.
"I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have diminishing rate of returns," Rehman said, speaking by video teleconference from Washington.
"We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that," she added.
Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, is expected to reiterate the demand in his first meeting with CIA Director David Petraeus, at CIA headquarters in Virginia, next week.
Lute would not comment on the drone program, but U.S. officials have said privately that the program will continue because Pakistan has proved incapable or unwilling to target militants the U.S. considers dangerous.
A long-sought U.S. apology to Pakistan over a deadly border incident cleared the way to restart counterterrorism talks, in which Pakistani officials say the U.S. also will be asked to feed intelligence gathered by the pilotless aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so they can target militants. While neither side expects much progress, officials from both countries see the return to dialogue as a chance to repair a relationship dented by a series of incidents that damaged trust on both sides. U.S. officials remain angry over what they say is Pakistan's support of Taliban groups, including the militant Haqqani network, who shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas and attack troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
A key insult for Pakistan remains last year's U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Usama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, conducted without Pakistan's permission.
Rehman defended Pakistan's arrest of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who has been sentenced to more than three decades in prison for aiding the CIA in tracking down bin Laden by conducting a vaccine program in the military town where the terrorist mastermind turned out to be hiding. U.S. lawmakers have threatened to halt millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan if Afridi is not released, in recognition of his contribution to helping track down bin Laden. Afridi is appealing his sentence.
"He had no clue he was looking for Osama bin Laden," Rehman countered. "He was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency."
She added that Afridi's actions put thousands of children at risk because some vaccine programs had to be ended after Pakistani aid workers were targeted by the Taliban.
She also dismissed as "outrageous" a claim by some lawmakers that Pakistan is harboring Al Qaeda or other militants who intend to harm the U.S.
She said Pakistan's army was working hard to combat the militants, including reporting 52 times to NATO in recent months when militants were spotted crossing into Afghan territory.
"Pakistan is maxed out on the international border with Afghanistan," she said of Pakistani efforts.
"Sovereignty has privileges but also comes with responsibilities," countered Lute who called for Pakistan to step up its efforts and to cease "hedging its bets" by supporting the Afghan Taliban.
The two did agree, however, that Pakistan could help broker an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.
Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan
July 28, 2012 at 3:12 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 28 (UPI) -- Two NATO troops were killed Saturday by insurgents in Afghanistan, bringing the number of international forces killed there in July to 42, officials said.
The troops were killed in eastern Afghanistan, Khaama News reported.
"Two International Security Assistance Force service members died following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan today," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.
No further information was given on the incident.
NATO also said Saturday a combined Afghan-NATO security force killed a man believed to be supplying the Taliban with money, weapons and explosives, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The man, Maulawi Abdul Rahman, was sought out and killed in the northern Balkh province after he threatened NATO forces.
News Analysis: Taliban cross-border attacks could derail Afghan-Pakistani peace efforts
Xinhua By Muhammad Tahir July 28, 2012
ISLAMABAD - Cross-border attacks by Pakistani Taliban militants have stirred up tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan at a time when both countries have agreed to jointly work for the success of the much-needed peace and reconciliation efforts in the war-torn country.
According to Islamabad insiders, Pakistani Taliban militants, who had fled military operations in tribal regions over the past three years, have now established bases in remote border regions inside Afghanistan and routinely launch attacks on Pakistani border posts and villages.
Kabul has officially denied the claim and insisted that Pakistani forces daily fire rockets into Afghan territory, which they said have caused casualties and displaced hundreds of families. But the Pakistani Army has rejected the charge and insisted that they only targeted fleeing militants.
Tension has heightened in the wake of a deadly attack on a Pakistani border post in northwestern Upper Dir district in late June where militants killed six Pakistani soldiers and kidnapped 17 others who were brutally beheaded later in Afghanistan.
A video on the ambush and beheading was released to the media and also uploaded on websites. The Pakistani Taliban from Swat valley had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Sirajuddin, the militant group's spokesman, who spoke to journalists from its base inside Afghanistan.
When Pakistani forces launched a counter attack against the militants, Afghan authorities said that Pakistani rockets landed in border regions of Afghanistan's Kunar province. Afghan authorities said that at least four people were killed in a recent Pakistani shelling.
Afghanistan summoned Pakistani ambassador to the Foreign Ministry last week to lodge a formal protest over the shelling.
An Afghan presidential spokesman had earlier warned that it would be forced to elevate the issue to the UN Security Council if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the issue.
In a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Tabbani Khar here on Thursday, Afghan Ambassador Omar Daudzai said that " Pakistani rockets fire"have provoked Afghans, which"should be stopped immediately."
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Khan said that Islamabad "takes these attacks very seriously" and that " corrective measures" will soon be taken by the government.
In a rare display of solidarity with the Afghan government, the Afghan Taliban also called on Pakistan to end what it called the " illegal and unjustified attacks" against Afghanistan in border areas.
Leaders of the two countries have agreed to open channels of communication with Afghan Taliban during Pakistani prime minister' s visit to Kabul on July 19.
Some analysts, however, have said that non-state actors, such as the Afghan Taliban, are out to sabotage the peace process and would try to foment hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
They said that Pakistan and Afghanistan must be aware of the sinister plot of the militants and must focus on the reconciliation efforts as instability in Afghanistan would directly affect Pakistan.
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