Sunday, August 12, 2007

Peace Jirga in Kabul: Hopeful Signs

Afghan Rebels Find a Haven in Pakistan, Musharraf Says
By TAIMOOR SHAH and CARLOTTA GALL; New York Times, August 12, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 12 — Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, made a rare admission today that support for militants emanating from Pakistan has caused problems for Afghanistan, and that his country should work to secure peace on its side of their mutual border.

“I realize this problem goes deeper, there is support from these areas,” General Musharraf told hundreds of Pakistani and Afghan delegates at a grand tribal assembly here. “There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side.”

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan nodded in agreement.

General Musharraf’s words, and his appearance at the final ceremony of the four-day meeting in Kabul, were a sharp reversal for him.

In the past, he has argued that the insurgency in Afghanistan is a homegrown problem and stems from dissatisfaction with the Afghan government. By contrast, Mr. Karzai has often asserted that the source of the Taliban insurgency lies in training camps and madrasas in Pakistan and that the insurgents take sanctuary there. Relations between the countries have deteriorated over the past two years as their presidents have repeated their conflicting accusations over and over.

As recently as Thursday, General Musharraf abruptly canceled his scheduled appearance at the opening ceremony of the jirga. At first the cancellation appeared to be a slight to Mr. Karzai, but it later emerged that domestic political problems kept him at home in Islamabad, where he met with aides to consider imposing emergency rule in the period leading up to elections. Enormous diplomatic and political pressure was brought to bear on the president over the issue, including a phone conversation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about 2 a.m. Thursday that seemed to help persuade him that an emergency-rule decree was not necessary.

Pakistani news editors who met with General Musharraf on Saturday reported today in The News, an Islamabad paper, that the general described the phone call as the third Ms. Rice had placed to him that day, and that most of their discussion had been about Afghanistan and the jirga. At the end of the call, the report said, she asked about the rumors on emergency rule.

His presence today at the closing ceremony of the four-day jirga lent weight to the proceedings. The assembly, convened to try to bring peace and stability to the region, concluded with a pledge by the 650 delegates to continue an “extended, tireless and persistent campaign against terrorism” and not to allow terrorist sanctuaries and training camps in their territory.

They agreed to establish a smaller jirga, consisting of 25 representatives from each country, to work on peace efforts with the Taliban and other antigovernment insurgents on either side, and to continue a dialogue between the countries. They also agreed to urge their governments to combat the narcotics trade in the region.

The Peace Jirga, as it was called, was an initiative of President Karzai, intended to reach out to the tribes and populations of the troubled regions along the border of the two countries, where antigovernment insurgents hold sway. It was the first time in decades that tribal leaders from both sides of the troubled border region have gathered in such numbers. The organizers hope to mobilize traditional social structures to end the fighting and a drift toward extremism.

Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan after the United States invasion in 2001, which ousted a Taliban-controlled government, have regrouped in Pakistan and mounted a sustained insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan, in areas that were former Taliban strongholds. They have also spread their influence in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

In recent months, Pakistan has also had to battle growing violence on its own soil from homegrown Islamist insurgents based in the same region.

General Musharraf said today that Pakistan did not seek to occupy Afghanistani territory, and stressed that it wanted prosperity and economic development for the region.

While the peace delegates met, the violence continued. Three American soldiers and their civilian interpreter were killed in a roadside bomb in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan today, the United States military said in a statement. A British soldier was killed and several others were wounded in an attack in southern Afghanistan Saturday.

For other news stories on the subject see, Musharraf for mutual trust to defeat extremism, The News, August 12, 2007

EDITORIAL: Whither Pakistan’s security if NATO leaves Afghanistan, Daily Times, August 12, 2007

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