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Jirga accord at White House: ‘Sometimes tense, sometimes soft’ talks between Musharraf, Karzai

by Anwar Iqbal

Dawn - Pakistan


WASHINGTON, Sept 28: At a two-and-a-half-hour dinner hosted by US President George W. Bush at the White House on Wednesday, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to hold two loya jirgas along their border for involving tribal elders in the fight against terror.

“The two presidents – Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf — will attend both the jirgas,” Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad told Dawn. “One meeting will be held on the Afghan side of the border and one on the Pakistan side,” he said.


Pakistan’s Ambassador Mehmud Ali Durrani confirmed the decision, but said “no date has yet been fixed for the two meetings.”


“President Karzai and President Musharraf agreed to strengthen the tribal political system within their countries,” Mr Durrani said.


“The agreement is on empowering tribal leaders to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and extremism in Pakistan,” Ambassador Jawad added.


He said the proposal to hold the jirga came from President Karzai, “President Bush backed it and President Musharraf welcomed it.”


He said that since it was a dinner and not a formal meeting, both leaders decided to work out the details later.


Both ambassadors dismissed reports as inaccurate that the two leaders had failed to resolve their differences.


“I was at the dinner,” said Mr Jawad. “It was a little bit tense but very cordial. Both presidents had the opportunity to discus the challenges they are facing and the ways of meeting those challenges.”


The two presidents, he said, agreed on a number of issues, “most importantly on a mutual commitment to fight extremism”.


“Sometimes tense, sometimes soft,” said Ambassador Durrani when asked to describe the atmosphere at the dinner held to defuse tensions between America’s two key allies in the war on terror.


“It was an opportunity (for Pakistani and Afghan leaders) to air out their differences and they did that,” said Mr Durrani. “They had open and frank discussions on all issues.”


The two leaders also agreed to “tone down the rhetoric” against each other, he said.


Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley assisted President Bush while Pakistani and Afghan ambassadors accompanied their presidents.


“It was a direct discussion among three leaders. None else said a word, not a word,” said Ambassador Durrani.


“Overall, it was a very successful meeting, cordial and constructive. It has enhanced the mutual trust and President Karzai walked out very happy,” said Ambassador Jawad.


“President Karzai and President Musharraf shook hands, they talked to each other. President Musharraf and President Bush exchanged cigars but Mr Karzai did not join them because he does not smoke,” he added.


“President Bush played a very prominent role in bringing together the two leaders whose differences were increasing. We are glad that this meeting happened,” said Ambassador Durrani.


Asked if differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan were removed, Mr Jawad said: “The three leaders agreed that without sincere cooperation it’s impossible to defeat extremism and terrorism. The partnerships between Afghanistan and the US and between Afghanistan and Pakistan are good for regional security.”


The White House on Thursday described the talks as a ‘constructive exchange’ of views.


President Musharraf discussed initiatives he is pursuing in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to “improve governance, develop the region economically, and enhance security,” the White House said.


President Karzai discussed “ongoing efforts to enhance security, improve governance, and accelerate development throughout Afghanistan”. The dinner and talks lasted longer than expected but White House officials cautioned reading too much into the length of discussions.


The White House said the three leaders “committed to supporting moderation and defeating extremism through greater intelligence sharing, coordinated action against terrorists, and common efforts to enhance the prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


“The three leaders had a constructive exchange on the common challenges facing our three nations. The leaders agreed on the need for common action to achieve common objectives,” the White House said.


Before the dinner, the three leaders appeared at the White House Rose Garden for the media and President Bush made a brief statement, saying that “these two men are personal friends of mine; they are strong leaders who have an understanding of the world in which we live; they understand that the forces of moderation are being challenged by extremists and radicals.”


But there were no handshakes, no exchange of words, not even of formal greetings between President Musharraf and President Karzai. Gen Musharraf maintained a serious expression, while Mr Karzai smiled slightly as Mr Bush read his statement.


“Today’s dinner is a chance for us to strategise together, to talk about the need to cooperate, to make sure that people have got a hopeful future,” Mr Bush said.


“As we work for a more hopeful world, we will continue to make sure that extremists, such as Osama bin Laden, that want to hurt my friend here, as well as upset the democracy in Afghanistan, is brought to justice,” Mr Bush said, referring to assassination attempts against President Musharraf.


During the dinner of sunchoke soup, spicy sea bass, pumpkin cake and ice cream across a round table, Mr Karzai and Gen Musharraf spoke directly to each other and individually to Mr Bush, a senior administration official said.


He described the exchanges as cordial and frank.

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