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Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in war with US, says Hamid Karzai

President says Afghans ‘will never betray their brother’ in TV interview aired days after Kabul visit by Hillary Clinton.

  • in Islamabad
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 October 2011 06.04 EDT
  • Hamid Karzai with Hillary Clinton in Kabul

    Hamid Karzai with Hillary Clinton in Kabul. Photograph: Reuters

    The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said he would side with Pakistan in the event of war with the US in a surprising political twist that is likely to disconcert his western allies.

    “If there is war between Pakistan and America, we will stand by Pakistan,” Karzai said in a television interview. He put his hand on his heart and described Pakistan as a “brother” country.

    The statement was widely interpreted as a rhetorical flourish rather than a significant offer of defence co-operation. Despite recent tension between Pakistan and the US, open warfare is a remote possibility.

    Karzai – who is scrambling to ensure his political future in advance of the US military drawdown in 2014 – needs Pakistani help to bring the Taliban to peace talks. In the event of any conflict, his army, which is wholly dependent on US money and training, would be in no position to back Pakistan.

    Nevertheless, the interview with Geo, Pakistan’s largest network, was at stark variance with the tone set during a visit to the region by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and David Petraeus, the CIA director, days earlier.

    In Kabul, Clinton bluntly warned Pakistan that the US would act unilaterally if Islamabad failed to crack down on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network inside its North Waziristan sanctuary.

    She then flew to Islamabad to deliver the message in person during a four-hour meeting with Pakistan’s top generals, calling on them to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table, kill the group’s leadership or pave the way for the US to do so.

    Karzai’s interview with Geo was aired barely 24 hours after Clinton left the region. He said Afghanistan owed Pakistan a great debt for sheltering millions of refugees over the past three decades, and stressed that his foreign policy would not be dictated by any outside power.

    “Anybody that attacks Pakistan, Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan,” he said. “Afghanistan will never betray their brother.”

    Karzai has wildly swung away from, and then closer to, Pakistan over the past 18 months as efforts to draw the Taliban into peace talks have gained momentum.

    First he welcomed the Pakistani military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the ISI spy chief, General Shuja Pasha, to talks in Kabul. But then this month he flew to New Delhi to sign a “strategic partnership” with India that strengthened trade and security ties between the two countries but infuriated Pakistan, where it was seen as a fresh sign of Afghan perfidy.

    Karzai is trying to strike a delicate balance between reaching a peace deal and managing stringent criticism from non-Pashtun groups and their political representatives, who accuse him of drawing too close to Pakistan.

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