Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that in a war between Pakistan and the U.S., Afghanistan would support Pakistan.
"If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan," he said in an interview with private Pakistani television station GEO that aired Saturday. "If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you."
Afghanistan's army is being trained and funded by primarily U.S. assistance. The Afghan president's comments come only days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited both countries and said Islamabad must do more to crack down on militants using its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan.
The scenario of a U.S.-Pakistan war is exceedingly unlikely and appears to be less a serious statement of policy than an Afghan overture to Pakistan.
Karzai's comments set off a firestorm of criticism in the country. Afghan lawmakers argued they were particularly hypocritical coming just weeks after the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani by a suicide bomber, which the Afghan government said was planned in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the Taliban's suspected base.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it was up to the Afghan government to explain Karzai's remarks.
"This is not about war with each other," Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall told the Associated Press. "This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries: insurgents and terrorists who attack Afghans, Pakistanis, and Americans."
Following her stop in Kabul last week, Clinton flew to Pakistan to deliver the blunt message that if Islamabad is unwilling or unable to take the fight to the al-Qaida and Taliban-linked Haqqani network operating from its border with Afghanistan, the U.S. "would show" them how to eliminate its safe havens.
Even so, she said the U.S. has no intention of deploying U.S. forces on Pakistani soil, and that the favored approach was one of reconciliation and peace — an effort that needed Islamabad's cooperation.
Pakistan has been reluctant to move more forcefully against the Haqqani, arguing such an act could spark a broader tribal war in the region.
NPR's Quil Lawrence contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press