Political and ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan began a two-day meeting on Monday to find ways to end surging militant violence, including the possibility of opening talks with the Taliban.
The meeting, dubbed a Pakistan-Afghanistan Jirgagai, or mini-jirga, is a follow-up to an assembly in Kabul last year in which delegates called for talks with Taliban militants to end bloodshed in both countries.
A jirga, or traditional council, is a consultative system the proudly independent Pashtuns have used for more than 1,000 years to settle affairs of the nation or rally behind a cause.
Since then, violence in Afghanistan has surged, raising doubts about prospects for the country and its Western-backed government seven years after the Taliban were forced from power.
In Pakistan, the security forces have launched offensives in the northwest and the militants have responded with suicide bombs. The violence has unnerved investors and exacerbated an economic crisis.
The violence has also strained relations between the neighbours, both important US allies. Afghanistan has complained that Pakistan has not done enough to stop Taliban infiltrating from sanctuaries in its northwestern Pashtun lands.
Critics say the mini-jirga will be little more than a talking shop without the participation of Taliban representatives but delegates said their aim was to prepare for talks.
“Our agenda is to have contacts with the opposition to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and to find their point of view and create an environment for dialogue,” said Mohammad Ibrahim, a Pashtun member of a Pakistani religious party.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan say they are ready to talk to militants who lay down arms.