By Dion Nissenbaum for The Wall Street Journal
America’s latest attempts to strengthen its relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai received an unexpected jolt over the weekend, as the Afghan leader said he would back Pakistan if it went to war with the U.S.
“God forbid, if any war took place between Pakistan and the United States, we will stand by Pakistan,” Mr. Karzai said an interview broadcast Saturday on Pakistan’s Geo television network. “If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needed Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”
The prospects for a U.S. war with Pakistan are remote, and Mr. Karzai’s comments were viewed by some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul as a poorly executed effort to blunt his recent angry comments about Pakistan’s support for Afghan insurgent groups. “This is not about war with each other,” said Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries.”
Mr. Karzai’s comments came as a surprise to some Western officials in Kabul, who were heartened by the success of last week’s visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the past, Mr. Karzai has alienated his Western allies with comments suggesting that he might side with the Taliban, or that America could come to be seen as an occupier if its forces didn’t stop killing Afghan civilians.
Mr. Karzai’s latest remarks struck a nerve with some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul who were reminded of the president’s penchant for criticizing the U.S.-led coalition that supports and funds his government. “It was totally careless, unnecessary and, yes, irresponsible,” said one Afghan official. “He hasn’t pleased anyone except, maybe, a few Pakistani generals.”
American officials said, however, that Mr. Karzai’s remarks wouldn’t overshadow Mrs. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Karzai and Mrs. Clinton were united during her trip in demanding that Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have vacillated over the past year between spells of political chill and attempts at a rapprochement.
Mr. Karzai and the U.S. have sought to pressure Pakistan in recent weeks to clamp down on the Haqqani insurgent network suspected of staging a series of deadly attacks on American and Afghan targets.
Afghan officials also accused Pakistan’s spy agency of involvement in last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who had been leading the country’s peace entreaties to the Taliban. Pakistan denied these accusations. Earlier this month, Mr. Karzai unexpectedly flew to New Delhi to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan’s archenemy India. The move angered Pakistani officials, who viewed it as political provocation.
In the Saturday TV interview, Mr. Karzai repeated his characterization of Pakistan as a “brother” and said Afghanistan wouldn’t let the U.S. or any other country dictate its foreign policy. “Afghanistan is a brother,” he said “But, please brother, stop using all methods that hurt us and are now hurting you. Let us engage from a different platform.” Separately, Afghanistan’s interior minister Sunday evaded an apparent assassination attempt near Kabul.
Officials said a suicide bomber targeted a convoy thought to be carrying Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi. But the attacker was shot dead before he could do any harm, and the interior minister wasn’t in the convoy, the Interior Ministry said.
–Ziaulhaq Sultani contributed to this article.