In Kabul, Musharraf Warns of Regional Extremism
Monday, August 13, 2007
KABUL, Aug. 12 -- Working to soothe relations with neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan's president said Sunday that a "particularly dark form" of terrorism confronts the region, while tribal leaders called for engaging in dialogue with the Taliban to confront extremism.
Speaking at the close of a four-day meeting of tribal leaders meant to counter rising extremist violence, Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan and Afghanistan face a great danger from fringe groups that preach hate and radicalism. He also acknowledged that Taliban fighters seek haven in Pakistan before crossing the border to launch attacks.
In Afghanistan's eastern Nangahar province, which borders Pakistan, a roadside bomb killed three U.S. troops Sunday, the governor's spokesman said, bringing to six the number of international forces killed over the weekend.
The tribal meeting's closing statement said that a 50-man team of prominent leaders from both countries would hold regular meetings and work to "expedite the ongoing process of dialogue for peace and reconciliation with the opposition," a reference to the Taliban.
Musharraf, after returning to Pakistan, said the committee should "engage warring forces in Afghanistan to bring the terrorism and extremism to an end." Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the past had also encouraged dialogue with Taliban fighters to persuade them to support the government.
The White House has been working to settle what had been a very public dispute between Karzai and Musharraf, two of its close allies. The idea for the meeting, or jirga, came nearly a year ago during a meeting involving President Bush, Musharraf and Karzai. Musharraf last week abruptly canceled plans to attend the gathering's opening ceremonies.
On Sunday, Musharraf, who entered the grand white tent with Karzai, said the two countries, as "true Muslims," must isolate die-hard militants and "win the hearts and minds" of the people. He called the close of the jirga a beginning to the peace process, not the end.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned that al-Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan's lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Key tribal leaders from Pakistan's North and South Waziristan boycotted the gathering, with some saying they feared Taliban reprisal attacks.
Karzai spoke only briefly Sunday following a longer address Thursday, but his relations with Musharraf appeared warmer than in the past; during their White House meeting last fall, the two refused to shake hands in front of reporters.
Disputing allegations from some Afghan officials that Pakistan is seeking to undermine progress in Afghanistan, Musharraf said Pakistan wants to see a strong, peaceful and stable neighbor.
"It is therefore painful for us to hear allegations that we are deliberately causing disturbance or violence in your country. We do not have such a policy and we will never have such a shortsighted and disastrous policy," he said.
Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman reiterated on Sunday that two sick South Korean hostages would be released soon, although he did not say when. Negotiations between two Taliban leaders and South Korean officials over the fate of the remaining 21 hostages took place in the city of Ghazni on Friday and Saturday, but no talks were held Sunday.