Musharraf to address Afghan-Pakistan peace assembly


Kabul/Islamabad : Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is expected to fly to Kabul this weekend to address a gathering of tribal leaders aimed at clamping down on growing Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency along the Afghan and Pakistani borders, officials in Kabul and Islamabad said Saturday.

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Meanwhile, the gathering of 650 elders including clerics and politicians of both Afghanistan and Pakistan begun discussions at the Grand Jirga, or tribal assembly, on the third day in a giant tent in Kabul amid tight security provided by international and Afghan troops.

“We expect President Musharraf to come to Kabul Sunday and address the peace jirga’s closing session,” Asif Nang, spokesman for the joint “peace jirga”, told DPA.

Musharraf upset arrangements by pulling out of the opening session of the jirga Thursday, citing commitments at home.

His later change of plans followed a further invitation by Afghan President Hamid Karzai late Friday to attend the event, the ministry said.

But it also confirmed earlier that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had telephoned the president to discuss the jirga – a centuries-old mechanism for resolving disputes.

There was speculation that Rice pressured Musharraf to attend the event, which while not expected to yield significant results is seen as a step towards improving tense relations between the neighbours.

Meanwhile, delegates from both countries divided into five working groups Saturday to discuss in small committees the issues such as cross border infiltrations, enhancing better relations between the two countries and better ways to counter narcotics, Nang said.

He said the committees then would forward their suggestions to the main assembly later Saturday so they could prepare the joint statement for Sunday’s closing session.

The idea of holding a joint jirga to help in stemming the insurgency was floated when Musharraf and Karzai met US President George W. Bush in Washington last September.

While both leaders are American allies in the war against terrorism, their governments have repeatedly charged each other with failing to cooperate in one another’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Taliban and Al Qaeda elements are believed to run training and logistics bases in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, sending fighters across the border to attack international and government troops in Afghanistan.

Karzai has accused Pakistan of covertly supporting the Taliban to “enslave” Afghanistan. Pakistan has said that the Taliban problem and its solution lie in Afghanistan.

Musharraf’s government abandoned its support for the Taliban under pressure by the US following the terror attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.