KABUL (Reuters) – NATO will not enter Pakistan to hunt Taliban insurgents, but reserves the right to hit the militants there should they attack alliance troops across the border in Afghanistan, the alliance’s chief said on Thursday.
NATO says militant attacks along the border in eastern Afghanistan have jumped by 40 percent this year since de-facto ceasefires came into effect between Pakistan’s new government and insurgents in the border tribal regions.
Afghan officials say the ousted Taliban and al Qaeda have bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas and President Hamid Karzai last month said he might send troops there to fight them after a series of high-profile attacks by the militants.
Standing alongside Karzai at a Kabul news conference, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was asked if the alliance was considering a wider mandate from the United Nations to go after militant sanctuaries inside Pakistan.
“My answer is an unqualified no. We have a United Nations security mandate for Afghanistan and that’s it. If NATO forces are shot at from the other side of the border, there is always the right to self-defence but you will not see NATO forces crossing into Pakistan territory,” Scheffer replied.
He said it was critical for security that the two neighbors had good relations.
“I don’t deny the seriousness of the problem but we are not seeking a new mandate. … If we want to find a political solution and if we want to see a regional approach, the level of political attention for this problem has to be brought up.
“And point number two. It is of course necessary to involve Pakistan in this process. Only to say Pakistan is the problem or part of the problem might clear your conscience but it will not help solve the problem,” he said.
Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, said cross-border attacks were mostly hurting Afghans and the answer was to hit the militants in Pakistan.
“The fight against terrorism is not in Afghanistan, and we will not be safe and secure in Afghanistan unless Afghanistan and the international community address the question of sanctuaries in Pakistan,” he told the news conference.
Pakistani officials say U.S. forces in Afghanistan have carried out a series of attacks, mostly by pilotless drones, on militants bases in Pakistan’s mainly Pashtun tribal belt.
Pakistan has also suffered militant attacks since last year and concedes insurgents operate on both sides of the border, but says most of Afghanistan’s problems are its own internal issue.
Pakistan was the main backer of the Taliban while they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, but officially dropped its support under heavy U.S. pressure after the September 11 attacks on the United States.