Hamid Shalizi / Reuters | June 30, 2008

KABUL – Afghanistan will not be secure as long as insurgents are allowed to operate freely in sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border, a NATO spokesman said on Sunday.

With international forces in Afghanistan struggling against what the U.S. Pentagon describes as a “resilient insurgency”, Pakistan is coming under increasing pressure to stop militants operating out of remote enclaves in ethnic Pashtun border lands.

“We know that as long as the insurgents operate safely on the Pakistan side of the border, then there can not be security in Afghanistan,” NATO spokesman Mark Laity told a regular news conference in Kabul.

Pakistani forces launched an offensive in the Khyber region on Saturday to clear militants from the approaches to the city of Peshawar.

But the militants being attacked are from a faction that does not have a reputation for crossing into Afghanistan to fight Western troops backing the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Laity made no mention of the Pakistani offensive but referring to Pakistani government efforts to end surging militant violence through negotiations, said militants could not be given a free hand.

“There will be no settlements on peace on either side of the boundary while insurgents are able to operate freely,” he said.

According to a U.S. general in Afghanistan, attacks by insurgents have jumped by 40 percent in eastern areas bordering Pakistan in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year.

In a report to the U.S. Congress on Friday, the Pentagon singled out the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as the biggest threat to security in Afghanistan.

The 72-page report offered some of the starkest U.S. comments yet on Pakistan’s border areas.

“The greatest challenge to long-term security within Afghanistan is the insurgent sanctuary within … Pakistan,” it said.

Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan and hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling militants in border areas in recent years.

Pakistan backed the Taliban when they emerged in the chaotic early 1990s and after they imposed their brand of hardline rule over most of Afghanistan in 1996.

But Pakistan dropped support for the Taliban and joined the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States which were organised by Osama bin Laden, a guest of the Taliban.

But Afghanistan says elements in Pakistan still support the militants.

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