KATHMANDU: Afghanistan's new president told the leaders of India and Pakistan he would not let his country become the battleground of a proxy war Wednesday as the enmity between South Asia's arch rivals cast a shadow over a regional summit.
Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have long accused each other of using proxy forces to try to gain influence in Afghanistan.
But the imminent departure of Nato combat forces from Afghanistan has raised fears that rivalry could escalate, further destabilising the two countries' troubled neighbour as it seeks to rebuild after decades of war.
President Ashraf Ghani issued his warning to South Asian leaders meeting in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu to try to reinvigorate regional cooperation held back by decades of rivalry between India and Pakistan.
"We will not allow our territory to be used against any of our neighbours. But we will not permit anybody to conduct proxy wars on our soil either," he told the gathered leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
Ghani's predecessor Hamid Karzai frequently accused Islamabad of trying to destabilise the Kabul government by giving sanctuary to Taliban fighters.
Only last week, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf warned that the departure of Nato troops at the end of the year could provoke a proxy Indo-Pakistan war involving members of Afghanistan's rival ethnic groups.
"It should be clear that such measures have blowback effects, destabilising the state system," he said.
The leaders of the eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries are meeting for the first time since the election of a new Indian government eager to improve ties in the face of growing Chinese influence in its backyard.
Regional leaders at the meeting stressed the need for greater cooperation to combat poverty in South Asia, where cross-border trade remains minimal, held back by mistrust and weak infrastructure.
"My vision for our region is a dispute free South Asia where instead of fighting each other we jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment and unemployment," said PM Nawaz.
However, an Indian official said that Modi will hold meetings on the sidelines of the Saarc summit with all the leaders except PM Nawaz.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ