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Afghans Express Grand Hopes For Cross-Border Peace Talks


Many residents of Kabul are expressing hope that a four-day peace conference between Afghanistan and Pakistan will help reduce the violence in both countries. The grand jirga is focused on improving border security and strengthening bilateral relations. From Kabul, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Thousands of well-armed soldiers have taken up positions throughout this war-torn city as the jirga reaches its halfway point.

Despite concerns that Taleban insurgents may try to disrupt the assembly, more than 600 delegates from Pakistan and Afghanistan met for a second day.

The talks on Friday focused on specific security issues dividing the two countries, both United States allies in the war against terror.

Here in Kabul, the jirga dominates the news.

At a small grocery store, Muhammed Gul, 38, stood watching the talks on television Friday morning. He said he hopes the talks will help improve ties between the South Asian neighbors. He said both sides share a common language and a common religion, and he thinks the jirga will definitely help curb the fighting in Afghanistan.

For years Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of covertly supporting the Taleban insurgency. But now the violence affects both countries, with pro-Taleban militants attacking Pakistani targets. Al Qaida supporters have vowed to overthrow the Islamabad government. Many Afghans say Pakistan now has more reason to fight the militants.

Mohammed Yusef, 42, said if Pakistan "honestly confronts" the militants operating along the border, both countries will benefit. He said if Pakistan sincerely pursues a constructive policy toward Afghanistan, the jirga could bring peace to the region.

But critics of the jirga are less confident. The meeting comes during a surge in violence along the Pakistan and Afghan border, and both sides blame the other. Many participants say little progress can be made at the jirga unless the outlawed Taleban is allowed to participate.

Ali Muhammad Jan Aurkzai, one of the more prominent jirga participants, is governor of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, a frontline in the battle with the militants. "We have to see the ground realities," he noted. "There has to be some negotiations. Unless that happens, no matter what else we do I don't think the problem will be resolved."

The talks end Sunday with a second conference planned for Pakistan at a later date.