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Afghan, Pakistani Leaders Urge Stepped Up Fight Against Extremism

  • Benjamin Sand

Pakistani and Afghan leaders issued renewed calls for greater cooperation in the fight against religious extremism. Hundreds of delegates from both countries are holding a landmark peace conference or jirga in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The four-day talks of talks are focused on curbing pro-Taleban violence and improving ties between the two countries. From Kabul, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai set the tone early Thursday during his inaugural address to nearly 600 delegates.

He says he has no doubt that if the two countries work together they could eliminate terrorism in a matter of days.

The two U.S. allies are both struggling to contain a surge in violence, especially along their volatile border.

But critics question the jirga's ability to affect any meaningful change.

Participants say the most important regional actors are staying away from the conference.

First, representatives from the local Taleban were not invited. Then, their tribal supporters in Pakistan decided to boycott the peace talks.

And finally, late Wednesday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf abruptly canceled a much-anticipated appearance, because of domestic political concerns.

Pakistani officials say the embattled president is considering new measures to help control a worsening security situation.

In his place, Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz attended the U.S.-backed jirga.

Mr. Aziz says Pakistan remains absolutely committed to a joint solution to the region's mounting violence.

He also rejects claims that Islamabad covertly supports the Taleban insurgency.

Pakistan was a key Taleban ally before September 2001.

Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, it cut ties with the Islamist group and joined the U.S.-led war against terror.

But U.S. and Afghan officials say Taleban forces have established bases inside Pakistan's remote tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Pakistan has deployed some 90,000 troops to the region and says it is doing everything it can to secure its tribal areas.

Pakistan jirga member Sayed Bokhari says that so far the meetings have gone better than expected.

"When you talk to each other, a lot of misunderstandings are removed," Bokhari said. "They think that we are not doing enough and we think Kabul is not doing enough. So when we sit together we will be able to solve this problem."

Over the next several days, Kabul will be under strict security measures - with cars and pedestrians barred from areas around the jirga facility.

The grand jirga is scheduled to end Sunday.


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