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by Isambard Wilkinson

Pakistani Official Urges NATO to Quit Afghanistan


ISLAMABAD - BRITAIN and the US have been urged to prepare a strategy for leaving Afghanistan by sources within the Pakistani Government as the number of fatalities among NATO forces fighting the Taliban grows.

The remarks, by a senior Foreign Ministry official, reflect the growing belief in Islamabad that NATO is as much to blame for the endurance of the Taliban as Pakistan, which the US has accused of failing to destroy Taliban training camps on its border. 0804 04

NATO has had to review tactics after a series of blunders in which large numbers of civilians were killed in raids intended to hit Taliban fighters.

The Afghan Government has complained that the attacks act as a recruiting sergeant for the rebels seeking to restore a hardline Islamic regime.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, said on Thursday that NATO should consider holding talks with Taliban leaders.

"They should take a holistic approach - the military is an essential component but it has to be coupled with a political process and development," he said.

Mr Kasuri added that the upper house of the Afghan Parliament had shown the way "by speaking about the need to talk to some of the people who have taken up arms".

Mr Kasuri said that Britain in particular should know the limitations of a purely military approach in Afghanistan. "Britain has a good experience of the country, after all they fought three Afghan wars," he said. "Surely they have learnt from that."

In recent weeks Pakistani and US officials have been embroiled in an angry row sparked by an American intelligence report that claimed that al-Qaeda had begun regrouping in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan.

Relations between the US and Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terrorism, have also been soured by the refusal of a US counter-terrorism official to rule out military strikes in Pakistan.

Earlier this week , the Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama threatened to launch US military strikes against al-Qaeda on Pakistani soil if he were elected president.

The diplomatic rift between Pakistan and the US has also widened since President George Bush said a peace agreement signed between pro-Taliban tribesmen and the Pakistani Government in North Waziristan had been a "failure".

Mr Kasuri admitted that the deal had not been a total success but it was weaning some people from the extremists. "We are still trying to isolate extremists by talking," he said.

A peace jirga, or council, of Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders and politicians is due to be held next week in a bid to resolve differences between the Afghan Government and Pakistan.

Copyright © 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald.

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