Kabul, March 17 (Reuters): Pakistan is stepping up efforts to crush Islamic militants in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border, US secretary of state Colin Powell said today, as the hunt for Osama bin Laden intensifies.
Powell was in the Afghan capital for a brief visit to discuss the war on terror and Afghanistan’s reconstruction and elections with President Hamid Karzai, who suggested there might be some slippage in the timetable for elections.
The US secretary of state, who later moved on to Pakistan, said America would stay committed to war-shattered Afghanistan, and said Washington would pledge $1 billion in aid at a donor’s conference in Berlin this month.
“The action in Pakistan yesterday suggests that Pakistanis have picked up the pace and we hope they continue to do that,” Powell told a news conference, referring to a Pakistani attack on tribal and foreign fighters near the Afghan border yesterday.
Afghan and US officials have repeatedly complained that Taliban and their al Qaida allies have been able to escape to sanctuaries in Pakistan, despite Islamabad’s status as a key ally in the US-led war on terror.
“It shows the intention on the part of Pakistan not to allow these tribal areas to be used as a haven,” Powell said of yesterday’s battle in which 15 Pakistani paramilitary troops and 24 tribal and militant fighters, some believed to be al Qaida members, were killed. Powell’s visit comes after US-led forces announced a sweeping new drive against al Qaida and Taliban militants across southern and eastern Afghanistan.
About 600 people have been killed in violence in Afghanistan since early August, despite the presence of 13,500 US-led troops and about 6,000 international peacekeepers. Powell kicked off a tour of South Asia in India this week urging Pakistan to ramp up its military activities near the Afghan border. Bin Laden is thought to be in hiding somewhere along the frontier, and the US military hopes to trap him and others in a “hammer and anvil” operation .