By Shaheen Buneri
Peshawar, Pakistan (CNSNews.com) - Growing tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan may further boost the Taliban insurgency on both sides of the border and strengthen ties between the militants, regional analysts warn.
Pakistan has strongly protested a weekend threat by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to strike back at Pakistan-based terrorists who launch attacks against coalition forces and Afghans inside Afghanistan. Islamabad vowed that it would "defend its territorial sovereignty."
Pakistan Taliban spokesman Moulvi Omar told reporters in Peshawar by telephone that Karzai was frustrated because of Taliban successes in Afghanistan. "We will continue to send fighters to Afghanistan to support our brothers in faith in their resistance against the United States," he said.
Omar is spokesman for an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban militants called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formed this year under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, based in Pakistan's tribal belt.
In his weekend comments, Karzai waned Mehsud by name, saying we will go after him now and hit him in his house.""
Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border, sharing linguistic, ethnic and cultural bonds, historically have paid little attention to the Durand Line - the 1,600-mile Afghan-Pakistan frontier, named after a British colonial official.
When Taliban members fled Afghanistan after their regime was toppled by the United States in 2001, they took advantage of traditional Pashtun hospitality along the border, setting up bases there among people with whom they shared strong tribal and ethnic bonds. Al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists are also believed to be sheltering there.
Sami Yousafzai, an Afghan political analyst, recalled the situation during the 1980s, when mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan would regularly withdraw to Pakistan for rest.
"The same thing is happening [again]; each group has established strong communication channels with another," he said. "They share the same ideology and same techniques of warfare. Now resistance to the United States has further cemented this relationship."
Taliban on both sides of the border were committed to attacking U.S. and Afghan interests, he said, noting that the TTP had recently claimed responsibility for attacks inside Afghanistan.
Yousafzai said he expected the militants would try to exploit the tensions between the neighboring governments.
"They must be happy at the tensed Pak-Afghan relationship as it will provide more ease and reason to intensify their attacks in Afghanistan."
Imtiaz Ali, a Pakistan-based foreign correspondent specializing in the Taliban and regional militancy, said Taliban fighters on both sides of the border were ideologically united in their resistance to U.S.-led NATO forces in the area.
The Taliban had a strong organizational structure and in the current situation it was beyond the capacity of Afghanistan or Pakistan to influence their policies or change attitudes, he said.
Ali said Karzai's threatening statement would help the Taliban to get more support for their "jihad" from local tribes in the border area.
"They will definitely feel delighted to observe growing hostility between the two countries."
President Bush at a press conference in London on Monday described the regional situation as "testy" and called for a resumption of an earlier Afghan-Pakistan "jirga" process of tribal dialogue.
There also needed to be better cooperation involving the Afghans, Pakistanis and the coalition, to prevent people from coming back and forth to cross the border."
Bush did not refer to peace agreements that the Pakistan government has been pursuing with militants in the country's tribal belt and North-West Frontier Province.
But his comments did carry a hint of dissatisfaction with Pakistan's actions.
"Our strategy is to deny safe haven to extremists who would do harm to innocent people," he said. "And that's the strategy of Afghanistan; it needs to be the strategy of Pakistan."
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)