August 13, 2007 3:00 am

Taliban backed in Pakistan, Musharraf says

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, made a rare admission that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were benefiting from support inside his country as Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday vowed to work harder to tackle extremism.

The pledges came at the end of a four-day, US-backed meeting of Pashtun leaders from both countries. Dubbed the "Peace Jirga" after the name given to traditional meetings by the Pashtun tribes who live on both sides of the border, the meeting was conceived and pushed for by Washington as a way to secure better co-operation between Kabul and Islamabad.

Gen Musharraf struck a blow to the meeting last week when at the last minute he abandoned plans to attend opening ceremonies. He and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, have also had testy exchanges in the past about what some see as Taliban safe havens in Pakistan's frontier provinces.

But Gen Musharraf - under increasing political pressure from Islamists at home - said yesterday the countries needed to do more to fight terrorism.

"There is no other option for both countries other than peace and unity, trust and co-operation," he told the closing session of the jirga.

Pakistan has in the past denied Taliban fighters were finding safe haven in its tribal areas.

But Gen Musharraf said yesterday: "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side."

The two governments have made similar pledges to work together in the past. However, supporters of the jirga said the difference this time lay in the involvement of elected and civil society representatives including tribal leaders and community elders.

The governments' promise to refuse to allow sanctuaries to terrorists was also endorsed by jirga representatives who recommended tribal communities in the affected areas become responsible for ensuring this.

A joint declaration adopted by the jirga earlier recognised terrorism as a common threat, emphasised the need for a war on terror and pledged: "[The] government and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not allow sanctuaries/training centres for terrorists in their respective countries."

The declaration emphasised mutual respect, non-interference and peaceful co-existence and called for a war against drug trafficking as well as for economic development of the affected areas.

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