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Kabul to press Islamabad over militant safe havens

KABUL: Afghanistan is expected to use the latest round of international talks on its future today to raise pressure on Pakistan over militant safe havens ahead of the departure of foreign troops.
Representatives from 29 countries will gather in Kabul for the one-day conference, which follows a meeting in Istanbul in November aimed at mapping out the future of the war-torn country after NATO troops leave in 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says peace depends on regional cooperation to smash sanctuaries for militant networks waging violence in his country, and has voiced hope that Pakistan can help in this process.
In April, militants staged a spectacular coordinated attack in Kabul which Washington blamed on the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.
Last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added to concerns about worsening violence by describing a June 6 double suicide attack in the southern city of Kandahar as “much more organized than we’ve seen before”.
Islamabad denies any support for Haqqani activities, but the group’s leaders are widely believed to have strongholds in the semi-autonomous Pakistani district of North Waziristan.
Last year, then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen described the network as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Pakistanis say the Americans and Afghans are trying to find a scapegoat for the deterioration of the decade-old war in Afghanistan and that no country has suffered from terrorism more than Pakistan.
But in Afghanistan and the United States, critics say Pakistan’s resistance to cracking down on militant sanctuaries has only fuelled attacks.
“That is why we have continued to witness major attacks, including on US interests inside Afghanistan, that have frustrated US and Afghan officials,” Najib Mahmood, a political science lecturer at Kabul University, told AFP.
“I believe the Afghan government will seize the opportunity in this conference to put added pressure on Pakistan to deal with this problem more seriously,” he said.
Panetta said in Afghanistan last week that the United States was running out of patience with Pakistan’s refusal to eliminate terror havens.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief diplomatic backer when the militia was in power, and is accused by both Kabul and Washington of continuing to play a double game in supporting the insurgency despite its official US alliance.