President Hamid Karzai sought to distance himself Monday from controversial remarks made in an interview in which he said Afghanistan would back Pakistan against the US if the two ever came to blows.
The presidential palace said Karzai’s comments, made in an interview with private Pakistani television station Geo at the weekend, were “misinterpreted”.
Karzai has said that his country would support Pakistan if it was attacked by either the United States or India.
What he said:
“God forbid, If any time war erupts between Pakistan and America, Afghanistan will side with Pakistan,” Karzai said in an interview aired late Saturday
The prospect of all-out conflict between the US and Pakistan remains remote, despite strained relations in recent months, following the killing of Osama bin Laden by US commandos in a secret raid in a Pakistani garrison town.
Nevertheless the comments raised eyebrows among Western officials in Kabul allied to the 10-year campaign to keep the Taliban from returning to power.
Christopher Chambers, a NATO spokesman, told reporters in Kabul that “we all need to focus on much wider dialogue that’s required for peace… and which the people of both countries mostly certainly want and certainly deserve.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland would not comment directly on Karzai’s remarks.
“It’s not an issue because it’s not going to happen,” she said of the hypothetical war, quoting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Karzai’s office insisted the remarks were broadcast out of context.
“Pakistani media has misinterpreted it,” said the president’s deputy spokesman Seyamak Herawi.
“They only showed the first part when the president says Afghanistan will back Pakistan if there is a war.”
The attempted explanation:
Instead, the reference was to Afghanistan’s willingness to house refugees from Pakistan in case of any conflict, in the way that millions of Afghans are given refuge across the border in Pakistan’s northwestern frontier region.
“But in connection with the war on terrorism if there is a war on Pakistan, Afghanistan will not support that,” he further stated.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been tested, with Karzai recently accusing his neighbour of playing a “double-game” with Afghan insurgents fighting the US-led war effort who hold bases across the border.