KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that if the United States and Pakistan ever went to war, his country would back Pakistan — a statement that contrasts with his harsh criticism of his eastern neighbor during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent visit to Kabul.
Such a scenario is exceedingly unlikely, and Karzai's remarks appear to be less a serious statement of policy than an overture to Pakistan, whose cooperation is sorely needed if Afghanistan is to have a chance at stability after years of conflict and civil war.
Nonetheless, Karzai's comments during an interview with the private GEO television station in Pakistan broadcast on Saturday contrasted starkly from his show of alliance with Washington during Clinton's visit last week, during which the U.S. secretary ramped up the pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants using its territory for attacks into Afghanistan.
"If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan," Karzai said. "If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you."
The Afghan president said his country was indebted to Pakistan for taking in millions of Afghan refugees over the years and stressed that Afghanistan would not allow any nation — be it the U.S., India, Russia, China or anyone else — to dictate its policies.
"Anybody that attacks Pakistan, Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan," he said. "Afghanistan will never betray their brother."
Both the U.S. and Afghanistan have repeatedly said Pakistan is providing sanctuary to terrorist groups launching attacks in Afghanistan.
Clinton, joined by a bevy of top U.S. officials including CIA director David Petraeus, flew to Pakistan after her Kabul visit with the blunt message that if Islamabad was unwilling or unable to take the fight to the al-Qaida and Taliban-linked Haqqani network operating from its western border with Afghanistan, the U.S. "would show" Pakistan how to eliminate that militant group's safe havens.
Even so, she said the U.S. has no intention of deploying U.S. forces across the border in Pakistan. She suggested that the favored solution would be reconciliation and peace efforts and that Pakistan needs to cooperate.
The focus on reconciliation with the insurgents, while fighting those who refuse to embrace peace efforts, is pivotal in NATO's push to try to stabilize and secure Afghanistan as much as possible by the end of 2014, the date by when foreign troops will have been withdrawn or moved into support roles.
But the insurgents have remained intransigent and attacks and bombings plague Afghanistan, claiming the lives of civilians as well as those of Afghan and international forces.
Five villagers were killed while trying to remove a roadside mine planted by the Taliban in the Pashtun Zarghun district of the western province of Herat, the provincial governor's spokesman, Mohyaddin Noori, said Sunday.
The villagers had found six mines that were planted to target Afghan security forces in the area and, instead of notifying authorities, tried to move them themselves. They were able to safely remove five of the mines, said Noori. But the sixth device exploded as they were moving it, he said, adding that another three people were injured in the explosion on Saturday.
In the eastern part of the country, NATO said one of its service members was killed following an insurgent attack on Saturday.
The international coalition did not provide additional details, but the death raises to 472 the number of NATO service members killed so far this year.
NATO and Afghan forces have been expanding their operations in the east, targeting the Haqqani network that operates out of Pakistan's North Waziristan region. Pakistan has been reluctant to move more forcefully against the Haqqani, arguing such an act could spark a broader tribal war in the region with which it is militarily ill-equipped militarily to handle.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.