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Taliban Hot Topic For Washington Talks

This story was written by Farhan Bokhari for CBSNews.com.


The Pakistani government has stepped up security for government officials in a remote border region with Afghanistan — suspected to be home to renegade Islamic militants — after the killing of one official and two of his friends on Wednesday.

The incident underlined lawless conditions in Pakistan's southern Waziristan region, where President General Pervez Musharraf sent military troops two years ago to fight suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who crossed over from Afghanistan, fleeing U.S. and Afghan troops.

The ongoing tension in Waziristan may be a subject under discussion Friday when President Bush meets Musharraf at the White House for a bilateral meeting. Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet with Afghan president Hamid Karzai next Tuesday. All three leaders are to meet in Washington the following day.

A senior Pakistani government official who deals with security affairs told CBS News that Wednesday's shooting of the three men "showed how fragile the situation remains".

The official, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said Gul Zada, a government official, was killed Wednesday by unidentified gunmen in a car. "This was a typical hit and run type of killing. We believe the victim was targeted to put out the message that whoever works for the government is not safe," added the official.

The killing follows a controversial agreement signed between Musharraf's administration and chiefs of local tribes in north Waziristan earlier this month. Under that agreement, Pakistani military troops were withdrawn from roadside checkpoints and their duties assumed by local tribesmen.

The agreement has been defended by Musharraf's government as a necessary step to bring calm to a volatile situation, but western diplomats have criticized it as an unnecessary concession to militants.

"By withdrawing the military from north Waziristan, Musharraf is really telling the militants he is not able to win a military victory against them," one senior Western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News on condition of anonymity. The diplomat said the agreement would be a "significant subject under discussion" when Musharraf meets Mr. Bush on Friday.

Karzai's government has argued that leaders of Afghanistan's deposed but resurgent Taliban movement plan attacks on Western troops, including US forces in southern Afghanistan, from bases across the border in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials have denied the accusations that that militants routinely cross over into Afghan territory to launch attacks. Musharraf has said militant attacks in Afghanistan are caused by groups organizing themselves in that country.

Senior western diplomats in Islamabad say the two leaders are expected to vigorously defend their respective positions when they meet Mr. Bush.

By Farhan Bokhari

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