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Afghan, Pakistani Presidents Meet in Turkey

Karzai and Zardari in Islamabad in September
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are meeting in Istanbul for the second set of talks sponsored by Turkey in an effort to bring the two neighbors closer.

The two leaders are expected to concentrate on developing a joint strategy to improve security in their joint border region. Pakistan's western Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the adjoining North West Frontier Province have become strongholds for the hard-line Taliban, who are waging insurgencies in both countries.

In the past, Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. But the working relations between Afghan and Pakistani presidents have improved markedly since Zardari assumed office in September.

Turkey, which has 860 soldiers serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, is keen to use its political clout to promote regional cooperation. In the earlier round of Turkish-sponsored talks, in April 2007, Karzai and then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met in Ankara and pledged to step up joint efforts against the Taliban.

Sebghatullah Sanjar, Karzai's chief of policy, told RFE/RL that because Turkey is a Muslim country with good ties to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is in a position to play a constructive role.

"This time again -- continuing his efforts from the past - the Turkish president is trying to help the peace process in Afghanistan," Sanjar said. "That's why he has invited the Afghan and Pakistani presidents to Turkey. I am hopeful that it will be a significant summit and will contribute to promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan."

The Turkish effort follows on the heels of recent Saudi efforts to broker peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Over the past seven years, Karzai has repeatedly blamed "elements in the Pakistani security establishment" for fomenting trouble in Afghanistan -- either by supporting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda or turning a blind eye to their cross-border activities.

The charges resulted in a bitter relationship between Karzai and Musharraf, who often engaged in a public war of words through their media statements.

But the Karzai administration says it now has strong reasons to believe that the current Pakistani president, his administration, and the parliament are serious about seeking a solution to the terrorist threat in the region.

Sanjar cites the strong working relationship between Karzai and Zardari as evidence. "Zardari invited the president of Afghanistan to his inauguration after being elected by the Pakistani parliament [in September]," Sanjar said. "From that day we have seen that the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan are honestly trying to prove to their countries and the world -- that they are serious in strengthening the peace process in Afghanistan and fighting the war on terror."

The bilateral summit in Turkey is also expected to address ways to jointly combat organized crime and narcotics in the region.

Karzai and Zardari will also meet separately with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to strengthen their respective economic and political ties to Turkey.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. ​

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