The White House says President Bush will host an unusual three-way meeting with the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan next week in an effort to coordinate policy in the face of a resurgence of Taleban attacks in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush will also meet separately with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.
The surge in Taleban attacks has prompted calls for an increase in NATO forces in Afghanistan, and spurred finger-pointing between the Afghan and Pakistani governments over blame for the cross-border violence.
The unusual three-way meeting at the White House next Wednesday is aimed at improving coordination among the three allies against the Afghan violence and regional terrorism.
Announcement of the trilateral meeting came from White House officials in New York, in advance of a U.N. General Assembly policy speech by President Bush which included a personal pledge by Mr. Bush to Afghan leaders that the United States and its NATO partners will not abandon Afghanistan's young democracy:
"Today forces from more than 40 countries, including members of the NATO alliance, are bravely serving side-by-side with you against the extremists who want to bring down the free government you've established," said president Bush. "We'll help you defeat these enemies and build a free Afghanistan that will never again oppress you or be a safe-haven for terrorists."
Afghan and Pakistani leaders have engaged in verbal sparring in recent days over which country is most to blame for the emergence of the Taleban, which ruled Afghanistan with a harsh brand of Islamic governance before being toppled by the U.S-led invasion in late 2001.
The Pakistani government has further come under criticism from U.S. policy analysts and others for reaching a peace deal with militants in tribal areas along the Afghan border earlier this month that some contend could give Taleban and al-Qaida elements safe haven.
But in a General Assembly address that came only a few minutes after President Bush's speech, President Musharraf said that peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's vital interest, while defending his government's record in combating terrorism:
"The unfortunate history of our region has placed Pakistan in the front-line of the global campaign against terrorism," said Pervez Musharraf. "We cooperate daily with many countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. Our cooperation has pre-empted several terrorist plots, such as the one uncovered recently to blow up airliners flying from London. Over the past five years, al-Qaida has been significantly degraded as an organization in our region."
President Musharraf said problems in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan are compounded by the continued presence there of three million Afghan refugees, and he urged greater international financial support for repatriation efforts.
He also urged greater attention to the root causes of terrorism which he said included military intervention in Muslim countries and the failure to end Israel's conflicts with its neighbors.
The Pakistani leader also said it is imperative to end religious discrimination against Muslims and to prohibit the defamation of Islam.
In an apparent reference to recent controversial remarks by Pope Benedict, Mr. Musharraf said it was most disappointing to, in his words, see personalities of high standing oblivious to Muslim sensitivities at such critical moments.