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Pakistan's Musharraf Calls for Cooperation to Fight Extremism

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has called for improved ties with neighbor Afghanistan, and says both countries have to cooperate to defeat the rise of religious extremism and militancy. Mr. Musharraf spoke at the closing session of a landmark peace assembly in the Afghan capital, Kabul. VOA's Benjamin Sand was in Kabul for the four-day Grand Jirga.

President Musharraf addressed more than 600 Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders in the war-torn capital. He said both countries have a responsibility to confront militants and improve regional security.

Mr. Musharraf said religious extremism and the so-called talebanization of the two countries are hindering regional economic development.

"Therefore we must not allow doubts, misperceptions or vested interests to undermine our cooperation to address common challenges and forge ahead to a better future for our people," Mr. Musharraf said.

Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are at an all-time low, with a sharp rise in pro-Taleban violence sweeping across either side of their border. Both countries have blamed the other and neither has shown much inclination toward compromise.

But President Musharraf struck a more conciliatory tone. He admitted Pakistani tribesman near the border were helping the insurgents and vowed to crack down on the militants.

"There is support from these areas to Taleban activity inside afghanistan ... it is our commitment and responsibility not to allow such support to create trouble in brotherly Afghanistan," Mr. Musharraf said.

But the president also promised a more nuanced approach to battling the Taleban.

He made a point of differentiating between the insurgents and their local supporters, who he said are not necessarily extremists.

"The issue then is of winning hearts and minds of people who are not militant and weaning them away from the die-hards," Mr. Musharraf said. "We must also understand that the indiscriminate use of force will only aggravate the problems. It will alienate people and further fuel the conflict."

The Pakistani leader was originally scheduled to address the meeting's opening session, but abruptly canceled that appearance - citing domestic political issues. His decision was widely seen as a major setback for the four-day talks, called a jirga, and his critics accused him of intentionally slighting the gathering.

But his closing speech was well received and members from both delegations say the Jirga ended on an optimistic note. Participants say the talks have helped ease tensions between the two countries and created a more positive atmosphere for future action.

The long-term impact remains to be seen. The Jirga formed a series of smaller bilateral commissions, which will meet during the next few months to discuss border security and economic development among other topics.

A second Grand Jirga is planned for Pakistan sometime next year.