KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said yesterday that Afghanistan does not intend to go to war with Pakistan, and that Karzai's warning to his eastern neighbor was meant only to make a strong point.
Humayun Hamidzada said, however, that Pakistan should not allow militants to use its territory for attacks against Afghanistan and opposed plans by Pakistan's new government to enter into peace deals with militants.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani defended his government's approach of using "political dialogue" and economic development to fight militancy in areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Gilani also reiterated that his government will not allow foreign troops to hunt militants inside Pakistan, and acknowledged that rugged terrain between the countries makes it difficult to control illegal movement across the common border.
Karzai on Sunday warned that Afghanistan has a right to defend its homeland by sending troops across the border into Pakistan to target militant leaders orchestrating attacks in his country.
"The president used that language to convey a message; the president was making a strong point," Hamidzada said at a news conference in Kabul.
"What the president says is that as a sovereign nation Pakistan has a responsibility to make sure its territory isn't used against Afghanistan, and that's the message," Hamidzada said.
Karzai's comments drew strong condemnation from Pakistan, and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned Afghanistan's ambassador in Islamabad for a protest Monday.
Claims and counterclaims on the presence of militants in either country have often strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both close US allies.
Afghan officials have repeatedly said that remnants of their country's Taliban militia are sheltering in Pakistan, a charge Pakistan denies. Pakistan says it has deployed about 100,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan. Gilani said that Pakistan had set up a total of 900 security posts along the Afghan border.
But militants based in Pakistani tribal areas - where Osama bin Laden and his top aide Ayman al-Zawahiri are also believed to be hiding - have claimed to be sending fighters to Afghanistan.
The Pakistan government's plan to seek peace accords in the tribal areas has raised concern among American and Afghan officials who believe such deals allow militants to regroup and gain strength. Hamidzada reiterated those fears.
"If they cut deals on the other side of the border and they [militants] announce that they will focus on Afghanistan, then I guess the doors are wide open for them to come and conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan," he said.