LONDON, May 5: As the new government in Islamabad grapples with the on-again and off-again peace talks with the tribal militant leadership, foreign troops fighting the Taliban inside Afghanistan continue to blame Pakistan for their unending battle ground woes.
The Guardian on Monday carried a despatch (In ghost town where Afghan war begins, UK fights losing battle) from Declan Walsh, its correspondent in Garmser in Afghanistan, some 120 miles from Pakistan border, which quoting British troops stationed there said the fighters that encountered the British troops were mostly Pakistanis —“ideologically driven young men who consider the war as a religious obligation of struggle, or jihad”.
“Our understanding is that the Madressahs of northern Pakistan are the major breeding ground that provide the bulk of brainwashed Taliban fighters,” Lieutenant Colonel Nick Borton, commanding officer of Battle group South, told Mr Walsh.
Up to 60 per cent of the fighters in Grasser were Pakistani, the Afghan intelligence chief in Garmser, Mir Hamza, said. They come from militant hotspots such as Waziristan and Swat, but also from Punjab, a rich agricultural province with a history of producing radical Muslims.
“Sometimes the Pakistanis have trouble communicating with local (Pashto-speaking) fighters, because they only speak Urdu or Punjabi,” he said.
Mapping the route the cross-border militants take, Mr Walsh said the insurgents crossed from Balochistan, whose capital Quetta was considered to be the Taliban headquarters by Nato commanders.
“They muster in remote refugee camps west of Quetta — Girdi Jungle is most frequently mentioned — before slipping across the border in four-wheel drive convoys that split up to avoid detection. Sometimes sympathetic border guards help them on their way.
“Inside Afghanistan the fighters thunder across the Dasht-i-Margo — a harsh expanse of ancient smuggling trails which means “desert of death” — before reaching the River Helmand. Here, the sand turns to lush fields of poppy and wheat, and they reach Garmser, home to the most southerly British base in Helmand.”
British officers told Mr Walsh that they had ample evidence that many of the enemy were Pakistani. While remaining coy about their sources of intelligence, they spoke of hearing Punjabi accents and of finding Pakistani papers and telephone contacts on dead fighters.
Four months ago, Den-McKay said, British Gurkhas shot dead a Taliban militant near a small outpost known as Hamburger Hill. Searching the fighter’s body, they discovered a Pakistani identity card and handwritten notes in Punjabi.
Mr Walsh quoted Afghan officials as saying that Islamabad at best turned a blind eye to the flow, at worst encourages it.
The Guardian despatch said the debate had a very different tone in Pakistan. A spate of bombs has rocked major cities in the past year. But Pakistanis blame the US and Nato aggression in Afghanistan for inflaming Muslim passions, and see the Taliban as an expression of Pashtun nationalism.
Pakistanis are also suspicious of the proliferation of Indian consulates in southern Afghanistan. And as the poppy harvest draws to a close, British commanders expect a fresh spurt of fighting in the coming weeks.
Combined with the stream of Taliban from Pakistan, British officers recognise they are only holding the line.