April 13, 2006

Afghans must balance foreign policy: minister nominee

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan must have a balanced foreign
policy, with good relations with the United States and India as
well as immediate neighbors Pakistan and Iran, the nominee for
foreign minister said on Thursday.

Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, named by President Hamid Karzai last
month to replace Abdullah Abdullah, also said the thorny issue
of the border with Pakistan, which has bedeviled relations for
decades, had to be decided by the Afghan parliament.

"For averting conflicts, differences and dangers, I believe
we have no other way, but to establish reciprocal and
multi-sided interests with neighboring countries and the
region," Spanta told parliament.

The lower house of the Afghan parliament, elected last
September, will vote on all members of Karzai's cabinet after
questioning them about their policies. Votes are expected later
this month.

Spanta said balance in relations with countries in the
region, such as Iran, could be achieved even while Afghanistan
maintains a close relationship with the United States.

The United States is Afghanistan's main foreign backer and
has more than 19,000 troops in the country, helping to fight
Taliban insurgents.

Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan deteriorated sharply
in February following Afghan complaints that Taliban insurgents
were able to operate from Pakistani soil.

Pakistan is battling militants on its side of the porous
frontier and angrily rejected the latest Afghan complaints.

Pakistan is also suspicious of blossoming ties between
Afghanistan and Pakistan's old rival, India. Karzai has been
visiting India this week.

Some analysts say the border between Afghanistan and
Pakistan, which Afghanistan has never officially recognized,
has soured relations since soon after Pakistan's creation from
British India in 1947.

The border is known as the Durand line, after the British
colonial administrator who drew it through ethnic Pashtun
tribal lands in the late nineteenth century.

Although the international community recognizes the line as
the international border, and Pakistan insists it is not up for
debate, Afghanistan says the line unfairly divides the Pashtun

Asked to comment on the Durand Line, Spanta said it was not
within his authority.

"This is an issue for the National Assembly of Afghanistan
... and for Afghanistan's people to solve this issue," he said.

Afghanistan had to adopt a moderate position based on
cooperation with Pakistan to fight militants who operate in the
Durand Line region, he said.