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Afghan President Says His Country Would Back Pakistan in a Clash With the U.S.

S ource: NYT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Days after he stood with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and accused Pakistan of harboring his country’s enemies, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said this weekend that his country would support Pakistan if it ever went to war with the United States.

He appeared to be trying to reassure Pakistan of Afghanistan’s friendship after months of increasing tensions between the neighboring countries, while also urging Islamabad to sever its ties to militant extremists who are using the country as a haven to attack Afghanistan.

But the comments, which were broadcast Saturday on Pakistani television, again displayed Mr. Karzai’s ability to mystify his Western backers who have shored up his administration with billions of dollars in aid and military support during his nearly 10 years as Afghanistan’s leader.

“God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan,” he said in the interview with Geo Television, which was conducted partly in Urdu, partly in English. He added that Afghanistan would back Pakistan in a military conflict with any other country, including its archrival, India, which recently signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan.

“If Pakistan is attacked, and if the people of Pakistan need help, Afghanistan will be there with you,” Mr. Karzai said. “Afghanistan is a brother.”

Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Kabul, referred questions about the comments to the Afghan government. “But,” he added, “we know that we all share common goals and need to work together to resolve common problems. This is not about war with each other, this is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries: insurgents and terrorists who attack Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans.”

The presidential palace did not respond to several requests for clarification. One senior European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not had a chance to speak to the president, called the statements perplexing.

“I’m trying to understand what he was really saying,” the diplomat said. “I wish we had clarity on that. This is not the first time that he has made controversial assertions.”

The diplomat added that the president might have been trying to strike a calming tone with Pakistan, whose cooperation Mr. Karzai sees as necessary to bring the Taliban to any peace talks.

“But the way he expressed himself is not very productive,” the diplomat said.

Mr. Karzai was interviewed on Friday, the day after he stood alongside Mrs. Clinton at the presidential palace as she warned Pakistan that it needed to crack down on militants along the Afghan border. Just a few weeks ago Mr. Karzai was in New Delhi to sign a strategic partnership with India, opening the door for it to train and equip Afghan forces to fill the void left by NATO as it gradually withdraws troops over the next three years.

Both actions further frayed relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been strained recently by cross-border rocket attacks from Pakistan and by complaints by some Afghan officials that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency had a hand in the assassination last month of the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, an accusation Pakistan denies.

In the interview, Mr. Karzai said Afghanistan was forever in Pakistan’s debt for welcoming millions of Afghan refugees during the last 30 years of conflict, while at the same time pleading with Pakistan to end its support for terrorists hiding out along the border areas.

“Against all the Pakistan establishment has done to Afghanistan, Afghanistan is still a brother,” he said. “Afghanistan will never forget, will never forget the welcome, the hospitality, the respect and the brotherhood shown by the Pakistan people to the Afghan people.”

His comments ignited a wave of angry calls to radio talk shows in Kabul on Sunday. Many Afghans, particularly in the north, consider Pakistan the source of much of its current troubles. One caller said, “When the president calls them brother and the nation calls them enemies, then there will be a conflict between the president and the nation.”

There was also political backlash from officials. “We must never involve ourselves in any war, particularly backing Pakistan, which is the cause of all our problems,” warned Arif Rahmani, a Parliament member from the southeastern province of Ghazni, one of the more violent and unstable regions of Afghanistan.

Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi, a Parliament member from the western province of Herat, seemed as baffled as anyone. “One day we say that Pakistan is a safe haven for the terrorists, that the Haqqani network is based there and that it is the source of a lot of our problems,” he said. “And the next day we say Pakistan is our brother country.”

The president’s comments recalled his frequent descriptions of the Taliban as our “upset brothers.”

Mr. Karzai has also frequently irked his American backers with his inflammatory comments denouncing the allied coalition. He has been particularly critical of civilian casualties, and the night raids and airstrikes that often lead to them, but he also frequently blames foreigners, and the way they deliver aid to Afghanistan, for feeding the widespread corruption that has stymied development.

 

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