Afghan president strikes softer tone on Pakistan

AP News
Posted: Oct 03, 2011 2:43 PM
Afghan president strikes softer tone on Pakistan

Afghanistan's president said Monday that Pakistan has broken promises to help end the Taliban-led insurgency but that he hopes the two countries can work together like brothers _ softening his rhetoric after days of tough talk in which he had suggested relations were about to break down.

The two countries' relations have become increasingly strained since the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani two weeks ago. A host of Afghan officials have publicly accused Pakistan and its spy agency of supporting the militants who killed Rabbani. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suspended a series of talks with Pakistan and the United States aimed at improving cooperation in combating the Taliban.

Karzai's speech _ pre-recorded and broadcast on state television _ appeared to be an attempt to soothe relations while still calling for Pakistan to do more to rein in insurgents that maintain havens within its borders.

"We hope the Pakistani government will think about the interests of the Pakistani people, who also want peace and stability," Karzai said. "Our two countries should cooperate."

Afghanistan and Pakistan have long been uneasy allies against the Taliban insurgency, largely because of a long history of the Pakistani government backing insurgents as a way to keep a check on Afghan administrations it worries might ally with its arch rival, India.

But the Afghan government appeared emboldened in recent days by a strengthening of U.S. criticism of Pakistan.

On Sept. 22, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida, "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence agency. Mullen accused the Haqqani network of staging an attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul and a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers last month. He claimed Pakistan's spy agency helped the group.

Karzai has followed by issuing some of his strongest statements yet against Pakistan.

On Saturday, Karzai released a video of a meeting he held with the nation's top religious leaders in which he said he has given up trying to talk to the Taliban and demanded Pakistan prove that it is working for peace.

Pakistan has denied any involvement with insurgents or the killing of Rabbani.

Karzai's latest remarks come ahead of a trip to India. The visit had been planned weeks ago, but its timing has draws attention to Pakistan's worst fears _ that Afghanistan will ally with India and present Pakistan with two hostile borders.

The Afghan president leaves Tuesday for the two-day trip. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and sign documents strengthening relations. Karzai is also scheduled to give a speech at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank.

In the south, meanwhile, a pair of bomb blasts killed three Afghans in Kandahar province. Civilian deaths have increased greatly in Afghanistan in recent years, largely because of insurgent bomb attacks.

In the first blast, a motorcycle-rickshaw packed with explosives blew up, apparently prematurely, on the outskirts of Kandahar city, killing two civilians, officials said.

However, a government minister said his car was nearby, suggesting he may have been the target. He was not injured.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber in an army uniform tried to force his way into a branch of Kabul Bank, which pays military salaries, on an army base in Kandahar city.

A soldier guarding the entrance saw the explosives strapped to the man's body and shot him, killing the attacker but also detonating the bomb strapped to his body, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. Both men were killed, Azimi said.


Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.