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Pakistan, Afghanistan to Hold Landmark Assembly


Pakistani and Afghan leaders will meet August 9-12 to discuss cross-border security issues in a landmark assembly or grand jirga. The four-day talks come as extremists continue to inflict heavy casualties in both countries. From Islamabad VOA, correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

The talks were organized last year during a rare meeting between the Afghan and Pakistani presidents in Washington.

Relations between the South Asian neighbors are at a low. Both sides blame the other for a surge in violence that has affected the entire region.

Afghanistan's six-year Taleban insurgency is bloodier than ever. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the past 18 months.

Afghan officials say most of the militants are based in hidden camps inside Pakistan.

But Pakistani officials insist it is a two way street. They say Afghanistan's insecurity is destabilizing both sides of the border.

In July, pro-Taleban militants battled government forces in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. More than 100 people died in the eight-day stand-off.

Pakistani authorities say the upcoming jirga should produce a unified response to the violence. "We are both victims of terrorism," said Pakistan Army Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema. "And I think the stability of Afghanistan is of upmost importance to the stability of Pakistan. Because no other country gets affected by the stability of Afghanistan then Pakistan. If Afghanistan sneezes, Pakistan gets a cold."

U.S. officials strongly back the talks. Both countries are critical allies in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

But security experts in Afghanistan and Pakistan say the jirga will likely not produce major breakthroughs. Retired Pakistani General Talat Masood is among those who expect modest progress. "In a best-case scenario we could think that they are showing a renewed commitment," he said. "They are showing the urgency and the great threat that this region is facing."

More than 700 people are expected to attend the jirga in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Participants will include political leaders from both countries as well as tribal elders and prominent religious figures.

In the coming months, a similar jirga is to be held in Pakistan.

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