OTTAWA: Canada is pushing India to share intelligence about Pakistan-based al-Qaeda terrorists and the threats they pose to Canadian Forces troops in Afghanistan. “We’d like to know the extent of their intelligence about Taliban and al-Qaeda activities inside Pakistan,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said, in a wide-ranging interview about the volatile Central Asian neighborhood and Canada’s ongoing challenges in Afghanistan. “They [India] are clearly concerned that their own country is vulnerable. We have Canadians on the ground in Afghanistan that encountered a very determined insurgency,” Mr. MacKay added.
Afghanistan has been subjected to a record year of violence from Taliban and al-Qaeda forces that have found sanctuary inside Pakistan. MacKay said India is well-placed to offer information because of its “proximity to Pakistan, which we know is still very much the home of much of the insurgency inside Afghanistan, and a place, where al-Qaeda is making their mark.”
India’s secretary of external affairs, Nalin Surie, met in Ottawa with Mr. MacKay and other cabinet ministers to brief them on the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai that left 179 dead, and of Pakistan’s possible involvement.
India blames terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has found sanctuary in the lawless tribal region of Pakistan, for the unprecedented attack by gunmen on the Indian financial capital as well as the 2001 armed assault on the Indian parliament.
MacKay said he already has sought advice and intelligence in two previous meeting with M.K. Narayanan, India’s national security adviser. “The Indians grasp better than we ever could the tribal nature of Afghanistan, and how that factors into the fighting, some of the allegiances … in Kandahar, the Pashtun people in particular,” MacKay said.
MacKay sounded less optimistic than he has in the past about the key undertaking of securing the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Quite frankly, that’s going to be an enormous diplomatic challenge, given the tribal nature of that area and the fact that neither side recognizes the Durand Line as the actual geographic border.”
MacKay was referring the 2,640-kilometre line drawn in 1893 between Afghanistan and what was then British India, and which now stands as the geographical divide between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The U.S. continues to press Pakistan to crack down on militants reportedly based in its tribal area along Afghanistan’s eastern boundary. Earlier this week on a visit to New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated that militants based in Pakistan likely were behind the Mumbai attacks.
Ms. Rice’s deputy, John Negroponte, was in New Delhi Friday for meetings with Narayanan and Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, to find out more about suspected terrorist havens inside Pakistan. Like the Americans, MacKay said Canada was urging India and Pakistan to co-operate, and said he was reassured the two countries have shown restraint since the Mumbai rampage. The two countries have fought three wars since 1947. “Given the exacerbated nature of that relationship, it could have gone much worse,” said MacKay.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon met in Washington with Rice on Friday, just days after her return from New Delhi. Both Cannon and MacKay reiterated that Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan would end on schedule in 2011 despite a strong hint this past week by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he would like to see Canadian troops stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal.
MacKay said he didn’t think President-elect Barack Obama’s promise of an additional 20,000 U.S. troops next year would lead to a massive domination of the Afghan mission by American forces. “I believe it becomes a more successful effort as a result of having more capability,” MacKay said.
“I’m sure if you asked president-elect Obama or if you asked the previous president, would you prefer that it was 10,000 French, German and Spanish troops doing this and not American troops, they would say ‘absolutely.’ The fact of the matter is, there is a handful of countries in the world that appear willing or capable of doing this type of work.”
MacKay said he expected many of the new U.S. troops would be headed to the south, around Kandahar. He said the surge was a crucial step to safeguard next year’s Afghan presidential elections, which are expected in the fall. “I have concerns. Obviously, the Taliban do not want to see a successful democratic exercise,” he said. “We have to be absolutely committed to seeing the success of these elections.”-SANA