Local officials have said a senior Taliban commander died in an airstrike on Pakistan’s territory in the tribal area of South Waziristan on Sunday. The suspected US missile strike was said to have killed up to 20 militants and came shortly before Pashtun leaders from both Afghanistan and Pakistan met for a so-called Mini Jirga in the latest attempt to end the violence in the border area.
Pashtoon tribesmen look at belongings in a house that they said was hit by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan
The inaugural session of the Mini Jirga was a mixture of an exchange of pleasantries, goodwill and a commitment to fight what most speakers called the scourge of terrorism. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his country strongly supported the international war against terrorism and extremism.
"Our armed forces and people have joined hands and are fully mobilised against it", Qureshi maintained. "Our democratic polity has a much greater chance of success than a dictatorship." Pakistan was more committed than ever not to allow anyone to use its soil for nefarious activities against its own or Afghanistan's interests.
Jirga is a centuries old mechanism in the region for resolving conflicts. Following years of acrimony and suspicions, former president Pervez Musharraf had proposed in September two years ago that leaders from both countries meet to hammer out an anti-militant strategy.
Taliban excluded from talks
Pakistani and Afghan representatives then met at Kabul in August last year and decided to continue efforts to jointly fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the region. The Mini Jirga at Islamabad is a follow-up of the Kabul meeting. None of the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban militants has been invited to the meeting.
Ayaz Wazeer, a retired official who headed the Afghan desk at the Pakistani ministry of foreign affairs, says ignoring them is not likely to produce any results: "The unfortunate part is it doesnt include the real stakeholders in the area! If they are not included, then how are they going to bring peace in the region, otherwise both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been striving to bring peace for the last eight years, but unfortunately it is not coming."
Former foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who is heading the Afghan delegation, however, brushed aside this criticism: "We have stakeholders for peace and prosperity in the region, but if you want to talk about the people who want to bring the state down in Afghanistan or Pakistan, if that is their whole policy, it is difficult to expect that sort of representation."
Participants of the meeting are likely to propose new measures for dealing with the Taliban threat through a more coordinated multilateral military and political campaign. But whether they can succeed without taking the militants on board is clearly uncertain. The so-called Mini Jirga is scheduled to end on Tuesday.