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Karzai warns of extremist spread

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Extremism that plagues Afghanistan has crept across the border into Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday at the opening of a meeting of more than 600 Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders.

Mr. Karzai expressed hope that the four-day tribal council, or jirga, in Kabul would help address security problems in the border regions, where resurgent Taliban militants have stepped up attacks and al Qaeda is feared to have regrouped.

The head of Pakistan's delegation, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, said the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan are intertwined, and that instability in one country affects the other. But he also said Afghanistan needed to address its own insurgency problems and not cast blame on Pakistan.

"Afghanistan is not yet at peace within itself. The objective of national reconciliation remains elusive," Mr. Aziz said. "They can't blame anyone else for failing to achieve this objective that lies at the heart of their malaise."

The effectiveness of the meeting was questioned because Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pulled out at the last moment, and tribal elders from the most volatile region in Pakistan's tribal areas are boycotting the event.

Gen. Musharraf told Mr. Karzai on Wednesday that "engagements" in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, prevented him from attending.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that the Pakistani government had made it clear that, despite canceling his attendance at the opening of the jirga, Gen. Musharraf supports its goals.

Officials in Islamabad said yesterday that the government had considered imposing a state of emergency because of security threats, citing deteriorating security in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border, but decided against it.

Afghan officials had shrugged off Gen. Musharraf's decision not to attend, saying that tribal leaders — the ground-level power brokers in the restive border region — still would attend the meeting, held in the same white tent where the country's post-Taliban constitution was hammered out in 2004.

Mr. Karzai told the jirga that the meeting's success will eventually benefit Pakistan. He then described daily woes and suffering that the people of Afghanistan are facing as the Taliban take on government and foreign troops.

He accused militants of abducting and killing women in the name of the Taliban and Islam, while barring the girls from going to school, a trend that is "slowly going to the other side" of the border into Pakistan, Mr. Karzai said.

The main focus of the 650 delegates — 350 from Afghanistan and about 300 from Pakistan — will be security and terrorism, but they also will talk about economic development and fighting drugs. Taliban representatives are not involved.

The idea of the jirga emerged from a September meeting in Washington among President Bush, Mr. Karzai and Gen. Musharraf that focused on ways to combat rising border violence.