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Afghan President Sees 'Dim Ray Of Hope' For Peace

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the emergence of a democratic government in Pakistan offered a "dim ray of hope" that regional cooperation, including India, could help bring an end to Taliban and Al-Qaeda violence.

Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan's intelligence service of secretly backing Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to keep the country weak and achieve "strategic depth," allowing the Pakistani Army to concentrate on defending the border with India.

Pakistan has always denied the charge, but analysts say the policy backfired with Taliban militants in the tribal regions along the rugged Afghan border now threatening stability in Pakistan with dozens of suicide bombs that have killed hundreds in the last two years.

But the emergence of a democratic government in Pakistan and the election of Asif Ali Zardari as president there in September offered a chance for change, Karzai said.

"Democratic change in Pakistan is good news for Afghans, Pakistanis and, by extension, many others across the world," Karzai wrote in an opinion piece in "The Australian" newspaper.

The United States and its NATO allies with troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have been keen to foster dialogue and good relations between Karzai and Zardari to replace the often acrimonious mud-slinging of the past.

"I visited Pakistan for President Zardari's inauguration and for the first time I saw a dim ray of hope," Karzai said. "If we can all work together -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the U.S., and our allies -- I see a possibility of moving beyond the days when a government thinks it needs extremism as an instrument of policy," he said. "When all governments in the region reject extremism, there will be no place for extremists, and terrorism will wither away."

'Concerns And Suspicions'

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has said the U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan might be made easier if Washington worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan.

"A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India," Obama said after a visit to Afghanistan in July.

Karzai said that after the rapid overthrow of the Taliban following the September 11 attacks, the international community made a mistake by concentrating on Afghanistan as the battlefield against militancy instead of adopting a regional approach.

After being driven from power in Kabul, Taliban leaders sought refuge along the Pakistani border and were able to regroup and launch a large-scale insurgency in mid-2005 against Karzai's government and Western forces inside the country.

That insurgency has grown steadily since then and has spread to areas close to the capital with a campaign of guerrilla warfare in the countryside backed by suicide bombs in the cities.

The failure of more than 60,000 foreign troops to stem the tide of violence has led U.S. commanders to call for a troop surge in Afghanistan ahead of a presidential election next year and the commissioning of a major review of military strategy.