KABUL - Afghans believe the United States knows about al Qaeda bases in Pakistan, but does not hit them because it wants an unstable Afghanistan to justify its presence for wider regional goals, a state newspaper said on Wednesday.
While many Afghans have vented such thoughts for some time, it was the first time a state newspaper which generally reflects the government's view has expressed them, and may point to a souring of relations between Afghanistan and its biggest backer.
Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both major U.S. allies in its war against Islamic militants, have hit new lows with the Afghan government accusing Pakistan of funding and training Taliban and al Qaeda fighters for cross-border attacks.
Nearly seven years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban government for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks, the heads of the militant groups are still at large and are thought to be hiding in Pakistan.
With more than 70,000 mainly Western troops based in Afghanistan, many Afghans believe the United States and its allies are deliberately not doing enough to halt the threat.
The United States always said it would attack the militants wherever they were, but in reality it has not done so, the state-run Anis daily said.
"The Afghan people have long doubted such claims of foreigners, especially of Britain and America, and their trust about crushing al Qaeda and terrorism has fallen," Anis said.
"The people have the right to think that there is something in the wind," it said. "No one believes stability and peace will be restored to Afghanistan until the training and equipping sites of the Taliban are closed."
U.S. unmanned aircraft have made a number of air strikes on militant leaders inside Pakistan's border region in recent years, but Western analysts say Washington fears large-scale attacks would anger Pakistanis and weaken the government there.
But Anis said Afghans believe Washington wants to keep Afghanistan unstable in order to justify the presence of its troops due to Afghanistan's geographical location bordering Iran and central Asia's rich oil- and gas-producing nations.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been increasingly critical of his Western backers in recent months, saying air strikes against Taliban insurgents have achieved nothing but the deaths of Afghan civilians.
Many in the West and the international community meanwhile have bemoaned Karzai's lack of action against corrupt and inept state officials who undermine efforts to rebuild the country.
Western leaders have set no timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, saying an eventual pull-out depends on when Afghan forces are capable of standing on their own feet.
Editing by Roger Crabb
© 2008 Reuters