ISLAMABAD, Oct 27: A mini-jirga between Pakistan and Afghanistan began on Monday with calls for a joint strategy to bring peace to the two countries.

At the inaugural session, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the participants: “Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need peace. Both need a healing touch”, reminding them of the “mandate and responsibility” they had for resolving the crisis. The mini-jirga, which is called jirgagai, comprises 25 notables each from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It has been convened as a sequel to last year’s jirga in Kabul for expediting dialogue and reconciliation with the Taliban and other warring factions; overseeing the implementation of decisions of the main jirga; and facilitating the convening of the next jirga in Islamabad.

Mr Qureshi said that an elected government stood better chance of tackling terrorism than an unelected one.

“The new democratic government of Pakistan is deeply committed to the cause of peace in the whole region. Our government has already made a new beginning in Pak-Afghan relations, restoring a climate of trust and confidence and is developing a forward-looking vision of peace, prosperity and development for our peoples and the region,” he said.

He said that terrorists would not be allowed to launch strikes in Afghanistan from Pakistan. “Today, Pakistan is more committed than ever not to allow anyone to use its soil for nefarious activities against its own or Afghanistan’s interest.”

He also referred to the unanimous parliamentary resolution adopted last week to emphasise that the country stood united behind the government’s policy of rooting out terrorism.

He said the government would firmly stick to the ‘charter’ given by parliament that calls for according high priority to dialogue with elements ready to reconcile; development of affected areas; expelling foreign fighters if found on Pakistani soil; and addressing root causes of militancy.

Advocating a dialogue for sustainable peace, the foreign minister said that there was an increasing realisation among those involved in the conflict that the use of force alone could not produce desired results.

“For lasting success, negotiations and reconciliation must be an essential part of the process.”

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is leading the Afghanistan component of the jirgagai, said although the reconciliation process had been started by the Karzai government soon after assuming office, the “door is even wider open today for those who accept the country’s constitution and the principle of non-violence”.

The keynote of his 12-minute speech was strengthening friendship between the two countries and evolving a joint strategy for countering terrorism.

Mr Abdullah, considered to be a hawk on Pakistan, said he was optimistic about the outcome of the jirgagai. He said the Afghan delegation and government were ‘deeply’ and ‘seriously’ committed to the achievement of the objectives.

He was particularly encouraged by the “reinforced commitment” of the new government in Islamabad to work with Afghanistan for ending militancy.

“I’m very hopeful about a positive outcome because of the amount of goodwill on both sides, realities confronting the peoples of the two countries, and lessons learnt from recent history.”

NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, leading the Pakistan component at the jirgagai, was a bit cautious.

He said although there couldn’t be a better forum for resolution of complex issues, solutions would not be easy to come.

“A lot of commitment and sincerity of purpose are required,” Mr Ghani said.

Although it was a gathering of tribal elders, both delegations were dominated by politicians, including people like Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and PPP leader Dr Babar Awan, who had nothing to do with the conflict centred in the NWFP and the tribal areas.

Other prominent Pakistani delegates included a former minister Ghazi Gulab Jamal, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali, Afrasiab Khattak, Senator Saleh Shah, Deputy Chairman of the Senate Jan Mohammad Jamali, Nawab Ayaz Khan Jogezai, Sardar Yaqoob Nasir, Maulana Anwarul Haq Haqqani and Jaffar Khan Mandokhel.

The Afghanistan delegation was loaded with members of lower and upper houses of parliament.

The jirgagai was to be held every other month, but could be convened only once because of intense differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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