We don't want proxy wars in Afghanistan, Karzai says

ISLAMABAD Thu Mar 11, 2010 9:01am EST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon his arrival in Kabul March 10, 2010. Ahmadinejad arrived on Wednesday for a visit to Afghanistan, after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was wary of Tehran's influence in the country. REUTERS/Sorkhabi/Pool

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon his arrival in Kabul March 10, 2010. Ahmadinejad arrived on Wednesday for a visit to Afghanistan, after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was wary of Tehran's influence in the country.

Credit: Reuters/Sorkhabi/Pool

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Afghanistan does not want a proxy war between Pakistan and India or anybody else fought on its soil, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday during a visit to Pakistan.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan are vying for influence in Afghanistan, complicating U.S.-led efforts to end an intensifying Taliban insurgency and bring stability to Afghanistan more than eight years after the Taliban were ousted.

Karzai said he did not want any country using Afghanistan against another. His visit comes after Pakistan has intensified efforts to fight militancy, winning U.S. praise.

"The bottom line is, Afghanistan does not want any proxy wars on its territory," Karzai told a news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

"It does not want a proxy war between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, it does not want a proxy war between Iran and the United States in Afghanistan," he said.

India has developed close relations with Karzai's government while ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been fraught with tension over recent years, mostly over Afghan suspicion Pakistan is quietly helping the Taliban.

Analysts say Pakistan sees the Afghan Taliban as a tool to promote its interests in Afghanistan, where it wants to see a friendly government in power and to limit India's influence.

While India accuses Pakistan of backing militants who attack its interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan accuses India of using its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan to help separatist militants in its southwestern province of Baluchistan.

"TWINS"

Karzai said India was a very close friend and had given much support but Pakistan was like a brother.

"India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother ... we're conjoined twins, there's no separation," he said.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan were facing regular, deadly attacks, Karzai said hours before a roadside bomb killed four people in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

"We in Afghanistan are fully aware and recognize that without Pakistan, and without its cooperation in Afghanistan, Afghanistan cannot be stable or peaceful," Karzai said.

"It is also, I believe and I hope, recognized in Pakistan that without a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, there cannot be stability or peace in Pakistan," he said.

The recent arrest of several Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan, including top military strategist Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has led to speculation Pakistan is changing its position on the militants in anticipation of some sort of peace process and the departure of Western forces.

Pakistan has said very little about the arrests, only officially confirming the arrest of Baradar. Gilani said he and Karzai discussed an Afghan request for Baradar's extradition.

"We have our own judiciary ... we are consulting the legal experts too, and we'll sit with them and discuss it and get back to the honorable president," Gilani told the news conference.

A Pakistan court late last month barred the government from sending captured Afghan Taliban leaders abroad.

The Pakistani interior minister had earlier said Baradar was being investigated for crimes in Pakistan and would be tried there in the first instance.

Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been uneasy since Pakistan's independence in 1947 but have warmed since a civilian government came to power in Islamabad in 2008.

At times, Karzai and former Pakistani military leader Pervez Musharraf were hardly on speaking terms.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Shinwari; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait)

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