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Karzai hopes summit will thaw relationship with Pakistan

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Karzai says he's certain Osama bin Laden's not in Afghanistan
  • He will meet with Musharraf after talks this week with President Bush
  • Karzai, Musharraf did not shake hands during public reception in September
  • Ex-PM Benazir Bhutto says she will risk arrest to witness elections this year
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(CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will meet with one of his prominent critics, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, this week to discuss efforts to battle militants who have established a haven in Pakistan.

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Musharraf has been accused of allowing an insurgency to blossom on Pakistan's northen border.

Musharraf has been the target of intense criticism since a U.S. intelligence assessment reported last month that al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents were operating freely along Pakistan's porous, mountainous border with Afghanistan.

Karzai, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said he will meet with Musharraf after his talks with President Bush on Sunday and Monday in Camp David, Maryland.

Karzai, who was later greeted by Bush and first lady Laura Bush when his helicopter landed at the presidential retreat, told CNN he would seek that "more urgency and more importance" be placed on the war in his country.

"The security situation in Afghanistan over the past two years has definitely deteriorated," he said.

Karzai, who has accused Musharraf of ignoring the insurgents hiding in Pakistan's northern periphery, offered tepid praise Sunday for the neighboring head of state.

He applauded Musharraf for taking "some very strong measures" against extremists in Pakistan, namely the recent handling of militants holed up in Islamabad's Red Mosque.

The Afghan president, however, dodged a question on whether Musharraf's government is doing "everything it can to clamp down on al Qaeda and the Taliban."

"I would believe as the situation demands, all of us should be doing everything we can," Karzai said. "I hope we can all speed up, increase and bring more effectiveness into this fight in this whole broader region, not in selective areas."

Karzai said that Osama bin Laden remains elusive. "We are not closer; we are not further away," he said.

Karzai said he is "almost certain [bin Laden] is in this part of the world," but was not sure exactly where. He added: "I definitely know that he cannot be in Afghanistan."

Karzai and Musharraf met with Bush at the White House in September, sparking speculation over their chilly relationship after the two shook hands with Bush, but not with each other, at a public reception. Video Watch Karzai discuss the problems that his nation faces »

The White House said Karzai and Musharraf had already greeted each other with handshakes before the reception.

Despite the White House downplaying tension between the two leaders, the pair squared off in later interviews, trading barbs about each other's internal security efforts.

Karzai slammed the Pakistani president for failing to crack down on madrasas, the Islamic religious schools in Pakistan that Karzai said "are training extremists full of hatred for the rest of the world."

Musharraf, in turn, said Karzai was "turning a blind eye like an ostrich" to security lapses in Afghanistan that have contributed to the Taliban's resurgence.

This week's meeting will mark Musharraf's second sitdown with a critic in recent weeks.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a major opposition leader, met with Musharraf in Abu Dhabi on July 27, a senior government official said.

Bhutto said she hasn't acknowledged the meetings because of the sensitivity of the talks.

"We have admitted negotiations with the present regime to find a way to get Pakistan onto the democratic track through the holding of fair, free and impartial elections open to all political parties," Bhutto said.

She has been living in self-imposed exile for fear she would be arrested on corruption charges if she returned to Pakistan. Her government was dismissed in 1996 amid allegations of corruption.

Despite the threat of arrest, Bhutto has said she plans to return to Pakistan at year's end for parliamentary elections.

Though Bhutto has been critical of Musharraf's heavy-handed reign in Pakistan, she said she would be willing to serve as prime minister in his government if he relinquished his role as army leader.

"While General Musharraf and I have been on opposite sides of the pole where issues of dictatorship and democracy are concerned, we have both stated our determination to move Pakistan on the path of moderation," she said.

Free and fair elections are necessary to maintain stability in Pakistan, especially as support for Musharraf wanes, Bhutto said.

"If the elections are rigged, there will be public protests, and certainly the extremists will try to take advantage by creating anarchy and chaos," Bhutto said. "Pakistan can't afford that."

Musharraf has been criticized at home and abroad for curtailing democracy since he seized power in a 1999 military coup.

He set off months of protests and court hearings in March by suspending the country's top judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. (Chaudhry was reinstated after the Supreme Court ruled last month that his suspension was illegal.)

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Critics said the Pakistani president was trying to influence the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to decide whether the country's constitution permits Musharraf to seek another five-year term.

Musharraf has also faced threats from radical Islamic groups that want to set up a Taliban-like state in Pakistan in the country's northern tribal regions -- an effort intelligence reports indicate is well under way, and by some estimates, well-footed. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

All About Benazir BhuttoPervez MusharrafHamid KarzaiAfghanistanPakistan

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