Afghanistan's 'Peace Jirga' Ends with Declaration Hundreds of tribal elders from Afghanistan and Pakistan gathered in Kabul for an assembly called a jirga, with the aim of forging consensus on dealing with the growing strength of the Taliban. But the jirga's final declaration was short on specifics.
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Afghanistan's 'Peace Jirga' Ends with Declaration

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Afghanistan's 'Peace Jirga' Ends with Declaration

Afghanistan's 'Peace Jirga' Ends with Declaration

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The president of Pakistan acknowledged today that Afghan militants seek safe haven on his side of the border as they prepare to launch attacks inside Afghanistan. President Musharraf was speaking in Kabul on the closing day of an assembly of hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders. The aim of the assembly, known as a jirga, was to forge a consensus on ways to deal with the Taliban's growing strength. But judging by the jirga's final declaration, neither country will be making any major policy changes.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi-Nelson reports form Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI-NELSON: There was little sign today of the anxiety that marred the jirga when it began four days ago. The delegates inside their huge tent gave Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a standing ovation, apparently forgiving him for almost scuttling the meeting by failing to show until today.

Musharraf in turn pronounced the four-day gathering a success. He and Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised the delegates and said their declarations would go far to bring calm to their war-ravished border.

President Musharraf.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): We cannot remain mired in the past. It is our responsibility to address the challenges that we face and transform this situation that has bogged us down over the last 20 years - more than 20 years.

SARHADDI-NELSON: But exactly how those challenges will be addressed is no clearer now than it was before the jirga, which was thought up at a dinner that President Bush hosted for the two leaders last fall.

Controversial suggestions were dropped. Suggestions like removing Western troops from Afghanistan or giving the Taliban partial control. Instead, the jirga ended up issuing vague recommendations. Like saying insurgents who use terrorist tactics should be rebuffed, or that Taliban members who lay down their arms should be embraced, and that Afghans and Pakistanis need to trust each other more.

The lack of the trust is visible at the highest levels. Pakistan accuses Afghan refugees inside Pakistan of helping the Taliban. For its part, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring and funding Taliban leaders and allowing insurgents to cross the border. President Musharraf denied this.

President MUSHARRAF: We respect your sovereignty and independence in the same manner as we would like you to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and independence. It is therefore painful for us to hear allegations that we are deliberately causing disturbance or violence in your country.

SARHADDI-NELSON: Today, President Karzai extended Musharraf an olive branch.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): (Through translator) I've raised our concerns and I won't repeat them. President Musharraf raised the matter of trust. I want to assure him that Afghanistan will give this trust to our neighbor and brother.

SARHADDI-NELSON: But some jirga delegates say it's trust at the grassroots level that really counts. Pakistani delegate Afshal Hamush(ph)says that's why it's so important that for the first time, local leaders on both sides of the borders had a chance to clear the air.

Hamush says that what each side learned at the jirga is that both share the same problems. That radical mullahs and their gunmen are wresting power away from traditional tribal elders, that the Taliban is making it unsafe for their children to go to school.

Mr. AFSHAL HAMUSH (Pakistani Delegate): (Through translator) It's really the job of the people to fix this, because who knows how long Musharraf or Karzai are going to be in power?

SARHADDI-NELSON: The delegates say they plan to hold another smaller jirga soon to build on their newfound relationship.

Soraya Sarhaddi-Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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