Afghan anti-terror meet opens without Musharraf

KABUL (AFP) – Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders were set to open three days of talks Thursday on Taliban and Al-Qaeda violence along the border, in a key meeting marked by the absence of President Pervez Musharraf.

Tribal elders from two of Pakistan’s most troubled zones said they would not attend the “peace jirga”, at which hundreds of delegates from both sides are expected. The Taliban has dismissed the gathering here as a US-organised farce.

Around 2,500 police and extra troops have been deployed in Kabul for nearly a week to guard against an attack by Taliban insurgents, who have been blamed for about eight suicide bombings in the Afghan capital this year.

Islamabad on Wednesday cited “engagements in the capital” as the reason for Musharraf’s absence at a meeting to which he agreed nearly a year ago after talks with Karzai and President George W. Bush.

Just hours later, Pakistan’s deputy information minister Tariq Azeem told AFP that Musharraf was mulling the imposition of a state of emergency in the country due to “external and internal threats”.

Musharraf, who was to send his Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to the Kabul meeting, was to meet with his top aides Thursday on the possible state of emergency, official sources said.

Karzai and Musharraf had been due to open the three-day meeting, modelled on a tradition of calling “jirgas” — or tribal assemblies — in times of crisis.

On news that his Pakistan counterpart had abruptly pulled out, Karzai’s spokesman said he would welcome Aziz, but expressed disappointment that Musharraf would not attend the “important and historic event.”

The spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, also reiterated that Musharraf had previously agreed to attend, and said Karzai had emphasised the importance of the Pakistani leader’s “personal attendance in the jirga” in a telephone call.

Nonetheless, Afghanistan will “be doing everything we can to bring peace, stability and prosperity to both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said.

Relations between Karzai and Musharraf are already frosty over the Taliban, which was driven from government by a US-led coalition in 2001 after having being helped to power by Pakistan in 1996.

Pakistan is now an ally in the US-led “war on terror”, but Afghan and Western officials have accused it of not doing enough to crack down on Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in its tribal areas, a charge Islamabad denies.

The jirga was to be held in a massive white tent at a polytechnic in the west of Kabul where Afghanistan held its last jirga — the 2003 meeting that drew up the first post-Taliban constitution.

Despite hopes that the Taliban’s fall and the arrival of international aid and military assistance would set Afghanistan on a path to a better future, the insurgency has stalled reconstruction while ramping up fears over insecurity.

Extremist violence has grown steadily, with regular Taliban suicide bombings, roadside blasts and other deadly attacks on both sides of the border — some in the heart of the two capitals, Kabul and Islamabad.

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