KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders convened Friday for the second day of a joint peace forum to discuss terrorism and efforts to tackle the increasing militant violence along their shared border.
Delegates from the two countries divided into five committees to talk about investigating terrorist groups, intelligence sharing and drugs, one of the major sources of funding for Taliban militants, said Alimi Balkhi, an Afghan lawmaker who headed one of the working groups.
At the opening of the cross-border meeting on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the more than 600 Afghan and Pakistani delegates to find a solution to the region’s growing violence.
“Afghanistan is not under fire alone now,” Karzai told the jirga. “Unfortunately our Pakistani brothers are also under fire, and this fire, day by day, is getting hotter.” If the two countries would unite, “This disaster and cruelty in the two nations will be finished in one day,” he said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz acknowledged that Taliban militants cross over their porous border and said most of them are Afghans. “I will be frank, Afghanistan is not yet at peace within itself,” he said. “The objective of national reconciliation remains elusive … this lies at the heart of the malaise in Afghanistan.”
But he said that Pakistan has the greatest stake in Afghanistan’s security and stability and wants to see its neighbor at peace, refuting suggestions made often by Afghans that Pakistan is trying to destabilize its western neighbor.
The idea for the jirga was hatched almost a year ago during a White House meeting between President George W. Bush, Karzai and Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf pulled out of the council at the last moment, citing domestic issues, and tribal elders from the most volatile region in Pakistan’s tribal areas are boycotting the four-day event, calling into question how much effect the jirga will have.
Afghan officials have shrugged off Musharraf’s decision not to attend, saying that tribal leaders, the ground-level power-brokers in the restive border region, were attending the meeting, held in the same white tent where the country’s post-Taliban Constitution was hammered out in 2004.
The four-day jirga is to focus on security, but the 650 delegates, 350 from Afghanistan and about 300 from Pakistan, will also talk about economic development and fighting drugs. Taliban representatives are not involved.
The Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, have stepped up attacks in the past two years. The violence has killed thousands, raising fears for Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.
U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban militants enjoy a safe haven in Pakistani border regions, particularly Waziristan, where Washington also fears al-Qaeda is regrouping. Pakistan says it has some 90,000 troops battling militants in the region, and that it is not a terrorist haven.