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Afghan, Pakistani Leaders Offer Olive Branch To Militants

Head of the Afghan delegation, Abdullah Abdullah (left) speaks during a joint press conference with Pakistani delegation head Owais Ghani
Politicians and tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan have concluded two-day talks in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, offering an olive branch to militants willing to lay down their arms, and warning that action will be taken against those challenging state authority.

The jirgagai, or mini-jirga (assembly), reiterated the desire of both countries to jointly fight extremism and terrorism.

The gathering was a follow-up to the much larger "Joint Peace Jirga," or grand assembly, held last year in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Delegates from Pakistan and Afghanistan had then called for negotiations with Taliban militants to discuss ways of ending insurgencies in both countries.

This year, the mini-jirga elaborated on this position and offered reconciliation only to Pakistani and Afghan militants and not to Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Participants from both countries agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the fight against extremism and refrain from the finger-pointing that has marred their relationship for the past seven years.
[The Taliban's] main complaint is that when they are labeled as terrorists or atrocious people, this should be backed by logic

Another mini-jirga is scheduled to take place in Kabul in the coming months to evaluate progress on the recommendations.

Former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who headed his county's delegation to this week's gathering, said both countries had no other option but to join hands in combating terrorism.

"The threat of terrorism has been a global one. Unfortunately, both countries as victims -- both peoples as victims -- have suffered because of that, especially in the past few years," Abdullah said. "And it continues to haunt us. There is no other way for both countries but to work together in order to deal with it. And of course, there is a role for the international community as well in that."

Talking To The Taliban

Elaborating on key recommendations adopted at the two-day event, Owais Ahmed Ghani, who led the Pakistani delegation and is also the governor of the country's troubled North West Frontier Province, said that he and Abdullah have been tasked with contacting the Taliban.

"Our responsibility is to set up a committee formed by jirgagai members. In addition, we will form contact groups of influential people to contact those groups involved in fighting and who are referred to as 'opposition.' That way we can talk to them about peace and reconciliation," Ghani said.

Abdullah, however, made it clear that contacts will be established only with groups who recognize the Afghan and Pakistani constitutions.

There are signs that such efforts will receive a positive response from the Taliban.

Senator Salih Shah, who represents the troubled South Waziristan tribal district -- which neighbors Afghanistan -- in the Senate, or upper house, of Pakistan's parliament and was part of the 25-strong Pakistani delegation that attended the Islamabad jirgagai, told RFE/RL that although the Taliban are not saying so explicitly, they are not opposed to the jirga.

"Earlier, when the Taliban refused to participate in the jirga, it was because their leaders complained that they were not recognized as a party in the conflict. Their main complaint is that when they are labeled as terrorists or atrocious people, this should be backed by logic [and evidence]. From day one, the Taliban have been calling for negotiations on every issue," Shah said.

Under Taliban pressure, tribal leaders from South and North Waziristan districts refrained from participating in last year's Regional Peace Jirga in Kabul.

"The Wall Street Journal" reported on October 28 that the United States is considering talking to some moderate elements within the Taliban ranks, which would mark a major policy shift for Washington. The move comes aimed spiraling violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Citing senior U.S. presidential administration officials, the newspaper reports that the initiative aims to spread Kabul's authority across the country and persuade Taliban leaders to put an end to attacks against Afghan and international forces.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.