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Pakistan Leader Snubs Afghan Meeting

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The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 8, 2007; 2:24 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pulled out of a meeting of more than 600 Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders on Wednesday, an apparent snub to a U.S.-backed strategy to stem rising border violence that has destabilized both countries.

Afghan officials shrugged off the pull-out, saying that tribal leaders _ the countries' ground-level powerbrokers _ would still attend the session Thursday in Kabul, to be held under a white tent where the country's post-Taliban Constitution was hammered out in 2004.

A Pakistani political analyst said Musharraf's action was likely meant to send a message to Washington, where officials have recently criticized Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts, and suggested the U.S. could carry out unilateral military strikes against al-Qaida in Pakistan.

"He is trying to convey a strong message to the United States. There have been a lot of statements coming out of Washington about violating Pakistan's sovereignty and so on," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general.

A U.S. State Department official said the Bush administration was surprised and dismayed by Musharraf's snub, particularly after Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeatedly expressed satisfaction about the meeting during a joint appearance with President Bush on Monday.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said it was unclear if Musharraf could be persuaded to reconsider.

"We'll see if President Musharraf is able to attend any portion of the meeting," McCormack said.

The main focus of the 650 delegates to the four-day "peace jirga" _ 350 from Afghanistan and about 300 from Pakistan _ will be security and terrorism, but they will also talk about economic development and fighting drugs.

Taliban representatives are not involved, and the conference is being boycotted by delegates from Pakistan's restive South and North Waziristan regions amid fear of Taliban reprisals.

Critics say those who have real control over the violence are the Taliban and their supporters in the tribal belt and that talks that do not include them could prove to be futile. The absence of Musharraf, Pakistan's army chief and most powerful figure, could further undermine its effectiveness.

"This is only a display, which cannot produce the true views of the Afghan people," Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, secretary-general of Pakistan's pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, which runs the government in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, and is also boycotting.

Pakistan's Foreign Office said Musharraf had phoned Karzai Wednesday to say he couldn't attend because of "engagements" in Islamabad, and that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz would take his place.

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