KABUL/PRAGUE -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said his government does not want its "soil to be used" in any conflict between other countries while underscoring Kabul's friendly relations with both Iran and the United States.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai did not refer to Iran or the United States by name in connection with potential hostilities.
But his statements come as Washington and Tehran are engaged in heated rhetoric over Iran's nuclear activities, a recent flexing of missile might by Iran, and persistent U.S. accusations that Iranians are fomenting violence in Iraq.
Moreover, in an article published in "The New Yorker" on July 7, Seymour Hersh asserted that "CIA agents and regional assets" have been working with Joint Special Operations Command forces "to direct personnel, materiel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan."
In his interview, Karzai said Afghanistan has been able to "balance its relations with various competing powers."
"I hope that the same level of understanding continues to prevail in both countries and Afghanistan never turns into a battleground for competing interests of any states," Karzai said. "Afghanistan would never like its soil to be used against another country, and Afghanistan would like to remain Iran's good friend as a neighbor as we share a common language and religion. Similarly, Afghanistan wholeheartedly wants to remain a friend, ally, and partner of America because this is in Afghanistan's best interest."
He also underscored his country's good relations and "cooperation" with Iran in the six years since a UN-backed government took over after the fall of the Taliban regime.
Karzai said Afghans are "lucky to have [had] the cooperation of both the United States and Iran from the very beginning of the interim government till today."
Senior U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly pointed to discoveries of Iranian-made weapons bound for Taliban militants in Afghanistan, although they have stopped short of accusing Iran's leadership of supplying weapons directly to antigovernment fighters.
"We are happy that our brothers and neighbors in Iran recognized that a peaceful Afghanistan -- a stable Afghanistan -- is good for them, and understood the presence of the international community also to be good for Afghanistan, and in the long-term and immediate term, good for their own security," Karzai said in response to a question about relations with Iran. "We are very happy and we are lucky in this regard."
Karzai praised the "great wisdom" of U.S. policymakers and credited Washington with having promoted constructive Afghan-Iranian relations.
"The United States has not only understood that we need to have good relations with Iran, but the United States has encouraged good relations between Afghanistan and Iran, and has been a factor of stability in this relationship," Karzai said.
Kabul chafed at Iranian authorities' threat last year to forcibly repatriate 1 million Afghan refugees in a move that could have undermined the Afghan government's hold on power. The Iranian side made good in part on the threat, summarily rounding up tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and dropping them at the Afghan-Iranian border.
But Afghan officials have appeared reticent to join in any public criticism of their Iranian neighbors.
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said shortly after joining the government in mid-2006 that he thought Kabul could "have a role in reducing the tensions" between Washington and Tehran.
Karzai took a similar tack in his Radio Free Afghanistan interview, saying, "both countries have helped us in our reconstruction -- Iran to some extent [and] the United States of America to a very great extent."
"We are constantly working on how best we can be of help to, on the one hand, have a cooperative environment in Afghanistan between our allies and our neighbors, and, on the other hand, be able to improve relations if we can," Karzai said. "And if there is an opportunity that presents itself again in this regard we will definitely take it and use it to the advantage of our neighbors and allies."
While Karzai avoided any hint at friction with Iran, he accused unspecified "neighbors" of meddling in Afghanistan's affairs to impose "foreign agendas" on the Afghan people.
He touted "successes" in curbing violence but said the country's "struggle against terrorism is not over yet."
"In some cases, our neighbors are still able to continue with their cruel interference into Afghan affairs -- though Afghanistan has once again been recognized [as an independent country] and its flag flies as a symbol of an independent nation," Karzai said. "But still, the interference goes on. Still, our children are hostages to these foreign agendas and are being used against their homeland. So these are the issues of primary concern to us, and we are striving hard to correct it."
Officials in Kabul have repeatedly pointed a finger at Pakistan and its intelligence community over attacks in Afghanistan that appear to originate in Pakistan's western tribal areas.
After the Radio Free Afghanistan interview was broadcast on July 14, Karzai backed
Indian authorities' assertion of Pakistani involvement
in a July 7 bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed more than 40 people.
The statements, in which Karzai also laid responsibility for other deadly incidents at Islamabad's doorstep, appeared to be his most direct allegations to date of Pakistani involvement in specific acts of violence in Afghanistan.