Pakistani, Afghan leaders to engage fighters in talks

Monday, August 13, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Working to soothe relations with neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan's president told a large gathering of tribal leaders Sunday that a "particularly dark form" of terrorism confronts the region and that the countries must engage militant fighters in dialogue to confront extremism.

Speaking at the closing session of a four-day peace meeting meant to counter rising militant violence, Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan and Afghanistan face a great danger from fringe groups that preach hate and radicalism. He also admitted that Taliban fighters seek safe haven in Pakistan before crossing the border to launch attacks.

In eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, a roadside bomb blast 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 Taliban militants.

Musharraf, after landing back in 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 has also encouraged dialogue with Taliban fighters to persuade them to support the government.

The White House has been working to broker what in the past has been a very public dispute between the 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.

Washington fears al-Qaida is regrouping in the lawless tribal border region. Key tribal leaders from Pakistan's North and South Waziristan boycotted the peace meeting, with some saying they feared reprisal attacks from the Taliban.

Karzai spoke only briefly Sunday following a longer address on Thursday, but relations between the two leaders appeared warmer than in the past, such as their White House meeting last fall when the two refused to shake hands in front of the press corps.

Musharraf said both Afghanistan and Pakistan must be "watchful against the machinations of outsiders who may try to create mistrust and a gulf between the two brotherly countries." He did not say who the outsiders are but referred to them as extremists and fanatics, a possible reference to the hundreds of foreign fighters in the region the U.S. military says come from Chechnya, Africa and Arab Gulf states.

But Musharraf indicated that even the Taliban, who are responsible for the roadside bombs and suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of international and Afghan troops and civilians the last several years, have a place in Afghanistan.

"Taliban are part of the Afghan society. Most of them may be ignorant and misguided, but all of them are not die-hard militants and fanatics who defy even the most fundamental values of our culture and our faith," he said.

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