Karzai, Musharraf Headed for White House Visits

Two leaders with prominent roles in the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism are in Washington. President Bush will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday, then with Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Wednesday.

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Three presidents are meeting at the White House this week. One is Pervaiz Musharraf of Pakistan, another is Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was hosted by President Bush today. Officially Karzai and Musharraf are allies in the war on terror, but the worsening violence in Afghanistan has increased the tension between them.

Just today a suicide bomber struck outside the office of a provincial governor. The attack in southern Afghanistan killed 18 people. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the effort to agree on what to do next.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai calls his Pakistani counterpart, Pervaiz Musharraf, a friend but the two men clearly don't see eye-to-eye on the issue of terrorism and the spike in violence in southern Afghanistan. Speaking to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars yesterday, Karzai said the region won't be safe until the U.S. helps Afghanistan get rid of what he sees as the sources of extremism.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): Military action in Afghanistan alone is not going to free us of terrorism. Going to the sources of terrorism - where they get trained, where they get motivated, where they get financed, where they get deployed - is necessary now. Extend this to madrassas in Pakistan.

KELEMEN: Religious schools, which he says teach hatred and extremism. Karzai often says that terrorists hide out in tribal areas of Pakistan. He did so, indirectly, in his speech to the United Nations general assembly last week - a speech that sparked this rebuttal from Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf:

President PERVAIZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): Instead of this blame game that goes on, they must realize what is the environment, he must realize what is the correct environment, and take action accordingly, in Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: Musharraf said it is the Taliban that is the biggest threat to the region, and he said the Taliban is a homegrown Afghani phenomenon.

Pres. MUSHARRAF: Who were they? Were they from Pakistan? I would like to ask him. Certainly they were the people of Afghanistan who took over Afghanistan under Mullah Omar.

KELEMEN: Musharraf did acknowledge that Taliban fighters are getting some support inside Pakistan, but he insisted he is trying to put a stop to this. As for as Osama bin Laden, Musharraf has said he thinks the al-Qaida leader is probably in Afghanistan. Karzai has said repeatedly he thinks bin Laden is in Pakistan.

President Bush is now walking into this dispute, hosting a rare trilateral meeting on Wednesday, as he explained in his latest radio address.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I will host a meeting at the White House with two courageous leaders - President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Musharraf of Pakistan. These two leaders are working to defeat the forces of terrorism and extremism.

KELEMEN: Critics of the Bush administration have accused the White House of taking its eye off Afghanistan to pursue the war in Iraq. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California was among several lawmakers who wrote to President Bush calling for a top to bottom review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan.

Representative TOM LANTOS (Democrat, California): The administration failed and failed in a potentially catastrophic way to stabilize Afghanistan so that it can never again be used as a terrorist base.

KELEMEN: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, that a resurgent Taliban funded by a flourishing opium trade controls large parts of southern Afghanistan. U.S. officials took issue with the senator's characterization, as did Karzai who vowed to do more to halt the drug trade.

Pres. KARZAI: Narcotics is a menace to Afghanistan. It's also an embarrassment to us as a nation. We are ashamed of that terrible product hurting us and hurting young people around the world.

KELEMEN: Speaking alongside Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Karzai said his government will have to take a lead on this issue. He later said he's been naïve about this in the past. As for U.S. aid, Karzai says Afghanistan would be a different place if it got the kind of money the U.S. is spending in Iraq.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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