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Army chief says Pakistan needs 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's army chief said Monday that his country wants a "peaceful, stable and friendly" Afghanistan as its western neighbor and that achieving this goal would guarantee his country the "strategic depth" it once sought by supporting the Islamist Taliban regime in Kabul.

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, in a rare meeting with foreign journalists at army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, said Pakistan was eager to help Afghanistan's elected government become capable of defending the country and that his army would like to help the U.S. train recruits for the new Afghan National Army.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have a history of tense relations and mutual grievances, and their leaders have often accused each other of fomenting Islamic insurgency. But now both countries are facing sustained extremist violence, and Kayani said Pakistan had suffered even more attacks than Afghanistan.

In an informal presentation that drew on material from an address he delivered to NATO officials in Brussels last week, Kayani listed Pakistan's multiple contributions to the war in Afghanistan, including logistical support for U.S. supply lines and military operations along the Afghan border.

"We can't have Talibanization. We want to remain modern and progressive," he told reporters in a windowless conference room. "We cannot wish for Afghanistan what we don't wish for Pakistan." Pakistan once backed the Taliban regime in Kabul, but abruptly abandoned it at Washington's request after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Kayani's wide-ranging remarks seemed aimed at refuting both the American demand that Pakistan "do more" to help fight Islamic terrorism at home, and the criticism that it is reluctant to turn against the Afghan Taliban in case they end up in power after Western forces leave the country.

He briefly touched on proposals for reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, saying its fighters should be "weaned and reintegrated" into society. But he described most Afghans as "sitting at a crossroad, waiting to see who is winning and losing" before deciding whether to back the insurgents or the state.

The army chief said Pakistan had no desire to control Afghanistan, adding, "no one has ever been able to control Afghanistan in history." He said the army wanted to "get more involved" in Afghanistan, but only as military trainers, and he noted that it could take years to build a professional army and officer corps there.

Army chief says Pakistan needs 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan 02/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 1, 2010 10:06pm]
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