Afghan, Pakistan talks end with pledge to fight terrorism

KABUL (AFP) – Talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan ended Sunday with calls to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in their respective tribal regions and to fight the opium trade financing Islamic militants.Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, addressing 700 tribal delegates at the end of a landmark “peace jirga” aimed at defeating the common threat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, called for an urgent “rescue” from Muslim extremism.

A statement at the close of the four-day tribal council also agreed to push for reconciliation with the “opposition” — a reference to Taliban who agree to recognise the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Participants pledged they would “not allow sanctuaries/training centres for terrorists in their respective countries,” according to the declaration text.

They acknowledged the “nexus between narcotics and terrorism” and called upon the two governments to wage an “all-out war against this menace.”

They agreed to establish a council, comprising 25 delegates from each country, to promote reconciliation with the “opposition” and closer cooperation between the neighbours.

Musharraf said both Afghanistan and Pakistan had to get away from what he called the backwardness and violence of Islamic extremism.

“These forces are disrupting peace and harmony, impeding our progress and development,” he said. “We must rescue our societies from this danger and work together until we defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism.”

The Pakistani president conceded that there was support from Pakistani tribal areas for the insurgency in Afghanistan, extremism and “Talibanisation” — the spread of the Taliban’s strictly Islamist doctrine.

Pakistan understood it had a “solemn responsibility” to fight against such influences, he said.

Musharraf’s presence and speech lent weight to the conference, after he reversed an earlier decision to withdraw from the jirga.

However, tribal leaders from lawless Waziristan on the Pakistan side of the border boycotted the meeting on the grounds that it did not include the Taliban.

The jirga brought together about 700 tribal leaders, parliamentarians, clerics and other influential figures from both sides of the border to debate ways to root out extremists.

A Pakistan delegate told AFP as the talks ended that he believed the violence would end if the Western troops shoring up the Afghan government were replaced by Islamic forces.

“I think the best way to help root out the problem is if the NATO/US forces withdraw from Afghanistan,” said the religious cleric, named only as Hanifullah, echoing an earlier call from another Pakistani delegate.

Taliban representatives should have been invited, he added.

A delegate from Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, Karim Khan, said he believed the talks would lead to improvements.

“This was a great success. I’m sure this will help,” he said.

Analysts have said the four days of talks may not immediately do much to stem the growing Islamist violence but could bode well for longer-term cooperation.

Karzai said at a luncheon Saturday with Pakistani officials that the jirga would cement relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Assembling leaders and public opinion makers from both the countries to discuss and share their views on core issues is a good omen for peace and harmony in the region,” a Pakistan news agency quoted him as saying.

Relations between Karzai and Musharraf have been strained over the resurgence of the Taliban, which was driven from government by a US-led coalition in 2001 having been helped to power by Pakistan in 1996.

In Islamabad, foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told AFP: “Pakistan is very hopeful that this jirga will contribute to establishing peace in these areas.”

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