BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO announced a sharp increase in insurgent attacks in east Afghanistan on Wednesday and raised concerns that it was partly due to pacts between Pakistan and militants in tribal areas on its side of the border.
The number of violent incidents in the Afghan east, overseen by U.S. NATO troops, stood last month at 50 percent above the same time last year, an alliance spokesman said. The violence there was close to a peak reached last August, he added.
“The concern is that the deals struck by the Pakistan government and extremist groups in tribal areas may be allowing them to have a safe haven,” spokesman James Appathurai told a regular briefing after a meeting of alliance ambassadors.
“This has been communicated to Pakistani authorities. We do not want to interfere in internal affairs but we have every right to communicate our concerns,” he said, noting that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer would travel there soon.
He did not allude to specific deals and he declined to give the absolute number of attacks by insurgents in April.
Existing pacts, including one struck in North Waziristan in late 2006, are widely regarded by Western officials as having failed to end violence and even given insurgents a safe launchpad for attacks within Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s new government has begun shifting troops from parts of the South Waziristan region in an effort to make peace with a militant commander allied to al Qaeda, Pakistani officials said on Wednesday.
Baituallah Mehsud, who leads the Taliban in Pakistan, has been blamed for suicide attacks across the country including the one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December. Mehsud has denied involvement in Bhutto’s murder.
NATO had until recently hailed the improving security conditions in east Afghanistan as signs that its 47,000-strong force was winning. The area was viewed as a success for U.S. efforts to combine military clout with reconstruction efforts.
The alliance has begun internal discussions about the possibility of the United States in future taking over leadership of military operations in violent south Afghanistan and applying a similar model there.