KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Tuesday, pledged cooperation in the fight against militants in both countries and called for wider regional understanding.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad, both U.S. allies but troubled by border disputes in the past, have improved in recent months with the arrival of the new government in Pakistan.
In the past, Afghan officials have often accused elements in Pakistani state agencies of helping the Taliban, ousted from power in Kabul but retaining sanctuaries in the tribal areas along the rugged Afghan-Pakistan border.
Zardari, speaking on his first visit to Kabul as president, told a news conference Pakistan was ready to fight side by side with Afghanistan against the resurgent Taliban.
The two neighbors needed international help, but could do the job better themselves than outsiders could, he said.
“We want to tell the world today together, standing shoulder to shoulder, that we are together in this fight against these non-state actors who have taken nations and countries, and in fact superpowers, to war,” Zardari said.
Asked if he would let foreign troops enter Pakistani territory to help fight militants in volatile border areas, Zardari said all the two countries needed was support.
“To the world we say, ‘Help us. We can fight. We can look after ourselves ... all we need is the support. Given the proper support, we can do the job better, and cheaper, and easier than you can do it’,” he said.
The United States, frustrated by the intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, has carried out several missile attacks and a helicopter-borne ground assault on militants in Pakistan that have angered many Pakistanis.
Zardari also called on other countries in the region to cooperate but stopped short of naming them.
Tensions between Pakistan and neighboring India, which have fought three wars since 1947, have been running high since 10 gunmen carried out coordinated attacks in November in Mumbai, killing 179 people.
India blames Pakistani militants for the strikes and says some of Pakistan’s official agencies supported them. Pakistan denies any involvement by state organizations.
“We reach out to the friends in the region also, and we expect them to have the same understanding, to rise above these stateless actors who are trying to create a problem in the region,” Zardari said.
U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 in retaliation for the September 11 attacks on the United States, masterminded by al Qaeda leaders who were sheltered by the Taliban.
The Taliban have since regrouped and are extending their influence in parts of Afghanistan, where the number of foreign troops fighting them has risen to about 70,000. Up to 30,000 more U.S. troops are expected by mid-year.
Pakistan has also seen a rise in deadly attacks by what it says are al Qaeda-backed Taliban since 2007.
By fighting the Taliban, the two countries are helping to secure a better future for themselves, said Zardari.
“We’re not doing ... each other or anybody else a favor but a favor to ourselves and the coming generations. For we’ll fight today so that our children can have a better Pakistan and a better Afghanistan,” he said.
Editing by Tim Pearce