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Musharraf Rethink Ushers In Day Three Of Peace Jirga

August 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf looks set to attend a "peace jirga" in the Afghan capital aimed at combating Taliban and Al-Qaeda violence in the two neighboring countries, after originally bowing out.

Musharraf had canceled a planned appearance at the tribal assembly's opening session on August 9 amid speculation that Islamabad might impose a state of emergency in Pakistan.

The gathering includes some 700 tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan and is continuing inside a giant tent in the Afghan capital amid tight security provided by international and Afghan troops.

As participants prepared for the third day of the council, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced that Musharraf had agreed "in principle" to address the final session on August 12.

The Pakistan president is expected to fly to Kabul, most likely on August 12, to address the gathering of tribal leaders, most of whom are from an area straddling the Afghan and Pakistani border.

Keeping Hopes Alive

With daily violence gripping southern Afghanistan, the peace jirga is seen as a vital chance to bring the two countries together in a joint effort for peace.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed the meeting on August 10, its second day.

"There is no doubt this jirga will be successful," Karzai said. "The people of Afghanistan and dear brotherly Pakistan have pinned their hopes on the success of the jirga."

Past Accusations

But in both Kabul and Islamabad, suspicions and accusations run high.

Karzai has accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban to "enslave" Afghanistan. Pakistan says the Taliban problem and its solution lie in Afghanistan.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA), Wakil Abdul Qayum Safi, the head of the biggest Afghan mosque in the Canadian city of Toronto, voiced concerns that perhaps not all representatives to the Jirga were attending in good faith.

"This is a good job. It is for establishment of peace and prosperity, provided that there is no treachery," Safi said. "Past experience shows that Pakistan's [Inter-Services Intelligence] does not want peace to be implemented in Afghanistan. Those who are there for the will of God and the Prophet, are decent people. But most of them are under the influence of the ISI. I think there is no place for bloodshed in Islam, I hope this Jirga will bring good results."

Pressure To Show Progress

Musharraf's change of plans followed a further invitation by telephone from Karzai on August 10 to attend.

It also came after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned the Pakistani general-cum-president to discuss the jirga, a centuries-old tribal mechanism for resolving disputes.

Yet not everyone believes this jirga is following tradition closely enough.

Ahmad Shah Farhat, an Afghan professor based in Iran, expressed his concerns in an interview with RFA.

"Firstly, the regional peace Jirga itself is not clear in the constitution and it is debatable," Farhat said. "Secondly, most of the members of the jirga, both from the Afghan and Pakistani sides are from the government and the government has played a role in choosing them. This itself raises questions about the tribal jirga. And thirdly, those who can play a fundamental role in the fight against terror, such as Musharraf, have not taken part [in the jirga]."

Some elders from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas announced their boycott of the jirga just days before its launch, with one tribal leader saying the exclusion of Taliban elements makes the gathering pointless.

Working Groups

At the jirga today, delegates are divided into five working group to discuss key issues.

"The peace jirga started its third work day today at 9:00 a.m. in Kabul, but the working procedure is different than the first and second day," RFA correspondent Breshna Nazari reported from the gathering. "For the time being, the tribal representatives of both sides and other dignitaries are discussing related issues behind closed doors and out of the reach of the press in the framework of five different committees. These committees are discussing ways to prevent insurgents activities at the border between the two countries, strengthen ties between the people of the two countries, and to curb poppy cultivation and its production, which has been mentioned as the main source of financing for the insurgents. And yet, the Afghan government has not formally announced the arrival of Musharraf and his participation in the jirga."

The five committees are then expected to forward their suggestions to the main assembly later for inclusion in a joint statement for August 12's closing session.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan with additional news agency reports)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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