Vol. 5 Num 1137 Fri. August 10, 2007  

US allays fears of divisions in anti-terror drive

The United States moved to allay fears that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's absence from a Washington-brokered anti-terrorism meeting in Afghanistan reflected divisions in the "war on terror."

On the eve of a high-profile meeting of leaders from volatile regions bordering the two countries, Musharraf telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tell him that he would not attend.

The Pakistani president, who is sending Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in his place, had assured Karzai of Islamabad's full support but the Afghan presidency expressed annoyance at the pullout from the "peace jirga" talks.

The United States said it understood that Musharaff had compelling reasons for not attending the talks aimed at bringing together tribal leaders from the troubled mountain region bordering the two countries, which is believed to be a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

"Obviously, President Musharraf has good reason for deciding that he was going to stay back in Islamabad," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. Washington has spoken to both Musharraf and Karzai, he said.

"What's important here is that you have the support of both presidents for this process," he said. "Both of them have an interest in seeing this process succeed" and in cooperating to fight violent extremism, he said.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was still a glimmer of hope that Musharraf could attend the talks, billed as an opportunity to thrash out an anti-terrorism strategy.

"I think it's still a possibility" but "less likely though that he will go," the official said.