President Bush is set to host a tripartite meeting with the leaders of two of the nations in the anti-terrorism fight. Presidents Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will join President Bush for a dinner meeting Wednesday at the White House. The two neighboring countries have recently traded some harsh words over terrorist activity along their mutual border.
Five years after the Taleban government was driven from power in Afghanistan, a resurgent insurgency has been attacking Coalition and Afghan troops in southern and eastern parts of the country.
A leading Western expert on Afghanistan, Barnett Rubin of New York University, says that has sparked a war of words between Presidents Musharraf and Karzai over the level of effort spent by their respective governments to deal with the insurgency.
"The universal consensus on the Afghan side of the border, among Americans, military and civilian, among Europeans, military and civilian, and Afghans, military and civilian, is that the headquarters of the Taleban are in fact in Pakistan," he said. "And this has precipitated an escalating war of words between Presidents Karzai and Musharraf, which is disruptive to U.S. efforts in the area. So the Bush Administration is hoping that somehow this meeting will be able to resolve these conflicts."
The sharp rhetoric has continued while both leaders are in the United States, prompting the unusual three-way meeting Wednesday at the White House.
President Musharraf rejects the claim that his government has been lax in cracking down on Taleban activity, and says it is President Karzai who has not done enough to bring them under control.
"Instead of this blame game that goes on, they [Afghan officials] must realize what is the environment, he must realize what is the correct environment, and take action accordingly in Afghanistan," he said. "The problem lies in Afghanistan, and that is creating problems in Pakistan."
Appearing with President Karzai, President Bush jokingly said that it will interesting to watch the body language' of the two leaders if they are supposedly feuding. But in a more serious vein, he said he is satisfied that the Afghan and Pakistani leaders are committed to a cooperative effort against terrorism.
"From my discussions with President Karzai and President Musharraf, there is an understanding that by working together it is more likely that all of us can achieve a common objective, which are stable societies that are hopeful societies that prevent extremists from stopping progress and denying people a hopeful world," he said. "I know that is what President Karzai thinks, and I know that is what President Musharraf thinks."
What particularly angered President Karzai is a truce President Musharraf recently signed with tribal leaders on the Pakistani border area of north Waziristan. The area has been a hub of Taleban cross-border activity, and Pakistani military efforts to root out the insurgents have had little effect.
Barnett Rubin says the pact, which was endorsed by Taleban leader Mullah Omar, has given the Taleban an operational base along the border of Afghanistan's Paktika province.
"The way President Musharraf describes the treaty, as a deal with [tribal] elders to get their political support against extremism, would be a very good idea which I would support if it were true," he said. "But if you have been following this for several months, as I have been, you know it was actually initiated by the Taleban themselves in order to get a safe haven, which they now have. And it is clear that since the treaty was signed they are not in any way observing the agreement not to engage in cross-border activities."
President Karzai says he supports any deal that denies terrorism a sanctuary in North Waziristan or in the tribal areas of Pakistan. For now, he added, he is taking what he called a wait-and-see attitude.