Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Graeme Smith, "O'Connor wants Canadian troops in Pakistan," Globe and Mail, September 2, 2006.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Canadian soldiers should join local forces fighting Taliban insurgents inside Pakistan, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says, making a tentative first attempt at raising the explosive issue of foreign troops trespassing on Pakistani territory.

Mr. O'Connor held meetings with several military and intelligence officials in Islamabad yesterday in which he urged his counterparts to step up their actions against the insurgents who emerge from hideouts in Pakistan to attack Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan.

"Among other things, I suggested that some Pakistan officers be stationed with our troops in Kandahar and Canadian troops be stationed on the Pakistan side," Mr. O'Connor said afterward, in an interview with Associated Press of Pakistan. "This will assist in information gathering and intelligence sharing on both sides of the border."

Such a proposal would likely anger Islamic political parties in Pakistan that have vocally resisted the presence of U.S. troops on Pakistani soil. Public outrage followed a December, 2002, incident in which a U.S. plane dropped a 225-kilogram bomb on a Pakistani border outpost after American troops came under fire from a Pakistani patrol.

Since then, Islamabad has officially denied that U.S. forces are allowed on its territory. But a 2003 congressional report said that Pakistan has quietly allowed the United States to conduct "limited, low-profile pursuits" of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.

Even the unmanned Predator drones that sweep over the Pakistani tribal areas require lengthy approvals from the Pakistani military, according to The New York Times.

A NATO source confirmed last night that a U.S.-Pakistan bilateral agreement allows cross-border pursuits, and expressed hope that Canada might win similar permission.

Mr. O'Connor gave no indication about the Pakistani reaction to his request.

A Pakistani source indicated earlier in the week that Mr. O'Connor would face questions from his hosts about whether Canada might help Pakistan obtain civilian nuclear co-operation. Questioned repeatedly about the issue by local media yesterday, Mr. O'Connor declined to comment. [Emphasis added. -jlt]

"I am the Defence Minister and I'll answer questions on defence," he said. "The nuclear issue is a political one and should be directed to the Foreign Minister."

Some NATO countries have recently criticized Pakistan for allowing Taliban insurgents safe harbour within its borders, while others -- most prominently the United States -- have defended Pakistan as an ally in the fight against terrorism.

In Islamabad yesterday, Mr. O'Connor offered a mixed view of Pakistan's role. "I really appreciate what Pakistan is doing and they are doing a fantastic job," he said. "But in my ideal world, they could do even better because that way our troops will be safe."

He added: "The two governments have to co-operate as much as possible; they have to exchange information. . . . The more the governments co-operate, it makes the situation better."

Canada already has an exchange program between Canadian and Pakistani military colleges, Mr. O'Connor said. He suggested more frequent meetings between military officials from the two countries.

The minister's meetings yesterday included talks with Habibullah Warraich, Pakistan's Minister for Defence Production. He suggested that Canada might be able to assist Mr. Warraich's department, although he did not specify how.

Mr. O'Connor's program also included a sightseeing visit to Daman-e-Koh, a park on a hill overlooking Pakistan's capital city.

Meanwhile yesterday, an insurgent attack killed one British soldier and seriously wounded another in the latest fighting in southern Afghanistan, while suspected Taliban gunmen ambushed and shot dead a district chief, officials said.

With a report from Associated Press
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