Karachi: The departure of Nato combat forces from Afghanistan could push India and Pakistan towards a proxy war in the troubled state, Pakistan's former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf warned in an interview. Musharraf praised new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who made his first official trip to Pakistan last week in a bid to reset fractious ties with Islamabad.
Pakistan's support is seen as crucial to Afghan peace as US-led forces pull out by the end of this year after 13 years battling the Taliban. But the former strongman said calming tension between India and Pakistan - running high at the moment after some of the worst cross-border firing in years - is key to peace in Afghanistan.
"The danger for Pakistan is... the Indian influence in Afghanistan," he said. "That is another danger for the whole region and for Pakistan because Indian involvement there has an anti-Pakistan connotation. They (India) want to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan." Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have long accused each other of using proxy forces to try to gain influence in Afghanistan.
While India has tried to gain traction with the Tajik ethnic group, which dominates in northern Afghanistan, Pakistan has sought to use its leverage with the Pashtuns of the country's south and east who make up the majority of the Taliban. "If Indians are using some elements of the ethnic entities in Afghanistan, then Pakistan will use its own support for ethnic elements, and our ethnic elements are certainly Pashtuns," Musharraf said. "So we are initiating a proxy war in Afghanistan. This must be avoided."
Musharraf blamed India for supporting separatist rebels in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan via training camps in southern Afghanistan - a common accusation in Pakistani military circles. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai routinely accused Pakistan of secretly backing the Taliban as a hedge against Indian influence in his country. Pakistan denies the accusation, though it was one of only three countries to officially recognise the Afghan Taliban regime, in power from 1996 until 2001 when the US-led invasion resulted in its overthrow.
Musharraf criticised former Afghan president Hamid Karzai for sending officials for training in India and not Pakistan, saying "these small things add up to strategic problems". Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged at the weekend to move on from the sniping and bitterness of the Karzai years, with the Afghan leader saying three days of talks had undone 13 years of differences.
But Musharraf warned that regional rivalries could flourish again once Nato's 34,000-strong combat contingent leaves by the end of next month.