WASHINGTON – President Bush has scheduled separate White House meetings later this month with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, neighboring countries whose relations have sometimes been strained by terrorist hideouts along their border.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is meeting with Bush on Sept. 22. Days later, on Sept. 26, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is due in the Oval Office. The meetings were announced amid a growing Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.
"The visit will be an opportunity for the president to congratulate President Karzai on the progress Afghanistan has made over the last five years and to reaffirm America's commitment to stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan," White House press secretary Tony Snow said of the Karzai visit.
The resurgent Taliban, trying to topple the U.S.-backed Karzai government in Kabul, has adopted a dangerous change in tactics, copying the lead of insurgent attacks in Iraq. Since the start of the year, 173 people — including 151 Afghan civilians — have been killed in suicide bombings across the country, NATO announced Wednesday.
Military commanders have called for 2,500 extra troops to help the NATO force, which took control of the coalition in the south on Aug. 1. But NATO nations have failed to agree.
Snow said that in addition to strategizing about countering the threat of militant extremists, Bush and Karzai will talk about Afghanistan's drug trade, need for good governance and faltering economy.
Pakistan was once a key Taliban supporter, but switched sides to become an ally of the U.S. in its campaign against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Still, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been strained for years, mainly over allegations by Afghan officials that Pakistan hasn't done enough to go after the remnants of the ousted Taliban regime, which Afghani leaders say have established hideouts in Pakistan along the mountainous border. Pakistan has rejected such charges.
Recently, cross-border relations have improved, and Karzai and Musharraf pledged in meetings in Kabul earlier this month to jointly fight militants.
The Musharraf-Bush sessions follow their meetings in March, when the president traveled to Pakistan. He also visited Afghanistan and India on that trip.