Pakistan President Musharraf in Kabul for talks

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan

The President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf is in Kabul for a two-day visit during which he is scheduled to hold talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. The talks are expected to focus on the continuing militant activity on both sides of the border, with Taliban forces allegedly infiltrating into Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan.

Economic cooperation and reconstruction in Afghanistan are also on the agenda. President Musharraf is scheduled to meet cabinet ministers and address parliamentarians tomorrow. His delegation includes ministers for foreign and religious affairs and the petroleum sector, and the head of Pakistan's intelligence agency.

"Frank discussions on the war on terror and expanding bilateral cooperation on regional issues," read a statement by President Karzai's office.

Pakistan foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told AFP news agency that the Presidents "will exchange views on bilateral relations, economic cooperation, reconstruction activities in Afghanistan and cooperation in the fight against terrorism,"

"Afghanistan is expecting the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to take effective action against terrorism," Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said.

Pakistan signs "agreement" with militants

Pakistan signed a peace agreement with pro-Taliban militants in the North Waziristan region on the eve of the visit. The deal aims to end years of unrest in the border province. Under its terms the Pakistan military forces and militants will stop attacks on each other and the militants have agreed to disarm or expel foreign Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in the area. Pakistan has rejected criticism that the deal will allow pro-Taliban forces to operate freely in the area.

"Pakistan is committed to its policy on war on terror, and Osama caught anywhere in Pakistan would be brought to justice," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told the Associated Press.

Karzai meets NATO chief

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan

On Wednesday, President Karzai met the NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Kabul and signed an accord aimed at boosting security and development in the country. The NATO chief warned that "some of the terrorists, the spoilers, think they can win in the south,", adding "They are wrong. Because they cannot win, they will not win, [...] That is why we are engaged in combat as well at this very moment."

Violence continues

The visit comes amidst an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, with US forces saying that 60 militants were killed by artillery and air-strikes on Tuesday. Some 700 more are believed to be surrounded by soldiers in an operation in Khandahar province.

NATO and Afghan forces launched an operation in Khandahar's Panjwayi district last weekend, and NATO reports 250 militants as killed in the operations, though a Taliban commander has disputed the figure and there is no independent confirmation of the toll. Hundreds have been killed in continuing fighting between government and international security forces and insurgents in the last four months.

An estimated 1500 families have been displaced by the fighting in Khandahar.

Suspected Taliban militants shot dead two muslim clerics in Lashkar Gah, capital of the Helmand province in the last two days and raided a district headquarters in the town of Arghandad in Zabul province.

Strained relations

Musharraf last visited Afghanistan in 2002. Afghanistan has previously complained that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat Taliban insurgency in its side of the 2,250km (1,400-mile) mountainous border between the two countries. Earlier in the year, allegations by Afghanistan that Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders were living in Pakistan were dismissed by Musharraf as "nonsense". In February, Afghanistan issued a list of 150 Taliban suspects it said were living in Pakistan. President Musharraf dismissed the information as "old and outdated", but President Karzai reiterated that the list was up-to-date.

Some Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been arrested in Pakistan, which has also stationed close to 80,000 troops along the Afghan borders. There is international pressure on Musharraf to deal with Islamist groups in Pakistan who are believed to assist Taliban forces.

"Pakistan has the potential to be the solution to the problems of Afghanistan," Afghan foreign ministry advisor Ali Muradian said. "We hope that President Musharraf will open a new chapter in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Pakistan was closely associated with the Taliban's rise to power in the 90s one of only three nations that recognised the then Taliban government.

Opinion divided over Pakistan's role

While state run dailies Kabul Times and Hewad expressed hope that two leaders will work together to improve security, The daily Cheragh said that while statements about restoring security can be expected from the meeting, "as experience has shown", previous pledges by Pakistan "have not been fulfilled".

Kabul Times also said Afghanistan was grateful for Pakistan's help to thousands of Afghan refugees.

"The key concern is whether the agreement is going to lead to more insurgents going to and fro across the border or less," A diplomat told AFP, while another questioned Pakistan's peace deal with the militants.


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