In a delicate balancing act, President Hamid Karzai on Thursday described India as a "close friend" while referring to Pakistan and Afghanistan as "conjoined twins."
In remarks apparently aimed at assuaging Pakistan's concerns about the Indian presence in Afghanistan, Karzai said his country would never allow its soil to be used for activities directed against any of its neighbours.
"India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a twin brother of Afghanistan. We are more than twins, we are conjoined twins. There is no separation, there cannot be a separation," he said in response to a question during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad.
At the same time, Karzai, who was on a two-day visit, made it clear that India and Afghanistan have "very close friendly relations."
Noting that he had provided details of the cooperation between the two countries to Gilani, Karzai said: "India has gone out of its way to help Afghanistan with reconstruction and to offer Afghan youth education in India."
"Afghanistan will not allow its territory to be used against any one of our neighbours, in particular against Pakistan. And we hope the same will reflect towards Afghanistan that Pakistani territory will not be used against Afghanistan," Karzai said.
Pakistan's top leadership, including Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, have often spoken of concerns related to India's presence in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has alleged that Indian elements were directing terror attacks on Pakistan from Afghanistan.
However, Karzai said Afghanistan would act "if there is any information of any country, not only India, using Afghan territory against a neighbour."
He also said Pakistan should be aware that there cannot be peace and stability within its territory "without a stable and peaceful Afghanistan."
"The bottom line is that Afghanistan does not want any proxy wars on its territory. It does not want a proxy war between India and Pakistan (or) between Iran and the US.
"It does not want any big or small country, neighbour or far, to engage in any activity against another nation in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
In response to a question, Gilani acknowledged that he and Karzai had discussed Afghanistan's demand for the handing over of senior Afghan-Taliban leaders recently arrested in Pakistan, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Gilani said Pakistan is yet to decide on Afghanistan's demand. "We have our own judiciary and they are quite active. We are looking into the (matter) and consulting legal experts too. We will sit with them and discuss about it and get back to (Karzai)," Gilani said.
Pakistan's offer to train the Afghan army and police was discussed during the Afghan President's meeting with his counterpart Asif Ali Zardari yesterday, Karzai said.
"There were a range of offers made to Afghanistan, some of which are new to us, some of which our Defence Minister already had information about. We will continue to talk about these issues," he said. Karzai said Afghanistan had accepted some of Pakistan's offers for military cooperation, including the "supply of ammunition and some equipment." He said there would be more detailed discussions between the two governments on "further steps."
The Afghan President, who was visiting Pakistan for the first time since his re-election, said while replying to a question on the reconciliation process in his country that the "Taliban are really a factor in the whole of the region." The Taliban's role in the process of reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan was discussed with the Pakistani leadership, Karzai said.
The two sides also discussed the "extremely significant role" of Saudi Arabia in this process, he said. Karzai said he had informed the Pakistani leaders about the details of Afghanistan's request to Saudi Arabia to "participate in facilitating peace and stability" in the country and the region. Besides Zardari and Gilani, Karzai met the powerful army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. PTI