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Afghan, Pakistani Representatives Hold Jirga on Taliban Conflict


A suspected U.S. missile strike has killed 20 people in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal regions. The attack came hours before Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders and government representatives began two days of talks about the Taliban insurgency in both countries. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Residents of South Waziristan said the early morning missile strike hit the home of a Taliban commander outside the main town, Wana. Local residents reported some foreign militants were among the dead.

Since late August, more than 12 such missile strikes have hit targets mainly in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies, which are considered key strongholds of Taliban factions that also operate in Afghanistan.

During the same time, Pakistan's military has been engaged in heavy fighting in the Bajaur tribal agency, where the army claimed this week that more than 1,500 militants and 73 soldiers have been killed since the operation began.

Despite the increase in U.S. missile strikes and the intensified efforts of the Pakistani military, there is also growing support for using negotiations and diplomacy to resolve the Taliban conflict.

Last week Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution supporting peace talks as the government's top priority. This week, a group of Afghan tribal leaders, clerics and government officials arrived in Islamabad for talks with their Pakistani counterparts on the Taliban insurgency.

At the start of the two-day meeting traditionally known as a jirga, Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said both countries acknowledge that the Taliban insurgency must be resolved through diplomacy.

"There is an increasing realization that the use of force alone cannot yield the desired results. For lasting success, negotiations and reconciliation must be an essential part of the process" Qureshi said.

Since the last Pakistan-Afghanistan jirga held in Kabul more than a year ago, relations between the two countries have worsened and the Taliban insurgency has strengthened. Afghan officials have accused elements of Pakistan's intelligence and military institutions of helping insurgents plot attacks in Afghanistan.

Despite the difficulties, officials in both countries say there is now more support for working together to negotiate an end to the conflict. Unlike last year, representatives from Pakistan's tribal agencies are attending the talks, citing the minor but hopeful progress that was made during the last round.

Some critics in Pakistan say the talks are meaningless unless U.S., NATO and Taliban representatives attend. But the leader of Afghanistan's delegation, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, said searching for common ground at this stage is the best way forward.

"Through the decisions of the peace jirga and the discussions that we have here we will explore those opportunities further and hopefully what we decide here will help us to expedite the process of dialogue and reconciliation," Abdullah said.

The talks among 50 officials and tribal elders from both countries are expected to continue through Tuesday.

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