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KABUL, Aug 12: Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged on Sunday to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in their respective tribal regions and fight the opium trade financing militants.

President Pervez Musharraf, addressing 700 tribal delegates at the end of a landmark ‘peace jirga’ aimed at defeating the common threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, called for an urgent ‘rescue’ from extremism.

A statement at the close of the four-day jirga also agreed to push for reconciliation with the ‘opposition’ — a reference to the Taliban who agree to accept the rule of law.

Participants pledged they would “not allow sanctuaries/ training centres for terrorists in their respective countries”, according to the declaration text.

They acknowledged the “nexus between narcotics and terrorism” and called upon the two governments to wage an “all-out war against this menace”. They agreed to establish a council, comprising 25 delegates from each country, to promote reconciliation with the ‘opposition’ and cooperation between the neighbours.

President Musharraf said both Afghanistan and Pakistan had to get away from what he called the backwardness and violence of Islamic extremism.

“These forces are disrupting peace and harmony, impeding our progress and development,” he said. “We must rescue our societies from this danger and work together until we defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism.”

The president conceded that there was support from Pakistani tribal areas for the insurgency in Afghanistan, extremism and ‘Talibanisation’.

Pakistan understood it had a ‘solemn responsibility’ to fight against such influences, he said.

Gen Musharraf’s presence and speech lent weight to the conference, after he reversed an earlier decision to withdraw from the jirga.

However, tribal leaders from lawless Waziristan boycotted the meeting on the grounds that it did not include the Taliban.

Musharraf had been expected to open the talks on Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but pulled out at the last minute citing security concerns.

He had reconsidered only after phone calls from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr Karzai, with whom he has bickered over efforts to defeat a resurgence of the Taliban movement backed by Al Qaeda.

The jirga brought together about 700 tribal leaders, parliamentarians, clerics and other influential figures from both sides of the border to debate ways to root out extremists.

A Pakistan delegate told AFP as the talks ended that he believed the violence would end if the western troops shoring up the Afghan government were replaced by Islamic forces.

“I think the best way to help root out the problem is if the Nato/US forces withdraw from Afghanistan,” said the cleric, Hanifullah, echoing an earlier call from another Pakistani delegate.

Taliban representatives should have been invited, he added.

President Karzai said at a luncheon on Saturday with Pakistani officials that the jirga would cement relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a report said.

“Assembling leaders and public opinion makers from both the countries to discuss and share their views on core issues is a good omen for peace and harmony in the region,” a news agency quoted him as saying.

In Islamabad, Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said: “Pakistan is very hopeful that this jirga will contribute to establishing peace in these areas.”—AFP