KABUL, Afghanistan – Extremism that plagues Afghanistan has crept across the border into Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai said Thursday at the opening of a meeting of more than 600 Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders aimed at easing destabilizing border violence.
Karzai expressed hope that the four-day gathering in Kabul would help address security problems in the border regions — where resurgent Taliban militants have stepped up attacks and Al Qaeda is feared to have regrouped.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan are intertwined, and that instability in one country affects the other. But he also said Afghanistan needs to address its own insurgency problems and not blame its neighbor.
"Afghanistan is not yet at peace within itself. The objective of national reconciliation remains elusive," Aziz said. "They can't blame anyone else for failing to achieve this objective that lies at the heart of their malaise."
The effectiveness of the meeting has already been questioned because Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pulled out at the last moment, and tribal elders from the most volatile region in Pakistan's tribal areas are boycotting the event.
Musharraf told his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai on Wednesday that "engagements" in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, prevented him from attending, and sent Aziz in his place.
Officials in Islamabad said the government on Thursday had considered imposing a state of emergency because of security threats, citing a deteriorating law and order situation in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border, but decided against doing so.
Afghan officials had shrugged off Musharraf's decision not to attend, saying that tribal leaders — the ground-level power-brokers in the restive border region — would still attend the meeting, held in the same white tent where the country's post-Taliban constitution was hammered out in 2004.
Karzai, who spoke with passion and emotion, told the jirga, or tribal council, of the daily woes and suffering that the Afghan people endure as the Taliban take on government and foreign troops.
"Afghan people are dying daily, our schools are burning, our mullahs are dying," Karzai said in a 40-minute speech occasionally punctuated by applause. "Our boys and girls have been targeted ... at school."
He accused militants of abducting and killing women in the name of the Taliban and Islam, while barring the girls from school, a trend that is "slowly going to the other side" of the border into Pakistan.
The main focus of the 650 delegates — 350 from Afghanistan and about 300 from Pakistan — will be security and terrorism, but they will also talk about economic development and fighting drugs.
Taliban representatives are not involved.
The absence of Musharraf, Pakistan's army chief and most powerful figure, and delegates from Pakistan's restive South and North Waziristan regions has cast doubt on its ability to find solutions.
The idea of the jirga emerged from a September 2006 meeting in Washington between U.S. President George W. Bush, Karzai and Musharraf that focused on ways to combat rising border violence.
The Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, have stepped up attacks in the past two years. The violence has killed thousands, raising fears for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.
U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban militants enjoy a safe haven in Pakistani border regions, particularly Waziristan, where Washington also fears Al Qaeda is regrouping. Pakistan says it has some 90,000 troops battling militants in the region, and that it is not a terrorist haven.