Pakistan leader to miss Afghan summit
By Jo Johnson and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad | August 8 2007
General Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday pulled out of a long-planned grand assembly of Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders, snubbing an initiative that had the personal backing of US President George W. Bush.
The Pakistani president’s withdrawal came amid speculation that he might be about to impose a state of emergency. Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, on Wednesday night said the government might be forced to introduce the measure due to ‘‘external and internal threats’’.
He said deteriorating law and order in the volatile north-west near the Afghan border and sentiment from the US, including comments from presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Tom Tancredo, over the possibility of US military action against al-Qaeda in Pakistan ‘‘has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public”.
‘‘I cannot say that it will be tonight, tomorrow or later. We hope that it does not happen. But we are going through difficult circumstances so the possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out,’’ Mr Azim told Associated Press.
Tanvir Hussain Syed, Pakistan’s parliamentary secretary for defence, on Tuesday called for jihad against the US after the presidential candidates’ comments. The US embassy in Islamabad on Wednesday condemned Mr Syed’s statement as “outrageous and highly reprehensible”.
The three-day jirga – or council – was announced in Washington 11 months ago after a summit between Gen Musharraf and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and was billed as a step towards improving relations between two of the US’s most important allies in the war on terror.
Gen Musharraf’s withdrawal compounded the decision by tribal elders from the Waziristan region not to go to the jirga. The US sees the council as a means to co-opt locals from both countries in the fight against the Taliban.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Gen Musharraf had telephoned Mr Karzai to say that “because of his engagements in the capital he could not personally attend the peace jirga”, and had been thanked for his call.
Also absent from the jirga will be representatives from the Taliban, who have issued threats to those attending. Participation in the jirga was conditional on acceptance of the Afghan constitution and renunciation of armed struggle.
Pakistan, under US pressure, abandoned support for the Taliban in 2001 but sections of the military regard the predominantly Pashtun fighters as a useful means of retaining influence.
“A lot of people think the west does not have the stomach for a sustained fight in Afghanistan,” said Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party. “We’re not sure of the staying power of our friends and have stakes in ensuring stability. Brown may be different to Blair. A President Clinton may be different to President Bush. Ultimately, they will have to talk to the Taliban.”
Waheed Omar, the Afghan deputy assistant of the jirga, said its purpose was “to promote a common understanding between the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan over the fact that terrorism is not a friend to anyone”.
But critics doubted its usefulness. “The representatives coming to the jirga are all pro-government. They are just not relevant to militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas or, indeed, inside Afghanistan. It is a waste of time,” said Roedad Khan, a Pakistani security analyst.
“It will be an exercise in futility,” said one western ambassador in Islamabad, adding that Gen Musharraf had “antagonised the tribals big-time” by renewing military operations in tribal areas and ending a peace deal with tribal leaders.
Pakistan has moved a further two divisions into Waziristan, taking its forces there to about 92,000.
Security has deteriorated in Pakistan. “The losses they have taken in the last few months have been very significant, almost the same again as the number killed in the period since 2001,” a western official said.
Additional reporting by Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007