Pakistan to hold off on landmines, MacKay says
Published Sunday, January 14, 2007 2:19PM EST
After meetings with Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to hold off on expanding landmine use at the Afghanistan border until after further talks.
MacKay has just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, where he met with Afghan and Pakistani leaders.
One of the key thrusts of MacKay's trip was tightening up security along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Canada opposes Pakistan's plan to increase use of landmines at the border, and said as much to Musharraf.
"What I told them very directly, and this is an example of direct diplomacy, is that we didn't support any use of landmines, but we would very much encourage them to use alternative means to control the border --fencing where possible, more aerial surveillance, satellite phones, the kind of technology we use in Canada and the United States," MacKay told CTV's Question Period on Sunday from his hometown of New Glasgow, N.S.
He said he made it clear Canada was willing to help control the rugged border which is difficult to police, allowing militants to cross almost unhindered from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
"They were very open to this and I was appreciative of President Musharraf delaying -- he essentially said they would not make any decision around the use of landmines until Canadian officials and perhaps other NATO officials got together with them to have a substantive discussion on control at the border."
Many Afghans are upset with Pakistan's plans to tighten the porous 2,500-kiometre border.
On Thursday, a day after officials commissioned a new biometric system of identification checks to hinder insurgents and criminals, a protest by thousands of Afghan tribesmen blocked the Chaman crossing point in Pakistan's southern Balochistan province.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Pakistan's proposal, which was unveiled last month, will increase tensions between the neighbours.
"Mining and fencing the border will not prevent terrorism but it will divide the two nations," Karzai said.
Further complicating the issue is the fact Afghanistan does not recognize the southern border, which dates back to the colonial era.
MacKay said he came home from his trip with a new sense of encouragement. He said he saw evidence that Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan are making a tangible contribution to the country.
"We saw Canadians were doing incredible work. They're doing a great deal of development work interacting with Afghan people themselves," MacKay said.
"They had some interesting projects that we saw highlighted there, including the turning over of uniforms, first aid training for Afghan national police and Afghan army officials."
MacKay also described what he called "development assistance in a box."
He said they were containers that would be packed with agricultural implements such as a wheelbarrow, seeds, hoes and shovels, as well as radios, clothing and other equipment needed by the often impoverished residents.
The boxes would then be given to local elders who would distribute the various materials.
"So NATO officials, both our military presence and, of course, the officials that are doing the development work, are making an impact inside the region, and we're going to continue to strike that balance and see that the Afghan people understand that we are there to assist them and eventually give them the capacity to do this work on their own," he said.