Presidents Karzai (left) and Musharraf (file photo) (CTK)
PRAGUE, March 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has lashed out at Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- accusing elements within the Afghan Defense Ministry and intelligence community of conspiring to malign Pakistan. In an interview late on March 5, Musharraf derided as "nonsense" the accusation from Karzai that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is sheltering in Pakistan.
Musharraf accused the Afghan president of being "totally oblivious of what is going on in his country" -- including Afghan intelligence operations.
Musharraf's outburst came during an interview with CNN television program "Late Edition." He said tensions between Islamabad and Kabul have grown in recent months. But he was particularly angry about reports disclosing that Karzai recently gave intelligence to Islamabad that included Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar's purported hiding place in western Pakistan and telephone numbers used by Taliban militants in Pakistan.
"They have given us a list. And I am really surprised and shocked why they have disclosed this to the media," Musharraf said. "Now that they have done that, let me answer very frankly. We have already gone through it. This list -- two-thirds of it is months old. And it is outdated and there is nothing. The telephone numbers that they are talking of, two-thirds of them are dead numbers. And even the CIA knows about it, because we are sharing all this information with them. The location that they are talking of Mullah Omar is nonsense. There is nobody there. We have gone there exactly and we have seen that there are families living there and there is no sign of Mullah Omar."
Musharraf said he criticized Karzai because he was shocked about the disclosures of intelligence to the media.
"I am totally disappointed with their intelligence and I feel there is a very, very deliberate attempt to malign Pakistan by some agents -- and President Karzai is totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country," Musharraf said. "So therefore, I would say [that] he should pull up his intelligence, he should pull up his Ministry of Defense. He should coordinate with our intelligence. I passed on a lot of information to him [about] what is the conspiracy going on against Pakistan in his Ministry of Defense and in his intelligence set up. He'd better set that in order before accusing Pakistan on any issue."
Karzai's cabinet met in a special session today to discuss a unified response to Musharraf's remarks.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah emerged from that meeting stressing the need for good relations between Kabul and Islamabad. Abdullah also expressed concern that details about talks between Karzai and Musharraf had been leaked to the press.
"To pick on some individuals -- or on some people from this or that ministry, or this or that political group or tribe, or this part [or that] of Afghanistan -- as being responsible for damaging relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan [is unacceptable]," Abdullah said. "There is an undeniable reality in Afghanistan: Afghanistan has an electoral system; it has an elected president [and] an elected parliament. And this system is there to serve the benefit of the people of Afghanistan."
Some observers think there is more to Musharraf's outburst than anger over a media report. Afrasiab Khattak, a political analyst based in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar, said he thinks Musharraf's remarks are related to talks he had in Islamabad with U.S. President George W. Bush on March 4.
"When President Bush started his South Asian tour [last week], on his first [stop] in Kabul, he publicly said that he was going to raise [the issue] of [cross border infiltrations into Afghanistan] from the Pakistani side with General Pervez Musharraf," Khattak said. "Even if they have not mentioned it in the press conference -- some secret to the meeting -- it is obvious that they have discussed this issue. There is obviously American pressure. And General Musharraf is really in a very difficult position. So he has vented his anger towards Afghanistan."
Khattak said he doesn't think relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are as bad as Musharraf's interview suggests.
"President Musharraf has spoken in a very angry tone. I don't think that the relations between the two countries are as bad as it would appear," Khattak said. "The problem with General Musharraf is that he is between the devil and the deep sea. He has committed himself to stop subversive activities from the Pakistani side against Afghanistan. And he has not been able to implement this. The Afghan government is raising complaints and he is angry about them. He seems to be frustrated about the situation he is facing."
Three's A Crowd
Khattak said he thinks improved relations between the United States and India -- a dominant theme of Bush's South Asia tour -- are making officials in Pakistan uneasy.
"Pakistan cannot see its relationship with the United States on a bilateral level," Khattak said. "It always looks at it through the prism of Pakistan's relation with India. So when India and the United States are entering a strategic relationship, Pakistan is definitely going to be hurt by it. And Pakistan is going to react to that. The only option that seems to be open which was specifically mentioned by Musharraf recently -- he mentioned China as a strategic partner. So that is a possible development."
Khattak concluded that it is likely that some Taliban leaders are, indeed, sheltering within Pakistan.
He said that until Islamabad's public pronouncements match the reality on the ground, it will be difficult for the government of Pakistan to establish a credible position on the issue with its neighbors or with the international community.