Canada brokers Afghan-Pakistani border security deal

Canada has brokered a deal to improve security along the porous border border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday.

U.S. strategy in flux as 72 countries meet on Afghanistan's future

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says the deal to improve security along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border prioritizes customs and law enforcement. ((CBC))
Canada has brokered a deal to improve security along the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday.

Cannon made the announcement at a 72-country meeting on Afghanistan in The Hague, where all eyes were on the new U.S. administration and its beefed-up commitment in the region.

The border has been a source of tension between the neighbours for generations — most recently with back-and-forth movements by insurgents.

Canada has been hosting meetings between Afghan and Pakistani officials in Dubai since 2007. Cannon said the most recent meeting last weekend produced the agreement.

He said the plan identifies customs, movement of people, counter-narcotics and law enforcement as priorities, and that the countries will create working groups to tackle problems in those areas.

Officials say the sides have agreed to meet several times this year to set objectives along with target dates.

"Ultimately what we want is a functional border between two countries," Cannon said.

Cannon said he was encouraged by the new American approach to the region, including the idea of viewing Afghanistan and Pakistan as an integrated challenge.

Some delegates at the seven-hour strategy session on Afghanistan were hoping to split the Taliban and get help from neighbours such as Pakistan and Iran.

Most Taliban 'not committed to cause'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that most Taliban fighters are in it for the wages — "not committed to a cause so much as acting out of desperation" — and could be brought over to the government side.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a conference on Afghanistan that most Taliban can be brought around to support the country's government. ((Bas Czerwinski/Associated Press))

The CBC's David Common, reporting from The Hague, said no one expected the United Nations-sponsored meeting to solve Afghanistan's many problems, including political instability, drug trafficking and unrelenting violence.

The aim was to bring together the neighbours — a relatively new idea even after more than seven years of war — as well as countries such as Canada that have soldiers fighting in the country, he said.

The meeting brought American and Iranian officials into rare interaction, although Iran did not warm to the U.S. approach of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Medhi Akhundzadeh, a deputy foreign minister leading the Iranian delegation, said Afghans hold the key to the future of their nation, not the international force fighting the Taliban, the Associated Press reported. 

"The presence of foreign troops can't bring the peace, security and stability to the country," he said in comments translated from Farsi.

Even so, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke had what was described as a brief, cordial, face-to-face exchange with Akhundzadeh, and Iran offered to help combat the Afghan drug trade, perhaps partly to cut supplies to Iranian addicts.

Much of the attention focused on the U.S. secretary of state, who signalled a changing U.S. strategy.

"What she’s articulating now is that moderate members of the Taliban need to be broken off and need to be rehabilitated and brought into a national unity government," Common reported.

Some, Clinton allowed, are "hard-core committed extremists with whom there is not likely to be any chance of  any kind of reconciliation or reintegration."

"But it is our best estimate  that the vast majority of Taliban fighters and members are people who are not committed to a cause so much as acting out of desperation."

She told the conference that those fighters should be given a chance to abandon extremism.

She also joined the pleas for neighbourly help.

"If we are to succeed, we will need the co-operation of all nations here," she said. "As President [Barack] Obama has pointed out, the world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos."

With files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press