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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Karzai for jirga to crush Taleban
By Ahmed Rashid, Kabul

Hamid Karzai
Mr Karzai says the international community should support the jirga
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants to hold a jirga (council) of Pashtun tribes from Pakistan and Afghanistan to end Taleban violence.

The two countries disagree on how to fight the Taleban - mostly drawn from the Pashtun tribes- on their border.

Mr Karzai said he expected both he and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to attend the meeting by the year-end.

Afghan ministers and officials are however concerned that such a meeting may be "manipulated" by Pakistan.

"I am thinking of a meeting between Afghan civil society, Afghan elders, tribal chiefs, clergy and Afghan spiritual leadership plus the intellectuals. From the Pakistan side I am hoping for the same thing," Mr Karzai told this correspondent in an exclusive interview.

The traditional secular Pashtun leadership of Pakistan has been undermined systematically and violently
Hamid Karzai

"It should be a gathering of the people from one end of the Afghan border with Pakistan to the other end."

Mr Karzai said the jirga would attempt to revive Pashtun civil society on both sides of the border in order to combat what he called the growing Talebanisation of the region.

"The traditional secular Pashtun leadership of Pakistan has been undermined systematically and violently," said Mr Karzai.

"The killing of 150 Pashtun leaders in North Waziristan is a clear indication of that. This can only stop if we support civil society," he said.

Disputed border

The Afghan president said that if Pakistan was transparent about the jirga, it could bring peace between the two countries.

"A jirga means representative and those not representative cannot be there or called to attend. Nobody can fake a jirga in Afghanistan...and I hope there is similar transparency on the Pakistani side," Mr Karzai said.

Pakistan has long stated that it wants Afghanistan to recognise the Durand Line, the 2,640km (1610 miles)-long border between the two countries.

Pervez Musharraf, George W Bush and Hamid Karzai before the dinner meeting
Mr Karzai says the jirga idea came up during the meeting with Gen Musharraf and President Bush
Afghans say the British-drawn, colonial era border line robs Afghanistan of Pashtun territory now inside Pakistan.

No Afghan government, including the Pashtun-dominated Taleban regime which was recognised by Pakistan, has felt strong enough to recognise the Durand Line.

Mr Karzai said a joint commission could be set up with United Nations help between the two countries, which would decide on who would be eligible to sit in the jirga and the modalities of the meeting among other things.

Mr Karzai said the jirga plan was suggested by him at last week's dinner meeting hosted by President George W Bush for him and Gen Musharraf.

This correspondent learns that Gen Musharraf first hesitated at the suggestion.

But after Mr Bush said it was a good idea and the US government would support the idea, Gen Musharraf gave his tentative agreement.

Mr Karzai would like to involve the international community in monitoring the jirga.

Mixed feelings

It is believed that most Western countries support the idea but are reluctant to become involved in what they describe as "complex tribal meetings", between two countries which are both allies of the West in the war on terror, but are also deeply antagonistic to each other.

However, many Pashtuns and non-Pashtun Afghans have expressed concerns about the jirga plan.

They fear the meeting would allow Pakistan to infiltrate "Taleban ideas through the backdoor".

Ammunition seized by Pakistani authorities from Taleban militants on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
The September peace deal aimed at ending two years of conflict

Several cabinet ministers interviewed by this correspondent said the meeting would be "manipulated by Islamabad for its own ends".

"What happens if the Pakistani nominees to the jirga declare jihad against Mr Karzai and the Americans," said one minister, who asked not be named.

Younis Qanooni, the speaker of the Afghan parliament, said it would be "more productive if parliamentary delegations between the two countries met more often rather than have the jirga".

During the interview, Mr Karzai said he felt anguish about the continuing attacks by the Taleban - some 4,000 people had died in Taleban-related violence this year.

'Outside support'

Senior Nato and Afghan officials say that Taleban fighters were being actively helped by Pakistan, a charge Pakistan denies.

A Nato and Afghan army intelligence report after the two-week long Operation Medusa launched by Nato in Kandahar province in mid-September, in which they say 1,100 Taleban were killed, shows undeniable help to the Taleban from Pakistan, according to senior Nato and Afghan officials.

The report says the Taleban had collected one million rounds of ammunition in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province before the fighting.

The fighters had fired off some 2,000 rocket propelled grenades and 1,000 mortar shell during the battle, the report says.

The cost of Taleban ammunition stocks alone before the battle were estimated at $5m - such money and preparations would be impossible without outside support, the Nato and Afghan officials say.

Mr Karzai is hopeful that the jirga will improve relations between the two governments and more importantly the Pashtuns on both sides, which in turn will isolate the Taleban.

"No ethnic group or nation in the world is by its own nature radical," said Mr Karzai.

"Extremism makes them suffer that's why governments must stop using this. Afghanistan's stability and peace and prosperity is in the interests of Pakistan."

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