- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that if the United States and Pakistan ever went to war, his country would back Islamabad — 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 Mr. Karzai‘s remarks appeared 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, Mr. Karzai‘s comments during an interview with the private GEO television station in Pakistan broadcast on Saturday contrasted sharply with his show of alliance with Washington during Mrs. Clinton’s visit last week, during which the American diplomat 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,” Mr. Karzai said. “If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

He said his country was indebted to Pakistan for taking in millions of Afghan refugees over the years and stressed that Kabul would not allow any nation — be it the United States, 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 its brother.”

Both Washington and Kabul repeatedly have said Pakistan is providing sanctuary to terrorist groups launching attacks in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Clinton, joined by a bevy of top U.S. officials including CIA Director David H. Petraeus, flew to Pakistan after her Kabul visit with the blunt message that if Islamabad is unwilling or unable to take the fight to the al-Qaeda- 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 Islamabad needs to cooperate.

U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces on Saturday concluded two operations aimed at disrupting insurgent operations in Kabul, provinces south of the Afghan capital and along the eastern border with Pakistan — all places where the Haqqani network has launched attacks.

“A number of Haqqani affiliated insurgents plus additional fighters have been either detained or killed,” Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the coalition said Sunday. No further details were immediately available.

The focus on fighting those who refuse to embrace peace efforts while seeking reconciliation is pivotal in NATO’s push to try to stabilize and secure Afghanistan as much as possible by the end of 2014, when foreign troops are scheduled to withdraw or move 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.

NATO said that one of its service members was killed Sunday following an insurgent attack in the south of Afghanistan, a traditional Taliban stronghold.

Earlier, the alliance reported the death of another of its troops in an attack in the eastern part of the country on Saturday.

NATO did not provide additional details, but the deaths raised to 473 the number of NATO service members killed so far this year in Afghanistan.

Separately, 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.

NATO and Afghan forces have been expanding their operations in the east, targeting the Haqqani network, which 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 that it is ill-equipped militarily to handle.

Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.

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