Humayun Shah Asifi 'kept down a well’
Afghanistan, Kabul, 29 October / corr Trend A.Hakimi / Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on 29 October to establish contacts jointly with Taliban militants through tribal leaders after two days of talks over how to end bloodshed in both countries. Violence has intensified in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent months, raising fears for the prospects of both countries at the heart of the U.S.-led global campaign against militancy.
The violence has strained ties between the neighboring U.S. allies, with Afghanistan complaining Pakistan has not done enough to stop Taliban infiltrating from sanctuaries in its northwestern ethnic Pashtun lands. Pashtun tribal elders and politicians from the two countries met at a so-called Jirgagai, or mini-Jirga, in Islamabad to follow up on a grand assembly in Kabul last year in which delegates called for talks with the Taliban.
This time, they said they would form teams to open contacts with the hard-line Islamist militants.
"We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition in both sides ... through Jirgagai," former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who led his side in the talks, told a news conference. Asked whether opposition groups included the Taliban, Owais Ahmed Ghani, governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, said: "Yes, it includes all those who are involved in the conflict".
But the Taliban swiftly rejected the call for dialogue, with a spokesman saying it was "worthless".
"This Jirga was founded by the Americans. It has no power, no respect," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
"We will not hold any dialogue while foreign troops commanded by the Americans are in our country," he said.
A Jirga, or traditional council, is a consultative system the proudly independent Pashtuns have used for more than 1,000 years to settle affairs of the nation or rally behind a cause.
Deteriorating Afghan security has frustrated the United States and led to a string of U.S. strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, angering Pakistan. Islamabad says the attacks violate its sovereignty and bolster support for militants.
The violence in Pakistan has also unnerved investors and exacerbated an economic crisis which is expected to force the country to seek International Monetary Fund help within days.
Critics said earlier the Jirga would be little more than a talking shop without Taliban representatives.
Afghanistan took a first step towards opening talks with the Taliban with a meeting in Saudi Arabia last month between a group of pro-government Afghan officials and former Taliban officials. But the Taliban dismissed those talks too.
The United States is wary of efforts to make peace with militants, saying short-lived Pakistani peace pacts over the past few years had only given the militants breathing space.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month the United States would be prepared to reconcile with the Taliban, but not with al Qaeda, if the Afghan government pursued talks.
The 50 delegates meeting in Islamabad also called on their governments to take steps to eliminate sanctuaries for militants in areas on their border.
"The Jirgagai ... recommended to both governments to deny sanctuaries for the terrorists and militant elements which are a threat for all of us, for both countries," Mr. Abdullah said. (Monitoring Desk)